Equipment for performing, recording, teaching
by A. Nelson - My present primary acoustic violin was made in Los Angeles in 1947.
by Gustav Wunderlich - This is one of my favorite acoustic violins, made in Liepsig,
Germany, in 1926. I originally restored it to playability from a very poor condition, under
the supervision of Carl Roy, at the violin repair workshop at Summer Violin Institute of the
University of New Hampshire. When I switched from right handed playing to left I had it
modified to left handed in stages by luthiers Todd Goldenberg and Gregory Wylie. Todd
built a new bass bar, and Gregory reset the neck. I use it for playing classical music, playing
fiddle into a microphone, studio recordings, and for acoustic jam sessions.
My primary electrified acoustic violin is a German made Strad copy, with no maker's label in
it. Its probably 80 to 100 years old. I use an LR Baggs pickup along with a Fishman Pro EQ
with good results. This set up works well for folk gigs, square dances, and right up to
moderate volume country or zydeco bands. High volume rock will cause it to feedback,
however, so in those situations I switch to my Zeta. I bought it from Bob Smakula Fretted
Instruments in West Virginia. It used to belong to Claudio Buchwald whom I first saw play
it. It was a bit weak on the E string, which is possibly why it had been put up for sale, but I
saw potential in it. I had Gregory Wylie reset the neck to get the bridge height up to
normal, and now its a fine square dance fiddle with good solid tone.
Zeta Stratos 5 string - This is a custom instrument that I received in an endorsement deal
with Zeta and Gibson. I had it built left handed at the Zeta production shop and finished
with a bright red color designed to match my accordion. It has a very even and clear tone
across the range of the strings. To further fine tune its play ability, I had it set up by
luthier Gregory Wylie in Vermont. It has more of an "electric" sound than my Barrett, and
the 5 strings are close together on a fingerboard similar in width to that of a 4 string
instrument. Its great for jazz and rock gigs.
Gliga brand Left Handed Violin. The Gliga company has been very responsive to the needs
of left handed musicians, and I find their quality to be uniformly high.
My shoulder rests of choice are Forte Primo by Willy Wolf, made in Holland. They are
sturdy, comfortable, and very adjustable. The most comfortable shoulder rest I ever owned
was a Resonans which I bent into a shape that fitted by body perfectly. I'd play a few days,
bend it a little, play a few more days, bend it some more, until it finally fit perfectly.
However, the padded fabric top began to wear out. I patched it as well as I could, but it
finally gave up. The Forte Primo is far more durable, but not designed to be bent or
modified as was my Resonans.
Our primary preferred bows for our Fiddling Thomsons duo gigs are Coda bows: a Diamond,
and a Luma. One sounds and plays best with one of our violins, and the other best with the
other. Because they are made of synthetic materials we avoided a possible legal problem
with export/import of ivory on our performance tour to China in 2014.
My favorite wooden bow is a Pernambuco stick stamped "Leon Pique." Second best is one
stamped "R Weichold A Dresden" on one side, and on the other, "Imitation De Tourte." I
have another nice bow but its a little too light for my taste. Its a finely made Pernambuco
stick stamped "L Bausch Liepsig." A 4th bow is an octagonal Pernambuco stick stamped
"Nurnberger." It plays quite well, but I still like my Pique and Weichold better.
Cedar Mtn Banjos, Brevard, North Carolina, 5 string open back - This is my primary gigging
banjo. I've installed a passive piezo pickup from "Pick-up the World." It works without a
preamp and can be plugged directly into a sound board in a pinch, but sounds much better
when I use a Pro-EQ II Acoustic Preamp. These preamps have been discontinued, but may
be found used on Ebay.
Vega tubaphone banjo mandolin - Many banjo mandolins are almost unplayable because the
action is so high or the neck is warped. Mine has a perfectly straight neck and fingerboard.
My trick is to use use extremely light gauge strings and carefully adjust the string height as
low as possible so that they still don't buzz when whacked with the pick. This is a very loud
instrument and can hold its own in a room full of accordions as I discovered at the "North
East Squeeze In" accordion festival one year.
George Washburn 5 string - I believe that this banjo was made prior to 1900, possibly in the
1880's. It is my primary performance instrument which I've played almost 30 years. Its had a
lot of wear and tear, and several different people have done repair work on it over the
years. 20 years ago the neck was accidently broken at a gig that I was playing with Alan
Block and I took it to David Colburn at the Vintage Fret Shop in Ashland who did an
When I needed a fifth string peg replaced a few years ago I went to Bob Abrams at Trillium
Octave Mandolins who combined an antique celluloid knob with a modern mechanism for a
great repair that also looks cosmetically pleasing. More recently I've had major refurbishing
done by Jack O'Brien from Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Jack is an exceptionally fine craftsman
(and a good fisherman too). For amplification I've installed a Headway Limpet active piezo
transducer which I purchased in England from Hob Goblin Music.
George Washburn Tenor - This instrument closely matches my Washburn 5 string in basic
design. Its small and light in weight with fast action. It was built around 1915. I discovered
it in an ad from a music store in New Jersey which supplied me with photos. It looked too
good to be true in the photos, but I was even more impressed after it was sent to me in
the mail. It has little wear, and looks as though it had been played for only 2 or 3 years and
then was put carefully away in its hard shell case for 60 or 70 years. The original calf skin
head has been replaced with mylar.
Leon Clerc 5 string - I found this old used banjo in Sidmouth, England, at Hob Goblin Music.
Its a very unusual design with a six tuner guitar head stock, and a fifth string that
disappears into a tube under the fingerboard for the top 5 frets and then comes out to
attach to a tuner in the guitar head stock. Because the banjo is a 5 string, one of the
tuners in the head stock goes unused. It has a small head and pot. It sounds a bit tinny and
doesn't put out much sound, but is very fun to play because the action is extremely fast
and the light gauge strings are very responsive to pulls, hammers, and bends. Its a
wonderful banjo for just relaxing with in a comfortable chair.
Stradolin - My Stradolin is a fine instrument modeled after a Gibson A. It has a solid spruce
Gibson A - My Gibson A was made in the 1920's.
Copeland wooden Flute - As long as this flute is playable it will probably always remain my
primary flute. It was made early in Michael (Mekal) Copeland's career. I bought it from him
at a folk festival. There were several assembled flutes standing in a barrel at his booth. I
tried each in turn, but this one was the easiest for me to play. It has a beautiful tone in all
registers, with a solid low D. Its made of Maple, and was impregnated with a resin in an
experimental process at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This treatment has darkened the wood to a greenish black color which most people
mistake for a variety of ebony. Its a real pleasure to play and gets rave reviews by everyone
who hears it. Stamped into it is the word "MEKAL," and "33." For amplification I use an Audio
Technica 831B lapel mic. I could find no premade and easy way to attach it to the flute so I
came up with two alternate methods: One is to use part of an Electro Voice N/dym
microphone cradle which snaps right onto the flute. The other method was to modify an
audio cable cinch, originally designed to keep cables running in a neat and orderly way in
the studio. The cinch clamps the microphone and attaches to the flute with a rubber band.
Penny whistles, tin whistles - I learned to play whistle on Generation brand penny whistles,
particularly the nickle-silver models. They are reliable, easy to play, and produce a clear
tone. Later, I discovered Feadog whistles, which are now my favorite of the lower cost
variety. I once attended a tin whistle class with John Skelton in which he played a large
variety of whistles in a comparison test. I preferred his Michael Burke whistle to any other
brands, so I ordered one from Michael who builds them in Illinois. Michael describes the
sound of his whistles as "bird like." For professional use and studio recording, I love my
Michael Burke brass whistle. It is easily tunable, with an O-ring lock to set it at concert
Frontalini 24 bass This accordion was made in 1963 and is a pleasure to play. It's very
lightweight and compact but powerful with a nice musette tuning. I play it so much that I
periodically need to have it repaired and retuned. I've had very good service from Petosa
Accordions in Seattle who retuned the reeds and repaired the mechanism, and Castiglione
Accordions in Michigan who, several years later, put in a new set of reeds and repaired the
bellows. Arthur Welch from Accordion Connection in New Hampshire has been doing
maintenance for me for the last several years.
I've taken this accordion on several flights to the west coast, for a week long gig at Feile
Iorrais Festival in Ireland, and for a tour to China. Even with the case it fits into the
overhead luggage compartment inside the plane. For amplification I'm using a Microvox
microphone and preamp setup which I installed into the accordion. I purchased the
Microvox unit from Westfield Musical Instruments in England. It has 4 microphones: three
for the treble side, and one for the bass.
Castiglione 48 bass This accordion is one of a batch of 24 that Castiglione had
commissioned to be built in Italy. It is a very high quality instrument and has a beautiful
sound with hand made reeds. The buttons are very quiet when depressed which makes it
very well suited for studio recording. It also looks very classy. I use it in situations where
looks and clean sound are important. As a 48 bass, it is much lighter and smaller than a full
size 120 bass accordion. For amplification it has a built in Shure microphone system. Its my
favorite instrument for strolling and to play in my cajun and zydeco band.
Titano 120 bass. This is a fine instrument with fancy decoration, chrome and black. I don't
need 120 basses for much of the music I play, so I will probably put it up for sale or trade.
Hero miniature accordion - I play this sparingly since it is really just a toy, and somewhat
fragile, but I get a huge amount of music out of it on folk tunes and many hits playing it on
YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMw7YplUbAM
Kurzweil sp 76 This is my primary instrument for gigging. Its lightweight, only 28 pounds
with the AC adapter and has a decent keyboard feel. Its described as "semi weighted" but
feels much better to me than most semi weighted keyboards, primarily because its not
spongy or rubber band like. It has several good piano sounds. For gigs in very small clubs I
use my Galaxy Audio Hot Spot as an amp, and in larger venues I use a Galaxy Audio PA with
the 8 inch speaker. I commissioned a custom lightweight padded nylon fabric carrying case
from the Mooradian company with two large accessory pockets and backpack straps so that
I can carry the piano on my back and the amp and keyboard stand with my free hands, for
fewer trips between my vehicle and the stage.
My acoustic piano is a Charles R. Walter upright, a fine piano.
Taylor rosewood concert grand - This is a wonderful guitar with a smaller body than a
dreadnought. I was looking for a professional level guitar, but couldn't afford the high
prices of one of the more popular quality guitar makers. I did some research, decided that
this was the no frills model that I needed, and then began looking for one locally. I wanted
a rosewood back and quickly discovered that no dealer seemed to have one in rosewood,
and that this model was now being made with walnut. I called the Taylor factory and they
located a single guitar with a rose wood back in Baltimore. I drove to Baltimore to try it
out. I sat and played it in the shop for a long time. I also played a comparable Martin guitar
in the shop. The Martin guitar played and sounded great. The Taylor played and sounded
better. I had a Thin Line pickup installed and took it home to New Hampshire.
F hole jazz guitar - I have a wonderful "Valencia" solid spruce top guitar with a sunburst
finish, probably vintage 1930's - 40's.
Amps, mixers, speakers
For duo and small ensemble gigs I use my Bose L1 Model II loudspeaker system, with bass
bin and Tone Match. This is great for indoor gigs, and even works fine for smaller outdoor
community concerts with my duo on acoustic instruments.
I used my faithful Carvin 6 channel mixer/amp, model SP600 for almost 30 years, and have
since recently replaced it with a Carvin XP880 8 channel mixer/amp along with Carvin
Speakers on Stands. This system is great for outdoor and larger club gigs.
Peavey Speakers Model 1210TS PA Column, T3 High Frequency Projector . - These are
wonderful sounding speakers coupled with my Carvin amp. They're over 25 years old but
going strong. They have a 12 inch, 10 inch, and 3 tweeters in a sturdy column design.
They're great for vocals and acoustic instruments. They aren't designed to put on stands
however, so must be set up on something substantial. When these finally wear out I'll be in
the market for something lighter and sized to put on stands.
Fostex 8 channel mixer - This the companion mixer for the older Fostex 1/4 8 channel
multitrack reel to reel recorder. Both the mixer and recorder work great. In fact, I was
getting ready to sell the recorder last year, and then I noticed that the prices for good
used working units are actually going up, since some people prefer the analogue sound.
Samson Mixpad 9 - This mixer is one of the best audio equipment purchases that I have
ever made. There are several similar products on the market but I chose this model
because it is physically smaller than its competitors and I wanted an ultra compact mixer
that I could pack into a tiny kit bag. I was very pleased to discover how incredibly versatile
it is! I can use it to add extra channels to my main powered PA board, to plug in 4 or 5
instruments plus a mic for my solo gigs, or for many other uses: duo, and trio folk gigs, or
as a submixer for all of my instruments when I play an on-stage venue with a main PA
system. It is extremely convenient to just hand the sound man one 1/4 line, rather than
having to have separate cables for my flute, fiddle, accordion, banjo, etc. At a recent
contra dance gig I had the whole band plugged into my Mixpad9: 1st fiddle; 2nd fiddle;
banjo; flute; hammered dulcimer; Octave mandolin; and a microphone for tin whistle. It
worked like a charm!
Roland Jazz Chorus 50 - "JC-50 Jazz Chorus 112 Combo"
This is one of my favorite amps for amplifying my violin in rock type situations. Roland only
sold them for a couple of years, but I'm lucky enough to own one which I purchased new in
New York in 1981 during a tour with the Baked Apple Band. The true test of this amp's
quality occurred in a country rock gig I had in Utica, New York, at the S-Kicker club. For
some reason it wasn't possible to put my fiddle through the sound board or to mic it so I
had to rely upon just my Roland to compete with the rest of the band which was amplified
through a substantial PA system.
The lead guitar player was using a Marshall stack. The sound man warned me that in his
opinion my amp wouldn't cut it on its own, but I had no other choice. I cranked the Roland
way up to 8 or 9, plugged in my violin and let loose. Our on-stage volume in this band was
such that I had to use ear plugs. Our band was being recorded this night from the audience
with a remote microphone. Later that night, listening to the taped play back, I was
surprised and pleased to hear that my little Roland was easily able to keep up with the PA
system, and even with the guitarist's Marshall stack while we traded solos.
This was evident in sections where the guitar player and I traded solos. Not only was my
amp loud enough, but my fiddle sounded natural, just like a violin played acoustically, with
no distortion. Granted, I was using a high quality violin, with a Barcus Berry pickup which I
had very carefully placed for optimal sound. I've had a "line out" jack placed on the the
amp's back panel, since it didn't come with one.
Galaxy Audio Hot Spot - These are truly amazing little amps. I've been using the 30 watt
versions weekly for many years, in pairs as mini PA systems for folk bands, as on stage
monitors for my cajun/zydeco band, or as a main amp for my fiddle, flute, banjo, or
accordion. They are real workhorses, and produce a clean, clear sound for both vocals and
At a recent gig I had one mounted 5 feet in the air on a mic stand in use as a monitor. An
intoxicated passerby kicked the stand sending the amp crashing to the wooden floor. I put
it back up on the stand and it worked perfectly, with no damage even to the case. Later
that evening, it suffered the same abuse a second time! It still worked perfectly, although
after this second occurrence I put up chairs as barricades around the mic stand.
Galaxy Audio PA - I use this compact system with its 140 watts and 8 inch speaker to power
a whole folk band for a contra dance, small venue band stage performance, or just as a
powerful amp for main stage solo folk gigs. It also works great as a main or monitor amp for
keyboard. I've used it along with my Samson Mixpad 9, or with a mini XLR combiner from
Galaxy, to amplify my Kurzweil keyboard, dance caller, fiddle, and other instruments for
Mics - I'm presently using Electro Voice N/dym 257's, and 357's for vocals and instruments,
and an SM 57 for instruments.