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Your Country's Right Here: Del McCoury Puts the Spirit Back in Country

Bluegrass legend Del McCoury gives me hope that I can be redeemed musically, even if I still have a lot of work to do to reach that state.

Let me note that it’s probably not cool to use myself as an example, but I’m guessing that a lot of folks wonder if the musical joy they experienced as kids can be recaptured. After attending this year’s DelFest during Memorial Day in Cumberland, Md., I have to believe it can.

I had originally intended to let Del McCoury tell you about DelFest, that just wrapped up its fifth season and is busting at the seams with attendees (the area’s local newspaper reports expansion plans are underway). We’ll let you hear from Del, of course, but after reading the non-stop CMA Fest coverage, the Bonnaroo dispatches, and the excellent Kindle single “The Same Coachella Twice” by Sean Howell, I thought some personal perspective might be useful, too.

Let’s start with some background about McCoury, who was a legend before the title was handed out like flyers advertising a tent sale. McCoury was first the banjo player, then lead singer and rhythm guitarist for Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. We could go on and on about his career, which he put on hold for more than a decade so he could be close to home and help raise his family. Highlights include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Endowment of the Arts, membership in both the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ol’ Opry, and that’s just for starters. You likely get the point.

Or part of it.

The real point is that although he’s a hero to many musicians”Bruce Springsteen, Jon Fishman of Phish, Paul Stanley of KISS”he has never chased musical trends. And from what musicians tell me, McCoury never held those who did in contempt. Instead, he takes enjoyment and inspiration from all music, including that which he wouldn’t play.

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Tune Up: Acoustic Pickups

There are few things more annoying than dealing with complicated mic placements and configurations during acoustic shows and performances. Acoustic guitars, banjo’s, violins, upright basses: they all have a common problem with live performance. It’s tough to mic them or amplify their sound through the PA. The solution to this problem is purchasing a pickup to install on your instrument. Fishman® specializes specifically in the pickup/transducer market.

As a company, Fishman® makes a large number of pick up systems and instrument preamps. For this post, we’ll focus on the benefits of their products for use with acoustic guitars and upright basses.

Acoustic Guitars

For acoustic guitars, it’s common to all but require a guitar with acoustic/electric capabilities. In fact, there are many guitars that advertise the type of pickup system in their guitars (which is, appropriately enough, often Fishman®). There are essentially two types of pickups you can purchase. The first is a standard type where there is a small bar inserted under the bridge of the guitar. While this can be bought separately, it is typically the style that comes in acoustic/electric guitars when purchased at stores. The other style is much easier to install after the fact. It is often referred to as a Magnetic Soundhole Pickup. This one tends to have a bit more of a room sound rather than the dry, twangy sound associated with under-bridge pickup models.

Upright Bass

Next to a piano or a harp, an upright bass is one of the toughest instruments to effectively mic. Therefore, it’s really quite important to have a pickup installed. In fact, they actually sound pretty realistic compared to what a double bass sounds like up close. As with the acoustic pickups, there are two key styles. Both styles are fastened or worked into the bridge of the bass in some way. Perhaps the most common is a Full Circle pickup. This will be placed at the bottom of one side of the bridge, encased in an adjuster wheel (which ordinarily aren’t pickups but rather adjust the height of the bridge). These have a decidedly full sound with some great, realistic punch and a full arco tone. The other standard type that Fishman® sells is the BP-100. This is a little easier to install quickly (as it is jut clamped to the bridge with clips). These have a nice high-end, but sometimes feed back. It can be a little tricky to keep these attached and sounding clean, but they don’t require you to remove the bridge and screw anything on, and are therefore easier to install.

All of these pickups connect via ¼ inch cable and Fishman® has engineered them with acoustic instruments in mind. There are many styles within a lot of price points. They offer models for guitars, basses and a slew of other orchestra/acoustic instruments. So we urge you to check out their whole collection.