Talking guitars and songwriting with Caitlyn Smith

Caitlyn Smith performs at PledgeHouse at SXSW
Caitlyn Smith plays her 2018 American Original Telecaster while performing at PledgeHouse at SXSW in Austin, Texas. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
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Caitlyn Smith describes two of her favorite guitars
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When Caitlyn Smith visited The Current studio in early March, it was, in a way, coming full circle for the Nashville-based singer-songwriter.

Back in 2005, Smith was in her late teens and living in Cannon Falls, Minn., about 40 minutes south of St. Paul. It was at that time that The Current first went on the air. "I donated to you guys when you were starting out," Smith recalls, the sharper corners of her native Midwestern accent now slightly rounded by many years of living and working in Tennessee.

Smith has built a rewarding and successful career as a songwriter in Nashville, penning songs that have been recorded by artists including Jason Aldean, Meghan Trainor, Garth Brooks, and Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. But ultimately, Smith wanted to return to the stage. Her new album, Starfire, has provided powerful impetus for that.

The album's name is inspired by Smith's roots. Growing up in Cannon Falls, Smith's mother and father enjoyed playing piano and guitar, respectively. "One of my favorite guitars is a 1963 Guild Starfire," Smith says, "which is actually the name of my new record; it's where that came from.

"It was my dad's guitar," Smith continues. "He played it for years and then I ended up buying it from him a couple years ago. Man, there's nothing like those old, vintage F-hole guitars. They play so nice and growly!"

1962 Guild Starfire III at Carter Vintage Guitars in Nashville
A 1962 Guild Starfire III at Carter Vintage Guitars in Nashville, which Caitlyn Smith cites as one of her favorite guitar shops. (Jon Roncolato)

Smith says she's reluctant to take the vintage Guild on the road, but the people at Fender guitars gave Smith a brand-new, road-ready instrument to play. "Fender just released it — it's a 2018 American Original Telecaster," Smith says. "She's beautiful: the sunburst with this beautiful white binding around it. And I love how she plays — she's a female, of course!"

When it comes to writing songs, Smith says she usually writes using an acoustic guitar, favoring the sound of her 1985 Guild D35. "I love how that one sounds," Smith says, "but I'll play piano as well, or let somebody else play the guitar!"

As the fiery songs on Starfire exemplify, Smith doesn't completely eschew writing on electric guitars, particularly if she's in a place she can plug in and let it wail. "Writing with the electric, you can dig in a little more, or get more vibey, reverb sounds," she says. "With the acoustic, you're less thinking about the music and more thinking about the lyrics in the songs."

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Resources

Caitlyn Smith - official site

Carter Vintage Guitars, Nashville

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  • Caitlyn Smith is making her dreams come true A longtime Nashville-based songwriter, Caitlyn Smith is now performing her own songs from her own album, 'Starfire.' Smith, who grew up in Minnesota, began her music career performing at the Minnesota State Fair and in Twin Cities music venues. An appearance on 'Live From Here' and an in-studio session at The Current helped bring a couple more of Smith's dreams to life.

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  • Caitlyn Smith performs at PledgeHouse at SXSW
    Caitlyn Smith plays her 2018 American Original Telecaster while performing at PledgeHouse at SXSW in Austin, Texas. (Nate Ryan | MPR)

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