Many of you likely recall that I’m a huge fan of the singer-songwriter James McMurtry. Not only are his songs amazing, but he’s got a virtuosic but unorthodox guitar style, frequently using alternate tunings (especially double drop D). He’s had this particular acoustic guitar, a Guild GF-30, for his entire career, which I’ve seen him play live many times, especially lately when JM’s been doing live streams twice a week during the pandemic, and he always does at least a couple of tunes on it.
It has a delicious tone that I’ve not heard on any other guitar, and although it has a soundhole pickup that he sometimes uses when playing live, it’s clear from the livestreams that it’s not the pickup that gives it that sound, since those are done with just an RE-20 condenser and no amps. Hearing it so often nowadays, I really started hankerin to have that tone in my arsenal. The Martin dread and 12 strings I have clearly ain’t it, although they’re very gorgeous in their own ways.
Those Guilds were made for only about four years, and finding one these days is next to impossible, between there having been few to start with and that nobody wants to part with theirs. They were billed at the time as “Traditional”, with bodies smaller than a jumbo or dread, sort of a mini jumbo (oxymoron?). I started delving in to how they were made to see what might be out there these days that is similarly constructed, comparing body widths and depths and all that stuff. When I did, I realized that my other 6-string, made by the Pimentel luthiers in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was nearly identical in dimensions to the GF-30. This guitar is essentially a grand auditorium body shape.
I’d been keeping the Pimentel strung “Nashville style”, with the EADG strings an octave higher than normal, for many years now, having grown to always want one handy. So I slapped a set of regular strings on, tuned it to one of JM’s alt tunings and capo configs, and damn if it doesn’t sound damn close! Way closer than I’d expected.
Here are two short mp3s for comparison. One is an excerpt from a McMurtry instrumental called Late Norther where he’s playing the GF-30 accompanied by bass guitar and tabla, and the other recorded this morning on my Pimentel here in my little home studio, using my AT 4040. I did some light compression and EQ and adjusted the level on the Pimentel to make for a better direct comparison, recognizing that I have just the guitar without the other instruments, and I haven’t the foggiest what production choices were made on the original back in the early 90s. The original has some reverb and a bit of a slapback thing going on, so I emulated that as best I could (bit of Imperial Delay and Fusion Reverb).
Excerpt from McMurtry Late Norther:
Me on the Pimentel (slower, faking it)
With all those caveats, these sure sound similar to me and in particular the Pimentel has the “sing” in its tone I have been yearning for. Also, it has some major sustain – I let it ring at the end and it went on for well over ten seconds. So, bonus! Clearly I was wasting a lot of guitar to use this one for the Nashville strings, so now I’m going to pick up a basic, small-body six for that purpose, cuz I’ll still want one to hand.
So my old guitar turns out to feel new, in search of the sound of a different old guitar, and now I’ll get a new guitar to fill the role the old-new one did. Got all that??