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Hero. Legend. Good Bloke.
John Peel OBE, 1939 - 2004

Red Lick Records



Blues Singers & Their Instruments (April 2009)
compiled by Dai Thomas


This started as a list of acoustic or acoustic-based blues artists with an informed (mostly) guess at the make of the instruments they used during the “Acoustic Era”, i.e. prior to The Second World War. I have had a huge amount of feedback (for which many thanks to all you clever, knowledgeable people) about the original list and so I have expanded it to cover later artists (including some Gospel), but I still try restrict it to acoustic instruments, give or take the odd added pickup. The information is mostly gathered from repros. of old photographs or stories told by their contemporaries, so, since the photos were not always good, the reproductions were not always accurate and memories were not always reliable, there will be some mistakes in the list. Also, please bear in mind that any one singer would have used several instruments in his career and that he could have borrowed a guitar for the photo session (e.g. the recently found Robert Johnson photo where he holds an unplayable “prop” guitar). Any further information to add to the list, to correct the dodgy bits (I know where they are - honest!) or to fill in holes would be much appreciated. There is a note at the end about Stella guitars.

1 Louis Allen – Kay.

2 Pink Anderson (p) – Harmony, Gibson B-25, J-50, Martin 0-18.
3 Kokomo Arnold – reportedly a Martin, but it’s a good single cone brass National on the records, according to my ears. Document Records supreme Gary Atkinson reports the existence of 2 photos of Arnold; one depicts him with a standard unidentified guitar and the second has him holding a National Model O, which fits my theory.
4 Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong – Weyman banjo-mandolin, “Keystone” flat-back mandolin.
5 DeFord Bailey – Yes, I know, a Hohner Marine Band (pref. an A or a G), but he also played guitar (a Gibson Dove) and banjo (NorMa(?) and Maybelle 5-strings)
6 “Memphis Willie B.” Boerum – Epiphone Triumph.
7 Barbecue Bob – Stella 12-string.
8 John Henry Barbee – Gibson L-1, Harmony 165 flattop.
9 Jim Baxter (of Jim & Andrew Baxter) – Stella.
10 Ed Bell (Barefoot Bill) – Stella.
11 Blind Blake – Stella, prob. a resonator guitar on 1929 sessions onward.
12 Black Ace (Babe Turner) – National Style 2 Squareneck, Kalamazoo KG-11.
13 Scrapper Blackwell – National Triolian (c.1931), 1926 Gibson L-0 (thanks to Paul Fox) and Stellas. A Kay Solo Special in the 1960s.
14 Ted Bogan – Martin D-35.
15 Pillie Bolling – “A mail-order red Stella”.
16 Wee Bea Booze (Muriel Nicholls) – Regal Model 27½ tenor guitar.
17 Ishmon Bracey – Regal.
18 Dink Brister – Gibson A-1 mandolin.
19 Big Bill (Broonzy) (p) – c.1920 Gibson Model O, Bacon & Day Senorita, Epiphone DeLuxe, Gibson L7. Bill played a Martin 000-28 during his late 40s/early 50s acoustic period.
20 Buster Brown – Dobro (Regal) Model 27.
21 Gabriel Brown – Washburn, Dobro Model 45, Gibson J-35.
22 Willie Brown – Stella for the May 1930 recordings; apparently this was the make he preferred.
23 Bumble Bee Slim – National Model O.
24 R.L. Burnside – Martin D-28, Japanese Epiphone dreadnaught.
25 Joe Callicott – Harmony Archtop and H1203 flat-top.
26 Gus Cannon – Orpheum & 1920s Gretsch Broadkaster banjos. Ashley Thompson from his Jug-Stompers played a Stella and a 1961 Gibson LG-2 in a later reunion photo.
27 Bo Carter – National Style N. Gary Atkinson of the wonderful Document Records has a 1930 Style N which he and Bob Brozman consider to be a possibly Bo Carter’s guitar as shown in the earlier (mid-30s)of the two photos that we know of. The guitar has longer head slots than usual, no neck binding and has a nickel-silver back with a copper front to the body, giving it a unique tonal quality very similar to that on Bo’s recordings of the time.
28 Catiron – Harmony parlour size.
29 Sam Chatmon – Gibson L-4, Harmony Sovereign H1203.
30 Sam Collins – Stella.
31 Elizabeth Cotten –Mike Seeger says “Ms. Cotton played a Stella when she was young; then, about 1960, a mid-century Martin D-18; and eventually, from the late 1960s onward, her favourite 00-18 Martin”. She was also pictured with 000-18, D-28 and a Gibson J-45.
32 Ollie Crenshaw – Stella.
33 Arthur Crudup – Silvertone, Kay and Gibson archtops.
34 Emma Daniels (of “Two Gospel Keys”) – Stella.
35 Jed Davenport – Stella concert 12-string, Joe McCoy’s Washburn(?), Regal mandolin.
36 Blind Gary Davis – National Duolian then a Washburn and various Gibsons including J200s, B45-12s, Hummingbirds, a Southern Jumbo, a J-50; also a Bozo 12-string and briefly, a 6-string. There are photos of him with a Yamaha dreadnaught and a Martin D-28.
37 Dan Dixon – Martin D-28.
38 Scott Dunbar (p) – Kay Grand Auditorium, Gibson J45.
39 Ford “Snooks” Eaglin – Harmony Archtop.
40 Dave “Honeyboy” Edwards – Stella, Martin 00-17 (1930s), Martin D-41.


Sleepy John Estes – Stellas, Silvertones, Gibson LG-1 (“mid-50s”, customised), a Lark Junior archtop in 1962, Harmonys Stella, Models 162 and Sovereign 1260, also a Yamaha dreadnaught later.
42 Bud Ezell – Bacon & Day (Regal?).
43 Blind Boy Fuller – National Duolians (1 from 1933, 1 from 1938).
44 Jesse Fuller – A modified Prairie State (Larson Bros.) 12-string of the really huge variety (from the late John Joyce, via Paul Brett – thanks again), also various Harmony 12-strings.
45 Clifford Gibson – Gibson L-1.
46 Arvella Grey – various National Duolians.
47 Guitar Shorty (John Henry Fortascue) – Kay K-22 flat top with custom floral decoration, Kay archtop, “steel” National (from Danny McLean).
48 Buddy Guy – Kay Archtop for “Muddy Waters – Folk Singer” session also a Kay Jumbo, possibly a Solo Special.
49 “Hacksaw” Harney – Gibson J-200.
50 Buddy Boy Hawkins – Stella.
51 John Lee Hooker – Kay Jumbo.
52 Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins – Kay K-24 Jumbo, Harmony 165 Grand Concert, Gibson J-45s & J-50, also a Washburn.
53 Son House – National Duolian, Triolian or Model O. He favoured Stellas early on and said that he used one for the 1930 recording session; there is a 1960s photo of him holding one, but it was on loan; there is also a late picture of him holding an early 20s Gibson L-1.
54 Peg Leg Howell – Stellas. Henry Williams, a member of his “Gang” also played a Stella.
55 Howling Wolf – Kay Archtop, Guild G-212 12-string, Harmony Sovereign flat-top.
56 Mississippi John Hurt (p) – Gibson J-45 (customised & refinished), Guild F-30, Regal Dobro Model 19, Harmony Sovereign H1260, 1930 Martin OM-45 (from Stefan Grossman), also Neil Harpe says he played Tom Hoskins' Emory guitar. The guitar he used on the 1928 sessions was provided by the studio, his personal guitar (“Black Annie”, of unknown provenance) was not considered good enough quality.
57 James “Bo Weavil” Jackson – Gibson L-1.
58 Papa Charlie Jackson – Probably a Euphonon guitar banjo in 1925/6 pic., a Gibson GB Banjo in the 1927 photo &, reportedly, a Gibson guitar, model unknown.
59 Jim Jackson – Stella 12-string and Concert.
60 John Jackson – Early 1950s Gibson J-50.
61 Lulu Jackson – Stella.
62 Melvin “Lil’ Son” Jackson – Harmony Sovereign H1260.
63 Elmore James – Kay dreadnaught with added electrics (specifically DeArmond Rhythm Chief Model 1000, the actual pickup he uses on most/all of his recordings, mounted on the guitar top between bridge and soundhole, with the DeArmond vol./tone control box hanging down from the bridge. He also experimented with pickups attached over the soundhole. A DeArmond soundhole pickup is present on the November 1959 pictures, not there in 1957 pictures and gone by December 1959 pictures. The Rhythm Chief pickup is present in ALL photos !!). Thanks to “Snakehips” O’Donnell for that.
64 Homesick James – Stella.
65 Skip James – Gibson J-185, J-45, Martin D-18, D-28 in the sixties. The guitar used in the 1931 session is now generally accepted to have been a Stella 12-string strung as a six-string.
66 Blind Lemon Jefferson (p?) – Stella (and reportedly an Oahu – see pic.).
67 Henry Johnson – National Model O 14 fret “chicken-feet”, Gibson J-45.
68 Herman E. Johnson – Stella 928.
69 Lonnie Johnson – Martin 00-21, 1942 Gibson J-100, a custom-made Mexican 12-string.
70 Mager Johnson – Guild F-30 (poss. borrowed).


Robert Johnson – 1928 Gibson L-1, Kalamazoo KG-14 (Johnny Shines referred to Johnson’s last guitar as a “big old Kalamazoo”). He was also reputed to have played Stellas and a brass National with the high E string doubled for extra volume. A new picture has surfaced, which is claimed (and I’m inclined to believe it) to show R.J. and Johnny Shines resplendent in cool new threads with Bob clutching yet another guitar. I think that this box was the product of the Regal factory, but I don’t know the actual name on the head; it’s obvious that the thing is a wreck with no bridge, strings and nearly no machines. If you wish to see this picture, it’s on the Vanity Fair website, however incongruous it may seem.
72 Tommy Johnson – a Stella, a Washburn, a Martin and a Gibson; also “many cheap guitars” (c.f. the excellent “Tommy Johnson” – David Evans 1971).
73 Blind Willie Johnson – a Stella in the picture (poss. taken 1927), but Pillie Bolling borrowed his Washburn in Atlanta 1930.
74 Dennis “Little Hat” Jones – Harmony Archtop (from c.1950).
75 McKinney Jones – Harmony Sonata Superior archtop with added pickup.
76 Moody Jones – Martin 00-28.
77 Charlie Jordan – I don’t know what his guitar is (the one with all the pearl dots).
78 Junior Kimbrough – Yamaha dreadnaught.
79 B.B. King – there is a very early photo of him with a well-worn acoustic guitar of strange appearance, possibly with a resonator. Does anybody know what this machine was? Also “a red Stella”, a Gibson L-30 with added electrics (The Original “Lucille” was one of these) and a J-45.
80 Freddie King – Silvertone “Roy Rogers” acoustic (first guitar).
81 Eddie Kirkland – National (Pete Lowry).
82 Furry Lewis – Stellas, Martin 0-18 in the early ‘60s, an Epiphone Texan and a Gibson B-25N in the late 1960s.
83 Leadbelly – Stella 12-strings, one Grand Auditorium (an emergency buy for him by John Lomax in 1935 - the one on the films and most of the photos), also a Martin 000-18 in 1949.
84 J.B. Lenoir – Gretsch Synchromatic A/top, Gibson LG-0.
85 Charlie Lincoln – Stella 12-string.
86 Mance Lipscombe – Harmony Sovereign H1203, Gibson J-200.
87 Robert Jr. Lockwood – “$3.98 Gene Autry model from Montgomery Ward”, Gibson L-0, Dobro “Hula Blues”, Guild 12-string.
88 Joe Hill Louis – Kay archtop.
89 Carl Martin – Stella.
90 Maxwell Street Jimmie – Harmony archtop.
91 Charlie McCoy – Washburn mandolin (model 5281?).
92 Ethel McCoy – National Duolian 1933/34 12-fret.
93 George McCoy – Gibson J200.
94 Kansas Joe McCoy – Washburn, Harmony, National Style 3 Tricone, National Electric Spanish.
95 Mississippi Fred McDowell – Washburn DeLuxe, Martin D28, Harmony Cremona, Guild F-30 (prob. borrowed from John Hurt).
96 Brownie McGhee – The Martin D-18 is what he’s famous for, but, before that, he played “an f-hole S.S. Stewart” (possibly made by Gibson), a 14-fret National Duolian, 1938 Gibson J35 (later customised with, to the eye, extended f/board & modified bridge), a Martin D-28, a Harmony archtop and a Gibson J-200. He preferred Black Diamond strings with an unwound 3rd and used steel National fingerpicks (2) and a plastic thumbpick.
97 “Sticks” McGhee – National Trojan (1935?), Kalamazoo KG-31(?).
98 Fred McMullen – Stella, Martin OM-28 c.1930.
99 Lil McLintock (p) – Stella(?) in the photo, but I think that he plays a 12-string on the recordings.
100 Blind Willie McTell – various huge Stella, Regal & Harmony 12-strings.
101 Memphis Jug Band –– Robert Carter – Gibson L30; “Unidentified Member” (Charlie Burse?) – National Triolian; Will Shade – Stella, Gibson SJN, 1933 National Duolian.
102 Memphis Minnie – Stella, Washburn, National Tricone (Joe McCoy kitted them both out with identical Nationals in c.1929), 1938 National New Yorker Electric Spanish (1940 pics.), early 1950s National Aristocrat with non-standard quadrant fret markers (c. 1953 – thanks to Mark Makins), Harmony.
103 Memphis Slim – National Electric Spanish archtop (perhaps just minding it for a friend?).
104 Lottie Merle – “An old Stella”.
105 George “Daddy Hot Cakes” Montgomery – Kay archtop.
106 Buddy Moss – Gibson L-00, Kay Kraft Style C (poss. Curley Weaver’s).
107 Charlie “Dad” Nelson – Stella 12-string.
108 Robert Nighthawk – Stellas.
109 Hammie Nixon – 1933 National Triolian.
110 Jack Owens – Silvertone 12 string, Guild F-30 (poss. not his own).
111 Charlie Patton – Stromberg-Voisinet Concert in the photo; he reportedly used a “brown Stella with lots of fancy pearl and stuff” for some time. Patton was also said to have used “a Gibson with a Black Top” around the time of his last session; the guitar lasted well because of its robust construction, although he apparently preferred Stellas for bass and volume. It is also said that he played and destroyed the odd Washburn.
112 Ike Perkins (Albert Ammons Rhythm Kings) – Gibson L-5; in 1936 he was photographed holding an early Rickenbacker Frying Pan (prob. A-25), complete with correct amplifier (these guitars had a round neck, so could be played either as Hawaiian or Spanish). The way he held the guitar suggests that he played it in conventional “Spanish” mode, possibly even while standing.
113 Robert Petway – c.1931 Sears (National) Duolian.
114 Washington Phillips – a complex double zither of his own devising (see http://www.angelfire.com/, Dolceola section, for argument and mp3s).
115 Eugene Powell – Silvertone auditorium-sized flat-top.
116 Herb Quinn – Martin A style mandolin with optional shaded top.
117 Yank Rachell – Gibson A-1, F-5s, Flatiron F-5, Harmony mandolins with the bottom strings octave tuned. Gibson J-200 guitar.
118 Moochie Reeves – Kay-Kraft.
119 Jimmy Rogers – Silvertone (Kay) acoustic archtop.
120 Dr. Isiah Ross – 1960 Gibson SJN, Harmony Cremona.
121 Bobbie Rush – Gibson Hummingbird.
122 Dan Sane – Harmony concert (Beale Street Sheiks).
123 Tom Shaw – “$8 Stella”, Gibson J45.
124 Johnny Shines – Stella, Gibson B-25.
125 J.D. “Jelly-Jaw” Short (p) – Stella, Regal (Dobro) Model 37 spanish with the resonator cover removed and the hole filled in with wood (also with a wonderful custom harp-rack clamped to the top bout). The photo showing this guitar was taken in 1962 when he was recorded by Sam Charters and the guitar he used sounds like a Dobro with its resonator intact.
126 Frankie Lee Sims – Gibson J-50.
127 Robert Curtis Smith – Harmony Sovereign H1203.
128 Smoky Babe (Robert Brown) – Stella 922 12-string customised as a 6-string with the tailpiece removed and the floating bridge replaced with a fixed, string-retainer type.
129 Spark Plug Smith – Martin 2-17.
130 Joseph Spence – a large Kay archtop in 1958, a 1949 Martin 00-18 by 1977.
131 Roebuck “Pop” Staples – Kay K-44 Archtop.
132 Frank Stokes – Harmony concert, Martin 00-28.
133 Jewell “Babe” Stovall – Model O National c.1932, Stella.
134 Daddy Stovepipe (Johnny Watson) – In 1924, a 9-string guitar with doubled-up treble strings and single basses. Neil Harpe identifies this as a Grunewald, c.1905, made in New Orleans, Harmony archtop (Conondo?).
135 Stovepipe No. 1 – Stella (I’ve no idea what make the stovepipe was).
136 Roosevelt Sykes – Gibson J-50 (you’d better believe it!).
137 Baby Tate – (?) Leader jumbo.
138 Tampa Red – 1928 National Style 4 with custom engraving (sadly nickel plated, not gold), now on its third neck at least. Custom National Electric Archtop c.1938.
139 Sister O.M. Terrell – National Triolian flat f-hole model with a plated cover-plate.
140 Sister Rosetta Tharpe (p) – National Triolian, Gibson L-5.
141 Henry “Ragtime Texas” Thomas – Stella.
142 Rambling Thomas – Stella, his first guitar was from Sears.
143 James “Son” Thomas – Wolfram Triumph with an aluminium clad fretboard, Martin D-28.
144 Buford Threlkeld (Whistler’s Jug Band) – Stella.
145 Henry Townsend – Stella, also a Thorn or Thornton which he says was the best ever (prob. a Thornward by Lyon & Healy – thanks Todd). Later, Henry was filmed using a c.1937 National Model O.
146 Willie Trice – a “fine steel National”.
147 Walter Vincent (Vincson) – National Style 1 Tricone.
148 Muddy Waters – Stella, followed by “a beautiful Sears-Roebuck box”, a borrowed Martin for the L. C. session, a National Trojan (maybe a Sears model?) in 1943 John Work photo, Gibson Southern Jumbo, Martin 00-21NY(?) (for “Folk Singer”).
149 Curley Weaver – Kay Kraft style C.
150 Sylvester Weaver – Stella, Washburn Auditorium-size.
151 Peetie Wheatstraw – National Style 3 Tricone (possibly belonging to Joe McCoy).
152 Bill Weldon – Stella (1927). If you believe that the early picture is of Casey Bill Weldon, then you should know that the guitar that he favoured on the 1935 onward recordings was, almost certainly, a National Tricone squareneck. There is a poor quality photograph of him with an electric lap steel which I can’t identify; the photo is dated 1941, but he “went electric” before Dec. 1938 – his last recording session.
153 Booker T “Bukka” White (p) – National Duolians & Triolians after his first Stella; he swapped a Gibson “in bad shape” for his first National. He was also photographed playing a very rare 1938 National “Exploding Palmtree” squareneck Tricone and filmed playing a Gibson J45.
154 Josh White – Kay Kraft (as Curley Weaver & Buddy Moss), Martin 00-21, 00-42, with custom scratch-plates applied when he wore the tops. Custom Guild and Ovation “Josh White” models..
155 Mott Willis – Guild F-30 (prob. on loan).
156 Rev. Robert Wilkins – Gibson J-45, Martin D-28, Stefan Grossman’s OM-45.
157 Bill Williams – Gibson L-1 c.1931.
158 Poor (Big) Joe Williams – Gibson L-1, Stella 12-string, then all sorts of Harmonys, Gibsons, Kays, Silvertones, etc. butchered in an infinite variety of fascinating fashions.
159 Robert Pete Williams – Stella Grand Auditorium (converted 12-string?), Harmony Archtops, Harmony Sovereign H1260 & H1203, Martin 00045.
160 Hosea Woods – Stella.
161 Johnny Young – Martin 00-21.
Note: I realise that I’m guilty of using “Stella” on occasions when I can’t identify the exact model of a guitar, but it could be a Stella and it’s of that type of instrument; I’ve recently become aware that I’m not alone in this irritating tic – some of the most reliable of Blues artistes use “Stella” in the same way, when they can’t remember, or never actually knew, the correct make or model that they played, or saw played. Stella guitars were made by the Oscar Schmidt Company of New Jersey before 1935 and by John Carner’s Stella Company from 1935 to 1940. These were usually well made, playable and relatively cheap instruments with good tone and projection. Harmony took over the name in 1940 and the quality dropped considerably, although some made under the Sovereign marque were OK. I am not good on Stella models and so I have made some errors in identification and I certainly have not tried to differentiate between Stellas and other brands that were applied to Stella guitars, e.g. Sears, Galiano, Sterling, etc.. All rather bewildering, but if you wish to be less confused, I recommend reading Neil Harpe’s excellent “The Stella Guitar Book” available from his website http://www.stellaguitars.com. Also Paul Brett’s magnificent collection of Stellas, etc. is viewable on http://www.fret-dancer.com; his other site http://www.paulbrettguitarist.co.uk/ has a Q&A section where people can send pictures of their vintage guitars for identification and valuation, also you can ask all sorts of question regarding care and maintenance, where to buy parts etc.. Recommended!
Dai Thomas
April 2009

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