Writer @ The Windsor Independent.
Podcaster @ I Quit My Job.
Musician @ The Old Salts.
Beer salesman @ Great Lakes Brewery
During the Grammy Awards ceremony on Sunday February 12th, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver were playing a gig in Appomattox, Virginia. The band’s latest album, Burden Bearer, was nominated for Best Bluegrass album, but the band did not make it to the ceremony to see the O’Conner Band win that award. Instead they did what they do best: bringing their gospel bluegrass on the road and around the country (and playing Stonebridge guitars).
I, meanwhile, was sitting in a sauna in Fort Frances, Ontario, wondering why dobro player Josh Swift wasn’t answering my call. I had also decided to skip the Grammy’s and had a feeling that if Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver were going to win, they’d probably have cancelled their gig in Virginia. It’s their 7th nomination, so they probably know how these things go by now.
Josh, as it turns out, was suffering from a severe sinus infection, an affliction I know all too well. Two years ago, I had such a bad case that when I tried to order delivery for dinner, I gave them not only the wrong address but the wrong phone number as well. The pressure on my brain rendered it all but unusable. So it was with no hard feelings that I finally got a hold of Josh the following week as he sat on a tour bus driving in to New York City.
Josh Swift not only plays dobro in the band, he also owns the studio where they recorded Burden Bearer and have already begun work on the follow-up. With nearly 40 albums since their 1977 debut (and a fluid line-up over the years) Doyle Lawson, at 72 years old, shows no sign of slowing the Quicksilver train down and has started his next record.
“Yeah we’re back in the studio. We find we work better when we, you know, haven’t rehearsed the songs to death. And because I own the studio and we don’t have to pay per hour or anything, we tend to work up the songs right there in the studio.”
– Josh Swift
Despite a list of nominations that could fill a trophy case, the band was still surprised by the latest Grammy nod because of one key difference: Burden Bearer is a gospel album, split between gospel bluegrass performances and a cappella songs. For a gospel album to be nominated in a secular category, now that’s a rare feat.
The story of how Josh became acquainted with Stonebridge Guitars begins with professional tour bus driver Jesse Lunsford a few years ago. Jesse was driving for Rhonda Vincent tour which allowed him plenty of spare time to jam with other musicians at festivals across the country. At a shop in North Carolina known for its selection of instruments, Jesse decided it was time for an upgrade.
“I walked in a music store, cash in hand, to purchase a D28 Martin. The owner showed me a Stonebridge and I’ve never played another brand of guitar … I was stunned, speechless, simply blown away. I knew I had discovered something that was going to be huge.”
– Jesse Lunsford
Soon after, Jesse found himself driving for Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. Josh was initially skeptical when Jesse tried to tell him about the guitar.
“You’ve got to understand, we get this all the time. Frankly most people don’t have the ear to tell if something’s good or not. Every week there’s somebody else who wants us to play their guitar, and most of the time it just sounds like a cardboard box. So this kind of thing just goes in one ear and out the other.”
– Josh Swift
Regardless, Josh agreed to have a look. Jesse took the D32 out of its case and handed it to Josh. Josh strummed a chord, let it ring, and asked “How much?”
“It’s not for sale,” was Jesse’s response.
Josh told Jesse that if he would ever be willing to part with it to let him know. Sure enough, the day finally came when Jesse accepted Josh’s offer to pay twice his asking price.
“I’ve played everything, you know, and hands down this was the best guitar I had ever heard.”
– Josh Swift
A year later in the studio, when Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver began working on Burden Bearer, Josh pulled out his new Stonebridge D32. He handed it to Dustin Pyrtle to try it out. All it took was one strum and as it rang out he asked “How much?”
“It’s not for sale,” said Josh. So he called Todd Allison (Stonebridge/Furch sales rep) to see what might be available for Dustin.
“I thought, ‘not all Stonebridges will sound as good this one’. But Todd was very confident in the consistency of Stonebridge/Furch Guitars and pointed us to a shop in Nashville where they had 20 of them and said we should go play them all. That morning, Dustin sold his Martin and bought a D33 and placed an order for an additional custom D32.”
– Josh Swift
Back in the studio, armed with Josh’s D32 and Dustin’s D33 they begin working on the Burden Bearer album. Here’s what Josh Swift had to say about using Furch guitars in the studio:
“These guitars are an absolute dream for an engineer. For the first time ever, I feel like I’m getting exactly what I want in guitar tone. I’ve recorded every guitar brand you can think of, and nothing out there can touch the power, balance, and sustain of a Furch guitar. I’m not even a guitar player, and I had to own one. I used to have to sweep this frequency and that frequency out of the acoustic to get it right. Now, I add some light compression, and simply turn it up. Just like I tell my friends, there is absolutely NO WAY I could not own one of these guitars. Nothing compares…NOTHING…”
– Josh Swift
Josh’s enthusiasm for Stonebridge/Furch Guitars has made waves around him. In fact, nine of his friends and acquaintances have become owners themselves. Most notably, Josh’s dad who had been playing the same vintage Martin for 30 years, traded in his guitar for a Stonebridge.
“It’s just getting started. The bluegrass community are people who are married to tradition, so it’s hard for a new brand to get traction. But the community also has an ear for quality. Stonebridge/Furch is building momentum and it’s just going to keep growing.”
– Josh Swift
Thanks Josh Swift and Jesse Lunsford for talking to me.