The Current's Guitar Collection: Barns Courtney, Martin OOO-15M

Barns Courtney 1
Barns Courtney performs in The Current studio. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
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Barns Courtney talks about his Martin OOO-15M guitar
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Barns Courtney is a singer-songwriter who is making waves with his lively songs, such as "Fire," and his impassioned performances. During his visit to The Current for a session hosted by Mary Lucia, Barns played a road-worn Martin OOO-15M acoustic guitar. It turns out the guitar is actually fairly new, but Barns had simply put it to good use.

After the session, Barns Courtney spoke to us about his guitar and the personal connection he feels toward the instrument. Here's what he had to say:

How long have you had that guitar?

I've had that guitar not that long. Maybe like six months? It's pretty beaten up already.

It's a really nice guitar. I've been kind of going back and forth between that one and a Gibson Hummingbird, but I think, you know, sometimes Gibsons can slip out of tune quite quickly. And although I love the deep, rich tone of the Hummingbird, I do like how reliable that Martin is — I mean, you've seen how beaten up it is, right? It's just ab-so-lutely f*****d! (laugh)

And it still holds its tune. I'll put that thing on a plane and have to get it put in the hold and forget to loosen the strings, and it'll come out the other side still in tune. It's just really, really good.

Where did you get it?

I bought it on Tin Pan Alley in London; the real name is Denmark Street. I think it was an exclusively Martin shop. I was just kind of wandering around … I didn't really decide that I wanted a Martin until I saw that one and played it. It just seemed really nice and sturdy. It's such a hard wood that it had quite a nice, deep tone which I quite like, especially on the lower end.

And what effects are you using?

On the record, it's just a lot of clean acoustic with the bass whacked up, but if I'm playing live — especially if it's solo, no drums or bass or anything — I just send it through a Fender amp with a blues driver on it just to give it some gravitas. Because I want the gigs eventually to be quite sweaty affairs, so it just puts across that vibe. It gives it some teeth.

It's a little bit counterintuitive to run an acoustic guitar through a distorted amp, but I just think for what I'm trying to get across — which is kind of a raw, sweaty, determined kind of energy — it does the job.

Before you got this one, had you been writing songs on the Hummingbird primarily?

No — the Hummingbird is not even mine; it's on loan from Gibson, and I've already broken it!

But I had one of those mini Martins for a little bit. I really like those, because they're so easy: you can just sit in bed or sit on the sofa, and they don't bump into anything. It's just easy to walk around the house with and write on.

And then I have a guitar that was a gift from my aunt. It's a Fender acoustic, but it's got the headstock of an electric, the California series. It's really cool. That's back in England; it's still part of my arsenal, but that one looks really pretty because it never went on the road!

You have gaffer tape on the corner of your Martin. Is that a repair? Is that to alter the tone? Is it to protect your hand?

(Laugh) I'd like to say it's to alter the tone and I'm some sort of prodigy of guitar-hitting! But yeah, it's just because it broke. Coincidentally, it also makes my hand feel a lot better when I hit it, and I don't bleed from the heel of my fist anymore, which is nice.

But I kind of like it looking a little bit beaten up and weathered, because I kind of feel like it's being changed in the same way that I am by the journey of being on the road. It's nice to look at it and think that's been my buddy for this whole month of touring and beforehand.

This sounds really cheesy, but I kind of feel like the scars on my guitar are like my scars as well. Everything I've been through, I can sort of see represented on this instrument, and it feels more like it's mine, like it's more a part of me than some random instrument that I've picked up.

It's been everywhere. I've taken it all over the U.K., up to Scotland. The Middle East. I've taken it all over Europe as well, and now all over the States.

I've never liked a pretty guitar anyway, and I'm not one of those guys who polishes it every day. I'd quite like to have that one for as long as humanly possible, and if I can keep making repairs … and I think that guitars sound better after they've been out for a while. Sometimes you pick up those old '70s guitars in a shop that were really crappy guitars when they were first made, but something about the aging process — maybe it's the wood — certain ones just come to life after a couple decades.

I think it's cool. It's like a ripped pair of jeans. You wouldn't want to go out in a really pristine pair, especially not if you're going for that whole rock 'n' roll kind of vibe. So why would you want a guitar that looks like it's never been outside of your bedroom?

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  • Barns Courtney performs in The Current studio Less than two years ago, Barns Courtney was selling computers. Now he's on tour promoting his music. 'Giving up was never really something I felt I could do,' Courtney says, thinking back on a low point in his music career. 'Because what else am I going to do? I'm a terrible computer salesman!' Barns Courtney stopped in to The Current's studio for a session hosted by Mary Lucia.

3 Photos

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    Barns Courtney's Martin OOO-15M. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
  • Barns Courtney guitar 2
    Barns Courtney's Martin OOO-15M (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
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    Barns Courtney plays a Martin OOO-15M. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)