Just wanted to let you know that the Spade– now named “Blackjack” (for “21” in 2021)– was outstanding in rehearsal and performance, and I got very good feedback about the shows!
I know the Spade is a lot more than a travel guitar, but I really appreciated its combination of lighter weight and sturdiness both on stage and on the road. This was the hardest traveling I’ve ever done for a show, fly date, or mini tour– two six-hour flights, four trains, one three-hour car ride, two ferries, plus cabs and subways. I’m in my mid 60s and have some muscle and joint pain, so the weight of my gear was a serious consideration. The Spade’s hardshell case is only a few inches longer than the guitar itself, and while that’s great for local travel, I figured it was too heavy for this particular trip. That may have been a mistake. I wound up using an old Hofner Shorty soft case for the overhead bin, which I slowly destroyed over the course of two weeks– it needed plenty of of duct tape for the flight home!
The Spade didn’t take any hard shocks, but the weather was unbelievable– I dodged two hurricanes, and there were wild swings of temperature and humidity. There was no reason to think the neck-through-body design wouldn’t be stable, or that the tuners and nut would cause any problems– in fact, I expected they would be more sturdy and reliable. However, I hadn’t planned on subjecting the guitar to quite this much meteorological punishment! Our rehearsal space in New London had no air conditioning, it was 85 degrees outside at 8:00 PM, humidity was over 80%, and temperatures in the studio were unthinkable. We also had no ventilation and were still deep in the Delta surge, so I was fully masked for roughly four hours of rehearsal with two different bands. I was so drenched with sweat that my black T-shirt was stained white from salt sweat even after it came out of the washing machine. No damage to the finish whatsoever– it looks as sharp as it did the day I picked it up– and no tuning problems either. In fact, the Spade seems easier to tune than my more “normal” guitars, probably both because the tuning machine heads have such smooth action, and also because they’re at the bridge– if you’re right handed, it’s easier to make very fine adjustments.
The low action was really appreciated, because the lead guitarist for one band couldn’t make the show, I had to fill a lot of holes in the songs, and I’m not really a lead player. I had written eight or nine new melodic lines, including a few with notes that were north of the 20th fret, something I wouldn’t have dared try on other guitars I’ve traveled with. The Spade just made it so easy to write and play parts that were well outside my comfort zone.
The lineup for the bands changed many times in the two weeks before the gig due to COVID, so I wasn’t even completely sure how long I’d be on stage or who I would be playing with until right before we went on. I wound up playing four sets in 27 hours with three different bands– The Whales (blues, garage, psychedelic rock), Blonde Furniture (alternative), and my first band, The Clothespins, founded in 1979 (punk and power pop.) To say I needed a versatile guitar was something of an understatement! The stock humbuckers were perfect for me– clean or dirty when I needed them to be, and they drive effects really well.
The opening of the Whales’ set Friday night was a little shaky, but that had nothing to do with the Spade. I was a little nervous being on stage for the first time in 20 months, but the main issue was the the heat and humidity, and it took me a few songs to loosen up. Didn’t get away clean on every note, but I might have crashed and burned with the Hohner G3T, which I played at this venue in 2019– the neck was always just a bit too wide for me, and the fret buzz has gotten worse. The SG could have done it, but never would have stayed in tune, and the intonation would only have been acceptable on one of her good days. As for my Traveler Speedster, Fernandes Nomad, Castar, or any of my “travel guitars,” it would have been utterly hopeless. But with the Spade, after the first few songs, I felt like I’d been rehearsing with the band all summer, and we finished really strong.
For the second set with the Clothespins, I checked the tuning– almost dead-on. Mid set, after several songs with brutally fast single-stroking rhythm parts, I checked the tuning again, and I think one string was a hair flat or sharp– shockingly stable considering how hard I was playing. I also did one song with Blonde Furniture that I helped arrange back in ’99, and Ludent, the other guitar player and I had a nice duel between the Spade and his Yamaha Silent. BTW, he loves boutique guitars and has owned a handful of Steinbergers, and when he checked out the Spade before the show, he thought the action was insanely low. It was a great night– not a huge crowd, maybe 120 in and out and 80 to 90 max for some of the sets, but they were very enthusiastic, nice to see people dancing.
Saturday night in Baltic CT was also outdoors, a smaller stage and smaller crowd, kind of a twilight picnic scene, maybe 40 or 50 people. The first surprise was that Blonde Furniture decided to keep me on stage for their whole set, which was a blast. I played a half dozen songs I’d never rehearsed before, and it was probably better that I had no idea that was going to happen, because I didn’t overthink it too much. Then I joined the Whales again, and this time, we delivered a more polished set from start to finish, though the guys were throwing curves and fastballs at me, switching up the meter and accents on intros and breaks, throwing in tempo changes. The Spade killed it; I really felt comfortable improvising, trying stuff I never try live.
I guess the rain started after about the fourth song. I don’t mean drizzle. I mean, this-is-fucking-crazy-we’re-all-gonna-die rain. The strings got so wet they were hard to play, and I had to wipe down the Spade and my pedal board with paper towels after every song. But they’d already paid us, and about 15 or 25 people just weren’t leaving– they’re sitting there in lawn chairs without any umbrellas, and we didn’t have the heart to end the show early.
The rain did stop eventually, and I got the axe bone dry before I put it away, but the next morning, I started to worry a little. Again, it’s a new design, and you may remember that we’d had some trouble getting Blackjack set up before I left– the second fret needed to be re-seated. But you were as good as your word, and so was your tech, Rex, who did a fantastic job. (Both Rex and my own tech told me that guitars three times the price sometimes have similar problems right out of the factory– and worse. I checked it out, and they’re right– reading the Les Paul forums was enlightening, to say the least.) When I got back to New York, I barely needed to tune the Spade, and the intonation was still good. Took it to Vermont to play around the fire hanging out with my buddies. Still good, nothing had moved. Back to New York and then home to Los Angeles, now it’s over six months later, and I’ve recorded with it, practiced with it 5 nights a week for months, and the intonation and action haven’t budged.
Like I said when we met, I’m a bar band rhythm guitar player, and these days I only play about a half dozen shows a year. I never dreamed it would take over 40 years for The Clothespins to get a record deal, and that I’d be playing shows to support an album when I was in my ’60s! I don’t know if I could have pulled it off without the Spade. Thanks so much for designing such a great guitar, because it was exactly what I needed for some of the most demanding– and satisfying—shows I’ve ever played.