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Gordon Lightfoot's Guitars and Songwriting

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot

Who Is Gordon Lightfoot?

Without a doubt, Gordon Lightfoot is one of the greatest songwriters of popular music from the Americas in this century. I say "Americas" because Lightfoot is Canadian. Were I to simply say that he was one of the greatest Canadian songwriters of this century, then that would be such a large understatement of the facts concerning popular opinion that it would be a simple "given." The fact is that most Canadians consider Lightfoot as their beautiful nation's greatest songwriter.

Now maybe you don't realize just how great a songwriter Lightfoot actually is, and if you don't, then it's probably because you don't realize that the term "songwriter" means not that you even sing or perform the songs that you write—but that you also write songs that other artist like so well that they perform them.

From Wikipedia, here's the list of some of the most notable persons to have recorded songs written by Lightfoot:

Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr., The Kingston Trio, Marty Robbins, George Hamilton IV, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Viola Wills, Richie Havens, The Dandy Warhols, Harry Belafonte, Tony Rice, Sandy Denny (with Fotheringay), The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Scott Walker, Sarah McLachlan, John Mellencamp, Toby Keith, Peter, Paul and Mary, Glen Campbell, Anne Murray, and Olivia Newton-John.

Let me tell you something, friends, many people consider Bob Dylan as the greatest songwriter of all time, so what does it say about Gordon Lightfoot when Bob Dylan has recorded songs that Gordon Lightfoot wrote?

Gordon Lightfoot and the "Sundown" album cover with his Gibson B-45-12N guitar

Gordon Lightfoot and the "Sundown" album cover with his Gibson B-45-12N guitar

My Dad Was an Instant Convert

In September I went with my parents about 70 miles from home to take my brother and his wife out for my brother's birthday. I forget the name of the station but there is a fine oldies station in Smith County, Texas, and after the dinner and several microbrews at a restaurant, I was riding shotgun as my father drove us home. My parents do not drink—but I was feeling swell, and on the radio, a song was playing that I started singing along to.

My father asked me, "Who sings that song?"

Now, my dad asking me who sang something that I consider an "oldie" is unusual, so I proudly answered, "Gordon Lightfoot; it's called 'Sundown.'"

Well, I live in a travel trailer on my parent's property close to their house, and not two or three days had passed before my father came home on his lunch break, and in his driveway he was practically jamming out to that fine old Lightfoot tune. I knew he'd purchased a compact disc!

"Sundown," Gordon Lightfoot, and His Gibson B - 45-12N

Gordon Lightfoot and his Martin D 18

Gordon Lightfoot and his Martin D 18

Folk, Country, and Acoustic Guitars

Now, it's not something the least bit odd to me when I consider virtually all of the greatest American, Canadian, or North American and English-speaking songwriters to be people who've mostly always played folk music. I'm talking about folks like Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Steve Earl, Paul Simon, Kris Kristofferson, Townes Van Zandt, and the others.

Why do you suppose that this is? Well, I don't think that it truly has much to do with acoustic instrumentation. Believe you me, folk music is most often acoustic, but it doesn't have to be acoustic to be folk. It's simply that folk music is always something that encompasses styles from various diverse cultures in such a time-honored and traditional way that folk music, though not always popular, is something nearly universally approved—except, of course, by fad loving and vacuous mainstream media.

Folk music is closely related to most other forms of music in some ways - and what is folk music in North America is most often a conglomeration of styles from various and sundry European nations, and well, practically every nation on the planet. As English is most definitely the dominant language here—so do English-speaking people have the greatest influence on Folk music—that's just the way that language dominates all aspects of any given culture.

So Lightfoot is a folk artist, singer, songwriter, and musician, and the only way to be or become a folk artist is to create work that embodies themes that are virtually timeless, and universally recognized. I don't really want to be the guy that just puts Lightfoot's most well-known hits on a piece about him, but who can ever deny that "Mother Nature's" whims and fancy are not universal concepts in folk music? The wrath and fury of nature are so vastly beautiful and yet sometimes violent that there's surely not a sentient human that can escape to a place within his or her mind that it can not enter.

"The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald," Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot's Limited Edition Martin D 18 GL

Gordon Lightfoot's Limited Edition Martin D 18 GL


Gordon Lightfoot's Acoustic Guitars

Lightfoot has most often been photographed and recorded playing one of two distinct models of acoustic guitar:

The 1967 Gibson B-45-12N

It's frustrating, but the only decent photograph of this instrument that I could find was that of Lightfoot and this very guitar from the album cover of his Sundown album. It's plain that he's also playing this Gibson twelve-string guitar in the live youtube clip of Sundown that I've provided here. In the January 2000 issue of Acoustic Guitar Magazine, Lightfoot talks about this guitar and says it's the twelve-string acoustic that just stays in tune the best. If having to tune a twelve-string guitar would make you as annoyed as it would me, then that's something well worth looking into!

What is most notable about the Gibson B-45-12N is the way the strings are anchored to the top. It's very uncommon for a steel-string flat-top guitar to deviate from the standard bridge and bridge pins design of anchoring the strings. I've read that Gibson changed from the pictured (and in the video) version, which would be called a bridge and trapeze tailpiece, to bridge and bridge pins, and then some other even less used designs. What's the deal here?

Twelve-string acoustic guitars are most often very fragile instruments - and those strings create a LOT of stress on a musical instrument that is mostly wood and glue.

The Martin D 18

Any musician like Lightfoot will know that having different types of acoustic guitars provides you with more options for what's important in music: sound.

A lot of players find that the sound and even the feel of different guitars inspires them to create different kinds of music. Gordon Lightfoot does quite well to embrace the two most known and respected acoustic guitar manufacturers, C.F. Martin & Co., and Gibson—you really can't lose with either brand in their solid wood instruments.

So far as the Martin D 18GL is concerned, wow! That guitar is beautiful, it's a limited edition model D 18, but differs from the standard D 18V in three ways, the back and sides of this instrument are quilted mahogany rather than "plain" mahogany, and you should be able to see the beauty of that from the first picture. The D 18GL features and Englemann spruce top rather than a Sitka spruce top, and then there is that beautiful abalone inlay that you see all around the rosette - which is the trim around the guitar's sound hole, and then there is Lightfoot's signature inlaid in abalone, and abalone inlay fret markers on the fretboard.

The Martin D 18GL was a limited edition instrument that sold for $3,500 when produced—look for models of that guitar in great condition to have gone UP in price and/or value!

Finally, what most needs saying here is that Lightfoot is indeed a great singer, songwriter, and musician—but he does have a lead guitarist that plays the melodies and solos as Gordon plays rhythm and sings. That man is Terry Clements—who, as Lightfoot also does, plays primarily acoustic guitars, but also plays some fine electric guitars as well.

Sadly, Terry Clements passed away on February 20, 2011.

Terry Clements and one of his Martin D 18s

Terry Clements and one of his Martin D 18s

Terry Clements: Obit

Terry Clements Tribute


brian on May 18, 2019:

anyone have any idea what guitar red shea used when recording sundown?

Jay on March 10, 2018:

The guitar on the album cover is in fact a D28. Note the white binding around the body, and is absent from the fretboard assuring it isn’t a D35. I don’t know why Martin used the D18 as his signature guitar when most of the time you see him playing a D28.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 31, 2014:

Thank you very very much, Mark West; for the guitar information! I can not at this time recall where I got the nomenclature or data I used in the article; I suspect I got it and typed it as it was right out of a guitar magazine, N for "natural" makes perfect sense!

Mark West on January 30, 2014:

I don't know if anyone is still reading these, but there are some errors in this otherwise excellent writing. The Gibson B-45-12N was what Lightfoot started with and had a natural top, but you need to drop the N for the sunburst. The one on the cover of Sundown was stolen, and he currently tours with two. Gibson changed the trapeze for bridge pins, but the string tension would tear the guitar apart. They went back to the tailpiece, then back to bridge pins later with different bracing, changing the tone of the guitar. The first version with pins had the bridge placed upside down so they wouldn't be confused with a Martin. Lightfoot has one of each in different tunings, but he seems to interchange them. The upside down bridge was made from 62-64 and is very very rare. It took me years to find one, but it is the best 12 string I have ever played! It is a 64 in excellent condition with a perfect top and no damage at all from its lifetime of being strung to pitch. If I ever have the opportunity, I would love to have Mr. Lightfoot sign it...

That is all. Carry on.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 03, 2013:

Hey thanks for the info! I've heard of Red Shea, but ...that was about it.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on August 16, 2012:

Hey niceguitars, I didn't get that link to work, but if you could give me one that does work, I'd be interested in seeing it.

niceguitars on March 06, 2012:

very nice guitars. i review some of them too

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 26, 2011:



Running water is genetic it runs in your jeans on November 26, 2011:

Wesman, I started to mention Niel Young, but refrained, he is up there, but I like Gordon a bit better as for the 1 and 2 position, I don't think Young's bleeding heart politics helps him, and it is the part I don't want to know about any of them. I like John Lennon's music but I have to shut my mind to his political side of supporting terrorist groups that blew people up, if my mind is there it's hard to listen to Imagine and other songs he wrote and he stopped getting royalty payments from me when I found out the details way back when and when he got shot in the back I was surprised and a bit of a bummer as I wish that on nobody. I don't know about any such things with Lightfoot and don't want to and Young has done concerts with the severe right wing conservative shit and I'm figuring I bounce center right, center left, depending on topic I'm all over issues either for or against and don't care on many issue that are mute in my mind. Like Cat Stevens he just dropped out [like me] and let go of the money thing and he emerged years later as a Muslim Father teaching his and other kids peace and he is not skewed he just "is" and I dig his music and am aware of his religion and have heard his peaceful songs written to teach the youth what they need to know. He isn't singing peace and bombing people with the youth of Islam wrapped in bombs waiting for the cell phone call as they walk among people in a town open market. Heck totally off topic, sorry



tom hellert from home on November 16, 2011:

that is a good one....


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 16, 2011:

Metallica WOULD do a good job of it!!! I'm still liking their rendition of BOC's "Veterans of a thousand psychic wars."

tom hellert from home on November 16, 2011:

I always thought it should be covered by Britney Spears or Christina aguilara- That would be ...interesting

but eceb better would be Anthrax or Metallica... in all honesty I think Metallica would probably do a great job seriously


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 16, 2011:

Tony Rice covered it - if you know who he is. I guess I'm going to have to hit big Google up for Will, can't think who he is at the moment.

Michael Rudnick on November 16, 2011:

As a side note, I always thought Will Oldham should cover "Wreck of the Edmund Fitgerald".

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 11, 2011:


I think Gibson's tuning machines or keys are just better than most others - or at least that's what Gordon thought about it.

Them twelve bangers are high, but I'd love to have one too sometime.

44 Magnum Custom Boinker on November 11, 2011:

Wesman, Bro'Man, you hammered a great article here with Gordon Lightfoot, he is one guy that I remember well as an inspiration for me to own 1 12 string. The sound that comes from the Gibson is sweet with 12 strings I balked at the Gibson and bought an Ovation Pacemaker with the Glen Cambell star burst top and it has a plug in option with the equalizer board and volume control and use neither of them I find no need to plug it in. Anyway back to your great read, sorta makes me want a Gibson and I played one back in 75 I think while trying to figure out which 12 I wanted, Cambell was playing the lineman tune and the shipwreck had just happened and Lightfoot put out his chart topper so I finally chose the Ovation at the Guitar center probably due to plugging it up and playing with the electronics that you don't have around the fire pit at night. You got me wondering about trading, I'll stop and play one in a store before I get home and I'll have time to think it over, peace,


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 10, 2011:

Thanks Sue Swan!

I didn't like just using his ...maybe two most known songs, but I had to use "Sundown" because it showed the Gibson guitar that I wanted to talk about, and then I felt the "Edmund Fitzgerald" vid showed or helped explain what I thought folk music was all about.

But "Early Morning Rain" is a great song!

Sueswan on November 10, 2011:

Hi Wes

"Early Morning Rain" is my favourite Gordon Lightfoot tune.

Voted up, up and away!

tom hellert from home on November 08, 2011:


That and I' blind... so I couldve missed it but I think I may have buzzed past it before it loaded but thanx 4 the link


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 08, 2011:

Ah - that explains it! I dunno why that would be though - if it's not a slow connection, then I'll recommend you what I use to fix problems.

tom hellert from home on November 08, 2011:


Sometimes I can't see the vids... like today i saw it but last night it just had the red X in the corner-???Im guessin its trouble on my end cool hub though...


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 07, 2011:

Hey tom hellert - there's an outstanding video of that song up there in the hub - it shows footage of the Edmund Fitzgerald being launched, etc, etc,etc - and then the underwater photos of it wrecked - very freaking powerful.

If I have too many drinks and watch that thing - I have to choke back some sobs!

justom from 41042 on November 07, 2011:

Nice Flora, Leonard is another of my favorites!! Like a bird..on a a drunk in the midnight choir..I have my own way to reach out to you!!

tom hellert from home on November 07, 2011:


When i think Gordon lightfoot- i think

The Wreck of the Edmund near lakes Ontario and Erie i guess the song has more meaning...


FloraBreenRobison on November 07, 2011:

Oh, yes. Cohen is from Montreal. He has been made a Companion to the Order of Canada and received the Governor General Award of Canada

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 07, 2011:

Leonard Cohen? I had no idea he was Canadian! I've got a friend over near Seattle that taught Neil Young how to sail his gigantic sailboat, I used to have pictures of it, and recall the name of the thing.

FloraBreenRobison on November 07, 2011:

In my Canadian musician series, the order has been Lightfoot, Cohen and Young. Not a big coincidence that I started with them.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 07, 2011:

Thanks Tom! I'm maybe just one of the most opinionated!

You already know that eventually Neil Young will be the subject.

justom from 41042 on November 07, 2011:

Haaaa! You can count on me. I had a feeling you knew better! Good hub though!! I always vote up because you're one of the best writers on here!!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 07, 2011:


I knew that was coming! I just didn't know when!

justom from 41042 on November 07, 2011:

I like and have seen Gordon but to to say he's the best Canadian singer songwriter is just not valid. Todd, you and your followers should be ashamed. Neil Young is without a doubt the best IMO. Shame on those who forget about him!!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 06, 2011:

I WELL imagine the fuzz, SIR!!!!

I'm eventually going to get into writing about both Gretsch and Takamine - you can well imagine that should I write about every good acoustic guitar and artists that use them - I'll never, EVER be done here!

Micheal from United Kingdom on November 06, 2011:

I knew it. I'm almost positive I saw him play in Hyde Park with the rolling stones and King Crimson in 69' you got to remember it was a but fuzzy back then.

I am going to hunt down the playbill.

The Gretch is a beauty. Never goes out of turn and sounds a sweet today as when I bought it back in the day.

The Takemine has a unique sound . The band Oasis use them as does Richard Ashcroft.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 06, 2011:

Hey thanks Nell Rose - he's wrote so many songs that I'm positive that you've heard some of them, whether he was singing them or not!

Sort of like a Canadian Bob Dylan, or something.

Nell Rose from England on November 06, 2011:

Hi, I had never heard of him before, but I loved the video's, his voice is what I would call a soothing mix of twang and soft, I might just go out and get the cd, thanks, I have read a couple of hubs about him now, he must be some artist.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 06, 2011:

molometer - I'm positive Lightfoot toured in the U.K. in the late 60's - I read about that just the other day on the CD jacket of my Dad's "Greatest Hits" disc.

Gretsch makes some OUTSTANDING guitars! Takamine is pretty good too, really. Me and some others in the family have always been extremely disappointed about a beautiful Gretsch that one of my grandfathers owned, but sold for WAY too little.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 06, 2011:

Fiddleman - Thanks Sir! One thing I didn't mention is that most people's favorite flatpicker not named "Doc Watson" - is one of Lightfoot's biggest fans. Of course I'm talking about Tony Rice. I'll probably wind up writing a BUNCH of hubs about Tony. I just don't know exactly where to start - but I might start on that today.

FloraBreenRobison on November 06, 2011:

yes, that's okay. :)

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 06, 2011:

Hey Flora - I added your link to this hub, if that's okay !


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 06, 2011:

mjfarns - Thanks Sir! I've been writing so much about guitars that I think the only way to "jazz it up" a bit is to now include the stories and custom shop models or limited edition models that folks make in honor of some of our more well known ones.

Most everyone loves music - but I've actually met a few rare folks that just don't!

Micheal from United Kingdom on November 05, 2011:

Interesting hub Wesman todd shaw,

I remembered the name Gordon Lightfoot.

Do you know if he toured the UK back in the 60's as I feel quite sure that he was well known here back in those days.

Great read.

I have had a Gretch 6 string acoustic since the 70's and I have a Korean knock off TakeMine that I bought in the states 10 years ago. Both sound great.

You're right about having the right guitar for the song. Took me years to figure that one out.

Fiddleman on November 05, 2011:

Great hub Wes and the man and music areawesome.

FloraBreenRobison on November 05, 2011:

I love Gordon lightfoot. He's my favourite Canadian composer and I have devoted a hub to him. My favourite song is If You Could Read My Mind.

mjfarns from Bloomington, Illinois USA on November 05, 2011:

It's nice to see such a fine musician as Gordy get his props. Excellent job!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 05, 2011:

Susan, those Larrivee Guitars - ARE FREAKING AWESOME!!!!

I'm sure you know that they are made in Canada - and boy, you can get those for several hundred cheaper than a comparable model by some of the other big names.

I've seen a few music stores way down here that stock them, and they are NICE!

I Wish You'd Won That Thing TOO!

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on November 05, 2011:

You already know that I am a Lightfoot fan and thank you for the link. This past summer at the Mariposa Folk Festival they were raffling off a Larrivee guitar which was signed by all of the people that played at the festival in 2010. Gordon Lightfoot's signature was on the guitar. I so wanted to win this guitar but oh well...Great article.