Guitar Collection: Bridie Monds-Watson, aka SOAK, Gibson ES-339

Bridie Monds-Watson's Gibson ES-339 guitar
Bridie Monds-Watson (known as SOAK) plays her Gibson ES-339 guitar in The Current's studio. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
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There's something almost magic about Bridie Monds-Watson's recent visit to Gibson Guitars in London; it nearly reads like a story by Roald Dahl or J.K. Rowling. But on wandering around the Gibson showroom, Monds-Watson — who records and performs under the moniker, SOAK — picked up a guitar and thought it was perfect. And when she looked closer, it already had her name on it.

After a recent visit to The Current for an in-studio session hosted by Bill DeVille, Monds-Watson shares the story behind the instrument that has become her favorite guitar.

What model guitar are you playing today?

It's a Gibson ES 339. Gibson themselves gave it to me.

How did that come about?

I'm not sure exactly how it came about. Somehow I ended up in their showroom in London, which is walls upon walls of ridiculously expensive guitars and amazing things, and you can play whatever you like.

I wandered around the room; we were looking for new guitars for touring, and I had just started playing with my band.

So they were like, "Pick up whatever you want and play it, but the ones with tags on them that say names are taken or are going to people."

So I was walking around this room, picking up things to play. I saw this guitar and I thought, "That's beautiful." Because I always wanted a hollow body that wasn't too big, because I'm tiny — I'm like, five-foot-nothing. So I wanted one that was manageable and looked normal in my arms.

I saw it and was like, "That must have a tag on it." And it did, and I was like, "Oh, no…" And I picked it up and the tag said my name and I was like, "Oh, yes!"

And then I played it and that was it -- I really liked it. Gibson have lent it to me for however long I want, so I'm probably going to buy it or hope that they just give it to me! (laugh)

Had they anticipated you would pick this one?

I think they knew I was going to take something. Maybe they were going to show me this one if I hadn't picked it up. I'm not sure what it was, but I'm glad I did pick it up, and it is my favorite guitar I've ever had.

What inspired you to seek a hollow body?

Because I do a lot of acoustic music, and I've just started moving into more electric stuff as well, and it's nice to be able — even for sessions like this — to just do everything electric. Like "Sea Creatures," which is an acoustic song, it's nice to kind of give it a bit of electric but not too much. So it's a nice medium.

How long have you had it now?

Maybe four months. Not that long. It's a nice guitar; I'm big into it.

You mentioned to Bill DeVille that one of your influences is Jeff Buckley. One can hear Buckley-style guitar in "Wait," for example. Was that inspired at all by Jeff Buckley's music?

Not directly. It's something I've always listened to … I think around the time I did the album, I was learning how to play a bit of it on guitar, like "This is Our Last Goodbye" and stuff like that. I'm a big fan of Jeff Buckley, but it's not something I listen to very often.

When you're writing, do you primarily use your acoustic guitar?

Yeah, I've got a Martin acoustic; I'm not sure what model it is. It's like a half-size. But I write on both acoustic and electric; more so on electric around the time of the album. Even more now, but I was trying to make louder songs.

Do you find the louder songs play better in clubs?

I've done the gentle, acoustic thing for a long time, so it's fun for me to move into that, and I listen to a lot more heavy music now than I did before. It's just fun for me. It's nice to be loud and to make those noises.

EPILOGUE: Before her gig at the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis, Monds-Watson was also pretty taken with a 1965 Gibson Melody Maker guitar, found at Willie's American Guitars in St. Paul. She shared a photo of it on Instagram. "She was in, she was very pleasant, and we made a deal," a Willie's employee confirmed by telephone.

Resources

SOAK - official site

Gibson ES-339

Willie's American Guitars, St. Paul, Minn.

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  • SOAK performs in The Current studio Bridie Monds-Watson -- known by her stage name, SOAK -- didn't consciously set out to be a singer-songwriter. 'I always wanted to play drums,' she says. 'It was just whenever I felt confident on guitar and new enough chords, I started singing along to what I was playing.' Now touring in support of her debut album, 'Before We Forgot How to Dream,' Monds-Watson played an in-studio session at The Current, hosted by Bill DeVille.

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  • SOAK's Gibson ES-339 headstock
    Headstock on SOAK's Gibson ES-339. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)

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