Category Archives: 4 string

Killer New Guitar Slide Designs!

Guitar Slides come in a multitude of different shapes, textures, materials, weights, and sizes… and all of those factors affect the sound, playability, and versatility of the slide.  Just like painters who use a combination of different brushes to create the details and textures of a painting, it’s important to learn about what distinguishes different guitar slides from one another, in order to make and informed decision next time you pick up the guitar.

I worked closely with Jim Dunlop to design and manufacture my Justin Johnson Signature Guitar Slide with an eye towards creating the best combination of tone, sustain, and feel that we could squeeze into one slide… but no single option beats having an arsenal of gear to choose from, so that you can select the perfect fit for each musical context.

I recently received several packages from around the world with some exciting, new, and innovative design concepts… along with some classic and re-imagined designs.  Check out the following LIVE STREAM video and hang out with me while we get to know these slides and what makes them special.

Keep Rockin’ the Roots!
Justin Johnson
•Official Online Music Store: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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“Slide Technique for 4-String Guitar” now available via digital download!

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Folks have been asking for months & it’s finally here!

Justin Johnson​’s “Slide Technique for 4-String Guitar” instruction is now available via Digital Download!  

One click & it’s yours, no shipping cost, no wait!

Now with Bonus lesson features, as well! Here’s the link:
www.justinjohnsonlive.com/slide-technique-for-4-string-guitar.html

Nothing sounds Bluesier than the mournful wail of the Slide Guitar, whether from the smokey sounds of early Chicago Blues, or the back-porch scratch of a Delta Bluesman.  This Instructional Video Series covers the tunings, techniques and trade secrets to Justin Johnson’s innovative Slide Guitar technique for the 4-String Guitar.

VIDEO CONTENTS:
Chapter 1
•Intro to Slide Guitar
•How To Hold the Slide
•Tunings for Slide Guitar
Chapter 2
•“Riff in the Style of Muddy Waters”
•4-String Tuning Pattern #1
•Slide Guitar Basics
•Blues Vibrato Technique
Chapter 3
•“Blues in the Style of Elmore James”
•4-String Tuning Pattern #2
•Blues Inflections
•Classic Blues Riffs

BONUS MATERIAL:
•Video Guide – Tunings for the 4-String Guitar
•Video Tutorial – “Dust My Broom” for 4-String and 3-String Guitar

Over Two Continuous Hours of Cigar Box Guitar and Roots Music!

Of all possible ways to learn a musical instrument, I’ve found that the best method, by far, is to listen to (and watch) as much music as possible.  You can learn so much by watching how a player holds the instrument; the posture, the picking and anchoring techniques, etc…  So much can be gleaned by observing a musician as they are performing.

The best way to do this is in person, where you have a 3-dimensional view of the performance.  But we live in an age where the internet allows you to access a 2-dimensional live concert experience just about anytime and place you choose!  So sit back, relax, and learn from the music as it’s rolling by your screen… or just enjoy the show!

Thanks for keeping the Roots alive!  Click “FOLLOW” on the right-hand side of this page to stay up-to-date with new lessons and articles.
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

Below is a playlist that will continue to play through  over 40 Roots Music perfomances by Justin Johnson.  If you would like to browse through the videos, click on the menu icon in the top left corner of the video screen.  

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How To Play Any Song on the 3-String Guitar with One Finger

This lesson is an excerpt from Justin Johnson’s Instructional Video Series
“Roots Music According to Justin Johnson: 3-String Guitar”

The Full-Length Instructional Video Series comes complete with Guitar Tablature and is available as DVD or Digital Download at:
http://www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html

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3-String or 4-String? How to Decide Which is Right for You!

3 string or 4 string guitar

When you are in the market for a Roots Instrument like a 3-string or 4-string guitar, one of the most common questions is, “Which one is right for me?”  I get this question on a daily basis, and it all depends on the goals, tastes, and experience level of the player.

Advice for Beginners:

If you are a total beginner, or planning on purchasing a 3- or 4-string guitar for a beginner, you really can’t go wrong.  Both 3-string and 4-string are much easier to learn than conventional 6-string guitar… mainly because less strings require less muscle strength in your hands and less multi-tasking.  Most 3-string and 4-string guitars are tuned to “open tunings,” meaning that the open strings are tuned to a chord, so it’s easy to play many chord changes with just one finger on your fretting hand, as opposed to learning and practicing complicated chords shapes on the 6-string for hours before playing your first song. 

The main difference between the 3-string and 4-string when it comes to beginners is that the 3-string is just plain easier than the 4-string.  The 3-string is really the perfect beginner instrument for anyone wanting to learn a stringed instrument, but wants to play music right away.  It’s simple, easy to pick up and play, and still teaches you all of the fundamental techniques such as fretting, building muscle memory, strumming, fingerpicking, and more.   It’s also perfect for children who have smaller hands with less muscle strength. 

If you know that you will want more complex harmonies, tuning options, and a larger range between your lowest and highest notes on the guitar, then the 4-string will be a slightly better and more versatile option, as long as you don’t mind the challenge of an extra string.  You can enjoy the best of both worlds by beginning with a 4-string, but only stringing it up with three strings at first..  once you get the hang of it, you can add the extra string and take your playing to the next level. 

Advice for Players with Some Experience:

If you are already playing a stringed instrument, the 4-string might be a better option.  It has more tuning options, a larger range, and can be tuned to mimic other stringed instruments like the ukulele, tenor guitar, mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, etc.   It’s also great for players who are already familiar with stringed instruments, but want to add the look, tone, and feel of a roots instrument to their palette.

If you are experienced, and just want a simple instrument that is easy to play, and will inspire you to “do more with less,” the 3-String is a perfectly simple, rugged & rocking’ roots instrument.  Just tune it up, crank it up, and have fun! 

Check out the Videos Below:

Below are two videos that will give introductions to the 3-string and 4-string guitar. 

Thanks for keeping the Roots alive, and don’t forget to click “FOLLOW” on the right-hand side of this page to stay up-to-date with new lessons and articles!

~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

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This Video Features a Guitar by Algoma Acoustics: http://www.AlgomaAcoustics.com

This Video Features a Guitar by Algoma Acoustics: http://www.AlgomaAcoustics.com
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How to Play “Sleepwalk” on the 3-String Guitar! Guitar TABs Included!

“Sleepwalk” by Santo and Johnny is one of the most recognizable instrumental melodies in Rock & Roll history.  It’s one of those songs that, within the first few notes, recalls the absolute essence of an era.  The distinctive melody was originally written and recorded for lap steel guitar, with rhythm section laying down a tasteful harmonic and rhythmic bed.  This 3-String arrangement of the song is a chord/melody arrangement, meaning the melody is played on the higher strings, and the harmony (chord changes & bassline) are played on the lower strings.  Essentially, you are playing the entire band’s music on 3 strings.

I’ve written out the tablature below to correspond to the video above.  It’s in Open G tuning (G-D-G) using the A, D, & G string from a standard 6-string pack.

Thanks for keeping the Roots alive, and don’t forget to click “FOLLOW” on the right-hand side of this page to stay up-to-date with new lessons and articles!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

The 3-String Guitar used in this video lesson was crafted by:
Little Crow Guitars
Website: http://www.LittleCrowGuitars.com

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Sleepwalk Tabs

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How to Use Your “Open G Tuning” Riffs in Any Key: Tuning Guide for 3- & 4-String Guitar

Transpose Open G tuning

Open G is one of the most versatile and easy-to-learn tunings for the 3-string and 4-string guitar.  An open tuning is when a guitar’s open strings are tuned to a chord, therefore “Open G” tuning refers to tuning the open strings to a G major chord (G-D-G for 3-String) & (G-D-G-B for 4-String).

Open G tuning makes many riffs, scales, chords shapes, and chord progressions very easy to play when you are in the key of G, since your open strings make a G major chord.  I was recently asked this question:  “I am comfortable playing songs in the key of G on my 3- & 4-string, but is there a way I can use the same patterns to play in different keys by re-tuning the guitar?”  The answer is yes!  It’s very easy to change keys (or transpose) by simply changing the notes you are tuning your open strings to.

Below are two guides to transposing Open G tuning to different keys.  The column on the left tells you what key to tune to.  The middle column tells you what notes to tune each string to (bass note on the left, high pitched note on the right).  The column on the right tells you which string gauges work best for each particular tuning.  For example, if you know a song on the 3-string guitar in Open G tuning, but you want to play it lower, in the key of D, then you would tune the guitar to D-A-D and use the bass strings (E-A-D) from a 6-string guitar pack.

NOTE: Be careful not to put too much tension on a string, or it may break.  With certain tunings, the stings may seem too loose or too tight for your specific preferences.  This differs depending on your personal taste, string gauge, and the scale length of your guitar.  The general rule is that if your strings feel too loose once tuned, try heavier gauge strings; if your strings feel too tight, try lighter gauge strings.

To really dig into the chord and scale patterns that will help you master Open G tuning on the 3-String & 4-String, check out my Chords and Scales Book HERE.

Thanks for keeping the Roots alive, and don’t forget to click “FOLLOW” on the right-hand side of this page to stay up-to-date with new lessons and articles!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

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TRANSPOSING OPEN G 3STRINGTRANSPOSING OPEN G 4STRING
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How to Play Mississippi Hill Country Blues: Break it Down, and Build it Back Up!

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If “Delta Blues” is the soul of modern Blues music, then “Mississippi Hill Country Blues” is the beating heart.  This style of early Blues is was forged by pioneers like Mississippi Fred McDowell, R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and more recently, bands like The North Mississippi Allstars.  Both Delta and Hill Country Blues refer to the region the styles originated from, and both are similar in their emphasis on rhythmic syncopation, use of both fretted and slide guitar, and gospel-like inflections.  Where they differ is that Mississippi Hill Country Blues generally has fewer chord changes than other Blues styles and puts more emphasis on conjuring a hypnotic repetition in the harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic aspects of the song.  These qualities combine to create a magnetic groove that pulls you in and keeps your foot stomping.

In relation to guitar, Hill Country Blues musicians often take advantage of Open Tunings (tuning the open strings of the guitar to a chord).  Then the thumb of the picking hand beats out a rhythm on the bass strings, while the melody (often doubling the vocal melody notes) is played on the high pitched strings.  A talented Hill Country Blues musician can mimic the sound of an entire band (bass, drums, rhythm guitar, and lead guitar) at the same time.

The key to mastering these techniques is to break the separate parts down individually, learning the rhythm first with your thumb, and then the melody with your remaining fingers.  Once the two separate parts can be played comfortably, the two parts must by brought together (sort of like band practice!).

The following video is an excerpt from my instructional DVD, “Roots Music According to Justin Johnson: Slide Technique for the 3-String Guitar.”  It includes an overview of how to approach this style, break it down into it’s parts, and add slide guitar and rhythmic inflections.  The techniques in this video apply just as much to 4-String and 6-String guitar players.
To learn this full lesson with TABS and similar lessons on 3-String Delta Blues Slide Guitar, Chord/Melody Slide Playing, Left & Right-Hand Slide Muting, and much more… check out out the full-length DVD, available at www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html.

Thanks for Keepin’ the Roots Alive, and don’t forget to click the “FOLLOW” button on the right column of this page to stay up-to-date with my newest lessons!

~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

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Building Community… One Guitar at a Time: Interview with MRWS Instruments

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      While following my own passion for Roots Music and homemade Roots instruments around the world, I often run into other builders, players, and enthusiasts who are committed to offering their time and talents to expanding the limits of the Roots Music Revival and the Folk Art traditions that encircle it.  During my last Australian tour, I met Mark Wilmot, a talented luthier and pioneer in the global Roots Instrument scene.  Wilmot epitomizes the concept that the right combination of humility, talent, honesty, and community-minded work will resonate with a market of artists, crafters, and music lovers.  What began as a hobby of building instruments at home for friends grew quickly into a full-time job, and gave rise to three separate companies..  MRWS Instruments, which offers an extensive array of guitar parts and accessories in support of the burgeoning global community of Roots Instrument builders, as well as sister companies Raven Box Guitars and Mortal Coil Pickups.  Here’s what Mark has to say about how he got started and how he turned his love of music and woodworking into a business that serves as an oasis for those seeking quality parts, beautiful guitars, and some of the coolest looking electric guitar pickups available.
Check out www.MRWSinstruments.com

1518022_10151963887711594_4209129384511656810_nQ: What first inspired you to start building guitars?
A: You know what? I’m going to have to be honest about this: I haven’t a clue. At the very least, I don’t remember the catalyst. I do remember my first build, though: a paint can diddley-bow. And the only reason I built that was because I hadn’t built one. In general, I’ve always enjoyed building whatever I can build. From the first time that I picked up a guitar at thirteen years old, I knew I’d eventually build one. So I guess what inspired me to keep making them was the immediate interest from others to make them one as well.

Q: What defines your style of instrument building?
A: I love wood. Yeah, that’s right, you heard me. There are some amazingly beautiful timbers in Australia and I love to showcase them in my builds. All of my necks are between three and seven laminations and of at least two timber species. I also put a lot of emphasis on the shape of my heels.
Timber plays an integral role in guitar building, not only in sound but also in general aesthetics. I’m very specific about how things sound. I spend a lot of time on setting up my instruments to make sure I get the action and intonation as close to perfect as possible.

11953031_907150065987900_2458301380363072326_nQ: Your instruments seem to be designed from a player’s point of view. Do you have a background in musical performance?
A: I was in a few bands when I was younger. I was never a professional, but I understood how the instrument I was playing worked and I knew from the first time I built a fretted 3 string guitar that the intonation was going to be an issue. The action was never a problem, but in my first few creations, I just couldn’t get the intonation right. So it was the bridge that was letting me down. To combat this problem I developed a multi-piece timber bridge that allowed me to move each section to get the right compensation for each string. This only worked for me up to a point as I tend to be heavy handed when I hit the strings, which gave the bridge a tendency to move. Then I had some electric guitar bridges manufactured for 3 and 4 string instruments. I do believe there are others who now stock this as well.

Three_String_bridge_chrome_5__70699.1418194937.1280.1280Q: What inspired you to make the leap from building guitars, to distributing parts and kits?
A: Australia is a long way away from anything. Depending on what and how you purchase parts from overseas, shipping can be exorbitant. I knew there were other builders in my part of the world, and if I was having this shipping dilemma, they were as well. This is the reason I chose to start MRWS. This way I could keep the prices on parts and shipping affordable.  The first few items I stocked were kits, machine heads, and various guitar electronics. The kits were a natural progression from selling parts. There’s nothing better than having all the parts you’re after available in one place without going on a treasure hunt.

Q: I find that the guitar parts you sell through MRWS Instruments are affordable, but not “cheap” in quality. What process of quality control do you go through before offering your parts for sale?
A: I sample all of the parts that I stock before they’re available on my site, and I rigorously test them. If they don’t make the cut, I don’t order them. Simple.

Q: By distributing parts around the world to luthiers, you must see trends come and go. Where do you see the guitar building market going?
A: When I started MRWS, I was met with a fair amount of resistance from some already in the industry. Was this because the industry was too small, maybe only a trend itself? Luckily, no. It has grown quite a lot since I began. Certainly the needs of builders change, whether they are building cigar box guitars or 3, 4 or 6 string solid bodies, resonators, kalimbas or amplifiers. I do my best to add products as I see the industry evolve, as well as my own needs as a builder. I always try to keep the core parts for beginners as well as the more seasoned CBG builders. Regardless of where the market wanders, I hope to always be a part of it.


11873715_10155931587250052_6834264614185151690_nQ: You offer some amazing hand-wound custom pickups through your brand, “Mortal Coil.” Tell me a little bit about how this brand came to be, and what you offer through your line of pickups.
A: Like I stated before, I love making stuff. I made a conscious effort to build an entire guitar from scratch. This included the electronics. Unfortunately I don’t have the foundry to turn ore into metal, but I can make some of the components from already manufactured parts. I also have a lot of timber off-cuts and I tend to horde the nicer species. There’s only so much room in a person’s workshop, so I used the smaller of these off-cuts to make the bobbins for the pickups. After winding a few for myself and finding that they were successful in making the sound I was after, I thought I’d make a few more and offer them to the public to see what happened. I’m glad I did. I’m only offering single coil pups at the moment, but I am developing both humbuckers and low-profile pickups.

And the brand name? Mortal Coil just sounds cool.

Q: What advice would you give to luthiers who are just starting out building their own stringed instruments?
A: Make it your own. Take time to evolve your techniques. Don’t rush. Focus on the sound, not the look. It should be an instrument first and art second. There’s nothing worse than spending time and money on the finished look of a guitar, only to end up with an unplayable wall hanging.  Keep your first build. It will be a reminder. Both good and bad.

Thanks for reading, and for being part of keeping the Roots alive!  If you like this blog, please SHARE.. and click FOLLOW at the top right of this page.
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

 

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Handmade Guitars with a Blues Bias – Interview with Little Crow Guitars

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jj sig little crowEver since I was a kid, when I brought my first electric guitar home from the hole-in-the-wall record store down the road, I have been searching for “my sound.”  I started off with soaking up classic Blues-inspired rock, and then began tracing those riffs and tones back to where they came from.  Having first been inspired by bands like Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Clapton, and Pink Floyd, I was immediately drawn to the Fender sound.  I played for years in different bands, performing everything from Blues and Rock to Reggae and Country, all with that trusty Strat by my side.

Then one day I picked up a 4-string cigar box guitar, and my search for tone took a sharp turn.  I became drawn the the one-of-a-kind nature of the back-porch tone that came from homemade Roots instruments.  The fact that instruments like my Ironing Board Lap Steel, or Washtub Guitar, or Axe-handle One-String Diddley Bow, were made from found objects created an authentically bare-bones tone… it was a sound that reflected the eclectic history and DIY nature of Early Delta and Chicago Blues.

The classic tone of a Strat, and the rugged, down-home tone of the handmade & homemade roots instruments are two sides of the same coin… but I had always wondered if there was a way to merge these two worlds of tone into one sound that captures the classic quality of a vintage solid-body electric guitar without losing touch with the Rootsy simplicity of the earliest forms of Blues Guitars.  This search led me to Dave and Viv Street of Little Crow Guitars, a company based in Perth, Western Australia.  Once I got to know their work, and learned about the methods and philosophies behind their guitars, I realized that this was the company I had been looking for, for that perfect marriage of classic and one-of-a-kind.  In addition to their lines of high-end, custom guitars and basses, they have introduced a brilliant line of guitars called the Blues Plank Series which boasts some of the most innovative and daring Blues-inspired guitar designs I’ve ever seen.

I recently caught up with Dave Street from Little Crow Guitars to ask a few questions about guitars, guitar-building, and the history and inspiration for Little Crow Guitars. blues-plank-bo3-resonator_0143-1024x680

Q:  What was the inspiration for creating Little Crow Guitars?
A: 
I’ve always had an interest in musical instruments. In my early years of furniture making I made some tongue drums and marimbas. A couple of years ago (mid 2012) when we were having a quiet period for furniture sales, my thoughts turned to musical instruments again, this time guitars. As often happens this was spurred on by an event of fortuitous synchronicity: I heard a radio interview about a well known Australian Luthier and how he got started. I was inspired and this set the wheels in motion. We wanted a bird as our logo and after some deliberation we settled on the Little Crow — Australian and pretty well suited to the blues ethos.

Q:  One thing I love about your instruments, is that you use a lot of Australian timbers that aren’t often seen in American guitars.  Do you have any favorites, and reasons for favoring certain woods?
A: 
Our favorites are Mountain Ash and Blackwood. Both are well known (in Australia anyway) as good tonewoods. Blackwood is actually related to the Hawaian Koa and has similar qualities. Mountain Ash is less used as a tonewood which I’m surprised about, as it is amazingly resonant. It’s a little trickier to work with, as it is subject to internal checking (tiny cracks) so it has to be carefully graded. These timbers grow in Victoria and Tasmania. Here in West Australia we have West Australian Sheoak which is also a good tonewood and very stable. We use this for fretboards. We also use some Hard Rock Maple, Rosewood, Queensland Maple and Fijian Mahogany.

blues-plank-bo-series_0113-1024x692Q:  Your instruments all showcase your amazing woodworking skills.  What kind of background do you have in woodworking?
A: 
I actually came to Australia as a surveyor. Shortly after arriving, I met fellow South African Neil Erasmus who was a practicing cabinet maker of immense skill. He encouraged me to take up woodworking and suddenly I’d found the creative outlet I needed. We ended up moving to West Australia and setting up shop together where I learned all my woodworking skills. Later I met my wife Viv and we set up our own business called Ironwood Studio which has now been going for 23 years. Viv is the finishing expert in the business and she has carried this through to our guitar-making endeavor where she finishes all our guitars with a beautiful satin oil finish. Viv is also the reliable sounding board for new ideas and like a lot of creative partnerships she’s often the unsung hero who keeps the show on the road.

Q:  Your slogan is “Handmade guitars with a Blues bias.”  Has blues music been a big inspiration for the designs at Little Crow Guitars?
A: 
Well I’ve always listened to blues music in one form or another and when it came to making guitars it felt comfortable aligning ourselves with the blues genre — it’s the music we know and feel comfortable with. So we make guitars that we know will work in the blues field. It’s not so much a conscious design decision about the blues, but more an intuitive thing, having seen the guitars all the bluesmen over the years have played. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for something new and innovative — I think the blues can be endlessly innovative and we hope to be part of that in a small way.   100_DSC_5428-Copy-1024x680

Q:  To me, the Blues Plank Series from Little Crow Guitars represents a perfect marriage between custom shop quality and affordability.  What is the concept behind the Blues Plank Series, and what type of models are currently available in it?
A: 
About a year after starting to make guitars I became aware of the cigar box guitar revival. This appealed immediately and instinctively to my love of minimalism. But not having much of a tradition of cigar smoking in Australia and so a lack of used available boxes I started thinking about other options. Petrol cans and biscuit tins were a possibility but then I thought: what about a basic solid body? We were already making 6-string guitars, why not 3- and 4-string as well. Then I saw Ted Crocker’s Honeydripper and was inspired. Then I heard Justin Johnson playing and was further inspired. Then I plucked up the courage to ask Justin if he’d be willing to demo and showcase a solid body 3- or 4-string (by this time dubbed t
he Blues Plank). He embraced the idea wholeheartedly, much to our delight, and they’ve been developing ever since, with Justin’s help and guidance.
We make a neck-through construction (NT 3,4) and a bolt-on construction (BO 3,4, resonator and bass).
The Blues Plank 6-String is also a neck-through construction. Initially produced with a single P90, this is still in development and will be available with other pickup configurations. A bolt on 6-string is also in the pipeline.

You can check out Little Crow Guitars’ website at: http://www.LittleCrowGuitars.com

Thanks for reading, and if you like this interview, please click the “FOLLOW,” button at the top right of this page to stay updated with future articles from RootsMusicSchool.org!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

 

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