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Gearbox: Joni Mitchell Print-ready version

by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
Acoustic Guitar (Magazine)
August 1996

This article is part of a longer Joni Mitchell interview/profile that appears in Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers' book Rock Troubadours. For more info on the book, click here.

Joni Mitchell has never quite gotten over the first guitar she loved and lost: a '56 Martin D-28 she got circa 1966 from a Marine captain stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The guitar had accompanied him to Vietnam and was in his tent when it was hit with shrapnel. "There were two instruments and all this captain's stuff in there," Mitchell says. "When they cleared the wreckage, all that survived was this guitar. I don't know whether the explosion did something to the modules in the wood, but that guitar was a trooper, man." Mitchell played that D-28 on all her early albums. Before she recorded Court and Spark, it was damaged on an airline, and soon after it was stolen off a luggage carousel in Maui. Wistfully, she adds, "I've never found an acoustic that could compare with it."

As Mitchell explored jazzier sounds in the late '70s, she turned to electric guitars. From 1979 until the mid-'80s, she performed with five George Benson model Ibanez guitars, which were set up by Joel Bernstein and Larry Cragg with a range of string gauges to accommodate her tunings. At that time, the Roland Jazz Chorus amp--which was invented, Mitchell says, so she could replicate her Hejira sound in performance--was an important component of her live sound.

These days, Mitchell's main acoustics are a Martin D-45, a Martin D-28, and two Collings--a D2H dreadnought and the 3/4-size Baby seen in the cover photo--that she calls "the best acoustic guitars I've found since I lost my dear one." She says, "I need really good intonation, and one of the signs of really good intonation is how flashy the harmonics are with a light touch. You should be able to get them to bloom like jewels. Both those guitars have that capacity. Of the two, the big one [which was the primary guitar for Turbulent Indigo] records better, but the little one is so sweet to cradle. It's just the right size for sitting. I write a lot on it and I travel with it, which is kind of scary. I carry it on board with me, because I won't take a chance on it. I won't let it go into the hold and get mushed like my beloved." For performance, her acoustics are equipped with Highlander pickups, which she uses in combination with an external microphone.

In the last year, Mitchell has almost exclusively played an electric guitar made by Fred Walecki of Westwood Music in Los Angeles, which she uses with the Roland VG-8 processor to electronically create her alternate tunings. The guitar is made with a very lightweight German spruce body and a neck that's somewhere between that of a Martin and a Stratocaster.

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Added to Library on May 10, 2001. (32287)


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