The Current's Guitar Collection: Nikki Lane - Gibson LG-1

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Nikki Lane performs in The Current studio. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
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When Nikki Lane was in The Current's studio for a live session, she played a brand-new, shiny, black guitar. Asked about the guitar, Nikki shares a great story that involves a tour of the guitar factory and a great deal of respect for Johnny Cash.

What were you playing today?
I'm playing a Gibson LG-1, it's a black acoustic guitar which I asked to be made when we went to the Gibson Custom Shop for the first time in Montana this summer. I finally got a vacation, and my best friend lives in Bozeman, Montana, and while I was there, Gary Briggs from my label called and said, "Are you going to be anywhere near Bozeman, Montana, any time soon?" and I said, 'Well, we're here on vacation right now."

Gary said we should stop by the Gibson Custom Shop to see how they make the acoustic guitars. It was a really cool, educational tour. As a musician, you're always like, "Where is my guitar made?" It's like that with anything you have; you wonder, "Where is it made?" and "Who's making it?"

The Gibson shop answered those questions. They make their acoustic guitars in Bozeman just because they're able to control the humidity a lot better there than they can in Tennessee, which I thought was pretty interesting. I also saw that they have a staff of 95 people who do about 100 guitars a day; each person has one component of the guitar that all goes into each instrument, so I got to see that there was a fret guy and an inlay guy. There's even a guy who does the little silver things in between each fret. Meeting all of those people was really cool.

At the end of the tour, we were looking at different guitars and I obviously like the LG-1; it comes as a blonde, but I wanted a black guitar, and there was some discrepancy as to whether that would be allowed. But we received it about a month ago in the Austin Custom Shop while we were there for Austin City Limits; Gibson let me take it to play for a couple of events. I asked why there was a concern about making a black guitar, and they said that it had taken a while to decide to do a black one because they hadn't made a black acoustic guitar since Johnny Cash died. I wasn't allowed, obviously, to have his model, but I was able to have the parlor-style, which is the LG-1 that I wanted anyway. So now, me and Johnny Cash — that's pretty cool and really flattering! I've enjoyed breaking it in and hopefully not breaking it.

Had you always played LG-1 models?
No — before that, I'd been playing a Guild parlour, the GAD M20. Nick Cave used to use that one in the '60s and '70s; I had really wanted that guitar just for aesthetic reasons.

And then after touring a while, honestly, it was just about having a smaller-body guitar. Growing up, I wanted the Gibson Southern Jumbo, the same, big ol' guitar that Emmylou played. I wanted that big guitar, but then after trying to get on planes, I was like, "I do not want a big guitar, I want a small guitar."

Once I started carrying the Guild around and playing the parlor, I just kind of got addicted to its small size. The neck's a little smaller, it's a little easier to learn on, and I wanted a Gibson guitar just because obviously it's a heritage brand, something I just really wanted to get into. But just needed the right opportunity to come along to make this baby mine.

How long have you had it?
About a month.

So obviously the tunes on the album …
Are with the Guild. Both of them are now my two guitars. I have a couple more that we keep around, but I definitely commit to one. I'm not good at switching around — I was on tour with Johnny Fritz, and we were out playing one night and they asked me if I could get up and play a song, and I tried to play a song on his guitar, and then the other day a string broke on mine and I tried to play a song on the guitar that belongs to Jonathan Clay from Jamestown Revival — and it's amazing how much I'm set on my guitar. With those other guitars, it was felt like all of a sudden I didn't know where the frets were, so definitely I'm a one-trick pony with those couple of possessions.

What do you like about the tone of your new Gibson?
It's brighter than the Guild and what I'm used to, and we're really trying to figure that out; we're trying to change a pickup in it right now and figuring out how involved that's going to be, because even just playing the blonde one before it was painted black sounded quite a bit warmer, and so I think it's about just trying to break it in and figuring out what it's going to take to get it exactly to sound like what I love because it is a little brighter. I want it to have a little more full-bodied sound. I'm just kind of working it out; it might be the cold, it might be just having that pickup in there that is kind of bright. We're figuring it out.

I'm learning about tone. All I used to know how to say is "I like it" or "I do not llke it." Now I'm starting to understand a lot more vocabulary for describing things.

When you asked for the black guitar, was it because of Johnny Cash?
Not super consciously; it's an aesthetic thing for me. In choosing guitars, I prefer dark colors — I have a mahogany, so just the dark wood was appealing to me. I like the dark tones that go with everything.

I know that it shouldn't just be an aesthetic choice, but it's fun to have an instrument that kind of goes alongside what I'm wearing onstage all the time; black just covers the bases.

I've now requested an off-white one as a pairing so that I'll have two. It's really just about excess for me, if I'm being super honest! One of everything! (laugh)

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1 Photos

  • Nikki Lane guitar
    Nikki Lane's Gibson LG-1 sits in its stand ahead of an in-studio performance at The Current. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)

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