This is the first in a new series in which we speak to some of the world’s top guitarists and ask them to describe, in detail, the various instruments in their collection. We begin the series by talking to ace axeman Rory Gallagher. Rory isn't a collector in the true sense of the word — he hasn't got a house in the country with wall to wall guitars but he uses a total of five very different instruments on stage.
Gallagher by Eamonn
A personal guide to guitars in his collection
Thanks to 'Superfan" for loaning this image from
his eBay auction for this magazine. Look for his other
Rory and various rock auctions on eBay .
“I got it for about £100 give or take a fiver. It was second-hand. In fact, it was purported to be the first or second Strat in Ireland. The guy who had it before was a showband player who ordered a red one like Hank Marvin’s and they sent a sunburst one, so he used the one I have now for a while until the red one arrived and then sold this sunburst one, so that's how I got it. I think I got it in 1962. That was two years after the guy bought it, so it must be a ‘60 model. I use the ordinary light-gauge Fender rock'n'roll strings —.010, .012, .015 etc. — the standard set.
You've had it re-wired
Yeah, but the only change I've made is to the tone control. The bottom one —the one that's normally used for the tone of the middle pick-up — that's now a master tone control. I didn't want to change anything on it for years but, two years ago, I got fed up with clicking on the treble pick-up and not being able to adjust the tone. The idea of the Strat, I suppose, is that you're able to adjust the tone on the bass and middle pick-ups and play rhythm on those and then swop over to the treble pick-up and do a solo —like Buddy Holly. The other tone control doesn't do anything, so I've just got master tone and master volume — it suits me fine.
Any other changes over
I changed the machine heads — from the old Klusons to the small Schallers, but I’d like to change back now. I don't think they're that much better. The problem is that the holes for the string, on the Schaller, is kinda high and it means you've got to wind on quite a distance to get a good angle to the nut, for sustain. I cant change back very easily ‘though, because I've had bigger holes drilled at the top of the guitar. I'm hoping that Schaller or Grover or somebody will come up with small machine heads with a lower hole. With the Klusons, you could just stick the string in and wind it about twice, and it had a nice sharp angle. I suppose you get a little bit more a grip on the string with the Schallers.
I've got the normal Fender frets on. I never bothered with the wide frets. What else is new? I still keep hunting down the old Fender bridges. They're better than the new ones which are very light and the strings cut through.
You appear to have a
high action on the Strat.
Yeah, it's not very low. It's similar to the action on an acoustic guitar. I've always had a high action. You bend a string and the pressure's against the finger and you can bend it up a tone or whatever a lot better. Considering I'm using light strings — by “old” standards — it's better. If you hit a real power chord and you've got real thin, wispy strings on, you re gonna get a buzzy nothing. Even if you're using my strings with a low action, you're not gonna get a chord with real conviction. I'm still not 100% happy with the gauges that come out of the packets, but it's as close as I’ll get, probably. I like the first four — I like the .015 for the 3rd. I’d like the bottom end a little heavier, but then you try the Ernie Ball sets and there's a .009 on top which is too light. It's strange — if I put a .009 on top, it's too light and if I put a .011 on top, it's too heavy and I’ll miss the .010. That's not to say that if I was stuck, I couldn't plough away on something else. There's another thing —on a Gibson guitar, which is a 23~1/2” or 24” scale, you'd probably need a .009 on top — if you had my hands — because the action is a little stiffer with the longer scale length. Nobody's ever confirmed that, but I think so. I think the Fender scale is just right. I think the low action thing was really something to do with jazz guitar or when we had to play with thick strings, before the unwound 3rd came. You couldn't suffer a night with the action I had nowadays with the old strings.
Changes over the years would include the pick-ups — the treble and bass pick-ups blew within a week of each other, so the middle pick-up is the only original one. The bridges, the frets and the nut have been changed a few times — that's just wear and tear. The tone pots as well, but that's just normal. The basic chassis is the same. For years, I kept thinking I’d change things, but I never did. The tone control thing is the only major change. It's just that I’ll be playing slide on the Tele and go into the treble position and you can adjust it nicely. Quite often, on a Strat, you jump between the middle Position and the treble and the change can be . . . crazy. But, I'm as happy as Larry now. I cant see the point of having tone controls on the bass and middle positions and not on the treble. I asked the guy who did my modifications to have, say, the middle tone pot to control the treble and middle pick-ups and the other one to control the bass, but it couldn't be done without a whole new “carry-on” inside.
You use the
“positions quite a lot. Have you thought of having the selector switch
I use those positions quite a lot. It's a bit clumsy to have two extra switches added like a lot of people do. But, in the States, you can get a toggle switch with five positions instead of the three. The nice thing about it is that the bass position is no problem — it hits the plastic at the end — and the next little groove isn't as evident as the middle position but it does sit in nicely. I didn't bother to get one of those fitted because mine just sticks nicely in those positions anyway because of the wear and tear. You can always bend the thing to that position anyway. It's a great Sound ‘though. It's the original funky soul sound. Buddy Guy lives with that tone. It's great clean or even with distortion. I like to, halfway through a solo, go from one pick-up to one of those positions. That out-of-phase sound, which is technically not out-of-phase, is really good for rhythm — it's a nice jingly-jangly sound.
Oh, yeah, another thing I haven't done is to put another stud on the top near the machine heads. On the newer Fenders, they've got an extra stay there and that's basically to get a nice angle on the nut. I like that 3rd string really open up there because I do a trick with it where you pick a note or hit a harmonic and bend the string behind the nut. It's better than using a tremolo arm — it's more of an eerie sound
Why did you dispense
the tremolo arm?
Well, I did have one when I got the Strat but it broke off with rust one day. I used to use it in the showbands in Ireland — if we were doing something like “Walk Don't Run” by the Ventures or something. I used to see pictures of Buddy Holly and he didn't use it, so I used to take it off. In those days, of course, everyone used to leave all the springs on the back so the action was . . - you'd only get a semi-tone of a drop, or maybe a tone at the best. But by and large. it's still the best tremolo arm. It's better than the Bigsby. But now, you see fellas using only two or three springs so you can take it right down. I had the arm but I found I wasn't using it. Give or take a few songs. Like in those days you might be doing Buddy Holly's “Heartbeat” and there's a nice little quiver in the solo on that but in the main, I wasn't using it much. It also started getting a bit loose and clattery. I had to stick bits of paper down with it. A lot of blues guys like Otis Rush and Buddy Guy and Earl Hooker used to use them. It seems, from the Beatles and the Stones era until recently, it was the thing not to use. But it's quite a decent effect.
I was thinking for a while of getting another tremolo arm put back on, but getting it so you could only bend the 2nd or 3rd string a Ia Clarence White. The way I was gonna do that was to design some kind of second bridge and have one or two strings overlapping it. Maybe the 2nd and 3rd. Then, only those would be affected by the operation. Not only that, but you could bend a string down as well as up. With the usual string benders, you can only take the string up. Carl Perkins used to have a trick like that and I remember one or two showband guys used to use a six-inch nail. They used to take a nail to a foundry and have it twisted and bent and it used to go into the guitar up near the nut, and curl in behind the 3rd string. The only thing with that was you would have to be playing way down near the nut to be able to use it. If you look at some of the early Carl Perkins pictures, you'll see a little wire thing coming out.
In fact. I've got two Teles. The one I use mainly is the black one with the maple neck. It used to be cream coloured. The other one is a sort of whitey-cream one with a rosewood neck which I've left straight, with the two normal pick-ups. I used that for ages, but then I got this one — the black one — which is an Esquire. A guy rung up and said he had a ‘53 Esquire and was I interested? I had a look at it and it was real hooky-looking. It was great — all dirty and all that. So I cleaned it up and painted it black. That had the standard pick-up procedure which was fine but I got fed up with playing slide mainly on that rhythm position, which is a bit thin. It's a fine country and western or soul sound but then you'd go into the middle position and it's a sound I detest. It's two pick-ups on together — on most guitars it's too artificial sounding, which is why I love the middle pick-up on the Strat.
The treble position is fantastic ‘cos it's really twangy but it's sometimes a little too strong for slide, so I stuck a Strat pick-up on the neck position and that was great. But still the middle position sounded a bit James Brown tone, which is fine for James Brown so I said, “Here we go” and I stuck another Strat pick-up in the middle and then I changed the toggle switch so it's now a Tele with the features of a Strat which is great. I've got all five positions, but the out-of-phase between the Tele treble and the middle position is really righteous. Lowell George, for instance, he's got a Tele pick-up on his Strat in the treble position, so I've got something like that. Oddly enough, the Tele body gives the Strat pick-ups a more hard-nosed sound, so you don't automatically get the Strat sound. The maple neck has a lovely feel to it as well.
Do you use a heavier
string for slide?
Well, I use a mixture of Fender Rock’n’ Rolls. The first is a .013. the second is a .015, and I used to buy wound .020 strings for the 3rd, but I found it was best to stick to unwounds for tuning and so I use an .018 for a 3rd. Then the 4th is a standard 4th, as is the 5th and 6th. I’d put heavier on if I was tuning down, but I generally tune the Tele to A or E and use a capo. Whereas, if I was playing in D, like Ry Cooder does a lot, I use acoustic. D is a bit low on electric sometimes. I could always get another guitar and have it tuned down, whereupon you would need heavier strings.
The Tele still has the Klusons and the bridge all the same. The treble pick-up has changed because the other one blew, but I was lucky enough to get an old one to replace it. A guy had a ‘56 Tele pick-up which I'm inclined to believe now —it's a really hot pick-up. I had it dipped in petroleum wax to stop the feedback but I don't have to do that with the Strat pick-ups because they seem to be OK. So, it's grown from an Esquire to a Tele to a Tele-Strat
I got the Martin in 1969, second-hand. A guy traded it in for a banjo or something and he claimed he picked it off the line at the Martin factory in Nazareth —whether that was a sales pitch or not, I don't know, but it's a good Martin. It's not outrageous, but it's getting better. I had to get the whole bridge re-made because the intonation was bad when I bought it — other than that it's fine. I use Earthwood bronze medium gauge strings which are great — as opposed to the mandolin strings which snap like mad — and I have an lbanez bug on the bridge. I've tried it in other positions but it seems to be best on the bridge. That goes into a Barcus Berry pre amp — a standard one — I've tried the Mk. II with the tone and boost on, and I’ll probably get one of those. I like the lbanez just as much as the Barcus Berry, but the one advantage of the Barcus Berry is there's a guy in Belgium who has a Barcus Berry on his Gibson but he's got it underneath the soundhole, right under the bridge. It's screwed in so it's literally moulded into the bridge. The pressure of the screw is probably better than glue. The best thing about it is that you cant see it and you can also run a lead in and fix in a jack socket. Oddly enough, if you remember Lonnie Donegan years ago, he used to actually plug his guitar in and that was a Martin, so he must have had a De Armond or a microphone built in or something like that, and that was before any of us were doing these things! Maybe he had some kind of violin contact mike or something. My only crib with the D-35 is that the neck is a bit round as opposed to the V-shape like the D-28, but it does have a lot of bottom response I've heard better Martins but I've heard a lot worse.
Do you straightforward
tuning on the Martin?
Yeah, mostly. Unless I'm playing bottle-neck, in which case it goes down to D. On record, I use all kinds of oddities. The only current odd tuning I use is on “Western Plain”, a Leadbelly tune which is DADGAG. It's a D-tuning, but the G string stays at C instead of going down to F sharp. Bert Jansch uses it a lot too. You get your major by hitting the second fret, 3rd string. It's really a beautiful tuning and it's a little more adventurous than the straight D tuning. Another tuning I use is the Skip James tuning which is E minor or D minor, depending. The thing is, you have to open up that extra cavity in the brain to remember to keep the finger on the major or the minor, but you end up with some beautiful chords.
Davey Graham invented a tuning recently and I saw him using it. He puts the B string to A and the G string to E. It's not a major tuning but he can play in three different keys then. He can use the E root bottom, the A root bottom or the D root bottom. The fingerwork is very difficult but you can get some really nice things from it. The problem with these tunings is that, for instance, if you're in - an A tuning, it's nice to do a song in B, so you're barring up at the 7th fret. That works really well — I used that on a song called “Stomping Ground” on the live album.
Are you happy with the
medium gauge strings on the Martin?
I like them because the numbers I play need the mediums. I’d like to have lighter strings on for Broonzy-style guitar — for the more bending type of thing, but I've got an old Bjarton guitar and it's beautiful. It's a very small guitar like the small Martins. Blind Blake used to use one — it's like a ragtime guitar. The neck joins the body at the 12th fret. I got that in a pawn shop in Denmark in about ‘67 for about £4. I've been playing that a lot lately, and that's got the light strings —being a small scale guitar, the light strings don't buzz or anything — it's just right. I used it on the first Taste album and I used to use it on stage. In fact, I was thinking of pulling it out one night and sticking an lbanez or something on it. I was looking at an ad the other day, and I saw that De Armond were bringing out a new transducer so I might try that —they, up until recently, used to be the real kings of the acoustic pick-up. The trouble with De Armonds was that they either sounded like a cheap electric guitar or a cello guitar — it wasn't a natural acoustic sound. Mind you, people used to like that sound — Lightning Hopkins and Brownie McGhee used to use that pick-up for years.
That was another lucky find. It's an OM model — the orchestra model. Stefan Grossman had the guitar version and it's a gorgeous-looking instrument. It's a small folk-size mandolin but it joins at the 14th fret. It's got a mahogany finish and I have an lbanez pick-up underneath the strings between the soundhole and the bridge. It works best there for me. It's got an extra pickguard on top because I was wearing it away too quickly. I was putting Gaffa tape on and it was getting a bit rough and ready looking. I just use standard mandolin strings.
When did you first
I got the mandolin sometime in late 1970, just before Taste broke up. I got a mandolin from Clifford Essex and it was a beautiful round body thing. I started working on that then, but I didn't play it until I started in ‘71 with this band. Unfortunately. I took it to the States on tour and the heat made the glue come apart and the neck folded up. It probably could be repaired. It's laziness or lack of time or something that I never got it repaired, but I liked the sound of it. It had a nice deep body and extra volume. Then I got another in this shop down in Victoria, it's a very unusual looking mandolin. It had an intricate design around the soundhole — like a kind of cover which I took off and it's like a cross between a round body and a Martin, and I had that done up and used it for a while. I still have it but it got a bit buzzy but it's not too bad.
I moved from that to
mandola. Chris Eccleshall made me an acoustic mandola and I used to
that with a pick-up. I've been thinking of using that again recently. I
had the top string tuned to A for a while and then to B but then we
to do some numbers a bit deeper and it used to sound like a cross
a 12-string and a mandolin. I haven't used
the acoustic mandola at all yet, apart from at home, but it's a nice round feel to it. When I got the Martin mandolin. I dropped the mandola, at least for a while. The difference in sound between the electric mandola and acoustic mandolin is fairly extreme for what we were doing. I've been writing some songs on the mandola now so I might be using it in the future.
I got it from a guy in the States. You get these traveling guitar salesman going round there. I got it for a very reasonable price — about £100 or something. I feel it sounds better than the steel-fronted model. The only disadvantage is that the Dobros and the Nationals with the two or three resonators join at the 14th fret and mine joins at the 12th, but it's something that you can live with. It's got more of a banjo sound and it's got the old classical machine heads. It had the old wooden bridge so I had that changed to an ivory or some other kind of bridge by Chris Eccleshall. The resonator caved in, believe it or not, so I had that beaten out again. I've got another one on order just in case, but it's the old problem — of wanting to play slide whereupon you need heavy strings and then you get the urge to play something different and you want to use lighter strings. But I never worry because it's very rarely that you find a number when you want to play that bendy. The National is really good ‘though, even for a beginner to pick it up and play it, it almost plays you.
That's just miked up
Yeah, I tried an Ibanez and all sorts of things but the trouble is you just pick up the sound of the neck vibrating on the body, which is defeating the object. I can tell you, it brings power to your hands, you move from that neck to the Strat and it's like running your hand across a jelly.
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