Vintage Guitar - September 2018 - Open - 28

Gothic Folk

W

hen David Rawlings steps onstage with
his latest acquisition - a '59 D'Angelico
Excel originally crafted for country star
Homer Haynes - you can hear the audience
ooh and aah. Though some in the crowd may
be vintage-guitar aficionados, the majority are
simply exhibiting mass appreciation.
Rawlings built his career fingerpicking gorgeous melodies alongside Gillian Welch while
using a '35 Epiphone Olympic - a particular
rarity among professional musicians that has
become a trademark of his look and sound,
thanks in part to its small body. On his latest
album, Poor David's Almanack, and the tour
in support of it, he used both the Epi and D'A,
taking his sonic signature in new directions.
The album is a blend of 10 tunes composed
in an ageless Americana vernacular with a
tip of the cowboy hat to Woody Guthrie and
Bob Dylan. The collection is often accented
by Rawlings' wry, dry sense of humor, as on

"Good God A Woman," about Adam pestering
his creator for Eve, and "Yup," about a woman
so tough hell can't restrain her. He's joined by
Welch, of course, but also accompanied by
Brittany Haas' fiddle and Ketch Secor (Old
Crow Medicine Show) and Taylor and Griffin
Goldsmith, of Dawes.
When Rawlings and Welch began playing
Nashville in the early '90s, Welch used a vintage
Guild D-25M, Rawlings a Taylor 810.
"I spent about all the money I had to get a
proper flat-top," he said. But it didn't quite
match the sound he envisioned for the duo.
Then, he happened upon the Epiphone.
"I wanted to try a small archtop for our tone.
I thought it might have a sound like a Dobro
or mandolin - more versatile with a midrange
voice - and I could attack it more aggressively
than a standard flat-top."
In the winter of 1994/'95, the two were visiting a friend in New England when they spied

VINTAGE GUITAR

28

September 2018

David Rawlings: Alysse Gafkjen.

DAVID RAWLINGS

the shape of a guitar on a workbench in the
friend's garage. "It was covered with dust - you
couldn't even tell its color because it had laid
in the same place for maybe 20 years. But it
was in good shape, didn't have any cracks or
anything. I figured if it wasn't messed up by
then, it must be pretty durable. It didn't have
strings or a bridge, but had a nice resonance,
so I thought 'This could fit the bill.'"
He traded the friend a '70s Fender Bandmaster Reverb head and had the Epi cleaned
and tuned. When Rawlings and Welch began
recording their 1996 album, Revival, helmed by
T Bone Burnett, they brought a slew of guitars
including several vintage Martins and Gibsons.
"But as soon as I heard that Epi - and this
was the first time I every really played it - I
thought, 'Boy, this is a great sound!' It inhabited
a space between our voices and just above
where Gil's guitar was. It just fit."
Due to the small body and long scale, the
Olympic boasted a unique tone.
"I could play some voicings and licks like Bill
Monroe might, or capo it up high and really
have it occupy a higher tonal space, so it really
changed the whole way I played. I've used it on
virtually every track I've played since - I can't
even think of an exception!"
Still, he always kept his eyes open for a larger
archtop, as well; the Epi was more of a lead
instrument, and he wanted an archtop with
a well-rounded voice, too.
Some two decades later, he ran across the
Haynes D'Angelico, then owned by famed
archtop expert Ranger Doug Green, of Riders
in the Sky. The two struck a deal.
Echoing the story of recording Revival,
Rawlings truly discovered the capabilities of
the D'A while cutting Poor David's Almanack.
"Gillian was playing her Gibson J-50 and,
combined with the D'Angelico, it was too
much of a muddy sound," he said. Then, she
switched to her 1960 Gibson Hummingbird,
which had belonged to Nashville session man
Wayne Moss (who played it on country classics
like "Stand By Your Man").
"It was Nashville-strung - without wound
strings," Rawlings said. "It and the D'Angelico
made a combination of guitars that was really cool. We used the combo on every single
song - it just became the sound of the record."
He takes that valuable D'A on the road,
everywhere.
"It may be crazy, but what are you going
to do, take your junk out of the road and die
later with a pristine guitar on your hands?"
he asked, rhetorically. "We've always tried to
put together a sonic picture out on the road
that matched our album - and just for our own
pleasure, as well." - Michael Dregni


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vintage Guitar - September 2018 - Open

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