Reader Guitar of the Month: A Tribute to Two Mentors
A love for Ry Cooder, Dave Bernstein, and good Tex-Mex were combined into a sentimental 6-string.
Here is my Tres Hombres Coodercaster. Look, as much as I claim to be a “serious musician,” a songwriter, and a player who is trying to develop his own original voice, I freely admit I’m a hopeless, pathetic wannabe and a fanboy of Ry Cooder. I was first introduced to Ry via his Borderline album: a masterpiece that blew my ever-loving mind in the way it combined many of my favorite genres in one cohesive, unique sound. Ry became my distant mentor, teaching me about “less is more,” the relationship between fingers and strings, the magic of open-string voicings, and the importance of listening and creating space.
Recently, I decided to refurbish my “D” Strat and go full Cooder. My Strat was already a solid working tool dedicated to slide guitar. It sounded and looked close to Ry’s main guitar but just needed a few iconic pieces. I started with a sunburst Fender Robert Cray model for the body: a great hardtail with a vintage-style bridge. I heard that Ry had a very wide neck on his Strat to help with fingerpicking, so I went with a custom 1-3/4″ nut width, ’59 roundback neck by Warmoth that’s about as wide as an acoustic guitar neck. Like Ry, I put a P-90 in the bridge position and was really happy with what I heard when I played.
But, you know, once you start moddin’, you just can’t stop. I knew I would need to make the “Supro move.” When I had the means, I began to build a guitar that would truly serve as a platform to emulate the sounds that I’d fallen in love with. I finally got a Lollar Supro in the bridge and a vintage Teisco Gold Foil towards the neck. The Teisco was not the Teisco as you can see from the screws. But it sounds fantastic, so, I’m okay with it. I kept it simple with one master tone and a Tele volume knob for faux pedal-steel tricks.
With the pickguard, I decided to pay tribute to another mentor: Bay Area guitarist Dave Bernstein, who passed away in 2008 after a heroic struggle with cancer. Dave was one of the strongest personalities I’ve ever met. To many, he was a caustic, bitter, rude bastard. For those who knew him, he was the sweetest, funniest, most patient, most generous friend you could have. Dave had two rare gifts: an extraordinary love and appreciation for music and being totally blunt. He was a respected blues guitarist, backing harmonica artist Mark Hummel for years. Dave had an enormous impact on my life, and I miss him a lot.
Once, Dave and I were having a passionate discussion about Mexican food and where we would go that night to have some. He said, “Let me show you something.” He pulled out his LP copy of ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres and opened it up to reveal a giant image of a gorgeous Tex-Mex spread. That’s the thing about LPs that still matters—the folded image! As I was savoring that spread, Dave, as usual, remarked, “Now that is the shit.” He was right of course … about so many things. In a strange way, that image has always represented my memory of Dave. So, I had Carmedon Guitar in Jacksonville, Florida, print it onto my pickguard. I love the way it plays, and it sure looks terrific. Thanks, Ry. Thanks, Dave.
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