British singer-songwriter Bobby Long built his career the old-fashioned way: working the open mic night scene and earning fans one strum at a time. Initially from London and now based in New York City, Long is known for his large body of acoustic music with deep folk influences.
Long favors Gibson J-200s, and you’d be hard-pressed to find him without his J-200 on the road. Gibson.com checked in with Long to chat about why he believes Gibsons are “a working man’s guitar” and what went into the making of his latest album, Wishbone.
Check out the itinerary for Long’s 2013 North American trek at the end of the story.
When did you first pick up the guitar, and why did you take to the instrument?
I picked it up when I was around 16 or 17 because my dad played and other kids at school were playing. I was really into music and guitars before then, but things didn’t line up. I wanted to be a football (soccer) player, but then I heard Hendrix and everything changed with my priorities.
Tell me about your early days of moving to New York City from the U.K. and working on your music from the ground up.
Moving to New York was the best thing I ever did for music. It’s the home of so much, from Dylan to punk music. I felt, creatively, the best I have ever felt moving here because of its history and room for exploration. I first moved to the Lower East Side, but recently moved to Brooklyn, which has been great because I’ve seen another side to the city. I first started playing music in cafés and open mic nights in London and then progressed to supporting people and playing my own shows. Now that I live in New York, I don’t play open mic nights so much, because I tour a lot, so my time in New York is used now for writing songs, which is my favorite thing to do.
Your new album, Wishbone, features some electric guitar, but you’re really known for playing acoustic. What, for you, is the difference in feeling between playing acoustic and plugged in?
It just offers a different dynamic. I used to think there where big differences in what you can and can’t play on each of the instruments, but it’s really in the eye of the beholder. I love playing soft and light on the electric and hard on the acoustic, and a good fuzz pedal sounds great through my J-200. I think the big difference is the feel of the neck and the strings and the tones that you can get from each instrument.
Do you have a favorite song, guitar-wise, on Wishbone?
I like “Waiting for Dawn” and “Yesterday Yesterday.” Guitar-wise they are really fun to play, and you can really dig in with some real distortion behind you. We have real fun playing them live.
What Gibsons did you use to record Wishbone and your previous releases?
We used an old Les Paul, my J-200 and the ES-330, which was previously Elliott Smith’s.
What makes Gibson J200s right for your sound?
For me, I feel it’s a working man’s guitar, but the quality is better than anything I have felt or heard. My J-200 is really good at doing so many different things that it’s really invaluable to me. Specifically, the J-200 has a big sound and allows to you dig in, which is what I love.
What’s important for getting a great tone playing acoustic guitar?
You are often in the hands of a sound guy, but it’s important to have a quality guitar and pickup. Strings can also play a big part; they should be played in, yet fresh. It’s just really important, because often, if you’re playing on your own, its 50% of the sound.
What advice would you have for other artists who want to focus on acoustic playing?
Try to view it the same way as an electric guitar. While it is great to play simply, that is not the only thing an acoustic does and can do. Spend some time watching Neil Young, because his rhythm playing is intricate, yet sets a great tone and rhythm.
What’s next for you?
I'm currently touring in support of my new album, Wishbone. I finished the East Coast tour a month ago, and I’m starting up the West Coast tour in a few weeks. It’s been great so far. I want to release another album very soon, so I’m knee deep in writing the next one now. It’s going really well.