RyCooder | a website for musicians and a fans
( Bonnie Raitt:" I'm not Ry Cooder, but i don't buy em for the color either " )
There seems to be a lot of discussion about the instruments Ry Cooder uses. I'll publish the information (that seems likely and valid) on this page, but keep me informed on your knowledge.
First let me introduce you to "The Green Man", because I get a lot of questions about it:
It is a 2 tube guitar preamp with dual transformer isolated outputs (phase switches on each output), built in an old variac transformer housing. It's used for driving two amps (Vibroverb & Tweed Deluxe) and controlling the volume simultaneously with the large knob on top. It also has a tone control on the side.
An 1970's AR (Automatic Radio) under-dash car stereo 8-track/radio player,
transformed into what seems to be a tube pre-amp.
This is a picture of a fraction of Ry's instrument closet.
So let's not think we'll ever know a fraction of his collection.
(Regretfully, the picture doesn't show the top level. It has a label saying "Weird stuff".)
Ry Cooder's main acoustic guitar, according to his guitar repairman Rick Turner, is a Gibson Roy Smeck model from the mid-30s. Frets were added to this guitar, which was originally designed for lap-style playing. Cooder still owns a 1950s Martin 000-18, which Turner believes he used to record the theme from Paris, Texas. Some of the other acoustic instruments owned by Cooder include a German-made Voss plywood flattop cutaway converted from a standard six-string guitar into a mando-guitar with four double courses tuned in fifths; a Kay Kraft (made by the Stromberg-Voisinet company), which was featured in the March/April 1993 Great Acoustics department; a Kona Hawaiian lap guitar, which Cooder plays in the Spanish position; a Gibson Mastertone guit-jo from the 1930s; a custom-made Japanese Shimu auditorium-sized cutaway steel-string; an Indian tamboura, which Cooder uses for slide playing; a rudra vina, a sacred eight-string Indian instrument that is the ancestor of the sitar; and various Turkish cimbses. He also uses a host of other guitars that have been assembled from strat, les paul, and even lapsteel parts.
Ry Cooder doesn't use any picks, he prefers the sound of fingertips and natural fingernails on the strings. He uses heavy glass slides which he wears on his little finger. The wobbly vibrato he executes by waving the slide in a fan-like pattern is part of his trademark sound. He also adjusts the strings on his guitars to a flat vs. radiused setting. This lends to his technique of allowing adjoining strings to ring out buzz free.
Ry uses a variety of tunings. The two he uses most for his recorded blues are Open D and Open E. His favorite for blues being Open D. This because he says it "lends itself to a darker sounding blues".
On the Buena Vista Social Club DVD Ry plays a Gibson SJ-200.
"Ry has a Bourgeois Blues. The BB is a version of a Slope D (one of our regular models) that was developed specifically for bottleneck playing. The top, back and sides of the BB are made of koa, which has a honky, midrange-y tone, and the top is ladder-braced like the old Stellas. Also, the fretboard of the BB has a little flatter radius than what we usually use, which makes it a bit more "bottleneck friendly". Ry acquired the BB sometime in the late 90's through a mutual friend. Right after he got it, Ry left a message on my answering machine saying that he liked the guitar. I have no idea if it was ever used on a recording. The accompanying photo is a Bourgeois Blues that was made around the same time as Ry's, and to my knowledge is identical."
In "Little Village", Ry uses a custom built unfinished (plain wood) electric with split frets made by Danny Ferrington. This guitar was made for Ry by Danny Ferrington who lives very near to Ry in Santa Monica. In all I think Ry owns about five of his guitars. One is a custom built acoustic long scale baritone (sunburst)with a scale length based on one of Rys favourite strats. He uses it to simulate the sort of sound that Leadbelly used to get from his long scale Stella 12 string. An electric was used on "Dont Think about him when you're tryin to drive" shown on BBC2's "Little Village item of 3 numbers on "The Late Show". The guitar has its two bass strings built to a longer scale with wider frets and stepped back bridge.(i.e. again a baritone guitar). The other four strings are conventially fretted to a normal scale length. Ry uses his "own" tuning on it. Danny doesn't know what it is.
(All we could find was this Ferrington with conventional frets.)
'64 Favino Gypsy
Gibson Roy Smeck
Stromberg Kay Kraft
Venetian - Style B
Jerry Jones 12 Shorty
The instruments shown above are samples of the mentioned guitars. They are not all Ry's.
The '67 Daphne Blue Fender Stratocaster was the first electric guitar Ry has ever had. (Originally chosen for it's color.) It has a maple neck, a bound rosewood fingerboard and a painted headstock. Ry thinks the guitar has a lot more high-end and harmonics because the strings aren't through the body anymore.
Bridge cavity is filled with blank wood.
Neck pickup: Guyatone ('60's LG-50 ?) pickup with paper-thin magnets that produce a transparant, almost acoustic tone.
Bridge pickup: a replicated Bigsby eight-string steel guitar pickup made by Paul Warnick.
Bigsby B5 Tremelo
Jack input plate is mounted upside down.
The strings G tuning flatwounds.
His guitar for the ballad/chordal sound.
The '60s Fender Stratocaster is his main blues and bottleneck guitar. It's a very stable and responsive guitar, with good sustain and a good constant volume.
The body is a Buddy Holy reproduction
Bridge pickup: An Oahu/Valco lap-steel pickup assembly, the body was routed out to accomodate that and is notched for the Fender tailpiece.
Neck pickup: Teisco pickup he got from David Lindley.
Neck: A "C" model he got from David Lindley. It's really wide with lots of mass.
The strings are D tuning and roundwounds.
Here's an interview with Ry telling about his guitars.
The '90s Fender Bajo Sexto Telecaster Customshop
Neck pickup: Teisco.
Single-coil staggered pole 6.62k output (if standard?)
Neck: 30 1/4 inch scale (781 mm), Slab Maple.
Tuned in open D.
Pearloid slab sunburst single-cutaway body.
Two controls (one volume, one tone) plus three-way "top-hat" selector switch.
Chrome knobs with flat tops and knurled sides. Combination Telecaster three-saddle bridge/tailpiece, with through-body stringing.
.016 .026 .036w .046w .056w .066w (if Standard?)
Guyatone LG-200T, Mid 60's
4 Single coil Pickups
6 Pickup selection switches
Headstock logo has been removed.
Originally 2-channel Stereo Out, but converted to Mono.
30's/40's Rickenbacker Electro Spanish Model B
The entire neck and body of this instrument are made of molded Bakelite. Though this guitar appears to be solid, it is actually hollow. The neck is bolted on to the body. The neck attaches to the body at the 14th fret. There are five decorative chrome-plated panels that cover the cavities in the instruments body. The 23 fret neck was also made of bakelite. The horseshoe type pickup on the guitar was placed right before the bridge and covered with a chrome hand rest. A volume control is placed on the lower bout. The mounting screws and pickup screws were made of non-magnetic brass, to avoid interference.
The Bigsby Tri-Neck Pedal Steel.
These instruments are only custom build for people like Speedy West and Joaquin Murphey. Paul Warnik put this one together from salvaged parts. (Simular, not Ry's, but a better picture.)
The Earley '60s Guyatone.
A great little guitar, wich sounds like John Lee Hooker.
Pickups from these instruments, he uses on other guitars.
The '49 Kay is a 9 string that gives you a unison. A unison, and then the fourth is an octave. He plays this with the cubans because with the double strings your almost in tres mode. Twelve are hard to handle. You don't need an octave on all the strings.
The '49 Gibson ES-9 is fitted with the same pickups Merle Travis had. There's no master volume, just a volume for each pickup.The neck pickup is the sound of a beautiful, big, purple gabardine suit. If you wan't to twang a bit, you dial the rear pivkup in a little and you're there. It has a very rigid top, so it doesn't feed back.
The Ripley Stereo Guitar.
One of a duo made for both Dweezel Zappa and Ry. It goes through a complicated box and produces a liquid, flute-like sound.
New version, as seen at
the BBC Folk Awards, 5 Apr 2017, Royal Albert Hall
Neck pickup: an 8-string Steelguitar pickup
Bridge pickups: two single coils
Ánd it's fitted with a B-Bender (it bends the B-string up a whole tone (two frets) to C-sharp).
Bridge: a half/short Tele bridge.
Here's the selection of Mandolins Ry uses according to an interview by David Grisman for Mandolin World News.
F-4 mandolin H-4 mandola K-4 mandocello
(with an aluminum bridge)
40's/50's Gibson F-12
For the real technicians among you, I'll name you some of his non-guitar gear:
Ampex MX-35 4-channel tube mixer
DBX 160x compressor
Demeter HXC-1 tube optical compressor
Demeter RV-1 Real Reverb
Demeter Tube Mic Preamp
Demeter HXM-1 Tube Mic Preamp
Demeter VTCL-2 Tube Compressor/Limiter
Eventide H3000 Ultra-Harmonizer
Gates Sta-Level broadcast compressor
Ry was a passionate player of Gibson amps in the 50s and was especially fond of the GA- 40. It had a 12" Jensen, lots of volume and rich, clean tone.
Magnatone Custom 280 High Fidelity (just the head)
Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer
Standel 25L 15 Vintage Plus amp
(equiped with a JBL D-130 and a 3-spring reverb
Flot-a-Tone '50s amp
Furman PL-8 power conditioner
Neve '70s preamp/equalizer modules