Some of Mark’s Unusual and Vintage Music Instruments

“In his hands the instrument becomes a lyrical tool of enchanting dimension.” – St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch

At the tender age of 9 or so, Mark would sneak into his sister’s room to play her guitar. When she discovered he could play better than she did, she tossed him the instrument and quit her lessons.photo of Mark Nelson's 1925 Gibson "Trap Door" mandolin banjo

He quickly found like three like-minded friends and formed his first surf band. Within a couple of years he switched to electric bass, playing dances for all of the local High Schools. After all these years he is proud that he still has the 1967 Framus Star bass he bought new with his earnings. Although he hung up his rock and roll shoes in the 1970s, he still plays bass whenever he gets the chance, most recently with the Galician bagpipe band Charanga.

In the years since, Mark’s taken up quite a number of instruments and musical styles; mastering some, dabbling in others.

He learned the bodhran–an Irish frame drum–in Country Sligo in 1975. He soon added the bones as well, which he plays in the one-handed Irish style. As Mark likes to point out, this leaves the other hand free to hoist a pint.

Guitar has remained a mainstay. In addition to Hawaiian slack key guitar, Mark plays a number of guitar styles. His first love was the country blues of Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Etta James. He’s also well known for his dead-on old time fiddle backup. Changing horses, Mark also plays big band swing on a big old blond Gibson archtop.

Strapping on an electric, he’s played everything from Western Swing to Zydeco, Ghanian Highlife, country and jazz. Rumor has it that a Reggae record he played on charted in Germany a few years back.

Given his love of both Hawaiian music and Western Swing, it is only natural that Mark would take up the lap steel. He plays Fender and Rickenbacher electric steels and a sweet Wessenborn style made by Celtic Cross of British Columbia. You can here the results on two of his CDs: “Funtime Uke-A-Rama” and “Juke’n the Uke.”

Mark bought his first mandolin while on tour in 1979. He’s added to the collection over the years; his current arsenal includes a rasty Pre-War no-name Regal resonator; a 1925 Gibson MB1 “trapdoor” mandolin banjo, and a pristine Gibson A1 from 1918. If you frequent any of the Old Time music gatherings on the west coast, you’ll probably see Mark hunched over his mando-banjo, matching licks with the fiddles.

Speaking of Old Time music, Mark also plays five string banjo, but not well enough that you’d notice.

With all of this music, the instrument that Mark has owned the longest is his great-grandmother’s fiddle. But he never tried to play it until the first time he attended the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in 2009. They say it takes five years to make a bad fiddler, so he’s well on his way.

Check out the gallery to see some of Mark’s unusual and vintage musical instruments.

Photo Gallery vintage musical instruments

Cool instruments for the serious gear-head.

[img src=http://mark-o.com/wp-content/flagallery/photo-gallery-and-the-rest/thumbs/thumbs_mlz0dp878nyc1i2occujt-hh640bmizk5jqtxdzwbes.png]42911950s National Resophonic
1950s National Resophonic guitar. Dig the red Mother-of-Dinette upholstry.
[img src=http://mark-o.com/wp-content/flagallery/photo-gallery-and-the-rest/thumbs/thumbs_deluxe-close-2_med_0.png]2270Po Mahina "Deluxe"
Close up photo of Mark Nelson's Po Mahina "Deluxe" guitar by Dennis Lake
[img src=http://mark-o.com/wp-content/flagallery/photo-gallery-and-the-rest/thumbs/thumbs_rez-uke_edited-1_med.png]1820Mya-Moe Resonator Ukulele
Close up photo of Mark Nelson's Mya-Moe Resonator Ukulele
[img src=http://mark-o.com/wp-content/flagallery/photo-gallery-and-the-rest/thumbs/thumbs_a8jb07o9od9kzi9afqcpsmvolh972aw2ihnc9xra9g.png]2341Lyon & Heally Guitar Banjo, Late 1800s
Photo of Mark Nelson's Late 1800s Lyon & Heally Guitar Banjo,
[img src=http://mark-o.com/wp-content/flagallery/photo-gallery-and-the-rest/thumbs/thumbs_0ouhsdqpvc5iks3ny3qg2hy18lbp6t8uiwr8da3apn8.png]5820Fender Deluxe Lap Steel
Close up photo of Mark Nelson's 8 string Fender Deluxe Lap Steel, from the mid '50s.
[img src=http://mark-o.com/wp-content/flagallery/photo-gallery-and-the-rest/thumbs/thumbs_clkhingomz1mzqt7lkkonpyclu3ssit_75retlr-nva.png]2691Bruno Banjo Uke
Photo of Mark Nelson's Bruno Banjo Uke, signed "Helen Schwenk on the inside of the head. Sweetness!
[img src=http://mark-o.com/wp-content/flagallery/photo-gallery-and-the-rest/thumbs/thumbs_hq3x-xdxc0crltub_euycaaikzt9d3h0jayxd037rcu.png]24101967 Framus Star Bass
Photo of Mark Nelson's 1967 Framus Star Bass. He bought it new at Maniolo's Music in Huntington Beach.
[img src=http://mark-o.com/wp-content/flagallery/photo-gallery-and-the-rest/thumbs/thumbs_uw0es6e4ms6kdx5brszhhzm2j-bq-xyosvxg3dpcps.png]1930Island Strings Guitar.
Close up photo of Mark Nelson's Island Strings Guitar: a tiny all koa wonder from back in the day in Lahaina.
[img src=http://mark-o.com/wp-content/flagallery/photo-gallery-and-the-rest/thumbs/thumbs_rez-mando.png]14801930's no-name Regal Resonator mandolin.
Close up photo of Mark Nelson's 1930's no-name Regal Resonator mandolin.
[img src=http://mark-o.com/wp-content/flagallery/photo-gallery-and-the-rest/thumbs/thumbs_jhc3-_g1uvh8px00mvnin3uvmmbyd08nq-jdif-y5do.png]1720Gibson L7 Guitar
Close up photo of Mark Nelson's 1930's Gibson L7 Guitar. Big, bold and blond.