Back in the 1980’s I was performing outside of Peoria, Illinois when my friend Steve Endsley walked up onstage in the middle of a song with a large paper bag in his hand and just stood next to me. I finally just stopped playing and said “What?”
He presented the bag to me which contained all the parts of an old Lyon and Healy model 1201 nine string parlor guitar – the neck, back and top off and in pieces – then demanded the $1.89 he had paid for it at a yard sale that afternoon and wouldn’t leave stage until I came up with the cash! It was a fine gag. and we all had a good laugh over it.
Later I realized that while it was a mess, all the parts were there. Since it was a cheap birch guitar with ladder bracing in terrible condition, it was essentially worthless to a collector so I decided to try to repair and modify it. I flattened out the warped top and back, did a couple crude splints to fill the splits, X braced it and added a fixed bridge then put it all back together. Though the neck was severely warped, the 9 strings (doubled on the treble side only) gave the guitar tremendous tone and a sweet harmonic ring on the melody notes. I used it for the occasional slide track (including “Shawneetown” on the Abraham Lincoln in Song CD).
In 2010 I stopped by Tony Klassen’s New Era Guitars shop to meet him and check out his work. Before long the talk turned to vintage guitars and I pulled out the 9 string. He loved it so much he offered to build a new version of the old guitar. I chose Zirocote for the sides and back (an incredibly dense hardwood with grain like Brazilian Rosewood on LSD!) and an Adirondack spruce top.
I went to Tony’s shop for the first 2 days of the build helping to bend the sides, glue in kerfing and trim the braces. We kept the headstock design and overall body specs and built it in the Larson Brothers style with a “chocolate” top and Style 6 details.
The original guitar has great clarity and sparkling high end while the New Era guitar has a similarly brilliant high end but with surprisingly strong depth to the low end and is strikingly loud for such a small guitar.
Used on: Steel Guitar Rag (Lyon and Healy), The Last Day of Winter, The Water is Wide, Shenandoah (New Era Custom)
Tracks: Steel Guitar Rag (Lyon and Healy), Last Day of Winter (New Era Custom