Instruments & Gear

I often get asked about the instruments I play and what picks I use.
Read on for the all the anwers.
updated April 2010
1962 Martin D28 aka My Favorite Martin

I acquired this one in the early 1990's while living in Brooklyn, NY. Got a call one day from a fellow Brooklyn musician named Hank Bones saying he had a D28 for sale that was pretty beat up but sounded good.

He was right on both counts: the thing was trashed, but also had the sound. I decided it was worth getting at the price he was asking, but was initially thinking of it more as an invest-ment than as my primary guitar. But a year or so later I was playing it some and did an earnest comparison with the '67 D28 that I'd been playing for years—and had to admit that it had a certain something over my other guitar.

Around that same time I also realized that I preferred the sound of light gauge strings. I'd been leery of using lights since, playing as hard as I do, I figured thatI'd get buzzing. But with the action on this guitar they seemed to work well and so I've been using lights ever since. (John Pearce or D'Addario phosphor bronze.)

Rose #33 Mandolin

Made in 2007 by Darby Boofer in Charles Town, WV, this was the second of two mandolins he made for me. (The
other was an F that I performed with for a couple years and recently sold.)

Both instruments sounded very good right out of the gate—but each also required significant work to get
fully playable.

I'm glad I persevered with this one: it's got a rare openness and volume. After a new fingerboard (via Scott Carey) last fall and some mid-winter set-up tweaking (via Tom Ellis) it's working very well.

Bling-wise, it features a James tailpiece and a McClung armrest from Doug Edwards.

My default mando strings are D'Addario J74s. But right now
I've got on a set of their J67 nickel wound strings (slightly lighter in gauge and mellower in sound, which seems to be a good fit for this one).

1975 Allison (Gibson reproduction).

I almost never carry a banjo when I perform solo or duo
(ie most of my shows) so many people don't even known that I play the thing.

But I do. And whenever I'm fronting a band, there's always some banjer.

This instrument was made in Providence, Rhode Island, by Mike Allison (aka "Providence Guitar & Banjo"). It was owned orginally and played for twenty years by Bruce Stockwell, a Vermonter whose playing I greatly admired when coming up in the New England bluegrass scene. He sold to Ben Freed (another excellent banjoist who I know from my decade in New York) in the mid-nineties and I bought it from Ben.

It's got the JD flathead pop to it; end of story.


I'm a recent convert to the Planet Waves NS capo.
The big thing for me: because it goes just halfway around
the back of the neck, my left hand knuckle bumps into it much less than it does with capos which go completley around. (Taking this concept one step further, I cut off about half an inch of the capo's top so that it doesn't extend off the fretboard—thus allowing my left hand even more freedom of motion. And it perches comfortably above the nut on the headstock when not in use.)

Like many I've used a number of picks over the years (and often a different one for mandolin and guitar). But in the winter of '09 I switched to Dunlop nylon .88s on both instruments.

National white plastic thumbpick, and Dunlop bronze .25 fingerpicks. The bronze is more malleable and has a bit of a mellower sound than the silver metal picks. Use them both for bluegrass banjo and for fingerstlye guitar.

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