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My Wendler Doubleneck
I love rock ‘n’ roll. I’ve been listening and dancing to it since I was 15. And in the last few years I’ve gotten to indulge my rock ‘n’ roll fantasy by playing in a kick-ass rock band (Banned from Eden).
It’s a bit ironic—I’ve been a musician most of my life, having played trombone in school bands, orchestras and stage bands, mandolin and fiddle in various bluegrass bands, fiddle in an electric country band, and trombone, violin, and mandolin in a cabaret band. But all along the way the music I listened to most is rock. Rock was invented by kids for kids—punks "sticking it to the man”. But I didn’t get to play in a rock band until I was 48 years old. Mid-life crisis? Maybe...but more likely I'm jut a late bloomer!
For me nothing is more natural than rocking out. So why did it take so long?
One reason was a lack of the right instrument. To truly rock you need a drummer, and if you're going to play with drums you need to plug in. And up until recently I was mostly an acoustic musician. I played around with electric guitars in the past, and owned one for a time in the early ‘80s (an olive green hollow bodied Bedell), but I never reached the level of comfort that I had on my acoustic instruments. Electric guitar is a completely different beast than acoustic, and I never felt inspired enough to embark on that learning curve. Plus, even though I play guitar passably well, my main instrument is mandolin.
Robbie Robertson playing Gibson doubleneck mando-guitar (from the movie The Last Waltz):
So, ever since I was a teenager in the ‘70s, after seeing the doubleneck 6- and 12-string guitars that were popular at that time—e.g., the Gibson SG doubleneck played in live performances by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin (Stairway to Heaven), Steve Howe of Yes (And You and I) and Don Felder of the Eagles (Hotel California)—I’ve had a fantasy of having a doubleneck. Except instead of the second neck being a 12 string guitar, mine would be an 8-string mandolin. And in 2006 my fantasy came true: a doublneck guitar-mandolin custom made for me by luthier Dave Wendler of Kansas City, Missouri.
I met Dave when I lived in KC a few years ago. I got to play some of his electric mandolins at gigs, and loved the way they felt and sounded. What makes Dave’s instruments unique is that even though they are solid-bodied (and hence able to handle loud volume, feedback-inducing situations), they are designed to play and sound like an acoustic, by virtue of Dave’s own “ElectroCoustic” MagPi (magnetic/piezoelectric) pickup system, consisting of magnetic pickups (single coil or humbucker) under the strings and a piezoelectric pickup mounted under the bridge. The solid body is made of red cedar, with a concave sculpted back. The magnetic pickups give an all electric sound, which can be balanced to taste with the more acoustic sound produced by the piezo, by way of a tone control potentiometer.
Shortly before leaving KC in 2005, on a whim, I asked Dave if he could build a doubleneck, and he said yes. It was pretty much a hypothetical question though—I didn’t really have any use for an electric instrument at the time. So I told him that I would get back to him.
Not long after I moved to Maine, I met and started jamming with some really fine musicians, and as a result was soon presented with the opportunity to form a rock and roll band. All I needed was an electric guitar. So I called Dave and asked if he would make me that doubleneck. A few phone calls and a couple months later it was in my hands.
*My other amp (for smaller venues and practice)
For practice, gigs at smaller venues, and as a secondary amp at regular gigs, I use a VOX AC4TV combo tube amp, which produces a really good sound with both the guitar and mandolin. The overdriven tone on this little amp is outstanding, so I don't even use a distortion pedal--just dial up the volume control for screaming leads. And with the attenuator I can still get that tone at fairly low volumes. The clean ElectroCoustic tone, achieved by dialing back both the volume and tone knobs on the amp, is also excellent. An outstanding amp for the price.
And boy has this been one sweet axe. It’s perfect for me, because both the mandolin and guitar have the feel of acoustics. The guitar neck is the same width as a Martin dreadnaught, unlike a typical electric neck which is a bit narrower. I string it with relatively heavy strings (for an electric that is; I use.011-.013-.018-.028-.038-.049), so I can beat on it just like I do my acoustic. The same is true with the mandolin.
So I really didn’t have to change my style of picking, which had caused me problems in the past on electric guitar. My Wendler is the perfect electric instrument for an acoustic player. And I think that is true for all Dave’s instruments.
Both the guitar and the mandolin have a great electroCoustic sound, which I mainly use for rhythm work. For leads I like to dial it over to the magnetic pickups: single coil up by the fingerboard on the mandolin, or two humbuckers on the guitar. It rocks. For an amplifier* I use a dB King deluxe tube amp (a copy of a vintage Fender tweed deluxe, handmade here in Maine by Bob King). It has that classic tube amp “break up” distortion that you want for rock, and is perfect for this particular instrument. For effects pedals I keep it simple: an Ibanez TS-7 tubescreamer for overdriven sustain (I usually use the ‘hot’ setting), a Mr. Springgy analog reverb pedal by Lee Jackson, and a Dunlop Crybaby wah pedal.
The great thing about this instrument is that I can go back and forth between mandolin and guitar in a set (or even within a song) without changing instruments. Because the body is made of cedar, it’s really not that heavy—no heavier than a Fender Strat, and lighter than a Gibson Les Paul, so it doesn’t break my back.
Needless to say, this instrument always attracts a lot of looks and compliments at gigs. I really love cranking it up.
Studio recordings of me playing the Wendler doubleneck are posted on Reverbnation (the song Suite: Sound of the Blues shows off the guitar's range of tonal qualities; What Can I Say starts out with the mandolin and ends with guitar), and live (ambient) recordings made with Banned from Eden are posted on MySpace (the song Infernal Combustion switches between mandolin and guitar).
Mando neck: 13 7/8" (standard Gibson "F" scale), Grover tuners.
Guitar neck: 25 ½”, Sperzel tuners.
Pao ferro fingerboards and tailpieces.
Pickups: EMG passive (single coil and humbucker) and Wendler ElectroCoustic piezos under both bridges.
Pots: volume and “tone” (balance between magnetic and piezoelectric pickups).
Guitar pickup toggle (humbuckers): neck, bridge, or both.
Guitar/mandolin toggle: guitar-off-mandolin.
Here's a couple of live performances that give a taste of what this instrument sounds like played through the Vox AC4TV amp. The only pedal I'm using is the Crybaby: