Bruce Cockburn – Glimpses of a Master’s Gear

The lights.

The hundreds of voices.

The instruments across the stage, positioned just so in front of a backdrop you’ll probably never see again.

Fan faces that remind you of how your own must look – excited, hopeful, grateful.. wired!

All part of going to a concert to see one of your favorite musicians, right?

This is, after all, what got us into music and gear in the first place: the music itself!

The artist and accompanying machinery are always secondary to the songs he, she or they created. It’s about what those tunes do to us, how they change us, where they give us new insights, when they cause us to really feel something, and how they become a part of our life… that’s what always has mattered.

All these things are an apt montage of how I have been impacted by the music of Bruce Cockburn. Since being introduced to his repertoire in Europe in the late 80s, I have bought almost every album he ever made, and let me tell you… he’s made a lot!

Last month he released his THIRTY-THIRD album, entitled “Bone On Bone”! Prolific much?! Not only did I buy that (of course), but this past Friday night I saw him again live, as he performed to a sold-out, packed house, a fleeting number of his most favoured songs, as well as quite a few stellar new creations.

Before the show began, I took some time to take a quick glimpse at the gear he used for the night. Not only did I want to personally know how he pulls off these epic, unforgettable tunes – I knew you would too. Come take a peek with me!

What Causes Hand Dancing

Bruce has played many guitars over the years, by many companies: Larrivée, David Wren, Fender, just to name a few. Some he grew tired of, some he traded for ones that were more conducive to his particular technical demands as he developed them, and some were even lost in a fire.

At Friday’s concert though, he performed live primarily on:

  • two different acoustic 6-string guitars custom-made by Linda Manzer, a luthier in his homeland of Canada.
  • a Manzer 12-string acoustic
  • a steel-bodied Dobro resonator guitar
  • a black Fender Strat
  • a Manzer Charango, which is a South American 10-string instrument
  • Fender Electric XII with tremelo arm
Bruce Cockburn's guitars for his 2017-2018 tour

Because I saw at least two acoustic guitars with double inputs on them being used, it appears that Bruce is still using the Fishman Prefix Pro Preamp and Pickup Systems to hone his live sound. This basically takes the sound of his pickups through one jack (usually wet), and the sound of an internal Audio-Technica condenser microphone (usually dry) through the other. Then whoever is at the mixboard can choose either one, or blend whatever mix of the two Bruce thinks appropriate.

This setup is no accident; it showcases his beautiful fingerpicking methods extremely well. His playing style has carved a timeless, unique niche for himself within modern music. It’s pretty mesmerizing watching him too, especially if you’re a player. You’ll spend half your time or more trying to distinguish what tuning he’s in by the strange fingerings he’s forming, and the other half watching his right hand picking techniques which vary but are always technically advanced.

His Dobro has the same mic/D.I. setup. He did specifically, however, install a Telecaster pickup in it which he prefers the sound of for his dry monitor mix.

His electric 12-string, the Fender Electric XII from the late 60’s, is a curious thing. It has a slight droop at the end of the headstock which is a different shape than Fender has ever used on other guitars, so at first I didn’t know what it was!

Bruce Cockburn
Photo courtesy of Dan Fischer, photographer extraordinaire!

It looks a little weird, admittedly. But the sound, as witnessed by hundreds of us at the concert, is amazing. This guitar was also made in a 6-string model, the Fender Custom Maverick (thanks, Mark!). Guess how much both of these guitars are going for these days? Well over three grand!

Hey, if anyone deserves an expensive, well-made instrument, it’s Bruce!

As for accoutrements, Bruce typically uses Martin Marquis light-gauge strings and Kyser Quick Change capos. Like myself, he writes songs in alternate tunings a lot, so capo clarity and string intonation are very important and not to be taken lightly.

Pedals, but No Rocket Launcher

Like most of us, Bruce uses effects to round out his sound. This concert was definitely no exception. On the floor was a very long string of pedals that he worked quite a bit throughout the show. Though I didn’t get to go up on stage to look, I did for sure see the following:

  • a couple Boss TU-2 tuner pedals
  • Empress tremolo
  • a couple Boss DD-5 delay pedal
  • Line 6 MM4
  • Volume pedal
  • Nose true bypass loop channel with volume control

Bruce engaged all of these during the concert except the Nose pedal, I think. Can’t be certain ‘cuz I was kinda into his playing, ya know?

These pedals are a small part of the reason, but truly, I don’t think I’ve heard more dynamic diversity in any concert ever before. His performance ran the gamut from soft, single=guitar ballad all the way up to his closer which was a Pink Floyd/Hendrix take on his classic song “Stolen Land”. If you know the song, trust me, you’ve never heard it like this! Feedback, guitar noises, loud chord swells… none of us expected it and that was part of the rockin’ charm!

Oh, and it looked like he was running most everything through one Fender amp at the back of the stage. Couldn’t see which model, but it appeared to be a Fender.

The Gear of His Musical Friends

The band was great! Joining him on this tour are:

  • his nephew, John Aaron Cockburn. on violin, accordian and electric guitar
  • Gary Craig on drums and percussion
  • John Dymond on bass

All three of them are featured on the new album. And, yes, John Aaron is Bruce’s nephew, in case you’re wondering.

Bruce Cockburn

I was seated by John, the bass player, so I could clearly see his system: two Aguilar bass cabinets with an Aguilar amp on top. Just the bottom amp was mic-ed. Pedal-wise, he had his Aguilar pedal which controls the amp parameters, an “El Nano” LPB1 Power Booster pedal for giving him that little more bite and overdrive, a boosting pedal from Custom Audio Electronics for upping his dBs , and a couple tuners for his two basses.

John Aaron played accordion a lot during this concert, pillowing in the type of chord beds that a synth pad might typically provide. Every once in a while on the heavier tunes he’d play an electric Tele along with Bruce’s electric, and for the final song he even pulled off a little fiddle.

Guess we know what runs in THAT family.  😉

Gary was too far away for me to see what he played exactly, but, though it sounded awesome, it looked like an assemblage of different things put together to give him a specific set of sounds, rather than one cohesive trap set. I’ve never seen a drummer use bells and Buddhist singing bowls as much as Gary did, but it was fitting for Bruce’s material. Gary played on the latest album and incorporated quite a few of these ethereal sounds on the recording, a nice foil to Bruce’s complicated picking rhythms.

I have to laugh too, because Gary has introduced more G.A.S. into my life from his performance. All through the concert he used a crash cymbal that I ended up really liking and wanting by the end of the night. I think it was a B8 Pro O-Zone Crash. Full of big holes. Visually eye-catching and soundwise it sure grabs ya. Must. Have.  lol

Looking and Waiting For Guitars By Song

For those of you that are familiar with Bruce’s compositions AND are gearheads, here is a complete breakdown of what Bruce used for each song during the performance I witnessed:

  1. Tokyo – the Fender Electric XIIBruce Cockburn
  2. Lovers in a Dangerous Time – Fender Electric XII
  3. States I’m In – Manzer 6-string
  4. 40 Years in the Wilderness – Manzer 6-string
  5. Free to Be – Manzer 6-string
  6. Look How Far the Light Came – Manzer 12-string
  7. Cafe Society – Dobro
  8. Peggy’s Kitchen Wall – Dobro
  9. If I Had a Rocket Launcher – Black Fender Strat
  10. Bone On Bone – Dobro
  11. Stab At Matter – Dobro
  12. “Strange Waters” – Fender Electric XII
  13. Mon Chemin – Manzer Charango
  14. Wondering Where the Lions Are – Manzer 6-string
  15. False River  – Manzer 6-string
  16. If a Tree Falls – Black Fender Strat
  17. The Gift – the Fender Electric XII
  18. The Coldest Night of the Year – Manzer 12-string
  19. Jesus Train – Manzer 12-string
  20. Stolen Land – Black Fender Strat

Isn’t That What Friends Are For?

Teaj & Bruce Cockburn

If you are a fan, I really hope you got to see this tour. Most of his shows were sold out, like the one I went to, and it’s not often that you get to see Bruce with the full band and hear in a live format the dynamic tonal colors that they add to his already moving material.

The tour that ended February 17, 2018 will certainly be remembered as one of his best, regardless of his struggle against “bone on bone” pain in his fingers.

Now he’s back to performing solo. To see where he’s at for the rest of the tour, check here.

If you aren’t familiar with Bruce’s music, I highly recommend you check it out. Many of his songs continue to inspire me to no end. He’s as incredible as a lyricist as he is masterful in guitar technique.

“The Charity of Night” is probably my favorite album he’s ever done. If you’ve never owned a Cockburn album, start here. It’s one of his personal favorites too. And if you ARE a Bruce fan, but don’t have this album…

… order it right now!!!   lol

As I said at the start of this post, the music is what drives the desire for the right gear. After witnessing Bruce pull off more stellar interpretations of his material, it sent me back to my own gear, my own instruments, and before the night was over… another song was born.

I think Bruce would agree: isn’t the best use of inspirati0n to create something that will in turn inspire others? Isn’t that what friends are for?

I say, yes.

Are you a Bruce Cockburn fan? Have you ever gone on a quest to find out exactly what a musical hero of yours uses in their gear arsenal? Are you G.A.S.-ing for any gear right now??! Lemme know in the comments. Share the love, friends.

Now, go… make… sounds!


18 Replies to “Bruce Cockburn – Glimpses of a Master’s Gear”

  1. My pleasure, Chad!! Thanks for stopping my our website here. And, yes, I just went to yours and am enjoying the catchy travelin’ strains of Panhandle Wind” as I TYPE!! LoL Good stuff! Keep up that good music, my man.

  2. Thanks for this! Saw Bruce last night at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, KS and left very inspired. This article prompted me to get an Empress Tremolo and TC Electronics Chorus pedal to add to my acoustic rig!

  3. He’s my favorite songwriter EVER, Jim. No question. When I get rich one day I’m gonna call Linda Manzer and ask her for “whatever Bruce has”. Maybe in just a different color! lo;

  4. Really enjoyed your info and jealous of your experience. We saw Bruce this past weekend solo and the stereo spread of his two pickup Manzer was mind bending. So inspiring to revisit my own gear. As you mentioned. He just keeps getting better. And such amazing songs. Thank you Bruce!

  5. Hey, Dan! I found what that was. It’s basically the some guitar as the XII but in a SIX-string format. It was called the Fender Jazzmaster. That six-string came first and then they made the 12-string version. Our esteemed master musician Bruce obviously has both – but if anyone deserves it, HE DOES, right?!!

    Thanks for the info. Stop by again!


  6. Great summary and review! Saw him last night in Santa Cruz CA, fantastic show. And so much to read this the next day. Seems he played a six string Fender with the same coloring as the Electric XII, but with dual humbuckers, around the middle of the show. I don’t remember what song or songs he used it on. It had a pretty heavy distorted rock sound, and he got down and dirty with it. Perhaps it was a Jazzmaster, or maybe something custom?

  7. Thanks for the comment, SallyBeej! As I researched for the article I came across different numbers for which album Bruce is on with this new one. I went with the conservative number, but since you seem sure, and I did see that number elsewhere, I’ll change it!

    I think the counts differ because some do not count the various greatest hits compilations that are out there.

    Regardless, he is PROLIFIC, to say the least, right?!

  8. Love that song, Steve!

    He didn’t perform that tune at the concert I was at, so it’s not included in my list. I only reported on what he played live at the concert I attended.

    Wouldn’t it be great if we knew what he used for all his RECORDINGS too?!

  9. Bruce is, of course, a mighty persona. But he’s also basically shy by nature, and a true introvert. Thus, there’s not a lot of banter from him between songs; it’s just switch guitars, do a quick tuning if needed and on to the next song. He let’s the tunes he writes speak for him. He spoke more after the concert when we lined up to have him sign our stuff, and he came across gracious and accommodating.

    What’s your favorite Bruce album, EJ? Mine is “Charity of Night”…

  10. Excellent article, Just great!
    I have been a Bruce Cockburn fan for more years than I care to admit. I always wondered what that 12 string was. Look How Far the Light Came. Manzer 12-string.I don’t have a ton of knowledge on guitars (I do know good tunes when I hear them) but my nephew who is a huge fan and a great picker in his own right will love this article..I’m sending to him now.
    Is he as awesome in person as on stage?

  11. Yes, yes!! Thank you so much, Mark. I had researched for hours trying to find what this guitar was. The headstock being so different from the usual Fender look threw me off the scent. I managed to find, thanks to your lead, the final facts: the “Maverick” was the 6-string model. The 12-string model Bruce uses they call the “Electric XII”. I’ve updated my post accordingly.

    This is why I love the Internet. We can always find someone who’s into the same stuff and can help fill in the blanks!

    Do you play, Mark?

  12. Great review. The “droop Mustang” may be a Fender 12, which later became known as “The Maverick.” It is a 12 string with split pickups.
    Anyway, that is my guess.
    cheers, md

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