Stillhouse Junkies hail from Durango, Colorado. The band features Alissa Wolf on vocals and fiddle; Cody Tinnin on vocals, upright bass, and clawhammer banjo; and Fred Kosak on vocals, guitar, and mandolin. Their intricate arrangements and rhythmic grooves incorporate elements of blues, funk, swing, and bluegrass, and the band is a two-time finalist in the Telluride Bluegrass band contest.
In this interview, we’ll learn more about Fred, what he looks for in an acoustic guitar, his history with Yamaha guitars, and the story behind his custom Yamaha FG guitar built by Master Luthier Andrew Enns from the Yamaha Guitar Development custom shop.
“I love that it retains some of the classic Yamaha design features while breaking new ground as a world-class bluegrass guitar. And I love the set of wood that Andrew found for the back and sides; what a spectacular set of Madagascar rosewood! It goes above and beyond anything I could’ve imagined.”
Fred Kosak has been musically active since first taking up the guitar at age 15. Over his 12 years as a professional musician, he has played in numerous ensembles of varying styles and instrumentations, ranging from funk cover bands to intimate acoustic duets. Over the past 15 years, Fred has played mandolin and guitar with numerous New England and Colorado-based roots musicians and acts such as Billy Wylder, Three Tall Pines, Acousticana, Creek River String Band, Ethan Robbins (Cold Chocolate), Greg Lizst (Crooked Still), Zach Hickman (Josh Ritter), the Professors of Bluegrass from Yale University, the Badly Bent, and more.
What are the elements of a great acoustic guitar?
A great guitar is a subjective thing and has a lot to do with the player’s style and goals. I play a lot of pretty aggressive, hard-driving rhythm and lead in my band, Stillhouse Junkies, and I need an instrument with good note separation, clarity, and punchiness that also growls like an electric when you dig in. I’m a rosewood fan for that reason—no matter how hard I play, the guitar is right there with me. It almost challenges me to find its limit. I like a heavily built, simply adorned instrument that relies on the natural grain of the wood and some simple contrasting appointments to catch the eye. Unassuming, quietly confident—it makes all the statement it needs to when it’s played. Finally, I need something that I can rely on when playing 20+ shows a month on the road, so I look for an instrument that was designed and built with regular wear-and-tear and heavy use in mind. That means premium tuners, fretwire, truss rod assembly, and solid construction throughout. I can step on stage every night knowing that the guitar will deliver when I need it to.
Have you had any previous experiences with Yamaha guitars?
Some of the best acoustic guitars I’ve ever played have been OM-size Yamahas from the ‘70s. I’ve run into several of them that I was blown away by in terms of tone and mojo. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, their owners were never much interested in selling, or I’d probably have a couple in my possession!
How did you collaborate with Andrew on the guitar’s design?
Andrew sent me an early mahogany prototype to get a general read on my impressions and needs. I gave him my feedback and we talked through an extensive list of specs and details including tone, neck profile, fingerboard radius, inlays, and, of course, tonewoods. We did a video call where I was able to look at some sets of wood he had in the shop and choose my favorites. We talked quite a bit about my playing style and ideal sound/feel for a stage instrument. Andrew sent me updates throughout the whole build process, so I felt like I was involved from beginning to end.
What were your first impressions of your custom Yamaha acoustic?
My first impression of this guitar was that it’s an exceptional piece of craftsmanship that feels built for me as a player in both style and appearance—exactly what you hope for in a custom instrument! I love the subtle inlay details, binding, rosette, headstock profile, and bridge shape. I love that it retains some of the classic Yamaha design features while breaking new ground as a world-class bluegrass guitar. And I love the set of wood that Andrew found for the back and sides—what a spectacular set of Madagascar rosewood! It goes above and beyond anything I could’ve imagined.
What are your impressions of the guitar now that you’ve been playing it for a few months?
Well, I’ve definitely put some playing and performing hours in since I got the guitar back in the early summer. It has become part of our busy schedule of rehearsing and gigging, and we’ve just finished a 4000-mile, two-week tour of the Pacific Northwest, Idaho, Montana, and Utah. It got thrown right into the deep end! It felt like a natural fit from the first time I ever played it with the band. It has adapted to its new desert surroundings here in Durango, CO without anything budging, always a sign of a well-built instrument. It has a different voice from my other main guitar and has brought some new musical ideas out of me as the two of us have bonded over the course of the past few months. I’m excited to see what it becomes as it breaks in and further develops its voice!
Learn more about Stillhouse Junkies: https://stillhousejunkies.com/
Read more about YGD Custom Acoustic Guitars with Yamaha Acoustic Guitar builder Andrew Enns: https://yamahaguitardevelopment.com/node/227