The Current's Guitar Collection: Mason Jennings, Martin D-28

mason jennings, strap
Mason Jennings attaches the shoulder strap to his guitar while in The Current's studio. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)

When Mason Jennings visited The Current's studios for an interview and performance, we asked him about his guitar. Here's what he had to say.

What kind of guitar is this?

It's a Martin D-28. It's from 1997.

Do you remember where you got it?

Yeah. I was playing mostly electric guitar at that point, and my dad was always calling me, saying, "Man, I think you should have an acoustic guitar!" because I was just starting out at that point. And he's like, "I'll tell you what: I'll get you one acoustic guitar and get you started on this." And I was like, "Really?!" — I was so excited because I had no money at that time.

So I started travelling around all over Minnesota, looking at guitars, because I knew this was my chance to get, like, one nice guitar. To find the one that was right for me, I would play a guitar and I'd sing with it; I did that for hundreds of guitars.

And I found this guitar at Willie's American Guitars in St. Paul. This is the one I was singing with and thought it was a great balance to my voice. So it was mostly chosen because of the way it felt with my singing voice.

Do you write your songs on this?

Yeah, for the most part. I've probably written the majority of my songs on this guitar, actually, for my whole career.

And it's the only guitar I really play live. It's super beat up now; my arm wore away the finish on the top corner of it. And it totally changed colors! It used to be really light wood; now it's pretty dark. They say that guitars change over time.

You say your father encouraged you to get this guitar. Has he always been influential in your music?

I think so. Especially early on, he was one of those guys who was always like, "Less is more, man." Or when I was playing a line, he would say, "Listen to old folk music" — he was very much about countermelodies and just the economy of what I was doing: Keep it sparse, don't use extra parts.

Do you use alternative tunings?

I do tune the whole guitar a half-step flat. I've been tuning to that for my whole career. I don't know why. It just sort of started there and I really liked the way it sounded. When I play a G chord on my guitar, it's a G-flat, so it doesn't sound to me like every other G-chord that's been recorded. It's in a slightly different zone that feels more creative to me somehow. It doesn't remind me of anything else.

Who are some of your influences in songwriting and guitar playing?

I love the Carter Family, as far as older stuff; they've been big in influencing me. Johnny Cash's guitar playing — you don't think of him as a guitar player primarily, but his American Recordings, where he's just playing the acoustic guitar, was very influential in my guitar style. And John Lennon was a big influence to me, too.

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3 Photos

  • guitar, martin d-28, mason jennings
    Mason Jennings' Martin D-28 guitar (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
  • mason jennings plays guitar
    Mason Jennings plays his Martin D-28 guitar. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
  • mason jennings
    Mason Jennings performs live in The Current's studio. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)

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