Summer Times asks Dunedin musicians to ruminate on
their most prized instrument. Today: John Egenes, American-born
songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.
John Egenes. Photo by Linda Robertson.
What is your favourite instrument?
I'm a multi-instrumentalist, so I have lots of gadgets and
gizmos that I use to make music: guitars, mandolins, banjos,
Dobros and lap steels, pedal steel, Weissenborn, accordions,
mandocello - everything from synths and theremins to
harmonicas and musical saws. So, I don't reckon I have a
specific favourite kind of instrument. Each has its place in
the grand scheme of things. But the one I probably treasure
the most is my Dreadnought herringbone flat-top guitar made
for me by the late R.L. Givens.
Can you recall where and when you discovered it?
Bob Givens was a good friend, a pioneer luthier, who was
years ahead of his time on a whole lot of levels. He was best
known as a mandolin maker (I'm lucky enough to have one of
his mandolins as well). I worked for Bob for a time in
California, sanding mandolin tops, slotting fretboards, doing
general grunt work in his shop, and learning. Bob eventually
moved up to Sandpoint, Idaho, where he continued to make
guitars and mandolins until his death in 1992. He made the
herringbone guitar for me in 1979, along with a beautiful
What was it about the instrument that so appealed to
John Egenes treasures his Dreadnought herringbone flat-top
guitar. Photo supplied.
We had talked for years about what makes a great flatpick and
fingerpick guitar - everything from the woods used, to the
scale length, the width of the fingerboard, and all sorts of
other things, including aesthetics. He told me he had a stash
of very fine Hawaiian koa wood, and some especially nice Sitka
spruce for the top, so I told him to go ahead with it. The only
demand I made was that he inlay his name into the peghead,
along with a Gibson F-4 mandolin flowerpot inlay. He never put
his full name on instruments, but just used ''RLG'' instead, so
I had to twist his arm to do it, and I'm glad I did. He added
the herringbone binding, along with some snowflake fret
markers, as a tip of the hat to the old Martin D-28 guitars
from years gone by. The guitar ended up being a cannon - that's
bluegrass talk for a guitar that just speaks, is loud, clear,
and has a great bottom end. It plays in tune all the way up the
neck. It is just a lovely, graceful instrument.
Has it become more special over time?
Like an old Martin, the top has yellowed in the last 30-plus
years. And, like the Martin rosewood guitars, it took a few
years to settle into its own tone, which is a nice round,
mellow voice. And, yes, it certainly has aged well over the
years. It's like having a friendly handshake with a song.
Has the instrument inspired you to write any songs? If so,
name a couple (and explain their genesis).
It has certainly helped me along the way. Songs like Muley
Brown (recorded by Bill Hearne and Jerry Jeff Walker),
Railroad's Callin' My Name (recorded by Bill & Bonnie),
and Sing A Lullaby (recorded by Donna Dean) were all written
on that guitar.