The story of the guitar is inextricably linked to the story of guitar gear, and Gearbox takes a player's look at some of the legendary gear that has helped make the guitar the icon it is today. Examining the gear from a technical perspective as well as a mythological one, this series gets to the heart of the gear, and will help even a novice understand why people are passionate about Peavey, will fight for their Fender, and envious about that hot new Epiphone.

hamell on trialShawn Mullins

The world met Shawn Mullins in 1998, when his song “Lullaby” shot to the top of the charts and earned him a Grammy nomination. But that overnight success was a lifetime in the making.

Born to a musical family, Shawn started pounding on the drums at four years old, and soon was learning guitar chords from his brother. Those roots, fertilized with the influence of his father’s peach crate full of records – including everything from Isaac Hayes and James Taylor to the White Album and Jesus Christ Superstar Soundtrack – blossomed into a do-it-yourself folk ethic that put Shawn on the road behind albums he put out on his own independent label.

While the name recognition brought on by his platinum success has made the traveling easier, it hasn’t slowed his touring schedule, which includes more than 200 shows a year.

We caught up with Shawn before his gig at Blueberry Hill in St. Louis, where he talked about his first guitar, where the sound of the guitar lies on the musical table of elements, and his favorite guitar, a 1966 Martin D-28.




Music heard in the Show:

Cold Black Heart - 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor
(Released on Vanguard Records, 2006)

Beautiful Wreck - 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor
(Released on Vanguard Records, 2006)

Find Love - 9th Ward Pickin' Parlor
(Released on Vanguard Records, 2006)

Lullaby - Soul's Core
(Released on Sony Records, 1998)


hamell on trialHamell on Trial

In Ed Hamell’s hands, a guitar is equal parts workbench and weapon of mass destruction. Bending his beat-up, small-body 1937 Gibson to his will, Hamell sounds like a full band up on stage, but his stage name is a deception: Hamell on Trial is a one-man operation.

Over the course of seven critically-adored albums and more than a decade of nearly non-stop touring, Hamell on Trial has built a loyal fan base and established himself as something you have to see live to fully appreciate—or even understand. Though his acoustic guitar often gets him lumped in with the folk singers of the world, Hamell is anything but a sweet-singing strummer. With a sound rooted in rock and roll and laced through with the wit and wickedness of punk, Hamell delivers a high-energy affair fueled by brute honesty and an unflinching look at life on the fringes.

We caught up with Ed before his show at Off Broadway in St. Louis, where he inventoried his calluses, explained how he draws all those sounds out of that little guitar and the passionate, co-dependent relationship he’s developed with it over their 17 years together.

george gruhnGeorge Gruhn

The world’s foremost authority on vintage guitars has a thing for snakes.

And while keeping a few too many in his room almost got him tossed from his freshman dorm, it was another interest cultivated his freshman year that ultimately defined George Gruhn’s career.

At the University of Chicago, Gruhn studied animal behavior in the psych department, and frequented the Fret Shop on 57th Street.  When he applied the systematic approach used to study snakes to his growing collection of pawnshop guitars, a business was born.

Science kept pace with guitars through two years of grad school, until one of his clients—Hank Williams Jr.—told him Nashville needed a good vintage guitar store, and offered to help him set up shop if he came to town.  Gruhn’s decision was easy:  he dropped out.

Herpetology’s loss has been fretology’s gain:  35 years later, Gruhn Guitars is the place for vintage guitars, and Gruhn counts Eric Clapton, Neil Young, and Paul McCartney among his satisfied customers.

We visited George at his four-story guitar emporium in Nashville, where he explained how he appraises a guitar, and the difference between a guitar that’s rare and a guitar that’s significant.

don helmsDon Helms

Few people can claim to have played guitar through seven decades, two centuries, and two millenia. Don Helms can not only claim these distinctions, but he has achieved them while playing steel guitar as an original member of Hank Williams' Drifting Cowboys and on the recordings of such country music greats as Patsy Cline, Ray Price, Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash, Lefty Frizzel and Loretta Lynn. Helms began playing at age 15 on a silvertone lapsteel he had purchased at Sears. He joined Hank Williams only two years later and went on to develop one of the most distinct and copied guitar styles in history.

We sat down with Don at his Hendersonville, TN home to talk about how he came to own his, now famous, Gibson Console grande and why he brought the guitar out of retirement years later.


cosy sheridanCosy Sheridan

Cosy Sheridan has been described as “A Buddhist monk in a twelve-step program trapped in the body of a singer-songwriter.” She is a wry, insightful songwriter whose percussive, sophisticated guitar playing has won her countless awards, generous praise from media and contemporaries alike, and a cult following of fans. A New Hampshire native, Cosy has released eight full-length albums, and tours the country tirelessly performing songs from those recordings, as well as her one-woman show, “The Pomegranate Seed.”

Cosy joined us at the act3 studios in St. Louis to explain her inventive use of Kyser capos and profess her love for her Martin D-18.