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Ed Sheeran: The Troubadour with a Guitar



Ed Sheeran is a modern-day troubadour, whose humble acoustic guitar has been the faithful companion to his rise as one of the biggest singer-songwriters on the planet. With his unassuming loop pedal and dreadnought guitar, Sheeran has managed to fill arenas and stadiums around the world with nothing more than his voice, lyrics, and rhythmic guitar playing.

The Early Days and Gear

Sheeran’s love affair with the guitar began at a young age growing up in Framlingham, Suffolk. He started playing guitar around age 11 after being inspired by one of the world’s most renowned acoustic guitarists – Eric Clapton. Sheeran’s first guitar was a 3/4 size Stratocaster copy that he quickly outgrew as his passion and skills blossomed.

In interviews, Sheeran has reminisced about those formative years saying, “My dad bought me my first proper guitar for around 10 or 20 pounds from a weird little shop. It was nylon-string and slowly as I learned more chords I fell in love with that guitar.”

The nylon-string guitar Sheeran refers to was likely an inexpensive Stratton or Valencia student model that helped him learn the basics. As his talents grew, so did his appreciation for higher-end guitars.

Sheeran’s Main Ax – The “Dreadnought Sheeran”

These days, Sheeran’s guitar of choice is a very distinct dreadnought acoustic made by Sheeran’s sponsor Lowden Guitars of Northern Ireland. The small guitar company has been building fine guitars since 1976, but Sheeran’s popularity helped propel them into the mainstream spotlight.

Lowden’s “Dreadnought Sheeran” model is a standard dreadnought design but built with Indonesian western red cedar for the top and Indian rosewood for the back and sides. It also features Lowden’s iconic “Turkish” pencil inlay around the body.

What makes Sheeran’s model so distinct though is the special “Anita Baker” Venetian cutaway and “plus” bolt-on heel design. This unique heel shifts the body away from the neck, giving Sheeran’s fretting hand much more room to navigate the guitar’s fretboard.

Guitar scientist Charlie Wicks from the University of York helped analyze the Sheeran model’s unique design. He remarked, “The neck-body geometry of the Lowden chambered model has clearly been designed with virtuosity in mind. It has exceptional playability.”

Ed’s Distinctive Playing Style

Of course, Sheeran’s exceptional playability has as much to do with his skills as his guitars. His percussive style of guitar playing that mixes in rhythmic slapping, tapping, and picking patterns produces a full band-like sound from just one guitar.

Sheeran’s guitar hero and biggest influence is another famous percussive acoustic guitarist, Eric Roche from the British folk band Nizlopi. Sheeran has said, “Eric Roche is pretty much the reason I started playing guitar.” Sheeran even covered Nizlopi’s hit song “The JCB Song” when he was just starting out gigging around pubs.

Other than Eric Roche and Eric Clapton, Sheeran’s melodic style has been shaped by influences like Damien Rice, Van Morrison, and John Martyn. And of course, like many of his peers, Sheeran greatly admires the musical genius of Paul Simon.

Sheeran’s Guitar Goes Worldwide

Ever since his debut album + was released in 2011, Ed Sheeran’s stock has risen meteorically worldwide. His latest albums ÷ and = have cemented his standing as a legitimate global superstar and leading guitar slinger in the world of pop.

Sheeran’s one-man show live performances in which he builds layers of vocals, percussion, and guitar parts using just his loop pedal and guitar have become a sight to behold. His ability to keep audiences engaged and entertained with such simple gear is a testament to his songwriting skills and sheer musical talents.

At huge festival gigs like the Glastonbury Festival, audiences of tens of thousands can be seen waving their mobile phones and singing along to Sheeran’s acoustic ballads and folk-pop anthems. His 2022 worldwide tour which stopped in places like Ireland, Germany, Denmark, and Australia has cemented his status as a musical force from the most humble beginnings.

After growing up in the small town of Framlingham, who could have imagined Ed Sheeran and his battered old acoustic guitar would become such a worldwide phenomenon? By fusing pop melodies, folk strumming, hip-hop production, and looping techniques, Sheeran has created a unique musical style that is both rooted in tradition and distinctly modern.

Signature Guitars and Continued Evolution

In recognition of his talents and influence, Ed Sheeran now has several signature guitar models endorsed by top brands like Martin and Sheeran by Lowden. The signature models aim to capture the tone and feel of Sheeran’s well-traveled guitars that audiences around the globe have come to recognize.

The Martin Ed Sheeran Divide Signature Edition features a complementary tonewood combination of a solid Sitka spruce top paired with Indian rosewood back and sides. It has mother-of-pearl inlays along its ebony fingerboard including a custom mustache and moon-phase inlays.

Lowden’s “Sheeran by Lowden” models are direct recreations of Ed’s own Lowden guitars, featuring the distinctive body shape and neck joint that allows his fretting hand to venture into the highest registers of the fretboard.

At only 32 years old, it’s clear Ed Sheeran has a long musical path ahead. How his guitar style will continue to evolve remains to be seen. But it’s safe to say he’ll remain utterly dedicated to his craft and constantly experimenting and pushing the boundaries of what one person can create with a voice and guitar.

So while some artists may dazzle audiences with guitar tricks and flashy techniques, Ed Sheeran will likely continue captivating millions with his honest, personal songwriting and rhythmic, one-of-a-kind guitar playing. His is a sound that has made the acoustic guitar feel utterly modern and resonant in a way that may shape generations of future songwriters.

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