G.A.S. Continued (Or How I Ended Up With Another Guitar)

I hadn’t planned to buy another guitar.  Seriously.

But sometimes good things happen when you least expect it.

I HAD planned to try to meet the maker of my Running Dog guitar on my next trip to Seattle. Since I bought it used from a guitar shop in Amherst, Massachusetts, I didn’t know Rick Davis, the builder who made my parlor style instrument back in 2001. But after playing it for a couple of years, I wanted to meet the guy who built such wonderful small guitars with the beautiful tone.

A recent trip to the west coast gave me the opportunity to stop by Rick’s shop in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle (aka, The Center of the Universe). Rick shares his shop with his partner, Cat Fox, and they couldn’t have been more welcoming. Rick told me the provenance of my 2001 Parlor guitar.  I learned he was the subject of Tim Brooke’s 2005 book Guitar: An American LifeAnd I played a beautiful 2011 Ought-3 model. (I also noodled on a baritone guitar, although I really didn’t know what to do with it – I’m not that good a musician.)

But the Ought-3 – which is sized between my dreadnought and parlor guitars – stayed with me. The neck, as I’ve come to expect from Rick’s guitars, fit my hand like a glove. A 1 3/4″ width at the nut made it perfect for fingerpicking. The warm tone comes up to the player through the soundport, in a way that I had never experienced. The beautiful Camatillo rosewood back and sides along with the quirky Hippocamus head stock turned it into a work of art.

I went back to my hotel, but couldn’t get the guitar out of my mind. I posted a note to Facebook, and my guitar-playing cousin weighed in urging that I go for it. Candice and I talked – first by email and then later by phone. She knows how much I have loved playing the parlor guitar, and she was incredibly supportive. In the end, we decided to take Hershey’s advice and go for it.

When I called Rick to tell him I wanted the Ought-3, he said, “Come over and play it some more before you decide.” Most of Rick’s guitars are custom-designed and built, so he wanted to make sure this was the guitar for me. He graciously agreed to meet me the next night after I finished an early dinner, and I sat in his shop and played for an hour or so. Now it can be nerve-wracking to play for a builder (who is also a guitarist), but Rick encouraged me to relax, commented on a Doc Watson tune I played, and told me more about this guitar. Before the night was over I had bought a new guitar and got a ride back to the hotel from its builder.

My new Ought-3 arrived last Friday, and I’ve played it constantly since then.  Here’s how Rick’s website describes the model:

Running Dog’s Ought-3 is based on the 000 of the 1930s. The longer scale length gives the Ought-3 more power and projection while retaining the resonance of the 12-fret neck. The Ought-3 name comes from both the Martin 000 and from the first year I built one, 2003.

And for you gear heads, here are the specs:

Soundboard: Bearclaw Sitka spruce

Back & Sides: Camatillo rosewood

Neck:  Mahogany

Binding:  Maple

Purfling:  Poplar (dyed)

Bridge and fingerboard:  Ebony

Width: 15″

Scale length: 25.4″

Width at nut: 1 3/4″

Options: Venetian cutaway, Soundport, Redwood burl rosette, and the “Hippocampus” seahorse inlay.

As I played it this weekend, Candice and I both marveled at the tone.  It has been great to get to know this guitar – and I’m looking forward to having it teach me more music for a long, long time.

If you are wondering what G.A.S. stands for, it is shorthand for “Guitar Acquisition Syndrome.” I love each of my guitars for different reasons and to play different types of music. But I will admit that I had to put new strings on my other guitars knowing that I’d never pick them up anytime soon if I the strings were old.  Not to worry…I’ve played all three this weekend

But that Ought-3…perhaps it should be the Ahhhh-3. What a wonderful guitar.  Thank you Rick!

More to come…


(Photos from Running Dog Guitar)

Shark Attack in Downtown Silver Spring!

As I walked to the gym this morning I saw cranes around the Discovery Building. My hopes were confirmed on the way home: SHARK WEEK!

Three times since Discovery Communications moved around the corner from us in downtown Silver Spring, a giant, inflatable shark has shown up swimming through their landmark building to celebrate Shark Week.  A friend who works for Discovery told me that they call him “Chompie.”

Throughout the day I wandered over to Discovery to check on the progress of Chompie’s arrival in our fair city and I’ve posted photos below of everything but the dorsal fin. (I don’t have access to the top floor of the NOAA building, which is about the only place short of an airplane where one can appreciate the entire ensemble.)  A job foremen told me today that each element has two tubes that continuously pump in cold air to keep it inflated.  They didn’t bite on my suggestion that they put a Nats cap on Chompie this year to recognize the good season that Roger “The Shark” Bernadina is having for the hometown Nationals.

In any event, enjoy watching Chompie come to life.

More to come…


The Steel Wheels: Rolling Through The Hamilton


Washington, DC can be a tough place.

But from the opening chords of Shady Grove to the final notes of Working on a Building, The Steel Wheels had the enthusiastic crowd at The Hamilton in the palm of their hands on Thursday evening in downtown Washington.

I first heard this band live at Merlefest 25 in April, and was blown away by their musicianship, tight vocals, and energy.

All of that and more was on display last evening in the intimate and beautiful music venue The Hamilton.

Singer Trent Wagler has a very distinctive voice and a writing style that continues to grow and mature as you listen to the band’s offerings on CD. He also fires up the energy that is a hallmark of this group.  Jay Lapp on mandolin and guitar along with Eric Brubaker on fiddle played off Wagler and each other perfectly throughout the show.  Their rhythmic dancing and bobbing reminded me more than once of the Soggy Bottom Boys performance on stage in O Brother, Where Art Thou?  – and that’s a compliment since it is one of my two favorite movies of all time. Bassist Brian Dickel holds down the low end and adds the occasional harmony when the group moves into quartet mode.

There are so many things that work well for this group, but the great singing makes it all come together.  This is one tight quartet, and their voices – each with a unique twist – work to make a sound that is greater than the sum of its parts. The musicianship is terrific and the arrangements are inventive. The energy never flags and I was exhausted for them at the end of the show. Finally, the songwriting is really first-rate.

A word about the venue as well.  Open for less than a year, this was our first time to visit The Hamilton and it is a real treasure for DC.  In one visit it became my new favorite place to listen to music.  I wish I could go back tonight to catch Tony Trischka, but we’re definitely booking a Gospel Brunch there soon, and on August 5th I hope to see another favorite steel-themed band:  The SteelDrivers. The room is intimate in feeling, the sound system is superb, and the wait staff is very friendly.  Well done!

Last night’s show included a lot of music from recent albums, including the new release Lay Down, Lay Low which is a terrific CD.  I’ll end with two videos from the Live at Goose Creek CD: the tunes Spike Driver and Nothing You Can’t Lose.


More to come…




Everyone Loves a Parade

Few things top a small town parade on July 4th.

Especially when the small town is Takoma Park, MD – home to one of the quirkiest and liveliest parades around.

Takoma Park has – to put it mildly – a progressive bent. I’ve written about these sensibilities, and their wonderful July 4th parade, before in More to Come.

So besides the obligatory Uncle Sam, the antique cars, and the politicians, this July 4th parade has a few things you’re unlikely to see in your average small town salute to liberty and independence.

Like the precision grill team.

Some of the entries are just silly. (This is a parade that gives out a “Wacky Tacky Takoma Award!) In the past, the Takoma Park parade has featured a precision drill team of environmentally friendly reel mowers.  Those good folks were missing this year, but in their place was the precision grill team.

Outfitted with their aprons, beaters, and spatulas, they marched along with the local organic food market, holding signs that asked, “You want a piece of this?”  Candice, Claire, and I – who took the short Metro ride to Takoma Park and claimed our traditional shady spot on Maple Street – all laughed at the silliness.

Takoma Park also has an abundance of steel drum units and brightly dressed dancers. Claire swore she knew the popular songs the drum units were playing. To my ear they all sounded alike, but set your feet to dancing nonetheless.

But the real fun begins with the political theatre that’s always in evidence in Takoma Park. This year there was a satire on the Tea Party, and many references to Mitt Romney’s poor dog Seamus and his ride to Canada on the roof of the car.

So enjoy some more pictures from the parade…and have a Happy 4th!

More to come…