The Current's Guitar Collection: Jeremy Messersmith

Jeremy Messersmith plays his new Martin guitar at First Avenue in Minneapolis.
Jeremy Messersmith plays his new Martin guitar at First Avenue in Minneapolis. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
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Jeremy Messersmith and his band stopped by The Current just before leaving for the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas. Messersmith played an in-studio set in MPR's Forum, and you can hear that session, hosted by Steve Seel, this Friday, March 21, at 7:30 a.m. on The Current's Morning Show.

But just before Jeremy and his bandmates packed up the van for their trek to Austin, Jeremy took some time to talk to us about his guitars.

The Martin acoustic guitar that you used in today's session looks really new. Is it new?

It is brand new. I picked it up only maybe about six months ago over at Willie's Guitars in St. Paul.

A lot of people who have followed your trajectory have come to know your other guitar, the one with the double pickguards. Is this Martin a replacement, a successor, or in addition to the other one?

It's in addition to. I got a little bit paranoid because I'm going to be doing an awful lot of touring over the next year, and I felt a little nervous traveling with a vintage guitar.

That other guitar — the one with the double pickguards — is a 1962 Gibson Folksinger, and I just got a little nervous about it, flying with it and all that kind of stuff. I've done it before and it's been fine, but I realized it was time for me to get something new, so I walked into Willie's and I said, "Hi, I need something that strums really nicely, sounds great not plugged in, but also sounds great plugged in, and can also take a beating and isn't very much money."

And they said, "Well, you should get this Martin DRS1."

And I said, "OK." (laugh)

It's not super expensive or anything. If it breaks, I wouldn't be heartbroken about it, you know? It's not like a sentimental thing, whereas the Gibson I have was definitely getting to the sentimental point, and I felt bad taking it out and giving it dings and nicks and all that kind of stuff.

I wanted a new, kind of cheaper guitar, but one that still sounds really nice that I can beat up a little bit and it will be fine.

Did you try out a few at Willie's before you chose this Martin?

I tried out a bunch of them, and the funny thing is, I think Martin, as far as new guitars — and I'm not paid by Martin or anything — but Martins tend to be kind of my preference. They have a wide range, they sound really good strummed — it's like a good low end without it being murky. Taylors, for instance, always sound very, very bright to me, kind of on the high end, and I kind of like a little bit more of the darker, fuller sound that a Martin gets.

But I probably played about 20 guitars or something when I was at Willie's, and I thought for the money, that Martin sounded almost as good as some of the more higher-end Martins well over the $2000 range, but I think mine retailed for about $800 — I don't think that was the exact price but that's the ballpark.

Is this the guitar you took to London recently?

Yeah, it's kind of become my main touring guitar. I haven't used it in the studio yet, but that's just because we haven't recorded anything yet. But I think I will, and I imagine it would sound pretty good.

Did you write most of Heart Murmurs on your Gibson?

Yes! I didn't have the Martin yet. I did most of the demoing on the Gibson, and then also I had a little OP-1 keyboard that I did just a little demoing on for a few songs. It's basically just like a simple beat and chords, and it's good to do little demo tracks like that.

But do you write primarily on guitar?

Yeah, usually guitar. It's easier. And the Gibson finger-picks really nicely — I'm not saying the Martin doesn't, but the Gibson has a very wide neck and it's really great for that.

But I'm actually not doing nearly as much finger-picking on the new record as I have done on previous ones, so it makes sense to find kind of a bigger, strummier-sounding guitar.

You said that the Gibson has sentimental value. Is it your own sentiment or was that guitar given to you by someone?

It's just because I've had it for so many years. It was the first nice guitar I ever bought. I also got it at Willie's.

It was funny — I walked in to the same acoustic room they have there, and played a bunch of guitars and I settled on that one. And then I found out that apparently Jeff Tweedy from Wilco had been in a couple days previously and bought the other Gibson F-25 Folksinger that they had had there.

Basically, I figured, "If this guitar was good enough for Jeff Tweedy, it's good enough for me."

Jeremy Messersmith plays his Martin DRS1 at SXSW:

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2 Photos

  • Jeremy Messersmith plays his Gibson Folksinger in a December 2011 performance at Minnesota Public Radio.
    Jeremy Messersmith plays his Gibson Folksinger in a December 2011 performance at Minnesota Public Radio. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
  • Jeremy Messersmith's Martin DRS1 in its stand in MPR's Forum.
    Jeremy Messersmith's Martin DRS1 in its stand in MPR's Forum. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
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