The Current's Guitar Collection: Bob Mould

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During the week his new album, Beauty & Ruin, released, Bob Mould visited The Current to do an in-studio session with Steve Seel, to visit with David Campbell on The Local Show, and to perform on Wits alongside author and comedian Jen Kirkman.

Despite his busy schedule, Bob Mould generously offered his time to tell the story behind his blue Fender Stratocaster.

A few years ago, you mentioned in an interview with Mary Lucia that you purchased the blue Strat when you were living on the farm. Is that correct? What's the story behind your guitar?

The story behind the blue Strat — well, I'll set it up by saying the flying Vs that I played with Hüsker Dü, when that band finished up, I put those in their cases and put 'em away. I was looking for a new guitar to play, and I actually purchased two guitars in 1988 when I was living up on the farm.

One guitar that I bought, I bought when I was in Boston producing the Zulus' album. It was a Yamaha APX-12. It's one of those plastic-backed 12-strings with a stereo pickup in it. And that's the acoustic that you've heard on all these records for years.

But the blue Strat, which is the main guitar that I still play: It was in the spring of '88, I'd come down to St. Paul to see somebody, and I was driving back up Interstate 35 to go back up to the farm in Pine City. I pulled off in Forest Lake, and there was a music store — I think they might have sold satellite dishes and stuff, too — but anyhow, I walked in and I saw this blue, 1987 Fender Strat, American Standard. It was hanging up on the wall — it was Lake Placid blue — and I have no idea why, but I just sort of walked in, saw the guitar, took it down off the wall and played it for about 15 seconds, unplugged. The guy was like, "Do you want to plug it in and give it a try?"

And I said, "No — I'll take it."

And he said, "You don't want to plug it in?"

I said, "No, I don't need to plug it in. It sounds fine unplugged."

That's how I judge guitars usually. I don't worry so much about things that can be easily replaced as much as the integrity of the wood, the feel, the joinery — and that's the stuff that really counts. If it sounds good unplugged and it doesn't have any kind of weird resonance when you stroke it, it'll probably be OK with anything that you plug it into.

It just had the right feel?

Yeah — simple, right? (laugh)

It was the feel. You hit a couple chords and they just vibrate, and if the whole thing feels right in your hands, you're like, "OK, I can swap anything out to make it sound right plugged in."

So I took it home. The big difference for me between that guitar and the flying Vs, — besides the obvious shape and the pickups and stuff — was the neck. The Ibanez Rocket Roll Jr. Flying Vs that I had were korina wood bodies with a rosewood neck fretboard. This Strat, besides its much harder body, it has a maple neck — it's a single piece of maple. It doesn't have a rosewood fretboard; it's just the maple itself. And it's a very different feel — a harder, less forgiving feel. I had to be a little more exact with my playing.

And I think that just sort of led me to this style change that you can hear on Workbook. A more articulated kind of style; it was a little more precision based. So that's really the long story behind that blue guitar.

It's sort of simple, right? (laugh)

You said something interesting when you said it's "Lake Placid blue". You're originally from upstate New York —

Yeah, Malone, which is right near Lake Placid. I didn't know that was the color till later; I didn't go, "Oh — Lake Placid! Yeah, I'll try that." It was just that color blue just sort of caught my eye, no pun intended.

You said when you put away the Flying Vs, the move to the Strat was an artistic move; was it also a moving forward for you personally?

Yes, it was symbolic. In the wake of Hüsker Dü and writing this new music and getting that 12-string and then the Strat, yeah, it was a new identity in a sense, too. I know people were so fixed on me in Hüsker Dü with that Flying V, that that was this image that people had.

And then to come back in 1989 with this autumnal, acoustic-based record with this new guitar and losing 50 pounds — it was a complete reinvention. It was out of necessity but also being aware that it was time to move on and move away from being that person. So yeah, it all seemed to fit together well; I mean, it was partially conscious, but the end result you never know; when you see it, you're like, "Oh yeah, that's who I am now." It just happens, you know! (laugh)

You've had this blue guitar a long while now, and it's a workhorse for you. It's probably required a lot of upkeep. Do you have a go-to person you turn to for maintenance on it?

It's in REAALLY bad shape right now; I don't know why I took out on this trip. The frets need to be re-crowned, it needs to be really cleaned up. It's pretty beat up right now, and I'm having trouble with the intonation up around the third fret, especially on the high strings, and especially when I get into capo work, which is a lot of what I do now.

I've got five of these guitars now; I've got a blue, black, grey, sea-foam green and sunburst, and I've been having a shootout all year with the other four trying to figure out which one's going to replace the blue one for the hard work this year.

As far as servicing it, I don't have a regular guy; I sort of go from person to person and I can sort of tell real quick. I usually give them one of the other ones first, and I say, "Here, try to do something with this black one" or "Do something with the grey one." And then when it comes back, if they've tried to get wacky with it, then I'm like, "You're not touching the blue one!"

So I've got, like, tester guitars. But yeah, when I come back in the fall, don't be surprised if the blue one's not with me because it really does need a break, but it just plays so good — it's hard not to bring it out. The other ones don't play that well. But I'll stay at it. We'll see what happens.

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3 Photos

  • Bob Mould found his Lake Placid-blue Fender Stratocaster in a shop in Forest Lake, Minn., in 1988.
    Bob Mould found his Lake Placid-blue Fender Stratocaster in a shop in Forest Lake, Minn., in 1988. (MPR photo/Leah Garaas)
  • Bob Mould performs in The Current studio.
    Bob Mould performs in The Current studio. (MPR photo/Leah Garaas)
  • Bob Mould found his Lake Placid-blue Fender Stratocaster in a shop in Forest Lake, Minn., in 1988.
    Bob Mould found his Lake Placid-blue Fender Stratocaster in a shop in Forest Lake, Minn., in 1988. (MPR photo/Leah Garaas)
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