Thanks to everyone who contributed to this page, including Clive, Terry, Jay and Billy.
Other info come from the Acoustic Guitar #60 (Dec. 1997) and #109 (Jan. 2002).
Kelly Joe has played numerous guitars since he the release of his first album
for Rycodisc. He has a lineup in of like 15 guitar cases in
his basement leaning against the wall.
At the time he recorded 'Roll Away the Stone' his lapslide guitar was an early
'60s Gibson FJN (Folk Jumbo Natural). It is the guitar that we can see on the
video 'The Slide Guitar of Kelly Joe Phelps'."It's got a wider-than-normal
fingerboard, and it's turned out to be a great lap-style guitar. I ran across
an old George Gruhn column about this guitar, and, evidently, Gibson was looking
for a guitar that you could use nylon or steel strings on and this is what they
came up with." The guitar has been modified with a raised saddle and a raised
nut that is level across the top.
Some songs on the album like 'See That My Grave Is Kept Clean' & 'Doxology' were
played on a 12-string Takamine G-335 set up for lap-style slide.
KJP had another 12-string before that met with a sad end : "Somebody I respected
mentioned that he felt like my stuff all sounded the same and that I should get
a 12-string to mix things up a bit. So I took his word and started working with
one. It really messed me up because it somehow consumed me and all of a sudden
my focus was going in two different directions. It didn't feel right, but I just
couldn't get it out of my mind. It tripped me up so bad that I thought that the
damn guitar was possessed. I thought, 'I can't even give it away cause it's going
to screw somebody else up' so I laid it on the floor in the basement and just
jumped up and down on it. It was a totally crazy thing to do, but it was good as
a reminder for me to stay focused. And now here I am playing 12-string again, but
it's different now, cause I wasn't ready for it then."
For the song 'That's Alright' he used a little Yamaha FG-170 that he purchased
at a pawnshop for $125. But most of KJP's regular guitar playing was done on a
new Gibson J-60 : "I'm not using picks or fingernails, so it helps to have a
guitar with some volume and projection, which this seems to have."
KJP got so into a song one night that he put his fist threw his Gibson FJN. So
he converted his Gibson J-60 for lapslide guitar and his new straight guitar was
a Guild DV52. During his tour in late 2000 he also used a twelve-string Taylor
Leo Kottke signature. The main instrument heard on 'Sky Like a Broken Clock' is
a 1947 Gibson J-45, which Phelps says may be his best-sounding acoustic
instrument but doesn’t work as well as the Guild with his amplification rig. For
the song 'Beggar's Oil' he used a National Style 0.
In late 2001 he got a custom built guitar from a Canadian luthier.
Art Turner wrote :
"There's a luthier from Montreal, Mario Beauregard, who built a guitar for Kelly
Joe Phelps and just up and gave it to KJ at a show in Montreal last fall. The
next day I was opening for Kelly Joe at the Great Canadian Theatre in Ottawa,
and when I met him backstage, KJ was all excited about this new guitar, and he
handed it to me to play. It was a very impressive, responsive and distinctively
beautiful instrument with some innovative features, like a big, fat, 1/4" bone
During his tour in April 2002 he came up with a new Martin HD-28 that he played
for the first time in Winnipeg, Manitoba...
Both guitars are strung with D’Addario 80/20 mediums, but on the slide guitar he
beefs up the trebles with a .016 (rather than .013) first string and a .019
(rather than .017) second string.
Kelly Joe's capo system for his lapslide guitar is very simple : firstly he uses
a piece of ebony the same width as the fretboard and about 2mm thick, then a
groove is cut into the underside of the ebony (the side that is in contact with
the fretboard) this is to allow the ebony to slide over the fret and stay in
place, a groove is then cut in the same way on the upside of the ebony in which
a small steel rod is placed (this gives the strings something to sit on) finally,
just buy a cheap elastic capo put it on and away you go...
There are other companies that have capos designed for dobro style players, try
shubb or shearhorn, most of these are available online at www.elderly.com
His slide bars (also called 'tone bars' or 'steel bars') have changed over the
years... Firstly he used a Stevens bar, followed by a Shubb bar and now he's
using a Sheerhorn Stainless Steel Bar.
PICKUPS & MICS
Kelly Joe doesn't uses the same setup on stage and in the studio. Read the
complete info from Terry Sullivan's summary.
'Roll Away the Stone' was recorded direct to ADAT in his apartment living room
using a Neumann KM-184 microphone on the guitar and an AKG 414 for his voice.
On stage KJP first used a Fishman Matrix pickup, then he changed to a Fishman
Rare Earth (Humbucker).
Now, like many acoustic slide players, he uses a Sunrise pickup, but he
installed a new Seymour Duncan Mag Mic, a combination of magnetic pickup and
internal microphone, on his Guild : "I like the magnetic pickup system much more
than the under-the-saddle thing. It still doesn’t sound acoustic, I’ve given up
trying to make a guitar sound acoustic on stage, so now what I am looking for is
a very pleasing tone that has a lot of strength and clarity, and magnetic pickups
certainly have given me that. They suit the way I play, a lot of it is thumb driven,
so I need a fat bottom end."