It's always been the goal of bluegrass pickers to find the perfect instrument, one in which they that can form a lasting bond. Seldom is it their first instrument and it may take years of wheelin' and dealin' before you find that one instrument that feels and sounds just right. And what's right for one person may be totally wrong for the next. But with perseverance and luck, most pickers do find that one instrument that defines their music and style. Monroe did it with his Gibson F-5 and Tony Rice and the bluegrass world were blessed when he laid his hands on Clarence White's D-28. And in that same sense, Panhandle Grass has been blessed with a wealth of fine instruments that just ooze bluegrass music.
Any bluegrass band worth their salt has to have a Martin guitar, and dig deep into the Panhandle Grass coffers and you'll find no less that five.
Guitarist, Darry Nipper owns two of these Martins and in his hands, they are the cream of the crop. Besides being exceptionally great sounding guitars, these two instruments hold a lot of history, both having belonged to country music pioneer, Molly O'Day. Darry's guitar of choice is his 1947Martin D-28 that he personally bought from Molly herself at a bluegrass festival in Portsmouth, Ohio in the early 70's. Darry tells of coming up a few hundred dollars short of what Molly was asking for the guitar and another customer breathing down his neck when Molly agreed to sell to him, provided he never sold the guitar. Darry has kept his promise and one listen to the instrument and you'll see why. In 1998, Lynn Davis (Molly O'Day's husband) decided to sell Molly 1972 D-45 and Darry was his first call. Darry met Lynn in Huntington, W. VA, a deal was made and Darry came home with another special Martin guitar, not to mention Molly's Gibson bowtie banjo. They're all in good hands!
When Roger Coriell set the banjo aside and set about to learn to play fiddle, he went through a couple of fiddles before finding one that fit the bill. This was a French made Jean Baptiste a decent fiddle in it's own right, but kept searching for that perfect fiddle that he could become one with. Then he happened on another French made fiddle (or as the longhairs call it, a violin), a Collin-Mezin made around the turn of the last century and his search was over. Roger still has a Rich and Taylor banjo and a couple of Martins sitting around, but mostly gathering dust as he makes beautiful music on his Mezin.
Clay Wallen traded his Earl Scruggs model Gibson banjo for his current Rich and Taylor, J.D. Crowe model, a move some folks may question until you hear the beautiful tone and volume this R & T delivers. Once owned by New South's mandolin picker, Dwight McCall, it makes you wonder why Dwight ever parted with it. Clay desired no special setup with this banjo, because if it ain't broke, don't fix it, yet he did outfit it with a set of Keith tuners. Equipped with the original Tennessee 20 tone ring and in the able hands of a 22-year-old student of Scruggs style banjo, this banjo is hard to beat.
And on the bass,..My weapon of choice is a Kay C1 from the early to mid 1960's, armed with Dr. Thomastiks Spirocore steel strings. The Kay Bass is pretty much the standard in the bluegrass music world with so many great ones out there as well as some other truly fine acoustic basses. I just happen to be partial to mine it just feels right. Also in my arsenal and at my disposal if needed is a 1960 Gibson EB2 electric hollow body paired with a 1961 Tweed Fender Bassman amp. Doesn't really fit in with what Panhandle Grass is doing but who knows, I may try and work it in for a little fun.
And to reproduce the sound of all these wonderful instruments, we have chosen a Shure KSM32 Condenser Microphone with a Peavey Standard PA head and SHS Speakers for a single mic setup. Pretty much a small venue setup, but that's all we're looking to use it with...and by the way, Panhandle Grass's debut will be November 8th 2003, as we leave the living room and head out to The Ole Barn in Mt. Olivet, KY and we'll see just how well the PA system works out.