Doc Stevens and His Guitars and Equipment - Part 11 - Homemade Electric Guitar Number One

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 4:31 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: This posting and the next one are the ones that I am most pleased with. As you know, rural Americans are very suspicious of outsiders and it has been a monumental task to get Doc, Marilyn and their friends to open up enough to grant me these interviews. Over the past three years, they have grown to basically trust me and have allowed me into their lives and circle of friends.

I have wanted to have photos of Doc's home made guitars ever since he first allowed me to see them, hold them and attempt to play them about two years ago. At first he was embarrassed about them precisely because they are home made and not "storebought."

Poor people do not make instruments because they are in vogue, but because they want to make music and they do not have the money or credit to go to a music centre and buy pre-made instruments. So they scavenge what they can and make what they need.


When Doc first felt that he could show me his home made guitars, I was amazed. He was ashamed of them because they came from a time that he was in total poverty, but I was quite impressed with them. I think you will be, too.

Doc: OK Tondy, this is one of my home made guitars. I had to put this together a long time ago. I was broke and didn't have no money for a store bought electric guitar, so I made this one here. I HAD to play and make some money, an' a man what had a club said I could play there if I had a 'lectric guitar. This was down Goldsboro, NC.

I didn't have no 'lectric guitar. So I had to make one. A lot of country boys makes they's guitars if they is broke and needs to make one.

This one here is made from a box what paint samples came in. I think it is from the 60's. Says Precision Paints on the side. I found it in the trash and had kept some tools in it.

Anyway, I needed a 'lectric guitar an' didn't have one. This was in the 80's. I went to a music store and the guy there what fixes guitars gave me some parts for free - I told him HomemadeA1what I was needin' to do and asked him if he had any old parts other people didn't want. He gave me the pickups and knobs and the volume control and tone control. They come offin' someone's guitar what had him put better stuff on it. He didn't want them so he give 'em to me.

I glued that million dollar bill onto it a couple of years ago. Someone give it to me, an' this guitar needed somethin' to make it look good. I glued it on there. Now it is a million dollar guitar.

I got the copper for the mounting plates outta the trash behind a cabinet shop over in Mount Olive. They had an alley out behind the stores their on Main Street and that is where they put the trash. You can find some good things out there, and food too. Mount Olive is a good town, Tondy.

Another dude I knew gave me a old neck. It was offin' a guitar what he had that got tore up in a bar fight. I ain't know what brand it is. I have played it long and hard for about 25 years. I stopped takHomemadeA2in' it out when I got a real store bought guitar, but I have played it local at peoples' houses what already know me. About last year I took it out and played it in public and people did like it. Even guitar players liked it. But I don't know why.

The boy over to the sign shop made me some stickers what say Doc Stevens. I put one on the neck here so people know it's mine and not someone else's.

I put the handle on it so I could carry it easy. I put a handle on most my guitars for a while so I could carry them easy. I put those HomemadeA4rubber feet on it, too, like on some of my other guitars. It keeps it from slippin' an' fallin' and keeps it from gettin' cracked if you set it down too hard. I got the handle and feet from a old amp that was bein' throwed out from behind a music store in Raleigh - that's in North Carolina, too, Tondy.

So pretty much that was it. It's just made out of old trash what other people din't want, but I did. I put it together there in my motel room apartment and was able to play and make a few dollars an' the man at the club let me eat there for free, too, so it was good.

It sounds pretty good for blues. The neck is good, and it is set up right. Good action, good tone. What seems funny is that nowadays people with money like these old home made guitars made by poor men. We ain't made 'em to be collected. We make 'em so we can have a guitar when we ain't got no money but need a 'lectric guitar.

Tondeleo: What about the case? That's not home made. Where did that come from?

Doc: YOU know where it came from! I already TOLD you.

Tondeleo: OK, well tell me again where it came from.

Doc: That case came from a dude from out west, Wyoming, I think. We was playin' down south, down to Atlanta in Georgia. This dude what also played music hung around afterward talkin. He went back to our room, and he saw this home made guitar and the other one, and went nuts over them.HomemadeA5

He played 'em a while an' asked me about did I have a case for them. I said, "no." He said they needed a case so they didn't get tore up. He also said I needed to stop takin' my Fender Super Reverb [amplifier] out. It is a 1967 one, and he said it is worth too much to take out much.

So guess what? The next night, he came back, with this case what holds two guitars! I never seen one like it afore! It's gots wheels on it so I can roll it, too! But more'n that, he brought me a AMP with 8 inputs and a 15 inch speaker, and electric plug ins and some other tricks and it all packs down real tight in it's own case with wheels!

He GAVE 'em to me, Tondy! For FREE! He said he liked what I was doing and that he could afford to do it, and it made him happy to help me out! He also had already had Doc Stevens wrote on them! I could not believe it, and it made a tear roll down my eye! I will never forget that as long as I live! I will never forget that!

Doc Stevens and His Guitars and Equipment - Part 10 - Doc's "No Name" Acoustic Guitar

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 1:38 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: As a non musician, I don't yet fully grasp why even poor American musicians will have several variations of the same instrument. I understand needing an electric guitar and a non electric. But many of these rural Americans will be as they say, "dirt poor" and still have several instruments.

Today's post is about Doc's No Name acoustic guitar. He has had it for years, and it seems to be a favourite with him. He will tell you about it and why he likes it so much:noname1

Doc: This here is my No Name Guitar. It's called a no name cause it ain't got no name on it. It had a name on it when it come out of the factory whenever it was made, but somebody somewhere took the name offin' the neck and took out the label inside. Most guitars gots a label inside and also the name on the neck. This one don't, as you can see. Had 'em but lost 'em.

Tondeleo: Why do you think it has no name, Doc? I mean why would someone want to take the brand name off their guitar?

Doc: I don't know. Different reasons, maybe. Maybe it got stole once, and the person sanded off the name and took out the label so it wouldn't look like it had been tooken.

Sometimes a poor man with a good guitar will take off the name so no one will rob him of it. If it looks like a cheap guitar, it is safer for him and for the guitar. There is some places you cain't take a good guitar, even a old one, cause someone will rob you for it.

Maybe they had other reasons. I don't know. But I didn't do it. You have to ask the man what done it. And he ain't me.

Tondeleo: What else can you tell me about this guitar?

noname2Doc: It's pretty old. Maybe 40 years or 50. It's been around a lot, you can tell that. I done had it a long time myself. Maybe 20 years or more.

It's got designs around the sound hole what I painted on and also designs around the bridge what I painted on. It looked too plain. I noname3wanted to make it mine, you know, special to me.

Under the strings I got a picture of me when I was about 19, playin' guitar. It's a old Kay guitar what belonged to my Grand Daddy. I don't know why I put that picture there. I just did. Maybe I didn't want to lose it. I lose things pretty easy.

Up on the head stock, I got a picture of Merle Travis. I put that their 'cause he was a inspiration to me to play better. I cain't play like him but I wish I could. So I got his picture up there to take with me wherever I play so he goes with me so, to speak.

noname6Tondeleo: How would you describe the sound of this guitar? What makes it special to you?

Doc: This guitar sounds like a old Gibson or old Martin. Those are are good guitars. If you had a Gibson model J-45 it would sound like this guitar. I cain't afford one of those, but I could afford this one cause it ain't got no name.

It has a good all round sound. It sounds right for mountain music, for blues and roots music. I use number 10 strings on it so I can bend the notes for blues. I just really like this here guitar!

I give a boy $20 for this guitar a long time ago so that makes it pretty special. The price was special. I ain't had no money at the time an' gave him my last twenty bucks for it - then went into Goldsboro - down North Carolina - and played out on the streets and passed the hat an' got my money back plus some money for food. It started taken care of me from day one. So that is special, too.

Plus, it is set up real good, too, Tondy.

Tondeleo: What's that mean? "Set up real good?"

Doc: It means the strings lie close to the neck so it is as easy to play like a electric. Also I put on a bone saddle down on that bridge and a graphite nut on it to make it sound better. Inside, it's got a good pickup for when I need to play it through a amp. I forget the brand name of it but is is a good one.

When I go into a place where they is other guitar players, they look at this no name guitar, then they look at me an' I can see them laughin' to themselves. These is the boys with the brand new shiny guitars what they bought with credit cards - they is sittin' around in their polo shirts and loafers, laughin' at the poor man. But when I play it, and they hear it either plugged into a amp or not, they stop laughin' an' start askin' about it, what kind it is! It is a No Name.

noname5You can see on the neck where I have played it down to the wood! Nothin' plays like a guitar that is full of vibes from bein' played by someone who loves it. And I love this here guitar.

Everybody what's ever played it loves it. It looks like it has been to Viet Nam and back. It might have, I don't know, but it is worn out in just the right way that it plays good and plays loud.

It may be ugly, but it is good to me, and I am good to it, Tondy! I take it out most every Friday and Saturday night.

Doc Stevens and His Guitars and Equipment - Part 9 - "Dobro" or Resonator Guitar

Tuesday, April 13, 2010 7:29 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: I am trying to learn as much as I can about the music of rural Americans and what the different instruments are and what they do. Most of these rural Americans have different guns for different things, and different guitars for different sounds and even for different songs. I haven't quite cottoned onto all the details, but am trying to learn.

The guitar in today's post is an example of what I mean. It is what Doc and his friends call a Dobro, but it is also called a resonator guitar by some people. Doc says that dobro is the name that he grew up calling it, and that calling it a resonator guitar was something that people started doing "here lately."

dobro1Doc: Ok Tondy. This here is my dobro. I ain't play it all the time, just some time. It looks different than a regular guitar. It's got "f" holes like a archtop guitar to let the sound out.

Some dobros ain't got f holes, but gots chrome rings with screen wire in 'em to let the sound out. It's got a metal plate on the top. The strings run through it, and sit on a wooden biscuit what sits on a aluminum plate like a pie plate, what resonates the sound.I don't play it that much.

Tondeleo: Why don't you play it so much, Doc?

Doc: I don't know. I go through phrases of playin' it and phrases of not playin' it. It sounds different than a regular guitar, sort of tinny like a banjo. It's got good volume, but I ain't always like the tone, for some songs. But for others I do. I like playin' electric guitar better. Maybe that's why. I got another acoustic guitar what I play more than this one. This one's good for playin' in streets, for buskin'. It's got a good tone for bein' louder than traffic, cause it has that resonator sound.

It's kind of old, as you can see. Got some cracks in it. I ain't know dobro5 exactly how old, cause it was old when I got it. I give a boy $75 dollars for it one time. He needed money and knocked on the door of the motel I were stayin' at down North Carolina and asked me for $75 so he could pay his rent. I wrote a song on that dobro called "Six Days Away from Bein' Homeless." It's about payin' your weekly rent at the motel, and then you have to start thinkin' about gettin' money together for food, and knowin' you is just gonna have to do the same thing in 6 more days or you're gonna be out on the streets again.

dobro2 Now this here dobro has a round neck like a guitar. That is more the kind of dobro used in playin blues. You hold it and play it just like a guitar. The part where the tuners go through is like a guitar, too. It has slots for the tuners, instead of them sticking through from the back. More like on a nylon string guitar.

I have taken this dobro in different places where they ain't play blues, and people ask what it is. You ain't see these too much, I guess.

Some of these dobros is metal, Tondy! The old ones was painted, and some of the new ones is chrome. I ain't never had a metal one. If I could get one for about a hundred bucks or less, I'd give it a try.

The other kind of dobro, what is for country and bluegrass, has a square neck, so it ain't good for nothin' 'cept layin' it on your lap and usin' a slide on it, like a lap steel guitar. That's what them country boys like better, the square neck one. It's got different kind of tuners on it.

Listen, Tondy, I took this dobro up to a place where they was playin' country music, an' they already had a guy playin' his square neck dobro.

Another dude there looked at this one, and said, "He cain't make up his mind whether he's got a guitar or a dobro!" And started laughin. I had a few thoughts of my own, but I kept them to myself right then.

Since I was the new boy there, I ain't said much. He was playin' one of them shiny plastic lookin' made in China guitars, and had on a cowboy shirt with yokes on it!!!

So I just played and sang, and it went down real well with the people there. I usually do pretty good in places like that, cause I ain't usually need a mic, an' I am good at keepin' a real strong beat an' a bassline what makes people tap they's feet.

Afterwards,their dobro player came over and looked at mine. He said he liked it, and that it was worth more than the $75 I give fordobro4 it. I ain't sellin' it, but it was nice of him to make me feel at home. Then he explained to the other dude with the cowboy shirt on, that there is different' kinds of dobros and this one was just different than that dude had seen, That was nice of him. Anyway, that's this here dobro.

Doc Stevens and His Guitars and Equipment - Part 8 - Kay Archtop Electric Guitar

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 3:01 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: I am attempting to learn more about the music and equipment that rural Americans use in their music making. One thing that I have noticed and have mentioned in earlier posts is that even poor rural Americans have plenty of what they think they need in order to live quality lives. I have noted that all of them that I have met have several rifles and shotguns. It unnerves me to think of these people with so many guns!

They keep them loaded, and usually right behind their front or rear doors! They are literally ready to shoot whomever may come knocking on their doors! Doc says, "An unloaded gun ain't nothin' but a stick."

Some have 8 -10 loaded rifles or shotguns behind their door, with another two or more hanging on racks on their parlour walls, and sometimes two or three more in their bedrooms! It is just a way of life for them and no one thinks it is unusual.

And, as I mentioned before, they seem to have an abundance of musical instruments. I have written posts about several of Doc's guitars, and I am hoping he will let me take pictures and write about two of his home made guitars. We are building up to that.

Today, we are looking at his Kay guitar:

kay3Doc: Ok, Tondy, this here is a Kay guitar. It is from the 50's. I done had it a long time. It is a archtop, meaning that the front and the back of it is arched or bowed out, and the sound holes is shaped like "s" but they call it a "f"sound hole. I guess whoever made up that name couldn't write too good.

It is also electric so it's got a pick up on it. It used to have a pick guard but that got lost about 15 years ago. My cousin down North Carolina borrowed it and brought it back with the pick guard off. That is why the wire to the pick up is taped on, so you don't get your hand caught up in it when you is playin.

The knobs was off it when I got it, so it's gots some knobs from outta my shop. One is metal an' one is plastic. But they both work.

The strings ain't lay close to the neck as what I like, even though it is pretty good for one of these old Kays. I usually use this guitar for bottleneck. It is on some of them yourtube videos what you put on that innerweb. I use it for a lot of songs with bottleneck. It sounds just right for that.

It's gots the right sound for blues and country roots. Ain't no good for rock music. Just blues and old country music. But that is what we kay1play.

Tondeleo: How much would you say it is worth, Doc?

Doc: I don't know. I give $30 for it a long time ago. Maybe it's worth a hunnerd. Maybe more maybe less. I ain't really care.

Kay's wasn't really ever worth a whole lot. They was for just regular folks who couldn't afford no Fender or Gibson or other expensive guitar. These was made for folks like us to be able to buy secondhand, after the person what bought it new thought they needed a Fender or a Gibson. I ain't never knowed anyone what bought a new guitar, like as the first owner of it.

kay4That is one thing about people today, Tondy. They want to play music what was wrote an' played by poor people, an' then they think they got to have a shiny new thousand dollar guitar! And they wonder why they can't get that sound they is lookin' for! Cause that sound ain't in a thousand dollar guitar! It is in a poor man's guitar, and in his fingers and in his heart when he plays it. You cain't buy that sound.

I think a poor man has a vibe that becomes part of his guitars over the years, and that guitar responds to his vibe. A new guitar ain't got no vibe yet - and it ain't gonna get no vibe if it is bought by some smarty pants who is tryin' to plau it note perfect off'n' some sheet music! The folks what wrote them songs ain't even knowed hot to read sheet music! They just played what was in they's hearts, and it came out that way. Mostly never the same way twice, neither. I DO like this old Kay guitar.

Doc Stevens and His Guitars and Equipment - Part 7

Saturday, April 3, 2010 6:55 PM Posted by Tondeleo Lee Thomas

Tondeleo: Now that Doc has opened up to the idea of talking about some of his guitars and letting me take pictures of them, he is opening up quite a bit. He has also told me to make it clear he does not keep them all in one place, or even in his house. They are different places, for security reasons and so if his bungalow burns down or something, he won't lose all his beloved guitars and equipment.

Doc: This here is an Inez [Ibanez] seven string guitar. I aint use it too much. It sounds good though. I got this over to Tennessee about ten years ago. A long haired boy what played what I call devil music, that kind where all they do is scream like they is already in hell, was bein' picked on by some rednecks. It weren't right.

I ain't like devil music and I ain't like how that boy looked, but he was still a human bein' and should not be treated like they treated him. So I dived in there and showed them how a country boy can come on like a big dog. I ain't really big, maybe 200 pounds, but I am pretty quick and I had a equaliser which shall remain nameless and I was in it just long enough to help that boy out, and for them other guys to leave cause they saw a cop car comin' up. I was glad they did cause they would have whooped me too, if they had got their minds to it.

Ibanez 7 string Anyway, that boy down there gave me this seven string guitar cause he didn't use it too much he said and he wanted me to have it for savin' his rear end. I didn't want to take it but he wanted me to have it so there you go.

It was chipped up and dinged up so I fixed the bad parts and painted it and pinstriped it. I used to do a lot of that kind of work. I still do some of it. Pinstriped it and then put clearcoat on it, like you use on a car. I think it is from 90's. I don't know. I ain't never seen one afore. Ain't seen one since. This the only one I seen.

A seven string ain't used much as far as I know, ceptin' in like heavy metal music or whatever it is called. I put two bass strings on it for a while, so I had five regular guitar strings and the two bass. That was pretty fun, but then I loaned it to a boy for a while and he took 'em off and put on regular, so I just kept it that way.

It ain't been hot rodded or nothing as far as I know. Just painted. Sometimes I want to sell it, but then I play it to make up my mind and decide to keep it. I don't know, I might ought to sell it. I don't play it that much and probably will get rid of it or trade it for something else. Seven strings. That's a lot of strings. But it sounds good. Tags: , ,