Vintage Guitar - March 2017 - Open - 20
onsidering the varied musicality of Austin,
Texas, it's no wonder singer/songwriter
Johnny Nicholas makes his home in the Texas
A native of Rhode Island, he listened to R&B
in the late '50s and later gravitated to moretraditional blues and folk. His first guitar was
a Stella acoustic acquired in 1961 for "$15, with
the case," followed by a '62 Guild Starfire IV, a
'49 Gibson J-50, '49 Martin 00-21, National Style
O, Gibson ES-295, '64 single-pickup Melody
Maker to which he added the pickup from a
'58 Tele, and a '68 Les Paul goldtop.
When he began playing, Nicholas was abetted
by notable bandmates.
"Duke Robillard and I grew up together in
Westerly," he said. "He and I used to get together
after school and we played shows with his band,
the Variations, and mine, the Vikings. In 1970,
we formed a band called Black Cat with Steve
Nardella, Fran Christina, and Larry Peduzzi. It
lasted about nine months before Steve, Frannie,
and I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, while
Duke reactivated Roomful of Blues with a
Nicholas later relocated to San Francisco
"My favorite blues genre would be Delta
artists who transitioned to Chicago - Howlin'
WITH ZAC CHILDS
I have a Gibson Custom Shop Les
Paul that has a sunburst top but a 7
984x serial number that would seem
to indicate it should be a '57 reissue
goldtop. Can you tell me what this guitar actually is, and how many of these
were made that year? - Gary Bertrand
It is not a '57 reissue, but a Custom
Shop Les Paul Elegant from 1997.
These were made with chambered
bodies, fancy maple tops, and Gibson's
own '57 Classic Humbuckers. Some
had clear pickguards, but sometimes
the final builder would choose not to
install the guard if the top was especially nice. Gibson's records indicate
they shipped 415 Les Paul Elegants
worldwide in '97. There were three
colors - Butterscotch (189), Antique
Natural (134), and Firemist (92).
I have a classical guitar built by
Philip Interdonati. What can you tell
me about him? - Patrick Rogers
We posed your query to luthier, classical-guitar historian, and VG contributor
R.E. Bruné (see his "Guitars With Guts"
feature column on 1926 Domingo Esteso
guitar in this issue). Here's what he said.
"Some years ago, we had an Interdonati gut-string guitar pass through
the shop for repair. It was made around
the 1930s if I remember correctly, and I
thought at the time that for an Americanmade gut-string, it was pretty good. But,
by today's fussy classical guitar standards, it would be viewed as a quaint
relic. The work, wood, and finish were
done very nicely, and he was clearly a
skilled and inventive maker. It had a top
bracing system that was pretty welldeveloped yet highly individualistic - not
a copy of anything I've seen elsewhere. His instruments are apparently
sought-after among steel-string and
mandolin players because of his skill and
low output. Unfortunately, he had little
impact on the trajectory of the gut-string
guitar, and I doubt that many exist."
Zac Childs is a guitar tech in Nashville. If you
have a question about guitars, anything from
nuts and bolts to historical or celebrity-related
inquiries, drop a line to him at email@example.com
or visit facebook.com/askzac.
Johnny Nicholas: Cybelle Codish.
Wolf, Johnny Shines,
Eddie Taylor, Big Walter
Horton, and Roosevelt
Sykes come to mind," he
said. "I love B.B. King
and all the great, moremodern guys, but not
like I love country blues."
After playing with
Asleep at the Wheel for
several years, Nicholas
settled into Austin with
his family in the early
'80s. His most recent
album, Fresh Air, includes
unique instruments including an electric from
"It's an Axis Cypher,"
he said. "Most people
think they were a Teisco
spinoff, but I believe it's
an Italian-Japanese collaboration; Intermark
made the neck in Japan,
the electronics are definitely Italian."
Nicholas and associates used a lot of classic instruments on the
"Scrappy Jud Newcomb played my 1915
Style A Gibson mandolin, his little Harmony
mando, and my 1914 Gibson mandocello. I used
a Danelectro baritone in B natural but capo'ed
on the first fret, so we were playing in C."
Resonator and steel-guitar parts are courtesy
of Cindy Cashdollar, except the solos on "Backdoor Man," and the original material involves a
lot of personal reflection and memories; "Play
Me Like You Play Your Guitar" and "How Do
You Follow A Broken Heart" offer plaintive
lyrics. "Backdoor Man" is one of two traditional
blues songs, and the other - Sleepy John Estes'
"Kid Man Blues" - serves up a Bo Diddley/
semi-funk/quasi-reggae beat with solos that
involve steel guitar interplay with bass, guitar,
"I heard Sleepy John do that at Newport
when I was a kid, and always loved the song."
Nicholas recounted. "The bass part is my '59
Dano Longhorn baritone."
Nicholas is "mostly satisfied" with Fresh Air,
"Which is saying something because I'm critical
of my own stuff. The band is stellar, production
is stellar, and while I dig my tunes, I'm restless
to get on to the next group of songs and stories.
I also want to hone my stage skills and keep
challenging people to think for themselves, open
their hearts and minds." - Willie G. Moseley