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Steve Earle and a '39 Roy Smeck Radio Grande

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Don't know if you guys follow Steve Earle's "Guitar Town" series on YouTube in which he discusses guitars in his (huge) collection, but this week he talks about the history of his 1939 Gibson Roy Smeck Radio Grande. He also plays a tune:

 

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I have been following when I remember.   It does not help much that I am not a big fan of Facebook.  But I had not caught this one yet  so thanks for posting.  If there was ever a grand piano of acoustics the Roy Smeck was it.  I do, however, favor the mahogany body Stage Deluxe with the burst. 

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If there be Gibsons which send me running for the drool bucket they are a Smeck  and a Trojan/J35.  Although I am a notorious cheapskate  is not as much the money as the knowledge that if I was going to make a move it should have been back when I had something to say musically.   I think this is one of the reasons I have started looking in a direction other than "vintage".    At the moment my Fairbanks Smeck does me well and easily brings a big old smile to my face.

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I’m in the camp of getting reissues because I seldom see any vintage ones that are not overpriced and in need of repairs. As far as the Smecks, I had the JB walnut version and a hog and rw version of the Stage Deluxe. They all sounded great. I’ve had a couple walnut guitars ( JB and AJ) and did not care for them. They were so loud and bright it exposed my lack of talent. If I were a better player I would had kept them.  I decided to downsize and only keep one of the SD and it didn’t matter which one so I put them both up for sale then after one sold I took the other one (RW) down. 

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Mr Earle continues into 35 and 45 and 50. A little desperate he seems, but sure is passionate. Who can blame the man. 
 

 

Edited by E-minor7

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3 hours ago, E-minor7 said:

Mr Earle continues into 35 and 45 and 50. . .
 

I would pick up his dry cleaning for him.

@ t= 4:55: " ... the sides are always laminated on these old Gibsons"- well, ya learn something new every day.

With that stiff thumb pick, playing almost right down to the bridge, and using strings old enough to make Nick Drake (& Emin7, for that matter) envious, Steve's certainly not going for the choir of angels sound- maybe more towards the plinka-plinka being the objective- then it's more about the songwriting.

The videos he's doing in the series are a nice way of introducing his online followers to some cool old guitars, and they get a song, too.

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4 hours ago, 62burst said:

 

With that stiff thumb pick, playing almost right down to the bridge, and using strings old enough to make Nick Drake (& Emin7, for that matter) envious, Steve's certainly not going for the choir of angels sound- maybe more towards the plinka-plinka being the objective- then it's more about the songwriting.

The videos he's doing in the series are a nice way of introducing his online followers to some cool old guitars, and they get a song, too.

 

I buy Steve's LPs and go to his shows not to hear his guitar playing.  It is for the voice and words.  When the article featuring his collection first appeared in Vintage Guitar Magazine  I was actually surprised  to learn of the collection he owned as I never associated him with vintage guitars.  The Gibson he made iconic was not one of his old ones but the black J100E  which is slung over his shoulder on the cover of his first LP and which shows up in shows and videos over the next couple of years.   In fact it once was included in a guitar exhibit in the Country Music Hall of Fame..   

Edited by zombywoof

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8 hours ago, 62burst said:

I would pick up his dry cleaning for him.

@ t= 4:55: " ... the sides are always laminated on these old Gibsons"- well, ya learn something new every day.

With that stiff thumb pick, playing almost right down to the bridge, and using strings old enough to make Nick Drake (& Emin7, for that matter) envious, Steve's certainly not going for the choir of angels sound- maybe more towards the plinka-plinka being the objective- then it's more about the songwriting.

The videos he's doing in the series are a nice way of introducing his online followers to some cool old guitars, and they get a song, too.

Not sure Earle is right about laminated back and sides on "old Gibsons." Certainly some were during the banner era, and others during the mid/late 1950s.

Up until about 1948, many Gibson flat tops had interior vertical sidestays of glue-saturated cloth, which I assume were there to reduce the chance of cracking of solid sides. Those were replaced with wooden "popsicle stick" sidestays (at least on the two 1950 J-45s I have) after that.

John Shults of True Vintage Guitar told me Gibson started using laminated sides on flat tops again after about 1953, but I haven't been able to verify this, except for large-body jumbos like the J-200.

If a guitar has a tapered endpin going thought the tailblock, you can remove the endpin and examine the side structure inside the pin hole with a magnifying glass, which will tell you if sides are laminated or solid. You probably can't judge that if you have a screw-type endpin.

Be aware that old plastic endpins have the awkward characteristic of breaking off if they are tightly wedged in and you try to twist them out. They can be tapped out from the inside with a punch or block of wood, but this requires removing the strings. (First-hand experience speaking here. I'm very good at learning things the hard way.)

The 1950 J-45 Earle plays is interesting. I'd love to know the FON. My 1950 J-45 FON 3644 had a 'burst very similar to Earle's when I bought it in 1966. The 1950 J-45 FON 3358 I bought last year has a totally different 'burst, with a top that is dark overall with very subtle gradations in color, rather than the sharp transition seen in Earle's guitar.  That dark top is my favorite 'burst of any guitar I've owned.

As Earle says, the 1950 J-45s I've owned and played have had great tone. My FON 3358 has a lot of top dome compared to many guitars, and luthier Ross Teigen, who did the work on it, says that's why it projects so well. He says that is also a characteristic of many of the best 1930's Martin dreads.

As ZW says, you don't listen to Earle for his guitar playing, but for his lyrics and singing.  As Em7 says, Earle is certainly passionate about guitars.

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AFAIK -- which may not be  totally right -- is the laminated stuff in the 1940s was maple and the laminated mahogany sides started in the mid 50s.  Less certain about the latter because we never had SJs/J-45s after 1954.

AFAIK, 1955 was not only when the bat wing pick guard came along, but also when scalloping stopped.  IME, the latter made a difference, but not exactly sure when it started.  My 54 SJ is scalloped.

The J-35 is a later one -- you did find everything in that period -- 2/3 tone bars and scalloped/unscalloped -- hard to tell from the recording.  He obviously not a true expert, but it  is nice he is making music with them!

Best,

-Tom 

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