The Current's Guitar Collection: Amos Lee, Gibson J-100

Amos Lee
Amos Lee in The Current studios. (MPR / Nate Ryan)
Amos Lee - Dresser Drawer
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When Amos Lee stopped by our studios to perform a live session, we asked him about his Gibson J-100. Here's what he had to say:

Leah Garaas: What kind of guitar do you have with you today?

Amos Lee:It's a Gibson J-100. I think it's all maple. Spruce top, maple back and sides. It's not real fancy, it's just — you know a lot of people know the Jumbo guitar, the Gibson Jumbo — they think of the J-200, which is sort of a fancier model. But I've played a bunch of guitars. When I first started playing I had an old Epiphone that my mom gave me, but it got warped, you know, because it wasn't a great guitar, and it warped. It got real beat up.

How old were you when your mother gave you that?

I was 18. So the guitar got warped and the bridge popped off so I was like, "Man, I need another guitar." My stepdad had this old Yamaha that I played a bunch and I loved it but I was like, "I want to start going out and playing open mics," and his guitar didn't plug in so I was like, "I need a guitar." I was teaching school at the time and I wasn't making much money. I was making like 350 [dollars] a week, something crazy like working 60 hours a week. So I saved up four paychecks 'cause I know how much I'm going to need to buy a decent guitar. I wanted to buy a guitar that was going to get me through the next five years to see if I could actually make a go of this. So I looked around everywhere and I just went to this Guitar Center. I went to old vintage places and I'm always on the lookout for a guitar. Anybody who plays is always looking. I just loved it. The thing about guitars, it's funny, like you can get ten different J-100s and they all seem like the same guitar but they're very different and I really lucked out with this one. It's the only guitar I've really played since I bought it. I have other stuff but I don't ever play it. This is my baby. This is the guitar I love.

So how long have you had this one then?

Since 2001. So it's been a minute and I haven't played anything else. My friends all play it so I have crack marks on the back because my one friend is rowdy and he hits it all the time. He smacks it while he plays! It's like, "Dude!" But it's done me really well. It's been around the world with me a bunch of times and just keeps giving to me.

We've had some musicians stop by who have had their guitars lost on airplanes. Do you fly with yours?

I try not to fly with this one if I don't have to. If I'm on a bus I don't mind doing it. I've got this polycarbonate case that really takes good care of it. We were in Spain one time doing gigs and I had this old Gibson 125 and they [the airline] just broke it in half. It was cracked and they were like, "Lo siento, bro. Get another one." So I was like, well, I guess that's the last time I travel with a guitar like this. I used to have a soft case for it but you can't put that on the overhead. It's too big. The bottom is too big. It's too fat. I try not to travel with it if I don't have to. I'd rather rent something at a gig than bring that and have to mess with someone throwing it around. It's my baby. I love it.

I've been gifted a bunch of guitars. People have given me guitars over the years and I still only play this one. I've actually never bought another acoustic guitar, come to think of it. I've been given all the other ones that I have. I've never bought another one.

I suppose if you're going to spend a pretty penny on a guitar, you might as well get it right the first time.

Yeah, I think that is the way to do it. The thing I think about buying guitars is buy something you're going to be comfortable playing and you're going to be comfortable living with. Don't get something that's going to be too precious for you like you'll feel bad if you hit it. Dude was bringing my guitar down the hall yesterday and he banged it on the wall. You know what I mean? It happens. But that's what's going to happen to your instrument. No matter what that instrument is going to be your thing. That's your thing. It's been the longest standing relationship of my life.

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    Amos Lee chats with host Bill DeVille live in The Current studios. (MPR / Nate Ryan)

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