Canadian Musicians Reveal Their Signature Instruments

Good Kid, Apollo Ghosts, Nicolette & the Nobodies and more show off their key pieces of gear

Photo: Katja de Bourbon

BY Alex HudsonPublished Jun 10, 2024

Musicians' signature instruments line the walls in music shops around the world — with Dave Grohl's recent Epiphone model and Slash's new Gibson semi-hollow body being just a couple of the most recent examples.

It got us thinking: If Canadian indie musicians got their own signature instruments, what would they be? We reached out to some Canadian artists to find out, and they responded with everything from analogue synths to a mail-order banjo and a guitar covered with Simpsons stickers.

Below, check out Canadian musicians with their signature instruments.

Adrian Teacher of Apollo Ghosts
Suzuki nylon-string

apollo-ghosts-guitar.jpgPhoto: Amanda P.

"I see drum kits or amps or mics like a gardener might see their garden tools," says Apollo Ghosts singer-guitarist Adrian Teacher. "Very functional things." That being said, he does have a sentimental attachment to one particular instrument: an old Suzuki nylon-strong acoustic that he took from his dad when he moved out at the age of 19.

"It's the guitar I learned to play music on and I've probably written 90 percent of my shitty songs with it," says Teacher. "My dad died while I was on tour in Japan this past spring, so I wasn't able to be with him in his last moments. But when I pick up this instrument, I feel like a part of him is still with me, as cheesy as that sounds. I can still see him plucking away at 'Ghost Riders in the Sky,' fumbling through the chords and laughing at how bad he was at guitar."

Fans definitely won't hear the guitar on the band's new mini-album Amethyst, which cranks up the band's usual jangly sound with '90s college rock distortion.

Dominic Berthiaume of Corridor
Korg Delta

corridor-instrument.jpgPhoto: Delphine Snyers

On the recommendation of engineer Joojoo Ashworth, Montreal poppy post-punk combo Corridor bought a Korg Delta analogue synthesizer in advance of recording their new album, Mimi — and "it really saved our asses multiple times," says bassist Dominic Berthiaume.

"I remember on the very last studio day, we were all exhausted and struggling finishing the song 'Mourir Demain,'" he recalls. "I personally thought it sounded too gentle and kinda generic — there was no edge to it. Then Sam [Gougoux] and Joojoo started messing around with the Delta and made this badass tone that sounded like a very noisy guitar texture from outer space. I remember that, while recording the synth layers, we were in the control room smiling; the album was done, the song was saved."

David Wood of Good Kid
Fender Telecaster

David-Wood-Good-Kid-guitar.jpegPhoto courtesy of the artist

Viral Toronto pop rockers Good Kid have a signature guitar sound that comes from David Wood and Jacob Tsafatinos's twin Telecasters, something that was inspired by dance-punks Bloc Party. "I get distracted so, so easily," Wood admits. "That's why Telecasters are vital for me as a guitarist. There are realistically only two pickup settings — left or right, no middles please — which helps me to focus on writing and performing. Same goes for my pedalboard, which has at most three pedals, sometimes four, and one of them is a tuner. Zero distractions, all noise."

That distraction-free noise can be heard on the Toronto band's latest peppy EP, this spring's Good Kid 4.

Haleluya Hailu
Squier Stratocaster

Haleluya_guitar.jpgPhoto courtesy of the artist

Look closely — yes, that's Homer Simpson's bare butt. Vancouver singer-songwriter Haleluya Hailu wrote a lot of the early demos for her recently released EP, the emo-tinged guitar pop collection eternally, yours, on this Squier Stratocaster featuring several Simpsons stickers, which she has also played during shows with her live band. "If you came and saw me and the fake friends live whenever I did start writing the record," she tells Exclaim!, "I was probably playing this guitar!"

Two-stringed Takamine guitar

jeen-guitar.JPGPhoto courtesy of the artist

That Takamine acoustic-electric guitar only has two strings, but it's enough for Toronto's Jeen to use it when writing her hook-filled pop rock tunes, like the ones on this year's Gold Control. "I've written pretty much all my songs and albums on this guitar," she tells Exclaim! of the axe, which was gifted to her by Great Big Sea. "It's really beat but it's super easy to handle, sounds great distorted, and I've been playing it with two strings these past couple years, which I love, so I haven't restrung it."

Kaleah Lee
Yamaha FGX800C

Kaleah-guitar.jpgPhoto courtesy of the artist

Kaleah Lee specializes in hushed, intimate acoustic ballads — and the songwriting process begins in her bedroom with this Yamaha guitar. "Almost every song on my EP, Birdwatcher, was written and/or recorded in my bedroom with this guitar," she tells Exclaim! "Making the project was such a creatively expansive experience for me, and I'm so excited to share it."

Jon Elmaleh of Napoleon
Reverend Shade Balderose Signature

napoleon-guitar.jpgPhoto courtesy of the artist

This Reverend guitar is the signature model of Code Orange guitarist Eric "Shade" Balderose, and although Napoleon's Jon Elmaleh bought it just a few years ago, it sustained serious damage when the headstock was snapped clean off by a rowdy crowd in Sherbrooke, QC, last summer.

"What's funny is now I love it even more," the Toronto singer-guitarist tells Exclaim! "When I'm writing songs. the crack in the neck always reminds me how much I love touring and playing shows, and it keeps me motivated to write songs that I think will go off live." Maybe that's why the hard rock band embrace post-hardcore and metalcore influences on their newly released EP, Dear God.

Old Man Luedecke
Banjo from mail-order kit

old-man-luedecke-banjo.jpgPhoto courtesy of the artist

Old Man Luedecke's new full-length, the Bahamas-produced guitar album She Told Me Where to Go, contains no banjo at all. Even so, the East Coast mainstay points to his favourite banjo as his signature instrumental. It's "a mid-'90s mail-order parts kit banjo assembled by a hobbyist and rebuilt at the Halifax Folklore Centre," he tells Exclaim! "I have hitchhiked across Canada with it on my back and paddled it 500 kilometres down the Yukon River in a dry bag to the Dawson City Music Festival. I have played it most days since 2001." Don't worry, banjo fans — he hasn't put down the banjo for good!

Nicolette Hoang and Ian James Bain of Nicolette & the Nobodies
Taylor 214ce-K SB and Fender Nashville Telecaster

nicollete-nobodies-instruments.jpgPhoto courtesy of the artist

Ontario's Nicolette & the Nobodies channel old-school country on their newly released debut album, The Long Way, and that commitment to classic sounds starts with their instruments. For singer-songwriter Nicolette Hoang, it's her Taylor acoustic. "Every song I wrote for The Long Way started with stillness," she says. "It was me, on my favourite couch, holding my guitar and gazing out the window. Fast or slow, happy or sad, everything for me starts by connecting myself with my surroundings."

After that, Ian James Bain adds some twangy flavour with his three-pickup Telecaster — which he can also make sound a bit like a Stratocaster or even a pedal steel. He tells Exclaim!, "It also has a B-Bender which is a big hunk of metal and springs that makes the guitar weigh about 1,000 pounds but also lets you bend the B-string up a tone by pulling down in the strap so you can kinda sound like a pedal steel guitar. Clarence White and Gene Parsons from the Byrds developed the first one and it's pretty cool. You can hear it all over The Long Way."

CJ Wiley
Fender Stratocaster

cj-wiley-strat.jpgPhoto: Katja de Bourbon

There's a grungy crunch to songwriter CJ Wiley's recent single "No One Like U" and a roots rock twang to the subsequent "Cheap Therapy" — and it all starts with the Toronto artist's Fender Stratocaster. "My upcoming album was recorded and produced by Boy Golden in Winnipeg," they say. "Within the record, I tell stories of loss, gender, starting fresh, and how expensive it is to be alive. Nearly all of the songs were written on my Strat!"

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