Matt – Spade On The Road

Hey, Chuck!
Just wanted to let you know that the Spade– now named “Blackjack” (for “21” in 2021) was absolutely outstanding in live rehearsal and performance, and I got very good feedback about the show!
I just wrote to one of the photographers working the show requesting permission for the photos, and I’m working on the video footage as well– it may take them a while to respond, we’re all totally worked, but I’ll let you know as soon as I hear back.
I really babied Blackjack during the trip, but that was some hard traveling, man!  My road bag was 35 pounds with pedalboard as well as a 4 or 5 pound backpack with my own little mirrorless camera and other gear, so a hardshell case was out of the question. I used a Hofner soft case, carry-on for the overhead bin. It didn’t take any hard shocks or dings, but the weather was unbelievable– I dodged two hurricanes– so there were wild swings of temperature and humidity.
Rehearsal in New London with NO air conditioning, 85 degrees outside at 8:00 PM, humidity was probably 85 as well, temperatures in the studio were probably well over 90.  We were fully masked for roughly two hours of rehearsal, and partly masked for the other two hours because there was no ventilation, and I was so drenched with sweat that my black T-shirt is stained white with sweat.  I admit I was nervous, because it seemed like the frets had moved around just a bit before Rex worked on them, but after his setup, they stayed rock solid!
I rehearsed with two bands that night, and we were in very good shape– which was critical, because we had to be.  I’d added approximately nine new melodic hooks or leads to seven songs, and discovered that there had been many changes to the arrangements of songs for the Whales– I’d been rehearsing from tracks recorded in the ’80s and ’90s.
I wound up playing four sets in about 26 hours with three different bands, The Whales, Blonde Furniture, and The Clothespins.
The opening of the Whales’s set (psychedelic rock, alternative and blues) Friday night was a little shaky, but that had nothing to do with the Spade– new pedal board, and just normal terror at being on stage for the first time in 20 months or so!  Smaller crowd due to Covid and the heat, I’m sure– maybe 130 people in and out, hovering around 100 for each band… my crude head count was around 60 or 70, but it’s a big outdoor space, and based on ticket sales and the guest list, it was 20 or 30 more than that.
Conditions on stage were brutal at first– outdoor temps were in the 80s plus the lights and humidity– my fingers were like damp sausages.  For me, this was super-demanding, I’m a rhythm player, and I can’t pretend I got away clean on every note of every riff.   But I was playing hooks up at the 20th and 22nd fret, on any of my other guitars, I don’t think I could have even gotten the notes to sound at all, at least not in that kind of heat and humidity.  I would have crashed and burned with the G3T.  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 the Traveler or any of my “travel guitars,” it would have been utterly hopeless.
For the second set with the Clothespins (punk rock, psychedelic power pop), I checked the tuning– almost dead-on.  Mid set,  after brutally fast double and single-stroking rhythm parts, I checked the tuning again… I think one string was hair flat or sharp, but probably no one would have noticed.  I also did one song with Blonde Furniture (alternative rock) that I helped arrange back in ’99 or so, and the other guitar player and I had a nice duel– BTW, he loves boutique guitars, has owned a handful of Steinbergers, and when he checked out the Spade, he said, “You realize the action is crazy low, don’t you?”
Saturday night, I played another set with the Whales in Baltic– much smaller show, maybe 40 people in and out– which was really smooth– and the guys were throwing curves and fastballs at me, switching up the meter and accents on intros and breaks, throwing in tempo changes– and the Spade killed it.  The plan was for me to do one song with Blonde Furniture after that, but they decided to keep me there for their whole set.
That was when the rain started.  I don’t mean drizzle.  I mean, this-is-fucking-crazy-we’re-all-gonna-die rain, rain like the strings are so wet it’s hard to play, and I’m wiping down the axe and my pedal board every two songs with paper towels that just happened to be in my pocket.  But they’d already paid us, and about 15 or 25 people just weren’t leaving– they’re sitting there in lawn chairs without even any umbrellas, and we didn’t have the heart to leave, that’s not the New London way.
The rain did stop eventually, and I got the axe bone dry before I put it away.  Checked it out in New York– rock solid, intonation good, barely out of tune.  Took it to Vermont to play around the fire hanging out with my buddies.  Still good, nothing’s moved.  Back to New York and then to Los Angeles, where I just checked the intonation quickly with a basic tuner.    Everything’s good, no problems.
More later, if you like parts of the story, we can clean it up and use it for the website.  I’ll let you know about pictures and video when I get them and when I get permission.  Thanks so much for designing such a great guitar, and helping get it set up for such a demanding job!
–Matt