Sifel Creek #1 made for me by Mike Byle of Pearl Works and 000-12 BA made for me by Preston Thompson

The "Sifel Night Sky" by Joe Knaggs and Pearl Works is an amazing guitar.
This project was in the works for many years and finally the guitars were born in early 2016.
I'm usually not one to have lots of inlay on my instruments, but every piece on this one has some significance
as a tribute to my dear friend and master pearlworker Larry Sifel who died in 2006.  His wife Jean had these
beautiful instruments commissioned to fulfill one of Larry's last wishes and I couldn't be more delighted to be
able to own one and play one.  It's become one of my favorite guitars and it's hard to put down.

Detail of 12th fret design

Detail of the elaborate inlay around the soundhole.

RainSong APLE - Al Petteway Limited Edition

Martin Custom Shop 00-42

                                           Tippin Crescendo "Al Petteway Signature"                   Circa 000 Cutaway                                                


Two guitars by Larry Sifel, the Sifel "Petteway Cutaway" and the Sifel "Dryad"

  Martin 0-28                                                           1951 Martin 000-28  


1937 Gibson ES-150 "Charlie Christian" guitar with matching amp and case

My primary guitars these days are the Sifel Creek by Mike Byle made from Mahogany and Adirondack spruce and the 000-12 by Preston Thompson made of Brazilian rosewood and Adirondack red spruce.  Between them, they encompass everything I've ever wanted in a guitar.  Responsive, light and easy to play.  With the K&K pickup installed and running through a Grace preamp, It's hard to beat either of these.  The "Sifel Night Sky" built for me by Pearl Works and Joe Knaggs, is an amazing tribute to my dear friend Larry Sifel and I think of him every time I play it.  That's also true of my Martin 00-42 that was custom built from woods hand selected by Dick Boak at Martin Guitars.  Larry was special to both of us and I've wanted a Martin like this for a very long time.  Larry's company Pearl Works did the inlay for this instrument as well.

I am also very proud to have my own line of RainSong guitars.  These are made entirely of carbon graphite and are outfitted with the best pickup and mic technology available today.  It's the ultimate travel guitar and every sound man I've worked with loves them.  The guitar at the top left is a Bill Tippin "Al Petteway Signature Model" made of Brazilian Rosewood and Alpine "Moon Harvested" Spruce.  It is one of the best guitars I've ever played and I've played a lot of them at Dream Guitars.   It has an armrest bevel and bevels on the heel and cutaway. I feel like I now have the perfect complement to my other guitars.  The Tippin has now become Amy's primary instrument and I've been using the RainSong APLE and the Circa 000 cutaway made by John Slobod  (top right.) as well as the two newest guitars. This Circa has a slotted peghead and a 12-fret neck with a cutaway and very elegant bevel.  It's made of European Spruce and European Maple.  John exhibits his guitars at the Swannanoa Gathering Guitar Week.  As soon as I played a note on this guitar, I knew it was made for me.  Even with the 12-fret neck and no cutaway,  the sound was what I have been looking for and it fit my hand perfectly.  
The one-of-a-kind "Petteway Cutaway"  was designed and built for me by Larry Sifel.   I used  this guitar on all of my albums through Midsummer Moon and then again for the Winter Tidings CD and the Mountain Guitar CD. The back and sides are European maple and the top is European spruce. The guitar was restored and repaired by Master Luthier Bill Tippin in the spring of 2007 and is now back in my hands after many, many years. The 1931 Martin 0-28 is an amazing guitar with lots of mojo.  I love playing this one around the house and it has inspired quite a few Ragtime style tunes.   I feel extremely fortunate to have such fine hand made guitars to play and they inspire me every day.

RainSong Guitars - From left to right, JM 3000 12-string, Concert WS-1000, SG Shorty 12-fret

Amy and I play Rainsong Guitars regularly at home, on recordings and on stage.  They are great for recording
because of their exceptionally clear and balanced tone.  They can be EQ'd to sound like practically any wood guitar.
We used RainSong guitars on our Land of the Sky CD and the Mountain Guitar CD, along with our expensive wood guitars.  Can you tell where?
The new Concert models have raised these instruments to the next level with the warmer tone of the new top design.

 RainSongs never need adjusting, rarely need tuning and you can leave them in the car in any weather.
Simply amazing instruments with great tone and a wonderful feel.

 All of my early Maggie's Music recordings featured my Sifel Cutaway with maple sides and back.  On "Racing Hearts" I used an Olson SJ with a cedar top and Indian Rosewood sides and back in addition to a rosewood cutaway made by Larry Sifel.  The Olson belonged to singer/songwriter Cheryl Wheeler who was nice enough to let me use her guitar "Osgood" for a while.   The Sifel is one of three that I've used on my recordings.  On "Gratitude", I played the Rosewood Sifel Cutaway and a Brazilian/Cedar Olson that was lent to us by another of our favorite singer/songwriters, David Wilcox.   Amy played two different Brazilian rosewood Olson SJs that David loaned us.  One with a rosewood neck and spruce top and one with a mahogany neck and cedar top.

Amy and I both purchased guitars from Kevin Ryan after those CDs were recorded.  Amy had a Nightingale with a Boznian spruce top and Brazilian rosewood sides and back.  I used a Brazilian/Cedar Mission Grand Concert for my Shades of Blue recording and Steve Baughman used that same instrument on the "Celtic Summit" album with Robin Bullock.  I used a Brazilian/Boznian Spruce  "Nightingale" on the DVD I recorded for Solid Air Records and Warner Bros. Publications. It's tone is rich and complex with lots of bass and plenty of high overtones.  That guitar was also played on  "Acoustic Journey," "Land of the Sky," and "Winter Tidings" and has since been sold.

The guitar I used on Caledon Wood is the Larry Sifel dreadnought "Dryad" that I played in concert for over ten years. It is arguably the best sounding instrument in its class that I've ever played.  It was returned to Jean Sifel in 2014 in order to be a part of the Pearl Works museum.

My Live Setup includes a Grace Design Alix preamp, a Strymon Blue Sky reverb and a Boss TU-3W Tuner

We use K&K Pickups in our guitars and mandolins and anAudio Technica AT831b microphone for Amy's dulcimer.  I use a Grace Design "Alix" preamp for my guitars and Amy uses the Radial PZ-PRE
Acoustic D.I. preamp for her instruments.  The L.R. Baggs Para-acoustic D.I. box is still our choice for the harp and when we need to run off of phantom power.  Two of our RainSong guitars have built-in Fishman pickup systems that sound really good.  The  RainSong APLE has a Fishman Premium Blend system that sounds amazing and the Al Petteway Special Edition (APSE) has a L.R. Bagss Stage Pro Anthem installed.  We still run these through the external preamps, even though it's not really necessary.  It gives us more control over the balance and tone and allows us to send the sound person one signal for each of us, even though we use numerous instruments on stage. For a while, we used our Humphrey acoustic guitar amps as stage monitors and sent our individual instrument signals to the sound person from the XLR out on the backs of the amps.  You can't really do any better than a Humphrey amp for perfect tone balance on an acoustic guitar, but they got to be a bit heavy and delicate for road work. So we ended up purchasing two of the Fishman SA220 acoustic amp/PA systems.  These are great for any size room that we play and if I have to do a solo gig and need an amp or small P.A., just one of them is all I need.

We own an Appalachian dulcimer built by Tom Fellenbaum,  an Old-Time banjo built by Lo Gordon, a 1937 National resophonic guitar and a 1934 Gibson L-50 roundhole archtop guitar.  I don't play electric guitar very often, but when I do,  I like to use a 1937 Gibson ES-150 and an old Stratocaster that I built from spare parts that is outfitted with custom pickups, wound by Joe Barden, through my 1937 Gibson EH-150 Amp or my 1960's Ampeg SB-12 flip top amp.  Both sound great. For recording, I also use a Rob Allen MB-2 Fretless acoustic bass guitar.

For live performance, Amy uses Neumann and Earthworks microphones and I use whatever is available, generally Shure SM beta 58s.

Here's a photo of me and Paul Reed Smith jamming at the Grand Opening celebration of Pearl Works in Southern MD. quite a few years back.  I'm playing the Sifel Rosewood Cutaway.  This guitar was given back to Jean Sifel after Larry's untimely death in May, 2006.  I still play the maple "Petteway Cutaway" and I think it will always be my all-time favorite guitar.


  We use Elixir nanoweb strings on our acoustic guitars and mandolins

I haven't found another string that is as consistent or has such perfect intonation.

For years I used D'Addario Strings and Planet Waves accessories as well.


  Planet Waves NS Capo                                 Planet Waves NS Capo Tuner

Planet Waves NS Trio Capo for Mandolin, Banjo and Partial Capoing on Guitar


I use the Planet Waves NS Capos designed by Ned Steinberger.  They are the only capos with enough strength and length to hold down the strings on the 12-string when it's capoed up high.  They are also very lightweight and easy to use.  Amy likes the Planet Waves NS Capo Tuner which is also strong enough and long enough for capoing high on the neck, but has a tuner built in.  If I'm playing an acoustic concert and need a tuner, I attach the micro headstock tuner.  It practically disappears on the headstock and it works really well.

Grace Designs "Alix" Instrument Preamp

The Radial Tonebone  PZ-Pre Acoustic Instrument Preamp/D.I.

Fishman Platinum Pro Preamp

   Humphrey Acoustic Amps  are the best

We use two Fishman SA220 systems for our P.A. when we set up our own. 
They are fantastic sounding and easy to load and setup.


Karura 00 Case                        Colorado Case Cover                          Karura 000 Case                          Accord Case                                                                   

My Circa 00 and my Tippin are both in a cases made by the Karura Case Company in Bangkok, Thailand.  This is definitely the best case you can buy.  It's made of a carbon fiber composite material that makes it lightweight and extremely protective.  My new Circa guitar needed a good case and I couldn't have hoped for anything better.  Amy's Ryan is in a Calton Flight Case with peghead supports and my Sifel is in an Accord carbon fibre case.  They are all really great cases, but I wish we could get Karuras for everything.  We use Colorado Case covers on our cases, especially when flying.  You can zip these covers to completely cover the latches and elminate the need for taping them down.  They also offer an extra layer of thermal protection in hot and cold weather.  When driving, we often use the Reunion Blues gig bags.

photo by Amy White of my right hand position with "natural" nails

I "pluck" the strings with my right hand fingernails in combination with either my thumbnail or a plastic thumb pick. Sometimes I feel like I have more control when using a thumb pick, especially when I'm playing harder, but I like the sound of the thumbnail, since it is more balanced with the fingernails. I also use the back of my fingernails for strumming and "popping" effects. Hammer-ons and pull-offs figure prominently in my playing, which makes it sometimes difficult to tell which hand is "plucking" the notes. Recently Amy and I both started getting "UV Gel" nails on our right hands.  I keep my nails filed and polished smooth around the edges so the attack on the string is clear and pure .  I use very little force in my left hand and strive to keep both hands relaxed at all times.  I've found that I can get more power this way. When flatpicking, I like to use a heavy pick, preferably tortoise shell or something that imitates it.  When I'm backing up Irish jigs and reels, I use a thinner pick. 


We have a little home studio setup that uses an Apple Mini computer and Digital Performer 9 for OS X with a API 1324+ 4 channel mic preamp and a MOTU thunderbolt digital interface. We also have a MikTek CV4 tube mic, a pair of Sennheiser MKH-40 microphones and a pair of AKG 414B TLII's with C-12 capsules installed in them. Our Boston grand piano (by Steinway) sounds wonderful in this space.  I record at 88.2 kHz, 32 bit floating.  Billy Wolf does all of  our mastering at Wolf Productions in Virginia.

In the past, we used a vintage AKG C-24 stereo tube mic to record the guitar for "Whispering Stones," "The Waters and the Wild,"  and some of "Midsummer Moon."  We used vintage Neumann U-47 microphones on nearly all of the stringed instruments for "Caledon Wood."  Jim Robeson, the engineer at Bias Recording Company in Springfield, VA placed the mics about 1-3 feet away from the guitar at the spots that sounded best to him. We rarely ever used any EQ on the guitar during recording or mixing. The project was mixed to 20-bit digital using the Rane "Paqrat" and then mastered in 20-bit at Airshow by Dave Glasser (the good ole' days of digital recording)

To record the guitars at home for the first few self-recorded albums, I ran the microphones directly into an ADAT XT-20 digital eight track recorder. However, I've since purchased the Macintosh and MOTU 896HD Firewire recording interface and I'm very impressed with the capabilities this equipment offers me.  Until recently,I used a Mackie 1604 VLZ PRO mixer and a pair of Genelec 1029A's with the Genelec subwoofer for monitoring.  I still use the Genelecs but no longer need the mixer since the new MOTU 896HD has a virtual mixer built in.  Headphone monitoring is done through a Rane HC6 and a choice of Shure SRH840, Sony MDR-7506, AKG K 240 DF, AKG K 240, or Audio Technica ATH-M40 headphones. My favorite mic preamp is the four channel API 3124+ .  I also use Presonus MP20 preamps for electric bass and direct pickup signals

 I mic guitars by placing one microphone facing the 12th fret and the other placed about a foot from the lower bout, pointed behind the bridge.  I've been experimenting with mixing and matching different mics and have come up with some pretty great results but I still prefer to use a matched pair.   I  borrowed a pair of Senken Mics from Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer to record the "Celtic Summit" CD by Robin Bullock and Steve Baughman. They were an excellent choice for recording Steve. On my newest solo guitar album "It's Only the Blues"  I used the two AKG's with C12 capsules and added the MikTek CV4 as a center mic.  The results were amazing.  I also used this technique to mic Amy's guitars on "Home Sweet Home." 


Mixing with Jim Robeson using the wonderful API console at Bias Recordings in Springfield, VA - Photo by Amy White  

Fairewood Studios - Takoma Park, MD


Fairewood Studios - Fairview, NC

Fairewood Studios - Weaverville, NC


 "Racing Hearts" was mixed by Jim Robeson at Bias Recording in Springfield, VA.  This time we mixed to 24-bit digital and then mastered in 24-bit with Bill Wolf at Wolf Productions in Falls Church, VA.  "Gratitude," our Indie-winnging duo guitar project on James Jensen's Solid Air Records was also mixed and mastered the same way with the same engineers.  Those guys are so good!

"Shades of Blue" was mixed at home using MOTU's Audiodesk software and mastered with Bill Wolf.

"Golden Wing," "Acoustic Journey,"  "Land of the Sky," "Winter Tidings,"  "Dream Guitars, Vol. I" "High in the Blue Ridge," "It's Only the Blues,"  and "Home Sweet Home" were all recorded and mixed at home, using Digital Performer software.  Mastering was done by Bill Wolf once again.

 I don't use any processing or EQ when tracking.  I'd rather leave that till the mixing stage and even then, I use very little, if any, EQ and minimal processing. My computer software has a number of wonderful processing plug-ins, including the new ProVerb reverb plugin.  I now use it instead of my Lexicon MPX-500 for overall reverb effects. I've been using the computer for mixing all of our recent projects. We still like to send our files to Bill Wolf's mastering suite at Wolf Productions for the final mastering before manufacturing. 


My favorite tunings are EADGBE, DADGAD, DADF#AD, CGCGCD, CGDGAD, CGCFCD and CGCGAD. I've experimented with many tuning variations but find myself returning to DADGAD as my "standard" tuning.  I've also been experimenting with the use of partial capos.  All of my capo positions and tunings are listed in the liner notes of my solo albums and on the transcriptions in my books.  On "Racing Hearts," I used DADGAD tuning exclusively, so I didn't bother listing it.  I did use a partial capo across the first four strings at the second fret for "Hidden Wings."  I just couldn't figure out any other way to play it at the time.  Now I can play it in CGDGAD.   Everything else is straight DADGAD either open or with a capo.  For the duo guitar album I stayed in DADGAD most of the time, but snuck back to standard for a couple of the jazzier numbers.  Amy also played primarily in DADGAD but she wrote some really cool tunes in a tuning she learned from David Wilcox:  BGDGBD.  She put a partial capo on the fourth fret and used the low B as her root.  Another variation she used was BGDGAD. On the "Shades of Blue" album I used DADGAD and Standard tunings, but I also used DGCFAD(standard tuning down a whole step) for a couple of tunes to give me that slinky electric feel.  The solo CD "Dream Guitars Vol. I - The Golden Age of Lutherie"  features Standard and DADGAD tuning primarily, but there is one tunein CGDGAD.  "It's Only the Blues" is almost entirely in DADGAD except for "This Just In" which was in CGCGAD. 


If you have any technical questions feel free to e-mail me at


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