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 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 an old archtop of dubious parentage.

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 a Fender Deluxe 8 these days, though he has owned several others over the years. You can here the results on two of his CDs: “Funtime Uke-A-Rama” and “Juke’n the Uke.”

A handful of vintage instruments.

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, a lovely Weber A model, 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.

Mark learned a handful of French dance tunes from a Provencal fiddler in the 1970. Recently, he has revisited this fantastic repertoire, falling under the spell of the vielle a roue, or hurdy gurdy. He currently owns two, a sweet little Wren from the amazing Neil Brook and a stunning vielle from the master French builder Bernard Kerboeuf. The monkey? Well…

Kerbouef viele with Zephyr