2003 – Tracy Chapman in Acoustic Guitar

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By Dan Ouellette, Acoustic Guitar, April 2003

Tracy Chapman’s family of guitars started with an acoustic Fender dreadnought and has grown to number more than 20. On Let It Rain, she uses two of her small-bodied guitars, a Baby Taylor and a koa Judy Threet A model. She also has a Martin D-35 with a stereo Frap pickup and an electric Gibson ES-125TC, both of which she has retired from the road. She still uses them at home and in the studio.

“I love my Martin,” Chapman says. “I think it was built in 1967. I played it for eight to ten years, but I started feeling it was too risky to take on tour. I have heavy-duty flight cases, but on occasion a guitar can get damaged. It’s the same with the Gibson, which was the first electric I bought. I played it on the song ‘Give Me One Reason.’ The stress of touring gave it neck problems. I got the neck repaired but decided to go on tour with a Paul Reed Smith McCarty Soapbar, which is close to an ES-125 sound.”

In lieu of her Martin D-35, Chapman took to the highway with the Baby Taylor and a Martin Backpacker because they’re “easier to move around.” When Chapman was looking for a simpler tour setup, she went to Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, California, where she found a parlor-sized guitar made by Canadian luthier Judy Threet (www.threetguitars.com). “It’s small in size but very dynamic in sound,” says Chapman.

Chapman is now touring with the Threet (and a Santa Cruz PJ as a backup) equipped with a Highlander undersaddle pickup and internal microphone that are run through a Raven Labs PMB-1 preamp. Chapman uses D’Addario light-gauge strings on her Judy Threet guitar, a Shubb capo, National thumbpicks, and a Boss TU-2 tuner. While she uses pickups on tour, Chapman always mics her guitars in the studio, preferring a Neumann U 47. For her voice, she uses a Neumann KMS 105 microphone on the road and a Neumann M 147 in her home studio.

Chapman has an array of other instruments, including a Fender Jazz bass, a Martin B-40 acoustic bass, an Ibanez hollow-body electric, a solid-body Godin with a MIDI pickup, and a McNally Strumstick. Her amps include a Matchless DC30, Fender Deluxe Reverb, and Polytone Mini-Brute. She has a small effects setup: a Hughes and Kettner Rotosphere pedal (for a Leslie speaker sound) and a Z. Vex Super-Duper 2-in-1 pedal that expands her electric guitar’s dynamic range. She brings most of her accessories to studio sessions. “I like having a lot of instruments because as a songwriter I want to be able to represent the sounds and tones I hear,” Chapman says. “The different tonality of different instruments can be inspiring. But the dilemma is that I can’t play them all at the same time. That’s why I pack them up to take to the studio, so that the other guys can use them.”

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