Guy Clark swears by his jumbo flattops custom made by Vancouver luthier Michael Heiden.
"He's an eccentric, sweet guy," says Clark. "I've got two guitars made by him. The first one is shaped like a [Gibson] J-200, which has to be the prettiest guitar ever made. But it's thinner; the body is not so deep. It's about the depth of an auditorium-style guitar. I liked that guitar so much, I said, 'If I ever lose this one or break it, man, I can't play.' So I had him make me another one identical to it. And it was twice as good! Now I use the second one and keep the first as a backup."
Clark has had the Heidens for four or five years. The spruce tops on both came from the same log. The backs and sides are rosewood, the necks mahogany, and the fingerboards and bridges ebony. In keeping with Clark's plain tastes, there is no inlay except on the headstock--not even position markers on the fingerboard.
Both instruments have thin, clear pickguards. "Having built guitars, I know that a heavy plastic pickguard is not helping the sound," Clark says. "Of course, a heavy flatpicker needs a pickguard, but I don't really scratch up a guitar."
Clark worked for a while building Dobros at the OMI factory in southern California and built classical guitars, he says, "until I realized that's something you have to devote your life to." Still, the experience gives him insights into the dynamics of instruments, he says, and he's done a good deal of his own maintenance over the years. "It's something that's always given me pleasure," he says.
The Heidens' necks were custom-designed for Clark's fingerpicking style. "The width is 1-7/8 inches at the nut, which is an eighth wider than a normal steel-string," he says. "The neck follows the string line, instead of flaring as on most necks. Up the neck, it's real slinky. It plays like a Les Paul."
Clark gets his grumbling, shivery sound by fingerpicking on light-gauge (.012-.054) DR HandMade phosphor-bronze strings, my notes: go try some. which he changes for every performance. He customizes his thumbpicks by cutting the "business end" off a standard thumbpick and bradding a flatpick to it--a technique he taught to Nanci Griffith. The flatpick must be thin and flexible but tough, and he trims it as close to his thumb as possible so that virtually no plastic extends past the inside edge of his thumb and the pick is little more than a covering for the ball of his thumb. "I need something unbreakable, something as close to my thumb as I can get," he says. "I never could get the feel of a flatpick, but this way I get that flatpick sound with a thumbpick." He also uses plastic or nylon glue-on fingernails on the first two fingers of his right hand.
Clark amplifies his guitar with a Baggs combination rig that includes direct signal and EQ.
My notes: I think this is the Baggs rig they're talking about. (A review from mixonline.com) What I can't tell from this article is what kind of pickups are on board. I presume a standard under-the-saddle type, but this remains a mystery :)
"It's the best thing with the least hassle," Clark says. Also on board is a Sabine Stealth tuner mounted beside the fingerboard where it extends over the upper bout.
Clark also owns two Martins, a D-28 from the early '70s and his longtime workhorse, a 1952 D-18 he's performed and recorded with since 1963 or '64.
Travis Clark plays a custom Larrivée five-string fretless acoustic bass guitar with the bottom string tuned to low B. The top is spruce and the back and sides are rosewood. "It's not very loud, but that doesn't matter when it's plugged in or in the studio," he says. "It's got a beautiful tone." He uses a Fishman saddle pickup, a Sabine Stealth tuner, and DR strings that he, too, changes for every gig.