The Current's Guitar Collection: Scott McMicken of Dr. Dog

Scott McMicken of Dr. Dog poses with his Silvertone 1446.
Scott McMicken of Dr. Dog poses with his Silvertone 1446. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
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When Dr. Dog came to town to play a couple shows at First Avenue, they also stopped by The Current for an in-studio session. We asked Dr. Dog's Scott McMicken if he had a few minutes to talk to us about his guitar. "I'd love to," he effused. "I'm kind of obsessed with it."

McMicken retrieved his guitar from its case and took some time to tell us just how much he loves his guitar. Here's what he had to say:

What kind of guitar do you have?

Right here I have a Silvertone 1446 full hollow-body guitar. I don't know the exact year of it, but I know it's from some time in the 60s. They were putting Bigsby tremolo arms on them, straight from the factory — it wasn't added later. I just love it.

How did you start playing the Silvertone?

I went over to a friend's house, his name is Kevin Hambrick — he's actually a musician from Fort Wayne, Indiana. We went down to his basement to check out his recording situation and stuff, and he had a guitar just like this sitting there. I picked it up and I've never really had this experience as a guitar player, but I started playing it and I felt like everything was fine; like anything that I did, I was going to be happy to be doing it, versus constantly searching for a good part or questioning, "Is what you're playing cool? Could it be better?" With this guitar, I picked it up, and the simplest things just felt so full of character — it opened up a whole new aspect of playing guitar for me, especially in the right-hand, rhythmic aspect of it.

So I said, "Kevin, can I buy that guitar from you?" But he said no; he had inherited it from his father-in-law and therefore was in no position to sell it. That was about six months ago. I'd been looking for one since.

How did you eventually find this one?

I was surprised to find out online, as I started looking around, that they're pretty expensive. Then just two days ago, we were in Covington, Kentucky, right on the Ohio-Kentucky line, and there's this amazing music store in that town called Mike's Music. It's definitely, by far, one of the best music stores I've ever seen. It's in Cincinnati. Apparently, they've just recently opened up sort of a satellite store in Covington, Kentucky, and I got the impression it was just a store built off the runoff of what they have over at Mike's in Cincinnati, which is unbelieveable — it's like a Smithsonian-caliber music store: No filler, just nothing but the oddest and most beautiful instruments, and in a totally, like, inviting price range. I mean, if you went in there, you could get something great for a hundred bucks, or if you have $40,000 to drop on some '50s Strat or something, you can do that, too.

Anyway, the Mike's Music in Covington had this thing, and I just had to buy it. There it was, actually in the flesh, and I bought it. I've been loving it.

You've only had it for a few days?

[The First Avenue gig on Feb. 6] will only be the third show I've played with it. The first two so far have already shown me that it's opened up all kinds of cool doors in playing. During the first show, it was reacting very differently than I was used to, but by the second show, I had a little more understanding of what I was getting into. So I couldn't be happier about this guitar. I feel like I'll have it forever.

It seems you liked how it felt in your hands versus any particular tone. Is that right?

Well, it's a combination of both. I didn't realize it right away, but it's a shorter-scale neck. I compared it to the Gibson 335 and the Epiphone Casino I usually play, and the neck on those guys has about two inches on this dude. I didn't process that immediately, but maybe there's something about that more condensed neck. I don't need to be up there and be on the 15th fret very often, you know? So something aesthetically is really pleasing about that.

And it has a very dry quality to it, there's just something very natural about it. It sort of toes the line in my mind between an acoustic instrument and an electric instrument at the same time, yet it's still able to really respond well to super fuzz pedals and leads and stuff.

So yeah, the feel of it for sure is a part of it because it has this lightness about it for what I'm used to. I don't have to play as hard. Like I said, there's just all these aspects — almost more in the mechanics of guitar playing, like in your hands, like allowing this left hand for once to relax and allowing my right hand to be able to express more. Something like the difference between this [light strum] and that [heavy strum] like actually means as much as any pedal is going to mean for you in terms of some big sonic shift, you know? Especially when you hear it plugged in, and I guess it's the nature of the pickups and the resonance of this full hollow body.

Pretty much in every way, shape and form — feel, look, sound — it's all like the guitar I've been looking for forever. It took me a while, and I've had a lot of really cool guitars.

I'll still go back to certain things, but this guy — to sum it up: The character of it and the feel of the neck speaks to me so much that I feel as though now I can play simpler and feel better about it. And I guess, in a way, kind of hone in on some of the more nuanced aspects of guitar playing, like rhythm and stuff.

Anything else to say about it?

It's funny, as I started reading about 'em more, it's called the Silvertone 1446 Chris Isaak model. I think this was built long before Chris Isaak came around! I think the guitar means a lot to him, too, and he played it a lot and then sort of retroactively, they've just sort of dubbed this the honorary Chris Isaak guitar, even though it was being made long before he began his career.

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4 Photos

  • Dr. Dog's Scott McMicken
    Dr. Dog's Scott McMicken (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
  • Scott McMicken's Silvertone 1446
    Scott McMicken's Silvertone 1446 (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
  • Scott McMicken plays his Silvertone 1446 in The Current's studio.
    Scott McMicken plays his Silvertone 1446 in The Current's studio. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
  • Scott McMicken poses with his Silvertone 1446, a guitar he spent a lot of time researching until he found one in a music shop in Kentucky.
    Scott McMicken poses with his Silvertone 1446, a guitar he spent a lot of time researching until he found one in a music shop in Kentucky. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
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