What does an Olson sound like?

Most players will first hear an Olson on a recording or in a concert setting. We’ve gathered here a handful of soundbites from studio and live recordings. We hope they give you an enticing impression of the Olson tone. But keep in mind that the only way to get the full sonic experience of an Olson (or any fine instrument) is to play one yourself, or listen to another guitarist play one for you in person.

James Taylor

Like everyone she knows

This passage is the first minute of a track from the first JT album to feature his Olson guitars—New Moon Shine (1991). JT is best known for his singing and songwriting, but he’s a fantastic guitar player. We chose this passage because it showcases JT’s wonderfully recognizable fingerpicking in a brief instrumental “etude.” We wish he’d do a whole album of this stuff! (Engineered by James Farber.)


Sweet baby James

This is the introduction to one of JT’s best-known songs, taken from his 1993 James Taylor (Live) double CD, chosen to showcase his live Olson sound. He gets his live tone using an L. R. Baggs LB 6 bridge pickup, a preamp that often varies from show to show and most importantly, great ears (his own and his engineer’s!). (Engineered by Nathaniel Kunkel.


Phil Keaggy

Way back home

This soundbite captures lots of “firsts”: these are the first notes of the first song on the first nationally-released recording featuring an Olson guitar—Keaggy’s 1986 vinyl/cassette recording, Way Back Home (re-released on CD in 1994). The Olson on this recording—still Phil’s favorite acoustic guitar—is the first cedar-topped SJ Jim ever built. This model remains Jim’s most popular model to this day. (Engineered by Bob Cotton, Thom Roy, and Eddie Keaggy.)


Fare thee well

This soundbite is from Keaggy’s Beyond Nature CD (1991), an acoustic instrumental recording that is cited by many Olson lovers as among their favorite recordings. It has some of the warmest, sweetest, and fullest Olson tones ever recorded, thanks to Keaggy’s inspirational playing and impecable engineering by “jb.” We chose this track because in the space of a minute or so it showcases a wide range of playing techniques: fingerpicking, single-note runs, strumming, percussive and harmonic slapping, muted notes, and Hedges-style right-hand tapping—all in an unusual altered tuning (open Eb9, capo 4). Whew!


When night falls

In contrast to the pyrotechnics of “Fare thee well,” this track, also from Beyond Nature, features slow and lyrical playing. Keaggy improvised this tune late at night at the end of the Beyond Nature sessions, first recording an accompaniment track, and then overdubbing a melody. On listening to the playback, he and engineer jb felt the night sounds of crickets they heard through an open studio door provided a lovely backdrop to the tune. They put a microphone out the door to catch nature’s accompaniment to this inspired improvisation.


Jim Cole

Be Thou My Vision

This is Jim’s take on a much-loved hymn; we chose to feature it here in part because of its instrumental introduction featuring Jim’s lovely fingerpicking—and his Olson! You may recognize the tune from other hymns (“Lord of all hopefulness” and “Make us true servants”), or as the melody of the traditional Irish ballad, “The banks of the Bann.” The pace picks up considerably after the fingerpicked intro!


Deep as the Ocean Blue

A Cole original (cowritten with Kelly Willard) displaying the JT influence.



Cole’s wonderful cover of a great song penned by the late Mark Heard.


If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard here, please consider supporting the work of these artists by buying one or more of their CDs. All of the CDs mentioned here are available online, in some cases at the artists’ web sites, or from on-line music distributors such CD Connection or Amazon.


James A. Olson Guitars | 11840 Sunset Avenue | Circle Pines, MN 55014
(763) 780-5301 | Fax: (763) 780-8513

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