Edwin McCain may be best known for his 1997 smash "I'll Be," but his fans are quick to point out there's more to the South Carolina singer/songwriter than such delicate ballads. McCain's latest Lava/Atlantic release proves their point: Messenger is an eclectic collection that leaps from immaculately crafted acoustic numbers to full-bore rock anthems.

McCain's acoustic rhythm style is as powerful and dynamic as his songwriting. He's no soft-touch strummer. "I bang the guitar hard," he chuckles.

McCain's six-string sidekick used to be a Yamaha APX6. "I played it for five years on the road, and it was absolutely the most indestructible thing ever," he says. But Edwin recently presented that guitar as a tribute gift to his South Carolina pals, Hootie & the Blowfish, and it now hangs in their office.

McCain's latest Yamaha acoustic is a CJ32, a jumbo-sized model built to withstand a powerful attack. "A lot of guitars get overwhelmed when you play them aggressively and their intonation gets kind of weird," notes Edwin. "But the Yamaha definitely holds its tuning and always maintains a nice midrange. It's such a sturdy, well-made, beautiful guitar." Until recently the CJ32 was available only as a high-end custom order. But thanks in part to McCain's enthusiasm, Yamaha will launch a handcrafted production model at Winter NAMM 2001.

Onstage, McCain usually combines the output of the guitar's built-in piezo electric pickup with a miked sound. The direct signal goes through a preamp and gets a touch of compression and reverb before reaching the mixing board. But McCain says he sometimes dispenses with electronics altogether: "I've played a couple of small theaters where I've used no amplification at all, just me and the CJ32 and it's been great. It's a challenge, but it's such a great, natural way of communicating music to people."

McCain has yet to try the CJ32 in the studio. "I didn't get it 'till after we finished Messenger, so you're not hearing it there," he explains. "But I'm definitely going to mic it up for the next album."

That's the plan, anyway. But first he must pry the guitar away from his musician dad, Watt McCain. "I loaned it to him, and he's just freaked out over it," laughs Edwin. "He plays it every week in church. Now I don't know if I'm ever going to get it back."