Acoustic takes on a Blackbeard Jerry Douglas signature model and plunders a treasure hoard of tone
Like most people in the UK, I first discovered Jerry Douglas’ playing via BBC 4’s excellent Transatlantic Sessions programme. On further investigation, of course, this turns out to be the merest tip of a very large iceberg because Jerry has won 14 Grammy awards and appeared on over 1,600 albums including those by Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Dolly Parton, Mumford & Sons and Paul Simon. Renowned as a lap steel virtuoso, Jerry became a Beard Guitars endorsee in 2008, the year that his first signature model appeared in the catalogue. The Blackbeard is the latest model in the line and features a brand new type of Fishman pickup. So let’s grab a spyglass and move in for a closer look…
Paul Beard first started making resonator guitars in 1985, after leaving college clutching degrees in aviation mechanics and mechanical engineering. He’d been a fan of reso guitars since the age of 18, but became dissatisfied with the standard of instruments he was coming across and decided that the time was ripe to begin putting matters right with his own designs. He made good use of modern technologies that had become available since the inception of the resonator and now, his guitars have found their way into the hands of players like LeRoy Mack, Mike Auldridge and Jerry Douglas.
Cosmetically, the Blackbeard has the look of some of the historic instruments pioneered by the Dopyera family back in the 1920s. I’m sure I don’t need to explain that the name “Blackbeard” is in place because, well, it’s black and made by Paul Beard. But I will just mention that there’s also a Brownbeard model as well and before you ask, it’s a clear finish, allowing the natural good looks of the body timber to shine through.
In any case, despite the fact that the photos of this guitar might imply that the black finish is impenetrable, it’s actually see-through, given the right lighting conditions. As such, it’s possible to see that the body is made from mahogany as the tell-tale grain shows through. In fact, it turns out that just about everything on this guitar is mahogany, including the fingerboard, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Meanwhile the body plays host to the resonator mechanism which has been adapted and modified over the years by Paul Beard. The mechanics here include a #14 spider, a Legend cone and a chrome coverplate with Paul’s trademarked spinning palm motif. The two chromed rings on the upper bout form the bass baffle and at this point I have to recall Bob Brozman telling me that a good resonator suitably drop tuned should be able to shatter a kidney stone at 30 feet!
The Blackbeard’s neck is squared off, measuring a flat 50mm on the rear and constructed from one piece of mahogany. This is a reminder that this guitar was designed solely for lap steel purposes and not adapted from a straight resonator with a standard issue neck. In fact, if we needed any further clues to this guitar’s purpose, you only have to look at the 20mm high bone nut and mahogany fingerboard. Well, I say “fingerboard” but you know what I mean. Aside from the dot inlays down the fretboard, there’s Jerry Douglas’ signature inlaid in the top fret. In all areas, the quality of workmanship is immaculate and the Blackbeard really does look ready wield its cutlass. So I’d better go and find myself a slide, raise the Jolly Roger and see if I can shiver some timbres!
Sitting here with the Blackbeard, I was immediately enchanted by its acoustic sound and how easy it was to achieve an authentic voice. I tuned to open D as it’s about as close to the familiar territory of DADGAD as you’re going to get with an open tuning. As such, the bass really does have a lot of punch and the trebles are powerful, too. I think that the warmth of the mahogany mixed with a reso’s slightly nasal overtones really mix together well to produce an excellent set of tones.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the Blackbeard comes fitted with a Fishman Nashville pickup. There are two types available for resophonic guitars: a two piece saddle for spider-style and one that replaces the guitar’s biscuit saddle completely and features an embedded piezo-ceramic pickup. It’s the latter we have here and although Fishman recommend using a preamp between the guitar and amplifier in order to take advantage of the Nashville’s full range of tones, it’s not essential and so I decided to go my usual route of plugging the guitar direct into an AER Compact 60. There are no preamp controls on the body of the Blackbeard, but even through the AER with the EQ set flat I was able to establish that the pickup here is as powerful and punchy as the guitar itself. An almost perfect match, in fact. As such the acoustic sound of the Blackbeard is given a few fathoms of additional depth – that bass really does come through and I would imagine that just a little bit of gain on an amp would take you firmly into the Seasick Steve area of slide debauchery. But kept on an even keel, the electrified voice of the Blackbeard has a lot to offer and in the hands of a player like Jerry Douglas could make some serious waves.
I’ve played many resonators before but can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed spending time with this one more than any other. It’s all there, ready and waiting and if you want to know what this guitar sounds like in the hands of a real maestro then check out the video of Jerry rehearsing the song ‘On A Monday’ in the dressing room backstage with the Tedeschi Trucks Band. The playing is simply marvellous and despite the lack of any professionally produced audio or production fireworks, you can hear that the Blackbeard really does rule the waves!
Read our interview with Jerry Douglas here
Manufacturer: Paul Beard
Model: Jerry Douglas Blackbeard
Retail Price: £3,699
Body Size: Resonator
Made In: USA
Back and Sides: Mahogany
Nut Width: 51mm
Scale Length: 635mm
Onboard Electronics: Fishman Nashville
Strings Fitted: D’Addario EXP .016 – .056
Gig Bag/Case Included: Custom hardshell case
Pros: An excellent resonator designed for a player at the top of the class
Cons: If you’re not a lap steel player, you won’t want to linger here
Overall: Top notch tones and an ease of playing that really draws you in!
The Music Room
You can buy the Blackbeard guitar here
Read our interview with Jerry Douglas here