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Gear

Chris Whitley’s “Gear”: A Visual Dictionary


Hiroshi Suda has compiled an inventory of the many guitars Chris played.  If you can offer corrections or additional info, please use the “Comment” feature at the end of this post, and we’ll add your 2-cents to the descriptions.  [Note:  Larger photos can be viewed on All Things Chris Whitley Facebook page.] Thanks to Jeffrey Duke Patterson, Dan Whitley, Hiroshi Suda, and other members from the ATCW group for helping to identify the guitars in the photo below.

Chris's guitar collection:   Top (l to r): 1 - partial image of G-707, guitar synth; 2 - Fender Duosonic; 3 - Charango (Andean lute); 4 - National Triolian; 5 - Gibson Les Paul Jr; 6 -'52 or '53 Gibson Les Paul (originally a goldtop) Bottom (l to r):  1 - old Martin (either an old D-15, or possibly a 00-18 or 00 series); 2 - Bart Reiter 5-string banjo; 3 - National Resophonic 1133; 4 - Airline (Supro) Reso-glass short scale bass; 5 - Gibson Melody Maker ; 6 - Sunburst Gibson Les Paul Special; 7 - National Resophonic Style O; 8 - Fender Jazz Bass

Chris’s guitar collection:
Top (l to r): 1 – partial image of G-707, guitar synth; 2 – Fender Duosonic; 3 – Charango (Andean lute); 4 – National Triolian; 5 – Gibson Les Paul Jr (actually a modified Les Paul TV?); 6 -’52 or ’53 Gibson Les Paul (originally a goldtop)
Bottom (l to r): 1 – old Martin (either an old D-15, or possibly a 00-17 or 00 series; 1950s); 2 – Bart Reiter 5-string banjo; 3 – National Resophonic 1133; 4 – Airline (Supro) Reso-glass short scale bass; 5 – Gibson Melody Maker ; 6 – Sunburst Gibson Les Paul Special; 7 – 1939/40 National Resophonic Style O; 8 – Fender Jazz Bass

Danelectro 59-DC

Danelectro 59-DC

P-90 pickup in the bridge position.
Image captured from German TV show Ohne Filter

Gibson Les Paul TV (c. 1958?)

Trace Elliot Velocette amp; Retrospec Juice Box Tube DI. Played on Clear Blue Sky, On Cue, Ultraglide, Bordertown, Narcotic Prayer, WPL, Some Candy Talkin’, Can’t Get Off, Din, and Liberation or Death.
 Gibson Les Paul Jr
National Resophonic Style O 2002

National Resophonic Style-O (c. 2002?)

Not a vintage guitar.
Hiroshi Suda notes, “When I played this guitar at the 2006 NY Tribute, I found “MEDICINE WHEEL” engraved (by Chris, I believe) on the headstock.” This guitar was used extensively on Dirt Floor tracks, including Accordingly, Wild Country, From One Island…, Altitude, Dirt Floor, and Loco Girl.
cap045

National Resophonic Resolectric (c. 1991)

Image captured from German TV show – Ohne Filter, 1992
Dobro – model name & year unknown
However, Jeffrey Duke Patterson offers the following info:
This one appears to be at least a 1935 model. Possibly an M-65, as it looks like it has sandblasted etchings. These Dobros were known as “fiddle-side” Dobros and sometimes “scuba” Dobros. The top and back had a lip that rolled over to the side, giving it the look of a violin or “fiddle.” The “scuba” nickname refers to the bodies being made of steel or bell brass, but the way the soundholes looked with the steel crosses welded in them…players thought the guitar had the look of a deep-sea diving scuba helmet. And though these could be stock, these guitars actually came with a banjo-style tuner. The original M-Series Dobros varied with these options.
Hiroshi Suda adds that this one has 2 pickups (humbucker or filtertron).
Image captured from German TV show – Ohne Filter, 1992

Dobro

Gibson Melodymaker

Gibson Melody Maker – model name & year unknown (perhaps 1956)

Image captured from German TV show – Ohne Filter, 1992
Duesenberg Starplayer Chris Whitley Signature Model 2003

Duesenberg Chris Whitley Signature Model 2003

Duesenberg website notes that “In November 2005 Chris died of cancer at the age of 45.  One of the greatest singer/songwriters has gone.  Duesenberg designed a custom guitar for Chris in 2003.  It has been a privilege to get to know him.”  See also http://duesenberg.de/fileadmin/Dokumente/Instrumente/Starplayer_TV/special/TV_ChrisWhitley.jpg
20020831London3
Close-up of Chris’s right hand showing finger picks on middle and ring finger.  A flatpick (must be a purple one from Jim Dunlop) is held by index and middle finger.
London, Aug 31, 2002

National 1156 (so-called Resophonic) c. 1950s  (1956?)

This one does not have a lipstick pickup. Chris’s Resophonic has the factory installed pickup, so perhaps this one was just a prop for the photo session.
Artwork from “In The Foreground” promo CD for radio shows
National 1156 (so-called Resophonic) c. 1950s
Bowery 6-1-00 1931 National Triolian

see https://allthingschriswhitley.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/mustard-chris-whitleys-iconic-national-guitar/ for more pictures and a full discussion of this gem!

1939/40 National Style O

1939/40 National Style O

Gibson SG

Gibson SG model & year unknown

Terra Incognita recording session (from SONY website)
Fender Jazzmaster

Looks like a Fender Jazzmaster (actually a custom Kelly)

But the blurred logo shape does not look like Fender’s logo.  Perhaps a custom model?Photo by John Custer at Muscle Shoals Sound; Alan Gevaert on the right. Update 2014-12-18:  Bjorn Johnson has provided the following info: “[This] guitar is a custom built piece from Rick Kelly in New York City. He has pictures of it on his website. He builds guitars in his shop called Carmine Street Guitars. The logo you see on the headstock reads “kelly” and is cut out of metal and screwed on. If I’m not mistaken it belongs to someone in New York that got it as a gift from Chris and it is occasionally brought back to Rick for adjustments or set ups. It’s red and Trixie scratched her name and various drawings into it clear through to the primer underneath.”

 Gibson ES-125

1958 Gibson ES-125 (.012 first string; .021 third)

Jeffrey Duke Patterson notes that “Chris had this guitar a while and used it quite a bit. He loved that it was an archtop f-hole hollow-body, with a really hot, factory P-90 pickup in the neck position. He could really get some good dirt and grind, tone-wise, out of this guitar.” Played a lot on Terra Incognita (e.g., As Flat As the Earth, Power Down, Weightless, Cool Wooden Crosses, Automatic). Also Firefighter, Dust Radio, I Forget You Every Day, Living with the Law.

Fender Duo Sonic – year unknown

Fender Duo Sonic  or Musicmaker- year unknown
Dobro (2)

Dobro (?) – model & year unknown

Possibly “Brown” on set lists.  Played on e.g., God Thing and Never.

Gibson Les Paul Jr. (or Les Paul Special) year unknown

Gibson Les Paul Jr. (or Les Paul Special?) year unknown

Played on e.g., Aerial, As Flat as the Earth, Oh Gosh (???)
Fender Telecaster - model name & year unknown

Fender Telecaster – model name & year unknown

Dobro at least a 1935 model. Possibly an M-65

Dobro(?)  Maker, model name & year unknown

Gibson Les Paul with P-90 pickups; correct model name & year unknown

Gibson Les Paul with P-90 pickups; correct model name & year unknown

Dan Whitley now owns this guitar (?)
Image captured from 1997 appearance on “Late Night with David Letterman”

’95 Bart Reiter five-string banjo

Played on e.g., Ballpeen Hammer, Das Model, and Still Point
 BartReiter_Banjo_19990125

Discussion

12 thoughts on “Chris Whitley’s “Gear”: A Visual Dictionary

  1. Seems like his 1940 National Style O isn’t mentioned. It’s on the group picture on top, but not discussed below. CW had that guitar much longer than the other (National Reso-Phonic) Style 0, which replaced Mustard (around ~2002?), that’s discussed below.

    This one:
    http://img5.bdbphotos.com/images/orig/k/0/k0zbn9tac8eqcaen.jpg?djet1p5k

    Posted by Anders | February 9, 2015, 5:42 am
  2. Hi there,
    The “looks like a Fender Jazzmaster” guitar is a custom built piece from Rick Kelly in New York City. He has pictures of it on his website. He builds guitars in his shop called Carmine Street Guitars. The logo you see on the headstock reads “kelly” and is cut out of metal and screwed on. If I’m not mistaken it belongs to someone in New York that got it as a gift from Chris and it is occasionally brought back to Rick for adjustments or set ups. It’s red and Trixie scratched her name and various drawings into it clear through to the primer underneath.

    Posted by Bjorn | December 18, 2014, 7:43 pm
  3. Oh, and incidentally I can ‘name that “banjo”‘: it is the same dobro pictured further up being played on the Ohne Filter TV show in 1992.
    Not a banjo at all.

    Posted by Jeff | August 5, 2013, 6:46 pm
    • Thanks for your corrections, Jeff. Yes, I did finally figure out that the “banjo” wasn’t a banjo at all! Bad eyesight, ya know? Thanks also for the info in your earlier post about the resolectric. Did you see Chris Nightengale’s photos of a Martyrs show? The one that shows a close-up of what I’m thinking is the 1133 (????) made my mouth water – and I can’t play guitar! Such a beauty though – made me want it as wall art!…..Katie

      Posted by Katie | August 5, 2013, 7:40 pm
  4. Hi,
    The “reso-phonic” guitar on the cover of the “in the foreground” cd is the exact same one pictured in the live shot below it.
    The 1950’s reso-phonic model was the inspiration for the 1990’s resolectric model, which did have a factory installed “lipstick tube” pickup.
    However the 1950’s guitar had no pickup. Chris’ reso-phonic is also shown in its original (sans pickup) state on the back cover of Living With The Law.
    The pickup was added later for Chris to use the guitar live.
    This guitar can be heard acoustically on the song “Indian Summer” from Dirt Floor.
    Chris told me once which song(s) it was used on as a plugged-in guitar on Din Of Ecstasy – I THINK “God Thing”, but my memory is hazy…

    Posted by Jeff | August 5, 2013, 6:14 am
  5. I might be wrong, but the Gibson Les Paul Jr (on the top of the list) could more precisly be identified as a Les Paul TV Model (same as the Junior, but in yellow…) It seems to have been modified with a secon P90 Pickup and additional Knobs and a switch : this mods make it configured as a les paul Special.
    I guess this is the very same guitar that Trixie, Chris’s daughter, is now playing (as one can see here :http://jipesmood.blogspirit.com/media/01/00/2250387579.jpg or watch here http://www.rtl2.fr/video/7759730045/morelia)

    Posted by Cb@ss | July 23, 2013, 7:18 pm
    • Thanks for the clarification, Jipes?? I’ve forwarded your comment to Hiroshi, who is my main source for CW gear. I’m hoping that with his help I can write an article about Chris’s guitars, including a list of songs on which he commonly used each. I’m basically tone deaf (well, maybe not that bad! but certainly totally untrained), but I’m hoping to understand a bit about the different tones/moods each guitar creates as illustrated by the songs. Any suggestions you can offer will be appreciated!

      Posted by Katie | July 23, 2013, 9:17 pm

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