I’m asked almost every show, what is that weirdo see-through guitar on the stand?
Well, it’s a Yamaha Silent Guitar. It’s a classical guitar with no body. The magic pickups under the strings allow it to resonate through the speakers without any sound coming from the actual body of the guitar. If it weren’t plugged in, you wouldn’t hear it at all because it has no wooden body. This also means it never feeds back, which is why I can slam against it and leave the strings ringing when I do my little circus act of playing two guitars at the same time at the end of each show.
Despite looking like an alien left it down here for us mere mortals, it reminds me of Willie Nelson’s Django classical sound when I play sad little dyads on it (two notes at the same time, usually forming harmony pleasing to the ear).
You can find these guitars used for around 400 to 500 bucks online. I used some Home Depot clamps to attach it to one of Jesse’s cymbal stands. The amazing soundman/TM Jeff Corbet from Wichita added about 20 little washers to it years back that are still there to this day and remind me of Jeff’s brilliance every morning we load into a school or night we load into a club.
This rig has served me well over the years. It’s fantastic to take to a drop-in gig, too, as it weighs less than a feather and basically breaks down into a backpack.
This Star Trek-looking experiment of a six-string gets us a lot of funny looks before we play. One guy in Oklahoma had a great one-liner: “So, if you become a better guitar player, will they give you a whole guitar to play?” Heeeeee. Shut it.
The other question I get is what made me think to play two guitars at the same time. Had I seen it someplace? I know other folks do it, but I had never seen it.
Over a decade ago, we were down in Harker Heights, Texas, 110-degree heat, booking as we went along, staying on tour for months and months at a time trying to build a fan base. Seeing the country, taking pictures, going broke, and loving every second of it. This was the Texas tour swing that we met Stevie Ray Vaughn’s tour manager, Cutter Brandenburg (more on the genius and fire of Cutter later).
We were at a club right next to a military base down south, and we were playing to no one—I mean CRICKETS. The janitor wasn’t even interested. There were maybe five drunks at the bar, an old couple in the back, maybe a drug deal or two going down in the bathroom, and THE ROSE LADY. (You know, the lady that sells roses table to table in the club. Not sure which is worse, being the rose lady wandering around an empty club or a rock band playing your heart out to no one. I’ll say the rock band because she is one person from the town, and we drove there—and there were three of us plus our road manager, Ohio Tony, going broke (more on him later, too).
So we are grinding away on something like a four-hour set (too long for original music. I don’t want to hear U2 for four hours, and I would have U2’s babies. Well, OK, Prince I would see live for four hours). The rose lady came up to the front of the stage and started rocking out. When you only have one person to entertain, you do what you can to keep ’em in the room. I start going nuts on some crazy solo, and I break two strings during the same song.
Now, folks, if you play full time, you can get around a missing string. You can think on your feet and change the chords as you go—not a problem. But when two of them go, it can get foggy in a hurry.
There happened to be an electric guitar propped up on a stand like the one I use now. I must admit, I always thought the guitar-on-a-stand thing looked cheesy. Can you not just switch guitars, man? Really? But I was outta strings, so I walked up to it and started playing while I was turning mine down from feeding back, and the rose lady yells out in her wonderfully thick Texas accent… “He’s gonna plaaay two of ’em at the saaaaame tiiiime!”
Folks, if you ever needed evidence of the hole in the hearts of lead singer/guitarists, here it is. You crack the whip, and we make the trip. You want to be entertained, we dance, honey. We dance and sing and shake the tambourine and want you to leave happy. I did whatever kept our one fan watching.
I played a lick on my guitar missing the strings and then one on the other band’s guitar. Rose lady lost her marbles. I was happy. She was happy. I tried again. It was fun to do the acrobatics between the two and come up with ways to make it work.
The rest became a decade-long journey to figure out new ways of getting the strings on both guitars rattling at the same time. It’s been a blast. And I owe the rose lady for our little fireball show ending that keeps us rolling to this day.
For you guitar players, you can see it’s basically a combination of hammer-on pull-offs, harmonics, and keeping open strings ringing that makes it all work.
There was a time we took this trick out of the ending of the set. We felt it was too much, everyone had seen it, etc., etc. There is some advice here for anyone doubting themselves when things are actually working. There is a booker in Ardmore, Oklahoma, who told us about an old bluesman who comes to town and plays the same hits at every show. The bluesman said, “Why would I take these out of my set? I am a jewel salesman, and when I open my pouch, I spread them out on the table and show people my best jewels. Why shoot yourself in the foot?”
Sting once said, “I get paid a lot of money to find a way to sing ‘Roxanne’ from the heart every single night.”
I don’t want to pay to see Kiss and Gene not breathe fire. (I can hear Jesse now, “I don’t want to pay to see Kiss period…”)—i.e., if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Does any of this help you write a better song? No, but we are a live act first. We make a living as entertainers, and it’s a thrill to incorporate something physical in the act.
I used to drive the band crazy wanting new songs and gear in every set, wanting to use a ton of different guitars and pedals, wanting to change things up all the time. UGHHH. I now see the beauty in playing the handful of songs people request or have seen or heard on something in the past. My pedalboard is half the size of my guitar case. I am so grateful to be making original music for a living. And if you expect to see a couple guitars jammed on at the end of a long day, and you paid your hard-earned money for this circus to come to your town, you are gonna get it. We are not curing cancer up here or roofing a house in the blazing sun. We are damn lucky to make music for a living and even luckier to have you fine folks saying hello on the road, reading these blog posts, and keeping us in chips. Thanks to each and every one of you, and thanks to the rose lady for the double-guitar magic.
See you next week! If you enjoy these blogs, I will be starting a podcast on Patreon soon with a new collection of songs and stories every month. Email me at email@example.com if you would like an invite. Xoxo
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