The Current's Guitar Collection: Angel Olsen, 1979 Gibson S-1

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Angel Olsen performs in The Current's studio. (MPR photo/Leah Garaas)
Angel Olsen, 'Hi-Five' performed at The Current
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When Angel Olsen stopped in to The Current's studio to play some songs the day after her gig at The Cedar Cultural Center, she took a few minutes to tell us about her Gibson guitar and about the cool shop in Nashville, Tenn., where she bought it.

What model guitar is this?

It's a Gibson S-1, and this is a '79, I believe.

It's not a typical folk-rock guitar, I guess, but when the Fender Stratocaster came out, Gibson designed a similar kind of pickup to put out on their own guitars [to create] something that had a lot of options like the Strat, but it still has a totally different sound. It's a lot grittier, it's got three single-coil pickups and it's just solid. It gives me options because we play both really quiet, dirty sounds and then really soft, kind of jangly, reverb-y sounds. It's a nice change.

I was playing a Silvertone, so going from that to this is kind of like a breath of fresh air.

Where did you get it?

I got it in Nashville! I haven't had it very long. I got it at the beginning of the year as sort of a gift to myself to get a better guitar. You need better equipment if you're going to be gone all the time on tour. It's not the best Gibson available, obviously; I just wanted something extremely unique. Like something that wasn't typical — like, a Danelectro probably would have been typical for me to jump to. I guess I already have that kind of sound or I was used to playing guitars that had that sound and I wanted to do something a little bit different.

Do you remember the name of the shop in Nashville?

It's called Fanny's House of Music — vintage clothing and vintage guitars, and they repair [guitars] there, and everyone is super nice. They do lessons. It's a tiny shop.

I think the woman who owns the place is a bassist, and she fixed the guitar right up, she set it up. It was kind of uneven and she set it up right, put new strings on it. We talked for a while, I played it and then came back. It was definitely like, "Man, I don't know if I should get it …"

Had you tried a few other guitars in the meantime?

We went to a lot of different places around town, but a lot of the places in Nashville are larger buildings and they have a lot of new guitars and not as many quality vintage ones. It's more like the vintage guitars that you get [there] are worth so much money, but they don't sound good.

What did you like about the way this one sounded?

It's not like, the most solid guitar ever — it's just, it has more options for me. And I'm not a solo guitarist. I can pluck and do some fancy things sometimes, but [lead guitarist] Stewart [Bronaugh] is more the solo guy. What I wanted was something that allowed me to feel more comfortable strumming chords, and it sounded cool strumming chords.

It gives me a good sound. When I first played it, I was like, "Wow, this is a guitar that is not super bright, it has all these tones to it." If I wanted to make it super bright, I could do that for certain songs. It's really nice.

I'm happy that you asked me about it because I like talking about it!

If you look at the neck, it seems the finish has worn off. Some guitars are sold to look road-worn, but that certainly looks authentic.

Yeah, I think it's definitely been used. We opened it up to check the grounding in it at some point and there was someone's name — I forget the name of whoever owned it, I feel like it was "Jeff" or something — it was Jeff's guitar!

It's definitely been used. I think that's oak, but I'm not sure. It's definitely an older wood that maybe isn't used anymore, so that's cool.

When you're writing songs, do you write on acoustic?

I write on both acoustic and electric, but I start with an acoustic. I just have this kind of beaten-up Seagull that I got as a gift from a friend seven years ago. The neck has been repaired several times, but it still sounds really good. Those guitars, the necks are designed similarly to [the Gibson S-1], but the weight on it is not made to survive, but it's definitely got a good sound to it. I don't know if all Seagulls are like that, but the one that I use is still in good shape.

Thanks so much for talking. Anything else before we wrap up?

Not really — I just love my guitar!

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4 Photos

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    Angel Olsen and her Gibson S-1. (MPR photo/Leah Garaas)
  • angel olsen 4
    Angel Olsen performs in The Current studio. (MPR photo/Leah Garaas)
  • angel olsen gibson s 1 in stand
    Angel Olsen's Gibson S-1 in its stand in The Current's studio. (MPR photo/Luke Taylor)
  • angel olsen gibson s 1 headstock
    Angel Olsen compares the Gibson S-1's headstock to the similarly designed headstock found on Seagull guitars. (MPR photo/Luke Taylor)

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