From the Home Office: Vintage Guitars, a Punk Icon, and a New Editor

Posted on August 4, 2014 | by Mark Segal Kemp

from the home office doe guitar

When punk icon John Doe, a pioneer of what’s known today as alt-country and indie-folk, came into Acoustic Guitar's studio for a taping of our video series AG Sessions, we hit him with a little surprise.

During the performance and interview, senior editor David Knowles opened up a battered guitar case and presented Doe with an old, tobacco sunburst Gibson J-160E. “Wow!” Doe exclaimed. “Whose is this?”

It was Doe’s—or at least, it once belonged to him. The Gibson (shown above) is the instrument Doe used on the classic Knitters album Poor Little Critter on the Road, a country-folk side project he recorded in the early ’80s with members of his trailblazing Los Angeles band X. AG production manager Hugh O’Connor had acquired the vintage instrument from a friend who’d run in Doe’s circle of musicians.

“It’s nice to see it,” Doe said as he strummed a few chords on the old Gibson.

Vintage guitars. Why are we so smitten by them? What makes one guitar a collectible vintage instrument and another just an old beater? Does a scratched-up Gibson mean more if an artist like John Doe previously owned it? After all, Gibson’s brand-new J-model acoustics play at least as well as the older ones, and even the guitars in Gibson’s more affordable Epiphone line are amazingly well-built these days.  

For this issue’s special section on future vintage guitars (page 51 in the print edition), AG asked readers to offer their opinions on what constitutes a coveted vintage instrument—more importantly, what  a coveted vintage instrument might look like 100 years from now. (Hint to Hugh: You may want to pass that J-160E along to your grandkids!) In the cover story, Knowles talks with Doe about X, the Knitters, a new retrospective of his solo work, and the state of country and folk (page 40).

Elsewhere, New Zealand finger-style guitarist Hollie Fullbrook of Tiny Ruins discusses her songwriting (page 18), and master jazz guitarist Ron Jackson offers some beginner’s tips on how to play soulful songs like India.Arie’s “Brown Skin” (page 34).

With old-timers like Doe extolling the virtues of acoustic music, and newcomers arriving daily in genres ranging from bluegrass to acoustic soul, it’s an exciting time to be at a media outlet devoted to learning, playing, building, and collecting great acoustic guitars.

I’m happy to report that this is my first issue as Acoustic Guitar’s editor. (Since October, I’ve served as a senior editor.) My journey here has been long and circuitous—from editing the indie-alternative music magazine Option in the early ’90s to holding top posts at Rolling Stone and MTV, as well as years of doing print and digital journalism in North Carolina. Not only that, but acoustic music is literally in my blood: My 90-plus-year-old aunts, Carolyn and Evelyn—the Carlton Sisters—were regulars on the Grand Ole Opry in the late 1930s, their sweet close harmonies set to Evelyn’s fingerpicking on a small-bodied Martin serving as a sort of bridge between the Carters and the Everlys.

I’ve played acoustic guitars since grade school, graduating along the way from an old Fender with impossibly high action to a Yamaha, a Gibson Hummingbird, a Martin D-28, and more. I’m no Mississippi John Hurt—after all, I’ve had stories to file and deadlines to meet—but I haven’t given up trying.

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