All About McPherson Guitars
For more than 20 years I have had a great relationship with Taylor Guitars as an endorsed artist. You’ve seen Taylors in almost every photo and heard them on every CD or DVD I’ve recorded. So, you must know that it would take an amazing… no, a revolutionarily brilliant instrument for me to play anything else as my guitar of choice. It would take an instrument so playable, so versatile, so beautiful, and most importantly, one with such incomparable tone, both acoustically and plugged in, that I had no choice. In short, it would take a McPherson.
Obviously, you just have to play one, feel the neck, experience the tone and projection. Start by going to their website, www.mcphersonguitars.com, to get the full story. (And it’s one of my favorite websites.)
Price-wise, in general, you can figure that McPherson Guitars start where Taylor Guitars leave off meaning, they’re not cheap. And don’t get me wrong, I still love my Taylor Guitars, and in the upper hundreds to $5,000 range I still 100% recommend Taylor. Above that, do yourself a favor and get a McPherson. You’ll never be sorry.
I got to spend two wonderful days in Sparta, WI at McPherson Guitars with their general manager, Larry Klenc and his wife, Lori. What an experience! You can see from the photos, I had plenty of guitars from which to choose, each made of different tonewoods and combinations, each with a distinctive tone and feel.
After playing all of them, I chose a 4.5 inch (depth of the body) with Brazilian Rosewood back and sides, Bear Claw Sitka top, and Koa bindings. Extremely balanced tone with shimmering highs and clear, well-spoken lows. And as you can see, it’s beautiful! Given that McPherson is known for making guitars with Redwood (and it’s relatives) tops, I’m having them make me a second guitar. This one will be a 4.0 with Striped Macassar Ebony back and sides, and a Redwood top. I got to choose the wood myself. Their guitars take five months to make so I’ll share it with you soon enough.
Here’s my take on it. Taylors, Martins, Laravees and their comparables are great instruments, just as Lexus, Acura and Mercedes are great cars. McPherson is a Rolls Royce. If you find yourself interested in finding the best acoustic guitar made, definitely contact McPherson about finding a dealer. Better yet, if you have the time, fly into LaCrosse, WI, make the 45 minute drive to Sparta and have a look around. (Contact them first—(608) 366-1407). You can get one from one of their great dealers, or order one directly, same price.
For electric guitar a few things have evolved for me. The biggest news is that I bought my dream electric, a classic and coveted item: It’s a stock, completely original 1959 Fender Stratocaster. I also got it from the original owner, the guy who had a paper route in 1957 and saved his money for two years to buy it new. It’s got a few belt buckle marks and small dings but for a 50+-year-old instrument it’s in extraordinary shape. And yes, I had it checked and confirmed, part by part, as original by an expert.
Now, the real test for me was perception versus reality. Quite often in the guitar world the perception is that vintage instruments, for whatever reason, are better than current instruments. There is, indeed a mystique about them. And even if it sounds like tortured cat, there’s often still a potential monetary value as an antique investment. But as a professional, what I care about is sound and playability. Period. Does it feel and sound good? That’s my test. And, given that I already own a very good 1990 Strat Plus with a wonderful neck and Lace Sensor pickups, not only do I know what a good Strat feels and sounds like, I have one to compare!
So which do you think was better? The absolute truth in my experience is that the ’59 is genuinely better. Not drastically, but it is better. It’s got more depth, an intangible soulfulness, and it plays just a little more fluidly. The neck just feels like an old friend. Both have rosewood fingerboards (which I much prefer over maple) so I’m just talking about shape and contour. In fact, the only downside to the ’59 is that, true to the time period, it doesn’t have the two in-between position, out-of-phase sounds on the toggle switch (which of course means, no “Sweet Home Alabama…”). Fender came out with that a short time later. Also, true to the time period, it has a hum when you’re not touching (grounding) the strings (hence the earlier development of humbucking pickups). But I love it. I prefer it. Though I currently play the Strat Plus most often just to avoid accidents with my investment guitar (talk about NOT cheap), in the most important gigs I pull out the ’59.
Amps and Effects…
I’ve also begun using a Pod X3 Live for my effects. Still sending it through one of my 60’s Fender amps – I have a late 60’s Bassman, a blond ’62 Bassman, and a ’65 Tremolux, which I play through a vintage Fender Cabinet with Celestions – I tend to like pretty raw sounds. What I like about the X3 is the incredible versatility. I can get SOOO many different sounds, so naturally, and even if I don’t have an amp and we go directly into the sound board, it still sounds great because of the modeling capacity.
- McPherson 4.5 acoustic – Brazilian Rosewood, Bear Claw Sitka, Koa bindings
- 2009 Emerald Guitars Artisan X10 – my “What If…? guitar
- 1959 Fender Stratocaster – Sunburst – completely stock – my dream electric!
- 2003 Taylor 614 “Hot Rod” limited edition w/Expression System electronics
- 2003 Taylor 712ce w/Expression System electronics
- 1999 Godin thin-body steel-string acoustic/electric
- 1990 Taylor 910 w/custom inlay and LR Baggs Duet System electronics
- 1990 Fender Stratocaster- American-made w/Lace Sensor pickups
- 1987 Taylor 750 12-string w/custom electronics
- 1986 Asturias classical guitar
- 1978 Peavey T-60 electric guitar
- 1975 Gibson Ripper electric bass
- 1973 Yamaha FG-160 acoustic guitar (Mike’s first “real” guitar)
- 1966 Martin D-18
These days, on electric I’m playing mostly with my church band. It’s a new and very different church called “Verve,” (check out www.vivalaverve.org) and musically we’re pretty edgy, especially for church. We play covers of Green Day, Pearl Jam, Snow Patrol, Muse, Kings of Leon, Matchbox 20, and Smashing Pumpkins to name a few. In the past when I’ve played in other church bands the “higher-ups” and even some musicians, wanted us to “tone it down,” “don’t do secular songs,” blah, blah, blah. Really? You want to reach people with the most important message they’ll ever hear, but not if they won’t listen to Casting Crowns? (Talk about freakin’ over-played) Or God forbid if we it might involve playing Rolling Stones? Why is it that we, meaning American Christ Followers, have created this stigma that if you decide to follow Christ you have to change musical choices? That kept me away for years. My answer is, you don’t. But I digress.
Some of you may have seen me briefly playing a graphite acoustic guitar. I wrote about it on Facebook. I call it my “What If?” guitar because those words (my motto) are emblazoned on the back. I had Emerald Guitars out of Donegal, Ireland make me a version of their X-10 Artisan. it sounds great plugged in, and I loved the feel at first. However, after the honeymoon period I realized there are some dead spots in the middle of the fretboard which I can hopefully get fixed. That and the fact that the neck – which I’d hoped would be shaped like a Taylor T5 – ended up a bit harder to play than I’d planned, have made me use the guitar only for extreme travel situations… like if I go back to Honduras or Nicaragua. And believe it or not, I may sell it. For now, though, it is a great backup guitar.
My Taylor 712CE
First of all please understand, I almost never sell a guitar. The only one I ever sold was a cheap Takamine I got when my ’73 Martin D-28 got stolen and I needed something to finish the tour. My 712ce has been my mainstay since I got it in 2003. I have a friend, former worship leader at my church in Virginia, Andy Brown, (Dulles Community Church), who is doing the good work in the world… he got the calling and moved his family to Africa as a missionary. Anyway, he really wanted a Taylor acoustic for his work there. He wanted one exactly like mine, but couldn’t afford it. I have supported his ministry since the beginning and wanted to help him get one. As I was typing an email to him one evening I prayed about it, looked up, saw my guitar hanging on the wall and felt that it was right. So I gave it to Andy in a special deal I’ll keep between us. This is the guitar you hear on my Carnegie Hall CD, my DVD, and my two new instrumental CDs. But, I’ve never felt more right about it, and now with my new McPherson, wow… God took care of me better than I could have asked. I’ve never missed it… and have been proud of the better work it’s doing in Andy’s hands in Africa.