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Mule Guitar
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So in 1927 National made a proto-type guitar that was a tri-cone fit into a single-cone body, it was some kind of test I think and they never made a production model out of it. My Mule is just that, a tri-cone set into a single-cone stainless steel body and the sound is somewhere right in between the two designs. I'd never part with my National, but this guitar doesn't really sound anything like it, and I've found that I'm using the Mule a lot these days. Matt did a fantastic job all around on this guitar, the neck feels like I've played it for years, and it's got a custom made P-90 that really sounds nice and not overly electric. I love the sound, and it's versatile, changing from sharp to growl to mellow depending on where yr right hand is.


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There are 2 Nationals that I've been playing nowadays, a steel NRP that Brother Dave gave me in California, it's light and responsive and just sings right along with itself. My older guitar is a '99 National Delphi that is pretty heavy in both weight and sound, it's been everywhere with me and has a painted rooster on the back that my son and I did when he was 3 and it was raining out one day. The neck has been broken twice by 2 different airlines, but National has fixed her up like new. When I got this guitar I got rid of my wooden one and never missed it.

Fraulini New   
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Fraulini Angelina 12-string : I asked Todd Cambio to build me something simple, with no inlays or decorations, and he created this amazing parlor-size 12-string. It's loud all across the strings, and can play the ballads as well as honk out the junk-rags. I've had a few 12-strings and have really loved the instrument all along, but with my hand-troubles I've found it harder and harder to control them. This one I can wrap myself around keep on top of it a little better.

2016 update: New 12-string coming soon from Fraulini!! See photo on the left. Check back sometime for updated pics.

capital city banjos

Capital City Banjos

My new banjo was made for me by Noel who runs Capital City Banjos and it came to me at a time when I'd decided not to play the instrument anymore. I've reconsidered that because of this banjo, and decided that maybe I just needed a break and a new way of looking at the instrument, so Noel made me a half-fret open back banjo with a goat-skin head and a much chunkier neck, and I started practicing again. This year I'll be bringing this banjo out to shows for at least a song or two, I love the thumpy growly tone and the feel of the larger neck, and after I got used to the half-fret design I found that I really like having the option of frets on the higher end of the neck while still being able to get all the funky sounds that fretless affords near the bottom.


Mark Lillo lap-style guitar: Mark gave me this beautiful Weissenborn style lap guitar and I've been a fan of these guitars for a long time thanks to John Fahey and Jack Rose. The sound is deep and completely different from my National and the change in position has been helping my hand quite a bit. I put a Fishman Rare Earth pickup in it, but it's already loud and has a great bite without it.

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I do have an electric guitar for those rare occasions when I get to play with the Black Eyed Snakes or the Devil's Flying Machine but it doesn't get played much. I think I'm pretty lucky, I found the sound I was looking for a long time ago and everything else is a bonus now. I think about electric guitars as a completely different instrument than acoustic ones, like my banjo, it's whole new world and I'm just a stranger there.


Thanks Nath Dresser and Connie Ward for the great photos taken at The Sh*tty Barn in Spring Green, WI. You can find their work at, and The Sh*tty Barn Facebook page. Photo credit to Connie for the banjo photo used in the banner.

Weissenborn style lap guitar photos courtesy of Mark Lillo.

Homegrown photos by Clint Austin (Charlie) and Maxwell McGruder (Charlie and Alan).