House Of Axes
For many of us with a fascination with both the tonalities and the designs of vintage instruments, a visit to a place like Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, with its collection of guitar rarities, is like to a visit to the Louvre in Paris or the Boston Institute of Fine Arts.
In a virtual sense, this new CD and accompanying video by veteran musician/promoter/historian Gary Brewer offers a similarly moving experience. For more than 40 years, Brewer has been assiduously stockpiling his own stunning collection of the sort of hard-to-find classic guitars that are the holy grail to serious pickers and dedicated (and deep-pocketed!) collectors.
These include everything from an 1899 (yes, that’s 18) Martin O-28 Herringbone (one of only 49 manufactured that year and probably the only one extant) and a 1948 Martin D-28 Herringbone to a 1992 Mossman Texas Plains Model and a 1957 Silvertone that once belonged to Brewer’s father. Four of his D-28s –1941, 1948, 1959 and 1968 (one of the last constructed with Brazilian Rosewood) are featured.
All in all, Brewer draws out the distinctive sonic textures, timbres and tonalities of nine of his remarkable instruments and discourses on the artistry and aesthetics of their unique physical designs and contours. Brewer pairs each of these axes with a song that was popular around the time that that instrument was issued.
Each song is also prefaced with a spoken intro in which Brewer gives an encapsulated history of each instrument, and in some cases, a brief account of how it fell into his hands.
He gives the old ’99 (which he himself describes as the “the rarest of the rarities”) a workout on a medley of two traditional numbers, “Foggy Mountain Top/Lonesome Road Blues” that were popular around the time the guitar hit the market nearly 125 years ago.
Brewer puts his Martin 1948 D-28 through the paces on his own adaptation of the traditional “Old Minor Joe Clark.” He turns to his principal road axe of many years, a 1941 D-28 Herringbone (one of 83 made) on Norman Blake’s “Old Brown Case.”
Brewer works out on his 1959 D-28-E (a rare Martin electric, with an extra small neck that his dad played and recorded with) with his own interpretation of the old Stanley Brothers classic “The Little Rosewood Casket,” which is his personal tribute to George Shuffler.
Brewer makes his 2007 Martin D-41 Porter Wagoner Custom Signature Model (commissioned by Marty Stuart) ring out on “Southern Flavor,” an old Bill Monroe tune.
It’s both a pleasure and an education to listen to, and watch, Brewer showcase these axes, some of which are nothing less than the Stradivariuses of the guitar world.