Mike Auldridge Interview
Note: The article refers resonator guitars as Dobro categorically for the sake of simplicity Q: You're well known for your Dobro work. Do you use the eight string Dobro right now? MA: Yes, it's not a Dobro brand to be exact. It was made by R Q Jones who built guitars in Texas. I heard he moved to Florida and does not make resophonic guitars any more. I think he still makes a flat top. I have two 8-string Dobro that he made more than 10 years ago Q: So you've been using these two ever since? MA: Yes, but I don't use them as much as I used to. I played a lot of 8-string Dobro 7 or 8 years ago but now I play pedal steel a lot in my new band. You probably never heard of it, but the band is called "Chesapeake" [spell?] with Michael Coleman (bass), Moondi Klein [hey, I met him once! in the Japanese text, his name was spelled like "Moon Decline" btw], me, and Jimmy Goodlowe from Tony Rice Unit. I play pedal steel, lap steel and Dobro. Q: Who made your pedal steel? MA: Emonds [spell?] Q: Is it an 8-string model? MA: No, it's a double neck 10-string. I also have a 1903's Rickenbacker 6-string lap steel. Q: Did you come up the idea of eight string Dobro? MA: Ummm, I'm sure there were eight string Dobros before me but I wasn't aware of any back then when I designed it. I used to play the 10 string pedal steel in C6 tuning, so I figured I could play more freely if I got a 10-string Dobro. It didn't work too well so I asked Rudi [R Q Jones?] to make me an eight-string Dobro. I think it was 1978 or 79. I didn't know anyone else who used 8-string Dobro and I'm not sure if I was the first. Since it has two more strings, I can play licks and patterns that I cannot do on 6-string. It's great Q: Do you use a same tuning for both 8-string Dobros? MA: No, I tune one to open G6 and the other to open C6. Let's see - G6 is E G B D E G B D (from low to high) [I think open G tuning for Dobro is GBDGBD so he has E strings below G strings]. C6 tuning is A C E G A C E and the first string is tuned to D, one full note below the E note on the first string [???]. Q: Do you use a special slide bar? MA: No, I use the Stevens, since a custom made is too small for me [what custom made?]. A lot of people like the custom made one but it's just too small for me. I think I'm used to the Stevens' bar. Q: So it's a little longer? MA: The custom made is about 1/8" shorter than what I have. I tend to get cramp Q: Picks? MA: I use a Gibson thumbpick. My fingerpicks are called "Diamond Ring", made by Buddy Emonds and Jeff Newman (now they are called "JF Pick"). Jeff Newman is a well known steel player in Nashville. The Diamond Ring picks are pre-shaped so I only have to do minor adjustment to fit my fingers. Q: These [Diamond Ring] are metal? MA: Yes and my thumbpick is plastic Q: Can you buy a set for 8 string Dobro? MA: No, you need to combine a regular set and single strings. For the G6 guitar, I use the same gauge (0.035) for the 4th string (E) and the fifth string (D). I also use the same 0.056 for the 7th and 8th strings. This is easier than trying to get different gauges mixed up. Q: So the rest are a regular set. MA: No, actually my top strings are 0.016 and 0.018. Q: Are these standard acoustic guitar strings? or special Dobro strings? MA: It's packaged as Dobro strings by D'Addario. If you get an acoustic guitar set, the top two strings are too thin. Q: Could you tell me how you got interested in Dobro? MA: Sure. When I was a kid, I had an uncle who played Dobro for Jimmy Rogers. His name is Ellsworth Cousins. He played on the very first album that Jimmy Rogers did in 1927 or 28. In fact, he was the first person to play Dobro on a country album. Anyway, I got to listen to him as I grew up. And that's how I got interested in Dobro and I started to play it in my teens. At first I was playing guitar and banjo but around 12, I got excited about Flatt and Scruggs. I joined Emerson and Waldren after college. Oh, I was in service before college so I graduated from college at 28. I played with them for a few years and then joined Seldom Scene in 1971. It's been 24 years. I started Chesapeake two years ago. Q: So you are playing in both groups? MA: Yes. I recorded with a number of artists but I only played in these two bands, in 25 years. Q: You not only play country but popular music and other areas. What do you think of Dobro in these areas? MA: I enjoyed working with James Taylor, Emmilou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. I grew up listening to jazz like Benny Goodman, and then to country. I didn't know about bluegrass until I was 13 or 14. I came from a big family (9 brothers) with lots of elder brothers. They listened to 1940's big band jazz and that's how I grew up. When I started the 8-string Dobro I played "Stomping at Savoy" and Lionel Hampton's "Red Top". I think my music interests are broad. From my experience, I learned that "you can't know too much about music", and anything can be brought into bluegrass. Tony Rice is a good example. He incorporated jazz into bluegrass so well and that makes his sound so unique. A lot of folks imitate Tony but cannot really do it well since they did not study jazz like Tony did. Q: Do you listen to rock musicians who play slide on electric guitars or lap steel guitars. Do you listen to them? MA: A little. I really like it but I never tried to play the bottom neck style. It's not easy for me to play that way. I never get into it. Q: D you use a pick up? MA: No, I don't use pick ups on my Dobros. They are all miked. Q: Any comments on how to practice Dobro? MA: I tell this to my students, "It takes two to three years to get to where you thought you would get in 6 to 8 months; and it may take 10 to 12 years to get to reach the 'accomplished' level". SO the most important thing is always to enjoy playing. I think it's most enjoyable when you're learning something. Once you know, it's not a big deal. So keep a positive attitude. In each step. And enjoy the learning process which has no end. Q: Is there any other instruments that can help you learn Dobro? What about Steel guitar? MA: Well, Dobro and steel guitar are two different instruments and they require totally different techniques, such as attack. I think it helps most if you know music itself. Theory and the fingerboard. If you know rhythm guitar, that helps. If you know fingerpicking (on guitar or on banjo), that helps, but not essential. I guess the most important one is to understand the basic musical theory. When I started pedal steel, I thought my Dobro background would help but it didn't. They are very different instruments. I might as well started to play sax
If you think of it, there aren't too many steel players who also play Dobro. LLoyd Green is a wonderful steel player and he's a wonderful Dobro player. Buddy Emonds plays Dobro a little. But not many steel players can play Dobro. And the opposite is true, too. That's how these two instruments differ. It took me ten years to learn to master the differences. I started out playing an electric Dobro, which is not too different from acoustic Dobro technically. But I had a hard time learning techniques for steel guitar. It was difficult since I couldn't mess up my Dobro technique and had to learn steel techniques. Q: It is stressed to mute strings on left hand. How important is it? MA: The most difficult left hand technique is to control vibrato. You don't want too much, or you end up sounding like Hawaiian Muting is done behind the bar and it is a hard thing to learn. Q: Are you going to play Dobro today [1995, the interview was done at a festival or something] MA: Yes, I'll do Dobro only. I'm using a custom made Dobro by Ivan Gahnzie [spell? It's not Gundhi?]. My 8-strings were made by Rudi Jones but my six string is by Gahnzie. Q: Where is he from? MA: Indiana. This is a replica of my 1935 Regal, except the body is 1/4" deeper so I can get better bass response. Q: So you have older Dobros? MA: I have two old Regals and several custom-made Dobros, not very old. I'm not a collector. I go for the sound.