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NORMAN BLAKE | MILK CARTON KIDS | DWIGHT YOAKAM | SPIRIT FAMILY REUNION

JULY 2015 | ACOUSTICGUITAR.COM | 25TH ANNIVERSARY YEAR

KAKI KING ON THE REALM BETWEEN GUITAR & PLAYER

GUITAR LUST COLLECTORS, HOARDERS & G.A.S. SUFFERERS STRUT THEIR STUFF NASHVILLE GUITAR-TECH MAPLE BYRNE’S STASH NEW GUITARS RIVERSONG SIMON & PATRICK TANGLEWOOD ANDY POWERS REINVIGORATING TAYLOR GUITARS

TOM PAXTON Susie Most of All BOB DYLAN Black Jack Davey RON JACKSON Londonderry Air

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CONTENTS

Emmylou Harris guitar tech and avid collector Maple Byrne goes by the name of Maple on account of his affinity for the bright-sounding tonewood. P. 36

Features 22 Guitar Evolution Kaki King’s bold new album, The Neck Is a Bridge to the Body By Pat Moran

26 Status Quo Milk Carton Kids stick to the tried-and-true on new album By Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

30 New Stories, Old Ways Norman Blake pays tribute to a vanishing era By Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

Special Focus Guitar Acquisition Syndrome 36 The Collector Maple Byrne cares for Emmylou’s guitars . . . and more than a few of his own

Miscellany 10 From the Home Office 13 Opening Act 85 Ad Index 86 Final Note

By Adam Perlmutter

42 Dream a Little Dream AG readers reveal the guitars they’d most like to own if money were no object

July 2015 Volume 26, No. 1, Issue 271 On the Cover Kaki King Photographer Brendan Shanley

AcousticGuitar.com 5

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CONTENTS

A Taylor 814ce, recently revoiced by Andy Powers, p. 70

NEWS 15 The Beat The Spirit Family Reunion spread the joy of playing; T Bone Burnett produces Striking Matches; an anti-fracking compilation 20 News Spotlight Dwight Yoakam: Guitars, heartbreak, etc., etc. PLAY 52 Basics Using strumming dynamics to bring songs to life 53 Here’s How Open-G tuning is great for more than blues 54 Weekly Workout Learn the subtle intricacies of single-chord grooves Songs to Play 58 Susie Most of All New music from folk legend Tom Paxton 60 Black Jack Davey An ageless English folk tale 62 Londonderry Air Also known as “Danny Boy”

AG TRADE 67 Shop Talk Alembic sets sights on acoustic guitar market; Traveling Guitar Foundation brings music to schools; Gibson acquires Harmony Central 70 Makers & Shakers Andy Powers is helping to reinvigorate Taylor Guitars 72 Review: Riversong Tradition Canadian Deluxe Flawless craftsmanship, impressive playability, bold design 74 Review: Simon & Patrick Showcase Rosewood Concert Hall A stage-ready instrument easy on the eyes, ears, and wallet 76 Review: Tanglewood Java TWJP E An appealing and affordable parlor-size guitar 78 Guitar Guru Does wood-grain orientation really matter? 80 Great Acoustics Santa Cruz’s stunning No. 10,000 MIXED MEDIA 82 Playlist Tallest Man on Earth expands his sound on Dark Bird Is Home; also, the Gibson Brothers’ Brotherhood, Ross Hammond’s Flight, and Sugarcane Jane’s debut, Dirt Road’s End AcousticGuitar.com 7

Tom Paxton

In the Studio: Tom Paxton Enjoy a recent Acoustic Guitar Session episode with singer-songwriter Tom Paxton and watch him play “Susie Most of All”—the music for that light-hearted blues song can be found on page 58. And visit AcousticGuitar.com/Sessions to check out interviews with and performances by Richard Thompson, Ani DeFranco, Seth Avett, Peter Rowan, Della Mae, Bruce Cockburn, Valerie June, Julian Lage, Eliza Gilkyson, Preston Reed, and many others. STAY CONNECTED Sign up for our free Acoustic Guitar Notes e-newsletter and get the latest news, stories, and acoustic guitar videos in your inbox. Thousands of your fellow guitarists are reading this content every day—so don’t miss out, join them today: acousticguitar.com DON’T MISS OUT ON DEALS Every Friday we post a new special sale, check out what’s on sale this week at AcousticGuitar.com/Deals. Recent offerings include the Rhythm Guitar Essentials book, the complete Blues Guitar Basics video guide, and a lesson on modern bluegrass technique—all at low, low prices! 8 July 2015

JOEY LUSTERMAN

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FROM THE HOME OFFICE AcousticGuitar.com • AcousticGuitarU.com

CONTENT DEVELOPMENT Editorial Director & Editor Greg Cahill Editor at Large Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers Managing Editor Blair Jackson Senior Editor Marc Greilsamer Associate Editor Whitney Phaneuf Senior Designer Brad Amorosino Production Manager Hugh O’Connor Contributing Editors Kenny Berkowitz, Andrew DuBrock, Teja Gerken, David Hamburger, Steve James, Orville Johnson, Richard Johnston, Sean McGowan, Jane Miller, Greg Olwell, Adam Perlmutter, Rick Turner, Doug Young

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met Maple Byrne a couple of years ago at a Fourth of July party hosted by multi-instrumentalist and guitar collector Lowell Levinger, known to many as Banana of the Youngbloods. It was a relaxing day of barbecue, conversation, and bluegrass jams on the back porch, with a jaw-dropping view of Inverness Ridge in Marin County, California, the inspiration for Jesse Colin Young’s 1973 song “Ridgetop.” Byrne (who adopted his first name in homage to his favorite tonewood) is an affable, animated man with an encyclopedic knowledge of guitars. He was in town in his capacity as guitar tech and road manager for Emmylou Harris, who the night before had performed at a fundraiser for rescue dogs at the nearby Lagunitas Brewing Co.’s amphitheater. Now, on a laid-back national holiday, sated with beverages and food and seated around the long wooden table in Levinger’s rustic kitchen, it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to Gibson J-200’s, a staple of both Emmylou and Byrne. I recalled that conversation and tapped him for a profile in our special section on Collectors,

Hoarders & G.A.S. Sufferers—I suspect that most of you fall somewhere within one of those designations (I know that I do). Recently, AG paid a visit to Byrne at his Nashville home to photograph some of his personal favorites from his vast guitar collection. One of my favorites is the guitar featured on the section opener on page 35—it’s the same 1920 Martin 1-21 that then–Greenwich Village folk musician Bruce Langhorne played on many 1960s sessions (it used to have a P-90 pickup and was used to record Bob Dylan’s proto-electric single “MixedUp Confusion”). Elsewhere in that section, you’ll find a feature in which Steve Earle, Alvin Youngblood Hart, John Oates, Del Rey, and Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange, along with more than a dozen of our treasured readers, talk about their favorite guitars . . . and some of the ones that got away. I can think of at least a couple of potential acquisitions on my own list . . . but that’s for another time. Share your thoughts on our Facebook page. Play on. —Greg Cahill

DISTRIBUTED to the music trade by Hal Leonard Corporation (800-554-0626, [email protected]) GOT A QUESTION or comment for Acoustic Guitar’s editors? Send e-mail to [email protected]

MARKETING SERVICES Sales Director Cindi Kazarian Sales Managers Ref Sanchez, Greg Sutton Marketing Services Manager Tanya Gonzalez

Maple Byrne’s Oscar Schmidt Stellas, left to right ’20s Sovereign Grand Concert (all koa), ’18 Standard (maple), ’30s Grand Concert 12-string (mahogany), ’20s Sovereign Concert Tenor (mahogany)

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Interactive Services Director Lyzy Lusterman Creative Content Manager Joey Lusterman Creative Content Coordinator Tricia Baxter Community Relations Coordinator Courtnee Rhone Single Copy Sales Consultant Tom Ferruggia

Stringletter.com Publisher David A. Lusterman

FINANCE & OPERATIONS Director of Accounting & Operations Anita Evans Bookkeeper Geneva Thompson Accounting Associate Raymund Baldoza Office Assistant Leslie Perry General Inquiries [email protected] Customer Service [email protected] Advertising Inquiries [email protected] Send e-mail to individuals in this format: [email protected] Front Desk (510) 215-0010 Customer Service (800) 827-6837 General Fax (510) 231-5824 Secure Fax (510) 231-8964

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all your subscription needs at our online Subscriber Services page (AcousticGuitar.com/Subscriber-Services): pay your bill, renew, give a gift, change your address, and get answers to any questions you may have about

10 July 2015

Except where otherwise noted, all contents ©2015 Stringletter, David A. Lusterman, Publisher.

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AcousticGuitar.com 13

PRS Acoustics A Culture of Quality

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16

Eco-Conscious Artists & activists sing out against fracking

19

American Epic PBS-TV series spotlights origins of roots music

20

NEWS

News Spotlight Dwight Yoakam on his love of guitars etc., etc.

True Believer: Nick Panken

THE BEAT

The Joy of Music

Hard strumming and passion drive the religious fervor of Spirit Family Reunion’s latest album BY GREG CAHILL

ick Panken of the string band Spirit Family Reunion has a confession. “I’m a really bad guitar owner,” he says with a laugh, during a phone call from his home in Brooklyn, New York. The conversation has turned to the effect his hard-driving rhythm work has on his acoustic guitars. “I once got a really nice old Martin 000, from the ’60s,” he recalls. “It was the first really nice guitar I ever bought. I just

N

completely destroyed it, though it turned out that it was in crummy shape when I bought it. I ended up swapping it out for a Gibson LG-1, which I still have and use a lot—you can see it in our videos. It’s kind of boxy sounding. “Then, a couple of years ago, I bought a really nice Martin 000-18 Golden Era, based off of 1937 specs. It sounded really nice. I used it on tour for a couple of years until I realized

that I just beat up guitars too much. These days, on the road, I don’t want to play an expensive guitar that might end up breaking. That’s led me to the red label Yamaha [made in Japan], which is really durable. It sounds just great with my old DeArmond pickup.” Panken puts his strumming to good effect on the string band’s new album, Hands Together, the follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2013 CD, No Separation. The band’s uplifting songs, which have all the earmarks of a Sunday prayer revival meeting, can be heard right from the album’s life-affirming opener, “Wake Up, Rounder,” an upbeat hymnal that celebrates the rising sun and the sheer joy of creation. “Musically it came from a very banjofriendly riff I found on my guitar,” Panken says of the song. “And then the spine of the chorus came from the fact that the sun comes up in the morning and literally all that you have to do is look out the window and it’s there. Sometimes it takes a whole season of depression to get to that place, but ultimately, with any luck, you get to this place where all you have to do is look out the window and there’s the sun shining in. “And it’s all good.” That joy permeates many of the Spirit Family Reunion’s other reveries as well. “It comes from the joy of playing music and the joy of playing music together,” he says of the band’s collective passion for old-timey music. “I mean, it wasn’t our job when we started this—we started this for fun as a summer release. We were all working other jobs, but we’d get together and say, ‘Hey, it’s a beautiful day, let’s go play music in the park!’” On a lark, Spirit Family Reunion started to fill in whenever a local club needed a band. “It would almost be like, ‘Let’s be contrary to the other bands that were taking themselves quite seriously,’” Panken says. “We wouldn’t even use microphones. We’d just go and play to see how much we could carry that sound out of pure joy.” These days, maintaining that spirit is part of the challenge of being an established touring band that often spends eight hours or more at a stretch cooped up together in a van. So what’s the band’s strategy? “While we tour more regularly now, we still try not to take ourselves too seriously,” Panken says. “We don’t want to suck the joy out of it.” AG AcousticGuitar.com 15

NEWS SPOTLIGHT

WHAT THE FRACK? Blues guitarist and multiple Grammy-winning pop singer Bonnie Raitt has called it “one of the most critical environmental issues of our time.” Now, Raitt, a longtime opponent of nuclear power, has joined a roster of musicians protesting the controversial use of so-called fracking to extract oil from shale deposits, a practice that environmentalists contend pollutes groundwater. Buy This Fracking Album, produced by ex-Occupy Wall Street protester Jason Samel, also features tracks by the John Butler Trio, Michael Franti, and the Indigo Girls, among others. “It’s not an anti-mining thing,” Butler says, “it’s just a common sense thing that you don’t poison your own water. It’s our responsibility as people to look after our own country.” The compilation includes the late Pete Seeger’s previously unreleased live rendition of Woody Guthrie’s anthem “This Land Is Your Land.” Also included is the unreleased acoustic version of Franti’s “Earth from Outer Space.” Says the singer, songwriter, and activist: “I wrote this song as a reminder of the importance of all of us being stewards of our planet and keeping it healthy for the next generations.” Proceeds will benefit Marcellus Protest, a non-profit organization in Pennsylvania, and other grassroots organizations around the country working to ban fracking. Food & Water Watch is donating its share of the proceeds to a fund that the album’s producers will distribute to grassroots organizations. —G.C.

16 July 2015

STRIKING MATCHES ABLAZE AT LAST Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis moved to Nashville to be guitarists, meeting at Belmont University in a guitar seminar class where they were randomly paired up by their professor. They formed Striking Matches— with each on lead acoustic guitar and vocals— but paid the bills playing in other people’s bands and writing songs for the hit show Nashville. Six years later, the duo has finally released its first full-length album, Nothing But the Silence, and say it was absolutely worth the wait. “It took us a while,” explains Davis, in a phone interview that Zimmermann also joined. “It feels like a long time, but it’s all counted for a reason.” Their patience paid off when T Bone Burnett—a musical hero to Zimmermann and

Davis—signed on to produce their debut album for the newly revived I.R.S. Nashville imprint. “He was such a dream to work with. He’s a nurturing guy in the studio. He brings out the best in you,” says Davis, adding that they recorded at the House of Blues Studios in Nashville. To capture the duo’s gritty and frenetic live sound, Burnett miked an amp and recorded the sound of their acoustic guitars and vocals coming through it, blending it with a traditionally miked version. Burnett opted to record on reel-to-reel two-inch tape, as he had done with Tom Waits and for the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, and loaned Zimmermann a Gibson Kalamazoo flattop, all of which add to the album’s classic country charm. —Whitney Phaneuf

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THE HARMONY OF LONGEVITY AND STABILITY INTRODUCING EXP-COATED SETS WITH NY STEEL D’Addario created EXP-coated acoustic strings so that the quintessential tone of our 80/20 or Phosphor Bronze sets could last longer, yet still maintain the sound musicians love. Today, we’re introducing NY Steel to our EXP sets, a proprietary material engineered for unprecedented strength and pitch stability. Coated to last longer. Engineered strong to stay in tune better.

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A still from American Epic

THEY CALL IT AMERICAN MUSIC . . .

STACIE HUCKEBA

T Bone Burnett, Robert Redford, and Jack White are teaming up to present American Epic, a three-part historical documentary on the music industry in the 1920s and ’30s airing this fall on PBS and BBC Arena, according to an announcement on Third Man Records’ website. The three-part historical documentary follows the trail of record company talent scouts from the late 1920s as they toured America with recording machines to capture the raw expression of an emerging culture whose recordings would spur the evolution of the blues, country, gospel, Hawaiian, Cajun, and folk music. Bernard MacMahon will direct American Epic. The American Epic project will include companion music releases of archival recordings featuring newly restored original 1920s and 1930s recordings. The American Epic Sessions contemporary performance recordings, and a deluxe vinyl box set, will be produced, designed, and released on the Third Man label.

In addition, the filmmakers have re-assembled a period recording machine to replicate the sound of America’s seminal 1920s field recordings. The label is using that device to record top American artists straight to wax, using all the original microphones, amplifiers, and other equipment from that era. This is the first time that any performer has been able to use this machinery for over 80 years, according to a statement by Third Man. The sessions, produced by White and Burnett, will feature performances by Alabama Shakes, the Americans, the Avett Brothers, Beck, Frank Fairfield, Ana Gabriel, Rhiannon Giddens, Merle Haggard, Bobby Ingano, Elton John, Auntie Geri Kuhia, Pokey LaFarge, Bettye LaVette, Los Lobos, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Taj Mahal, Steve Martin & Edie Brickell, Fred Martin and the Levite Camp, Ashley Monroe, Nas, Willie Nelson, Charlie Kaleo Oyama, Blind Boy Paxton, and Raphael Saadiq.

Developed over three years of engineering and innovating, NY Steel is a proprietary alloy with unprecedented pitch stability and remarkable strength. First presented to the public in D’Addario NYXL electric guitar strings, this technology has now been added to our coated acoustic sets for the ultimate in tone, strength, and reliability.

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Audrey Auld

PRISON BLUES Tasmania-born singer and songwriter Audrey Auld once recorded the song “Morphine” (a parody of the 1915 novelty hit “Mother”), written by Bonnie Parker, of Bonnie and Clyde fame, while the notorious gangster was incarcerated in her younger days. Now, Auld has released Hey Warden, an eight-track album that includes five songs of redemption co-written with San Quentin inmates. A video for the song

“I Am Not What I Have Done,” which features several inmates walking around a circular path of the prison’s Peace Garden (it’s shaped like a peace sign), can be seen on Auld’s website. At press time, Auld planned to return to the prison in April to perform a concert in the main yard under the auspices of Bread and Roses, the organization founded by the late folksinger Mimi Fariña. —G.C.

ALWAYS TRUE daddario.com/alwaystrue

NEWS SPOTLIGHT

Guitars, Heartbreak, Etc., Etc.

Dwight Yoakam: Gibson man

Dwight Yoakam rocks on his new album, but his acoustic guitar is always close at hand BY GREG CAHILL

hile his latest album, Second Hand Heart (Reprise), marks a return to form to the twangier side of Dwight Yoakam, there are plenty of acoustic guitars on display—for example, the studio version of “The Big Time” has, what Yoakam calls, “Beatlesque, rockabilly slap acoustic,” and the ballad “Dreams of Clay” is predominantly acoustic. In fact, speaking to Yoakam on the phone from his home in LA, the conversation turns quickly to acoustic guitars. “For the most part, I recorded with a Gibson J-200 that I’ve been using for the last two albums,” he explains. “Throughout a lot of my career, I mostly used Martins—D-28 was the guitar of choice for me—but I’ve started to explore the Gibson sound, which is a tighter, more midrange sound, if you will.” Actually, Yoakam’s association with Gibson goes back 15 years. In 2000, the guitar manufacturer issued a Yoakam signature model, a J-200 junior model branded the Y2K. “That was

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20 July 2015

based on the Everlys’ signature guitar,” he says, “the J-185, which had a string-though bridge and a mustache pickguard. I did a version of that [the J-185], which we used on a tribute to Carl Perkins. Then in ’02, we did the Honky Tonk Deuce, which was a Southern Jumbo but with round shoulders and rosewood back and sides. I started using that guitar on [2005’s] Blame the Vain. I also used a Gibson Dove on that album. So by the time I recorded [2013’s] 3 Pears, all of the acoustics were Gibsons.” And while he gave it a twangy, cowpunk spin, the new album finds this Kentucky native tapping his country roots with a cover of “Man of Constant Sorrow,” written in 1913 by the blind Kentucky fiddler Dick Burnett. Yoakam likens his cowpunk-influenced rendition to “Bill Monroe colliding with the Ramones.” But in some ways, the new album grew out of the retro-billy vibe of the title track, which Yoakam originally had conceived as part

‘I let the songs lead me wherever they’re going to lead me.’

of the last album, 3 Pears. However, he cautions against thinking these songs, so loaded with heartache, are autobiographical. “‘Second Hand Heart’ really summarizes the growing intent, the immediacy of this record,” he says. “I let the songs lead me wherever they’re going to lead me and there’s not always a literalness about my personal life in the songs, but every aspect of life informs what I do as a writer. So there are moments that are sort of the sonic breeze blowing back the curtain in the window into my own life, but it’s not a literal journal.” AG

22 July 2015

GUITAR EVOLUTION WITH THE NECK IS A BRIDGE TO THE BODY, KAKI KING EXPLORES THE EVER-CHANGING RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INSTRUMENT AND PLAYER

SHERVIN LAINEZ

BY PAT MORAN

AcousticGuitar.com 23

“I

approach acoustic guitar the way Native Americans approached the buffalo,” Kaki King says. “I try to use every part of the animal.” In 30-plus years of playing, 35-year-old King has done just that—employing every piece of her instrument for double-handed fingerstyle melodies and labyrinths of percussive tapping. Now, with her current live show, The Neck Is a Bridge to the Body, King extends the reach and range of acoustic-guitar performance to components beyond the instrument, including a computer interface that allows her guitar to trigger visual events, and digital projections that cast luminous visions onto her signature Ovation Adamas sixstring. It’s an interactive multimedia experience that deliberately blurs the lines between sound and vision, and musician and instrument. “The title, The Neck Is a Bridge to the Body, represents parts of the guitar as well as parts of the human body,” King says, during a phone interview. “It raises the question of where do I end and where does the guitar begin.” King’s notion of her guitar as an extension of herself inspired her show’s concept of the guitar as “instrument with a capital I,” a tool that changes its user. Though six steel strings have changed little since Christian Frederick Martin devised stronger bracing in the 1840s, guitars have altered people phenomenally, King says. “They’ve changed the course of 20th-century culture. The guitar has all the creative energy inside of it. The player is simply the channel. My role as facilitator is to unlock the instrument’s secrets and show you its power.” Such a heady concept calls for an innovative approach to performance. King’s strategy is to take the focus off herself as guitar heroine, instead casting the musician as a character in the show. Though the visuals are complex and multilayered, the guitarist onstage is presented with stark simplicity. Dressed head to toe in white, King plays seated behind her stationary guitar. The Ovation is mounted on two mic stands and is also painted white, turning it into a tabula rasa for textures and visions. Specific moving images like Chinatown and the Brooklyn Bridge, and impressionistic lighting cues—“swirling cosmic soup,” says King—are projected onscreen behind her and onto her guitar. King’s playing ranges from ambient washes and drones, to intricate fingerstyle, to effectsheavy pedal work. (Her Strymon BigSky Reverb gets a vigorous workout.) For much of the performance, she plays unaccompanied in her signature drop-D tuning, but at several points she improvises to pre-recorded backing tracks. 24 July 2015

‘THE GUITAR HAS BEEN MY ADVERSARY AS WELL AS MY BEST FRIEND. IT’S SHAPED MY LIFE ENTIRELY AND I OWE IT EVERYTHING I HAVE.’

The show, which has included King teaming up onstage with the string quartet ETHEL, resembles performance art, but touches of levity buoy the presentation while staying true the theme of the guitar as a living entity. Kaki’s guitar even talks. “Subtitles are displayed on the guitar. That gets the audience’s attention while I play random notes with a wah-wah pedal—‘Wah wah wah’—like the adults in [those] Charlie Brown [animated TV specials],” King says. The guitar tells its life story, including its awkward adolescence and how it got rejected and beaten up. While the tale unfolds, a short film, one of three produced by King, is screened. “All the characters in the movie are guitars,” she says. “Roughneck guitars with missing strings bully my guitar. There’s the cute guitar it tries to flirt with but totally fails. There’s an entire family of guitars where grandmother is an old harp guitar. “It’s very surreal.”

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he Neck Is a Bridge to the Body, which debuted in 2014 at Brooklyn’s BRIC Theater, was not originally designed as to be such a mind-blowing extravaganza. “At first, I just wanted to add lighting design to my show,” King says. Research led her to projection mapping, digital technology that turns irregularly shaped objects into display surfaces. Partnering with Glowing Pictures, a “visual-experience” company that “developed tech and artistic designs for the show,” King experimented with deploying projection-mapping images and video onto her Ovation while playing it at the same time. For those transcendent images to stick to the guitar, the Ovation had to be mounted on a stand light enough to move from venue to venue. The solution, says King, was “ridiculously basic.” “One mic stand runs through a hole drilled in the headstock, while the other goes through the hole where the strap block screws into the body of the guitar. Fortunately with Ovation you can remove the back of the guitar, so it makes the setup easier.” But playing seated behind an immobile guitar presented challenges. “I can’t be as physically connected as I’d like to be,” she says. “I can’t lean back and I can’t stretch my arms.” White sunglasses, added to King’s stage attire to protect her eyes from being blinded by projections, leave her in the dark. Though these playing conditions leave King stiff and achy after each performance, she stresses that the

show is proving easier to play than she thought it would be. Even a miscommunication that left the Ovation’s frets painted white proved to be only a minor inconvenience. “At first [the guitar] sounded a little deader, a little thicker,” she explains. “But now the paint has worn away and it sounds like a normal guitar again.” The process of collaborating with visual artists to compose the show also proved easier than King anticipated. In fact, she considers it an enriching experience. “I wrote the script, the outline and concept of the lighting and visual elements that accompany each song,” she says. “I then sent my basic guitar demos to Glowing Pictures, and they responded with this wealth of visual information. “I was submitting ideas to people who were giving me back input from another medium, which then re-inspired what I was doing with the music. That has never happened to me before. “It was very magical.” The give and take between sound and vision continues onstage, with King’s guitar wired to affect the projections. “We have no soundman,” she says. “Everything is coming from me, so my guitar signal is dry when it hits the computer.” On several numbers, software converts that signal to MIDI, which triggers visual events. “If I play a specific note it will trigger a specific effect, such as a spiral visual or a color wash,” she explains, “and each time that effect will be controlled by that note. “On other pieces we’re using decibel level as a parameter, so the louder I play, the lighter a movie clip behind me appears.” Audio/visual improvisation in the show is not just limited to King. “My video editor and engineer Beth Wexler is playing along with me. When I do something musically, she reacts visually. I’ll see the visual and respond musically. We’re performing together as a duet.”

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ing says that she’s particularly eager to explore those parts of the show where the visual and musical elements play off each other in multi-media improvisation. Yet whatever technology King embraces, she’s certain the guitar will remain central to her artistic evolution. “The guitar has been my adversary as well as my best friend. It’s shaped my life entirely and I owe it everything I have,” she says. “It would be difficult to understand my own identity if guitars were suddenly wiped off the face of the earth.” AG AcousticGuitar.com 25

STATUS QUO THE MILK CARTON KIDS STICK TO THE TRIED-AND-TRUE ON NEW ALBUM

BY JEFFREY PEPPER RODGERS

26 July 2015

WHAT THE MILK CARTON KIDS PLAY

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n the record business, a new release usually comes with some kind of news hook—a hotshot producer, a famous guest artist, a surprising stylistic direction or left-field cover. You’ll find no such novelty on Monterey (Anti-), by the Milk Carton Kids. The instrumentation on Monterey is exactly the same as on all their albums: It’s just Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale singing and playing acoustic guitars, which is all they do onstage, too. On Monterey, they are not only playing the same instruments—a Gibson J-45 and a Martin 0-15—as when I interviewed them for Acoustic Guitar in 2013, but, Ryan says, “I have the same strings on my guitar.” This simple, consistent, no-frills and noflash approach to the music has paid off beautifully for the Milk Carton Kids, allowing them to focus not on reinventing but on refining what they do—as songwriting partners, singers, and guitarists. In all these respects, Monterey marks a real step forward for the young duo. In their understated way, Ryan and Pattengale have made quite an impact on the folk world and beyond since they started playing together in Los Angeles in 2011. Their first two albums, Retrospect and Prologue, available on their website for free, have together been downloaded more than 550,000 times. Their 2013 album The Ash and Clay was nominated for a Grammy, and last year the Americana Music Association named them the best duo. They performed at the T Bone Burnett–produced “Another Day, Another Time” concert, celebrating the music of Inside Llewyn Davis, along with a who’s who of the latest folk revival (that recording is newly released on Nonesuch Records). They recorded with Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle on the Johnny Cash tribute Bitter Tears. They performed collaborative shows with the rising young songwriter/ multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz and with the renowned songwriter/producer Joe Henry. And all along the way, Ryan and Pattengale played hundreds of concerts at clubs and theaters around the country, winning over multi-generational audiences with their luminous harmonies, nuanced guitar work, and disarming stage banter. Like Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, the Milk Carton Kids have made it big by keeping it small.

ENGINEERING FREEDOM From the beginning, Ryan and Pattengale have considered their duo to be a live act, first and foremost. From their perspective, the most notable development on the self-produced Monterey is that it captures the looser feel of their concerts, thanks to an unusual approach to the recording process. Last spring, as they were thinking about a new album and preparing for a 45-show tour, Pattengale realized that they didn’t need much gear to record themselves, and that “these 800seat theaters that we’re playing in sound better than any studio.” So he brought along his mobile recording rig—the same as he used to record the Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge album Avalon (see “Prodigal Sons,” March 2015). “We’d pull into town and I’d set up the studio onstage every morning,” Pattengale recalls. “We’d futz around for three or four hours and then break it down, put one microphone up, and do our show.” Five of the tracks on Monterey come from those theater sessions—they recorded the other six during a few days in the studio in Nashville, where Pattengale now lives. The key was that while they were recording, they didn’t know which takes would wind up on the record. “We never succumbed to the what can be stifling pressure of thinking that this next one has to be the one,” Ryan says. “To be able to engineer this sense of plausible deniability for yourself, where every time you’re doing a performance you think that’s not going to be the one, I really enjoyed that.” In particular, the open-ended recording process encouraged Pattengale to be more adventurous on lead guitar. On his little 0-15, he played gorgeous, searching lines on album tracks like “Asheville Skies,” gently pushing the harmonies over Ryan’s steady fingerstyle rhythms. Ryan calls Pattengale’s playing on Monterey “the most free and unrestrained way he’s ever played on a record. It is something that he usually only achieves in a given night on a tour when everything is going just right, but this time achieved it in every song on the record.”

GUITARS Joey Ryan plays a ’50s Gibson J-45 with old strings of unknown brand, and he keeps it tuned down a step, to D. Lately he’s been playing a custom Romero frailing banjo (by the musicians/ luthiers Pharis and Jason Romero, up in British Columbia), but only privately. “If I ever get good enough to play in public,” he says, “you’ll hear me coming.” Kenneth Pattengale plays a 1954 Martin 0-15 with Martin SP medium strings. He ties a handkerchief down by the nut to reduce the buzz that happens when he capoes up the neck. On a recent tour with Sarah Jarosz, Pattengale played the prototype of a forthcoming 0-sized signature Martin, plus a 1917 Dobro Cyclops, on loan from Jerry Douglas, that belonged to Sonny Boy Williamson. CAPOS Both Pattengale and Ryan use Kyser capos. MICS They have always miked themselves onstage, and since late 2013 they’ve been using a single Edwina condenser mic from Ear Trumpet Labs, with no monitors. Both say that getting rid of separate vocal and guitar mics, and hearing each other from the source rather than from a speaker, has made a huge difference. “We’re taking away yet one more filter between us and our intended audience that I think heretofore has gotten in the way of what we’re trying to communicate,” Pattengale says. “Before it was like trying to talk to somebody in jail through glass on the phone,” Ryan adds, “and now we’ve broken free out of the prison.” PICKS Pattengale uses Fender medium picks, while Ryan plays with his fingers. AcousticGuitar.com 27

THE MILK CARTON KIDS

THE SONGWRITING VOICE The songs themselves show a clear evolution, too. Before they teamed up, both Ryan and Pattengale wrote and performed as solo artists, and when they started collaborating they needed to blend not only their singing voices— which came instinctively and immediately—but their songwriting styles. Pattengale feels that up through The Ash and Clay, they were working out their collective songwriting voice—and in the songs on the new album, they’ve found it. One piece of supporting evidence is the way some of Pattengale’s former bandmates responded when they first heard Monterey. “My old rhythm section, they always delighted in picking out whose song was whose,” Pattengale says. “Their motivation always was trying to be supportive of me still as an individual. They’d go, ‘Oh, I know you wrote that song—that’s a sick song.’ They had spent so much time behind me as a band that they knew what kind of songs I wrote. But when they heard this new one, they called the songs out with the same certainty, but they were dead wrong. That is, for me, evidence that we’ve stepped into our own as a songwriting partnership that is maybe fully empathetic.” Pattengale adds that in the past, he and Ryan might have rejected some of the songs on Monterey that fall pretty far outside the folk idiom, like the delicate waltzes “Deadly Bells” and “Sing, Sparrow, Sing.” These days, they are more apt to add outlier songs like these to their repertoire because, Pattengale says, “We have a much stronger sense of self, which allows us to explore the peripheries of the waters we swim in.” “Sing, Sparrow, Sing,” recorded by Pattengale alone, is the first completely solo performance on a Milk Carton Kids album. When I observe that it sounds like it comes from a piece of 100-year-old sheet music discovered inside an old piano bench, Pattengale says that he was, in fact, aiming to write a “proper classical melody” and get away from the patterns and positions that guitarists typically use. “The main refrain of that song is definitely not more than three notes at a time,” he says. “Most of it is just a two-tone kind of thing that’s playing off the melody. If somebody had to write out the underlying chord chart for that song, I don’t think it exists, and obviously that’s more common of something that one would write on a piano versus a guitar. I feel like the guitar, when you’re talking about our world, is so often seen as literally a support, as big, broad chords.” To which Ryan responds, “I think you should just come clean and admit that we did find that in an old piano bench.” 28 July 2015

‘WE HAVE A MUCH STRONGER SENSE OF SELF, WHICH ALLOWS US TO EXPLORE THE PERIPHERIES OF THE WATERS WE SWIM IN.’ KENNETH PATTENGALE

THE BALANCING ACT In their collaborative writing process, Ryan and Pattengale bring different strengths to the table and strive to balance each other out. With songs originated by Ryan, Pattengale sometimes helps to develop the music—to make it freer and more abstract. “By the time it gets to my plate,” he says, “I’m really interested in deconstructing the music and putting it back together in a different way.” Pattengale adds that in songs that he initiates, Ryan often helps clarify lyrics that are “a little too obtuse.” Ryan sees a sharp contrast in how they approach lyric writing. “Kenneth and I are very different on that front,” he says. “Every song that I ever started is about something. I know what it’s about and what I’m trying to say, and I know at the end of the song whether I’ve said it. I’ve always been a hyper-rational person and also songwriter, and Kenneth is exactly the opposite. He comes from this really intuitive, nonrational, more emotional side.” To Ryan, the intuitive way that Pattengale writes is actually a more powerful artistic tool, and he’s learning to use it more. “When you write the way that he writes, also in my opinion the way Joe Henry writes, it has the effect of giving the listener a more direct experience of the thing that inspired you to write the song,” Ryan says. “Rather than telling the listener what it was, you actually give them the experience.”

Pattengale agrees that Ryan tends to be more direct in his lyrics, but he adds that with most songs, it’s impossible to write lyrics that lay out the topic or story in detail. The song form is so compact, and accommodates so few words, that unless you’re writing dozens of verses in the narrative style of something like a Child ballad, you have to leave stuff out. He says, “The whole point is that you have to rely on the listener to finish the story for you, because there’s actually not enough time to tell the whole story.” Ultimately, regardless of who initiates a song, Ryan and Pattengale’s goal as collaborators is to get every song to the point where they both can embrace it as their own. “I think we’re just trying to write songs that we’ll both feel comfortable singing and playing for the next two years,” Ryan says. “A lot of times, one of us writes the song, but the other one ends up singing the melody and becomes the narrator and the person who has to believe it.” IN THE ASHES For those familiar with the Milk Carton Kids’ past music, it’s intriguing to come across, in the song “Monterey,” the phrase “the ash and clay”—since “The Ash and Clay” was the title track of their previous album. Pattengale actually wrote the song “Monterey” about six years ago, before he met Ryan and long before writing “The Ash and Clay.”

Pattengale found the image of the ash and clay in “Monterey” to be evocative, so eventually he stole it from his own then-unpublished song to write a new song with that title. “I find it totally appropriate to plagiarize oneself,” he says. In a subtle way, the image of the ash and clay suggests a theme running through the new album. Many songs on Monterey seem to describe the emotional aftermath or fallout from some kind of calamity—though they never say exactly what happened. “To me, the ash and clay very clearly refers to the materials that we use to build something new and also the remnants of a destructive catastrophe,” says Ryan. “On The Ash and Clay, there was a much stronger connection to the clay. Whatever the damage done, there was a sense of hope for what we could do coming out of that, where this album feels much more to dwell in the ashes. That’s probably altogether too direct and literal for my bandmate.” In our conversation, Ryan does prove to be more willing than Pattengale to talk directly about the inspirations or intentions behind songs. For instance, with the new song “Freedom,” I share my interpretation of the song: as a reflection on the violence and racial conflicts of Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere. Ryan says he actually started writing “Freedom” several years ago, before Ferguson, as a response to the Newtown school shootings. “The song for me hinges on drawing a connection between the language that we use to talk about freedom and the language that we use to talk about guns,” he says. “They both ring. Freedom rings and shots ring. The degree to which guns in our country are linked, at least rhetorically, to freedom seems to me to be absurd, but there it is right in the very language. We use the same verb.” Pattengale and Ryan worked together to complete the song, and by the time they were done it had become much broader. The connection that I made between “Freedom” and Ferguson makes sense given what’s happening right now, says Ryan, and in ten or 15 years the song might connect to another event or issue in the public consciousness. No matter what you may think a given song on Monterey is about, he says, “You couldn’t possibly be wrong.” Leaving that kind of room for interpretation is very much intentional on the part of the Milk Carton Kids. They don’t want to limit anyone’s experience of the music by dictating how it should be heard. They want people to lean in and listen. “A good song,” says Pattengale, “is big enough where you get to connect to it on your own terms.” AG

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AcousticGuitar.com 29

NEW STORIES OLD WAYS NORMAN BLAKE’S NEW ALBUM PAYS TRIBUTE TO A VANISHING ERA

BY JEFFREY PEPPER RODGERS PHOTOS BY GARY HAMILTON

The evening sun is sinking down in Georgia Across the gravel roads, the red clay, and the pines That old whippoorwill, he’s calling from the hill Of some long-forgotten time

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hese words come from a new song by Norman Blake, titled “Grady Forester’s Store and Cotton Gin,” about a real store just down the dirt road from where he grew up in Sulphur Springs, Georgia. “You know, we didn’t have any telephones, and we didn’t have any electricity,” Blake says of his early years. “The highest-tech thing we 30 July 2015

had was a battery radio that ran on a car battery, and a few old phonograph records on a wind-up phonograph. It was a pretty primitive existence. The railroad was the biggest thing we had, the most excitement. In some ways, I miss the simplicity of those times.” At 77, Blake keeps things pretty simple by modern standards. Still living in the Sulphur Springs area with his wife and music partner, Nancy, he does not have a cell phone or email or even use a computer at all. Central to Blake’s “reality,” as he likes to put it, are vintage guitars, old-time music, and history—all of which figure prominently in his new solo album, Wood, Wire, and Words, his first album of all original songs in more than 30 years. Along with the reminiscences of “Grady Forester’s Store and Cotton Gin,” the album is filled

with stories of the prewar era and back into the 19th century. Yet the songs are all recently written by Blake, from outlaw ballads and steamboat songs to guitar rags. For more than 50 years, Blake has been bringing traditional Southern music to life—as a sideman with Johnny Cash, and session player with Bob Dylan (Nashville Skyline) and John Hartford (Aereo-Plain), and many others; as a flatpicking guitarist (as well as mandolin and Dobro player) who inspired generations of musicians with his rolling, melodic style; as a writer of neo-traditional instrumentals and songs such as “Church Street Blues” and “Ginseng Sullivan”; and as a contributor to such seminal albums as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken and the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.

Wood, Wire, and Words is a natural extension of Blake’s legacy, yet it’s an album that he wasn’t sure he’d ever make, after a mini-stroke in 2012 left him unable to sing. Over the course of a couple of years, his voice gradually came back and he regained his touch on guitar. And then suddenly, in a two-month span, out came the songs on Wood, Wire, and Words, which he recorded picking a 1928 Martin 00-45 and his 000-28B Martin signature model. In a conversation from his Georgia home, he shared these thoughts on creating new songs that complement the traditional music he loves. Which song started off the burst of writing behind the new album? I think the first one that I actually wrote was “The Incident at Condra’s Switch” [about a

1925 robbery and killing of a railroad-station agent]. I’ve always had an interest in railroading, and I wrote that out of a little historical book about local railroading where we live. That was a true happening and I’d never heard of it, and the area where it happened is within 35, 40 miles from home here. I wrote the song about it and that sort of opened the gate, I guess, to write all this other stuff. That song, like others on this album, is so detailed and specific—full of names of towns and stations and such. That’s just a type of song that I seem to write. I always felt like a lot of good writers did that. They really defined what it was. Woody Guthrie didn’t mind putting in dates and places in a lot of his work. That’s what is charming about it in

a way, the fact that you know all about what and where. Are all the other songs on the album based in history as well? Basically so. They have some bearing in fact and history—with the exception of the one my wife and I wrote that’s basically, “Lay down your weapons, there’s a one-way road to glory.” That’s just something we believe in. We don’t consider war to be an option in any sense. So that song is a little different, but the rest of them are pretty much historical. Where do you gather your material? “The Keeper of the Government Light on the River” is from a story in a collection of Harper’s magazine articles, about a black gentleman in the AcousticGuitar.com 31

NORMAN BLAKE

steamboat days. It’s pretty self-explanatory on the record with a little rap, but they’d pay these people to keep the lantern burning, and he made the statement in this article I was reading that he and his wife “was fixed up for life” because he got that $15. And I just thought, boy, considering where $15 goes today, that’s quite a statement. That was in the days when the steamboats were plying the river. Of course, in this case I’m speaking of the Mississippi River, and I make references to Thebes, Illinois. My wife, Nancy, and I have spent time down there—almost bought a house there before we came back home. I wrote a tune years ago, an instrumental mandolin piece, called “Thebes.” There’s a courthouse where Lincoln used to try cases that sits up on the riverbank. It always was a fascinating place, so that crept into the song. And I worked a long time with a steamboat man, John Hartford, so steamboats were certainly in my reality. The album has a couple of outlaw ballads, about Joseph Thompson Hare and Black Bart. Did those also come out of reading? Research, yeah, about these particular people. “Joseph Thompson Hare on the Old Natchez Trace,” he was a real person, as was Black Bart. I wrote another song a long time ago on another record [Chattanooga Sugar Babe] about William Miner, “Ol’ Bill Miner (the Gentleman Bandit).” When you’re reading about these figures, what makes you think you could translate their stories into songs? You know, you have all the popular ones or the overworked ones, like you know so much about Jesse James. [Joseph Thompson Hare and Black Bart] are just lesser known people that are in history but maybe haven’t been heard about. So they’re subjects you can write about and do your own thing with, so to speak. You take the facts and make a story about them, or you can invent a story. I’ve done it both ways. “Billy Gray” was a song I wrote years ago that was completely fictional. It sounds like this kind of a song, but it was fictional.

In these songs, you play very melodically on the guitar. Would you trace that style back to the Carter Family? Yeah, the Carters were always in my reality real heavy, the old records, sure. Of course, if I’m playing fiddle music I am always influenced by the string bands like the Skillet Lickers. I’m very much influenced by Roy Acuff, the Blue Sky Boys, and the Delmore Brothers, to name some.

How do you relate your original songs to the traditional songs that you also play? Well, I know a lot of old ones and I’ve done a lot of old ones. Sometimes if you feel inclined to write something, you take something that you’re comfortable with. A lot of people have said that my stuff sounds traditional. Down through the years in anything I wrote, I always wanted to try to write something that would be as good as the old stuff that I knew. That was my guideline. I didn’t want to write something I’d consider substandard.

Do your songs sometimes start with just the guitar melody and then you add the vocal later? I’ve worked all ways. I’ll sometimes take a melody first, and sometimes I’ve written lyrics and then set them to music—and usually when you do that you need to alter the lyrics. John Hartford always said that you’ve got to find the words that sing right. Some words may work poetically if you’re not playing music with them, but they don’t sing good. Some words just roll off better with certain melodies.

32 July 2015

I usually don’t do very good with a song until I can play it on the guitar, because I’ve never trusted my vocalizing enough to just chord behind it. One reason I’ve always tried to work in a lot of auxiliary notes, melodic notes, is because I use those as crutches to find where I am in the chord. I would never be a stand-up type vocalist. I always have to play the guitar. It’s half of what I do. The vocal and the guitar go together. Is it important, then, as you work out a song on guitar, that you find a position where the melody is easy to reach? Definitely. You’ve got to find the key you can sing it in, and hopefully you can find it in a good position. G and C are the main ones. Sometimes that’s not possible. Sometimes you want to capo up too high. I never like to go above the fifth fret when I’m playing by myself. Preferably, I stay down in open or no [higher] than the second fret, where the instrument is fuller.

and then a lot of times the fifth string is open. So yeah, I’ve never been opposed to playing that [open string bass note], because it’s in the chord. You’re just doubling it down an octave. A is in the F chord up higher, and E is in the C chord.

‘I ALWAYS WANTED TO TRY TO WRITE SOMETHING THAT WOULD BE AS GOOD AS THE OLD STUFF THAT I KNEW. THAT WAS MY GUIDELINE.’ With your original ragtime tunes, are you inspired by piano as well as guitar rags? I have heard a lot of piano rags and I’m sure that’s influenced me, but I never felt I was the kind of guitar player that could take off and play Joplin rags or something like that. I never felt I had enough ability to move around or get into the kind of contortions that some do. Guy Van Duser used to play that kind of stuff. Really, what I do is simpler country things—Mississippi John Hurt always appealed to me. Your guitar rags may be more country, but they have those distinctive kinds of ragtime chord changes and modulations. I’ve never been opposed to old-fashioned jazz. I sometimes feel I could’ve played in a ’20s jazz band. I hear those kinds of changes—a diminished chord occasionally, you know, circles of chords. I have a friend who once said if you play guitar long enough, sooner or later you’re involved in some kind of jazz.

Your bass lines are also very prominent. Is that an aspect of the guitar arrangements you focus on? Very much so. My father liked to sing bass. I was always conscious of bass singing, and then Nancy is a cello player, and she is an incredible bass-line person. She and I have played behind a lot of fiddle music on cello and guitar, and we really try to keep a thing together that has a moving bass line. We’re very much into having moving bass lines on anything we do. There’s actually one bass-note idea that I picked up years ago from listening to you: playing the low E, the open sixth string, under a C chord. For some reason very few guitarists use that. Yeah, they either alternate it to C and G, or they use the full chord. I do the same thing with F: I play the A note [open fifth string] against the F chord sometimes. I rarely barre F—I thumb it, the sixth string with my thumb on the first fret,

Do you think about those kinds of progressions in theoretical terms, or are you going more by ear? I’m just going by ear really. I mean I know all those things—I know enough theory to know what I’m doing if I look at it. But I’m basically just looking for the melody inside of positions or chords. It’s been more than 30 years since you’ve put out an album of entirely original songs. How do you think your songwriting has changed? Well, I think it would be a little more detailed and a little more thought-out maybe—a little less on the spur of the moment. I write something and I may spend a couple of weeks tinkering with it, and sometimes I might change the melody or look for how it really fits on the guitar properly where it becomes one, the vocal and the guitar. Because I just feel, as I said before, that 50 percent of what I do in a song is the guitar. Without that, it wouldn’t mean a thing. AG

WHAT NORMAN BLAKE PLAYS GUITARS On most of Wood, Wire, and Words, Blake played a 1928 Martin 00-45 that he says is his favorite guitar. His wife, Nancy, has used the vintage 00 extensively on tour and, Norman says, “She played a lot of tone into it. I like to play it because it reminds me a little bit of her, too. She’s in there, so I relate to it very much. It’s a sweet old guitar.” The 00-45 now has T frets rather than bar frets, plus a truss rod installed by luthier John Arnold. On two songs on the album, “Goodbye Francisco Madero” and “The New Dawning Day,” Blake played the prototype of his signature Martin, the 00028B, built circa 2004. STRINGS On the 00-45, GHS White Bronze, with custom gauges of .0115, .015, .024, .032, .042, and .056. On the signature model, GHS Bright Bronze, gauges .012, .016, .025, .032, .042, and .058. PICKS D’Andrea ProPlec 1.5mm picks, in both teardrop and three-corner shapes. With the three-corner shape, he rounds off one corner. On the flatpicking songs on the new record, Blake used the back edge of a ProPlec teardrop. For the fingerpicking songs, he used his bare fingers, preferring the “woody sound” that you can get without picks. CAPO An older Golden Gate, with a Shubb sleeve.

AcousticGuitar.com 33

Exotic Style Meets Soulful Tone

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GUITAR LUST

BILL STEBER

COLLECTORS, HOARDERS, AND G.A.S. SUFFERERS STRUT THEIR STUFF

1920 Martin 1-21, the guitar of legend Bruce Langhorne

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SPECIAL FOCUS GEAR ACQUISITION SYNDROME

36 July 2015

THE COLLECTOR BY ADAM PERLMUTTER PHOTOS BY BILL STEBER

MAPLE BYRNE CARES FOR EMMYLOU’S GUITARS . . . AND MORE THAN A FEW OF HIS OWN

Maple Byrne with his1920s Weissenborn Style C

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SPECIAL FOCUS GEAR ACQUISITION SYNDROME

1949 D’Angelico Excel

1910s House of Strathopoulo harp-guitar

1928 Gibson L-5

ne day in 1980, the guitar tech Maple Byrne received a Mandolin Brothers newsletter in the mail and became enthralled by one of the instruments it offered for sale: a 1939 Martin D-28, in excellent original condition, culled from the personal collection of Stan Jay, one of the shop’s illustrious proprietors. At $5,500 (about $15,560 today), it was far more expensive than any instrument he’d ever bought, but Byrne felt he had no choice but to pull the trigger. “It’s still the best instrument I’ve ever encountered,” Byrne says. “I’ve often said this purchase ruined my life, as no other compares, though I keep trying to find one that does.” Over the past 35 years, that ongoing quest has led Byrne to amass a trove of vintage fretted instruments—flattops and archtops, both

coveted and obscure; classic and oddball electric guitars and basses; mandolin- and banjo-family instruments of all ranges; and the occasional autoharp, pedal steel, and Appalachian dulcimer—207.5 instruments in all, according to his tally. “I’m halfway done paying off number 208,” he says, laughing. At 66, Byrne is a music-industry veteran who’s worked behind the scenes for many years. He got his start in the early 1970s, doing sound and lights, booking, and flyer graphics for such legendary nightclubs as the Boarding House in SF (where the landmark progressive bluegrass album Old & in the Way was recorded) and Troubadour in LA. Later he worked as a one-man crew for the comedian Steve Martin and for singer-songwriter Steve Goodman, as well as a guitar tech for Ry Cooder. And for more than 30

years, Byrne has worked as Emmylou Harris’ stage manager, taking care of her guitars, restringing them every other day, and helping tailor her sound onstage. “I’ve always found handling the instruments to be such a relief from paperwork,” he says. When he’s not on the road with Harris, Byrne can be found at home in Nashville, Tennessee, where he’s lived for almost 20 years, quietly tending to his collection and coaxing songs out of them. But he doesn’t think of himself as a formidable instrumentalist. “I’m just a technician, and I stick mostly to the open position,” he says. “Many years ago, I heard some guys who can really play guitar, like Brian Davies doing ‘Buckdancer’s Choice,’ and I resigned myself to the fact that I would never do anything so fancy, but just use the guitar as a tool for learning old songs.”

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38 July 2015

‘I LIKE TO AVOID DUPLICATIONS OF INSTRUMENTS, PARTICULARLY IN TERMS OF TIMBRE. I DON’T WANT ANY TWO GUITARS TO SOUND ALIKE.’

1940 Stromberg Master 300

yrne’s birth name is Kenneth; he goes by the name of Maple on account of his affinity for the bright-sounding tonewood. In general, he prefers harder species like maple and rosewood, as he’s drawn to their tonal complexity. This explains the relative scarcity of mahogany on the bodies of guitars in his collection. “My facetious credo is ‘Mahogany is just for necks,’” he says. The centerpiece of the collection, the 1939 D-28, with its Brazilian rosewood back and sides, is joined by a cohort of other Martins. There’s another Holy Grail–type guitar, a 1930 OM-28 that used to belong to the vintage-guitar expert and dealer Eric Schoenberg; a 1920 1-21 that the Greenwich Village folk musician Bruce Langhorne played on many 1960s sessions (it used to have a DeArmond pickup and was used

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1920s Sovereign Grand Concert

to record Bob Dylan’s proto-electric single “Mixed-Up Confusion”); a 1920s 5-21 T, a tenor model; and an early-’30s C-2, Martin’s commercially unsuccessful roundhole archtop. “I like to avoid duplications of instruments, particularly in terms of timbre,” explains Byrne. “I don’t want any two guitars to sound alike.” Byrne’s stable of 1930s and ’40s Gibson flattops is similarly varied. Though he has largerbodied Gibsons, like a 1937 Advanced Jumbo and a 1944 J-45, he’s partial to the smaller models, like his L-2 and L-C, both made in 1934, not to mention his 1937 Nick Lucas Special, 1944 LG-2, and wartime L-00. “What got me started collecting Gibsons is an interest in the Robert Johnson–size models. They came in all different kinds of woods, some not advertised in catalogs. The ones

1931 Epiphone Broadway

falling outside of the normal specs have always been very interesting to me,” he says, referring to his L-00 and J-45, which have maple backs and sides as opposed to the more common mahogany. He might collect obvious classics, but Byrne also is a big fan of instruments without marquee names. He’s partial to those made in Chicago, by Kay, Regal, Harmony, and others. “I have a couple of nice Regals—a longscaled dreadnought model from around the time [that body type] was becoming standardized—and an OM-sized model with a dreadnought body depth. I enjoy having examples from the same maker and period, but at opposite ends of the spectrum, one being more for flatpicking and the other for fingerpicking,” he says. AcousticGuitar.com 39

SPECIAL FOCUS GEAR ACQUISITION SYNDROME

s an avid listener—he enjoys oldschool music from country, blues, and bluegrass to pre-bop jazz to 1960s psychsploitation—Byrne sometimes lets recordings dictate his choices when it comes to collecting. “I love the sound all those old blues guitarists got on their ladder-braced Stellas— whether or not the recordings are accurate sonic representations—and so I’ve got a 1930s Sovereign grand concert 12-string, as well as a six-string version.” In a different direction, inspired by classic Carter Family sides, Byrne acquired a 1928 Gibson L-5 like the one Mother Maybelle Carter played, instead of a more collectible older example. “I’ve never found quite the sound I’m looking for in the earliest L-5s, from 1923 and ’24. It must be the birch,” says Byrne, referring to the material used for the backs and sides before it was exchanged for maple.

Byrne has also sought out less-expensive archtops for his collection. He’s drawn to Epiphones from the early 1930s, as even the student models have hand-carved soundboards and exhibit a high level of craftsmanship. And being a fan of less common specs, he also appreciates their walnut backs and sides. He considers his 1932 Broadway one of his very favorite guitars. “Walnut is a great and underrated tonewood,” Byrne says. “It adds warmth when it’s used in an archtop, and you can really feel it vibrate against your body. I’m surprised walnut hasn’t been used on more instruments, considering its availability near where American guitars have been built.” A compact man, Byrne feels most comfortable playing his 16-inch archtops, like the L-5, but this hasn’t stopped him from scaring up larger models—some of the most coveted guitars of their type. These include a 1949 D’Angelico Excel, with its smooth cutaway and

Meet the Gibsons

Bottom row, from left 1938 L-00, 1934 L-C 1934 L-2, 1928 L-5

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40 July 2015

Top row, from left 1937 Nick Lucas Special 1934 L-00

17-inch lower bout, and a Stromberg Master 300, wider still at a massive 19 inches. “In the later years, Stromberg threw everything out the window and incorporated unique constructional aspects, like the single transverse bracing on my Master 300,” Byrne says. “But unfortunately the guitar looks ridiculously big on me.” It takes Byrne constant vigilance to maintain such a large collection and ensure that the instruments are all kept within a humidity range of 45 and 55 percent. He relies on a central humidifier system in his home supplemented by individual units in each room and Dampit soundhole devices when needed. Byrne finds maintenance to be almost a full-time job. “I often feel more like a custodian of these instruments than an owner,” he says. “If a guitar like a 1920s Martin has made it this far, then it’ll probably outlive me, and it’s my honor to take care of it until someone else does.” AG

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DREAM A LITTLE DREAM AG ASKED G.A.S.-SUFFERING READERS TO SHARE THEIR PAIN—WHAT ACOUSTIC GUITAR WOULD THEY OWN, IF MONEY WERE NO OBJECT?

42 July 2015

here are people in this world full of glorious guitars who own but a single axe. And they’re happy living that way. I kid you not. And then there are the rest of us. Those wretched souls afflicted with GAS (guitar acquisition syndrome). For GAS sufferers, one guitar has led to another and another and another . . . . And there’s always that ideal something out there somewhere, if only you could find it. In all fairness, and this is what I tell my wife all the time, sometimes it makes sense to own

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Reader Zachary Williams’ Collings Winfield with custom sunburst, rosewood back and sides, and Adirondack top

more than one guitar because no single guitar can do everything. Some are good for fingerstyle. Some are better for flatpicking. Some are capable of eking out a bluesy tone. So many kinds of tonewoods. And then there are those resonators (so many to choose from), and tenors, and baritones, and parlors—you get the idea. AG enlisted readers, and a few well-known performers, to share their notions of their dream guitars: What axe represents the “holy grail”? —G.C.

JESSE MORANTEZ “A custom Taylor. I have a Taylor 710 but I’m left-handed and play right-handed guitars upside down. It’s great when I’m at guitar stores but to have the cutaway for a lefthander would be swell and the Expression System knobs on top. Also the nut backwards because my bass strings are in the bottom. I don’t ask too much, do I?” DEREK BIAFORE “Gibson CF-100/CF-100E: Made briefly in the 1950s, vintage flattop with sexy, sharp cutaway. Played by the likes of Jackson Browne and J Mascis.”

BOB RYAN “I have a Martin 000-28EC and lust for a Gibson SJ-100 1941 reissue—sunburst, of course. I’d love a Martin 000-28EC in sunburst though as well. [Pictured] Me and my 1998 Martin 00028-EC (Eric Clapton signature model). I have been playing Martins since 1974, when I bought a D-35 straight from the factory. Played it for years in bands and as a solo and must have written something like 150 songs on it. It developed some problems in the early ’90s and I ended up trading it straight across for a new Martin SPD-16R in 1996 or so. That was a beautiful guitar but in 1998, my best friend gifted me with the 000-28. The first time I played the 000, it just fit me like no other guitar. It has a gorgeous sound and feel, very balanced, lots of character. And after 20 years of playing dreadnoughts, the 000 body just felt so much more comfortable. I used the 000 exclusively in the studio during the recording of my album The Spirit of Andy Devine. It records beautifully.” MIKKEL CHRISTENSEN “It came down to the guitar that Robert Johnson used to play—not the Gibson Guitar Corporation model L-1 flattop, but the Kalamazoo KG-14. I think it is incredible that such a small piece of wood can bring out such sound. I know that aesthetically other guitar types have been used for much more complex and perhaps more beautiful melodies and songs, but this is an amazing legend and his playing is so good. The old school recordings sound fantastic. It is not really known for a fact if it was his Kalamazoo on the majority of the recordings, but I like to think so. In the end, just the thought of the myth about Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil for success is so terrifying and intriguing that I would love to play the same type of guitar.”

DAVID WITT “I’ve been lusting after guitars for my entire adult life. Even made treks to La Jolla and Nazareth to see Taylors and Martins made right before my eyes. My heart tells me go Martin, particularly a 12-fret, slotted headstock like the CS-00S-14 or maybe the less splashy John Mayer signature. These are new guitars and as such they have to be aged into their rightful tonality. I’m 66 and just don’t have that kind of time left. So, for sheer beauty, my choice would be a 1947 D’Angelico New Yorker. This is functional art—one of the most traditionally beautiful instruments ever made. If I owned one, I would likely drive myself crazy worrying about humidity or theft. Thus, for absolute playability and overall tone, the winner for me is a prewar Gibson L-5. Killer tone in the right hands, visually satisfying, and if it was good enough for Mother Maybelle, well it’ll serve my purposes quite well. So what do I play instead of these legendary instruments? An Epiphone Masterbilt DR-500M, a Seagull S6, and a Recording King ROS-06. Cheap guitars that I can play pretty well and don’t keep me up at night with their demands. JAMES TOWNSEND “I love my ‘000’ Martin made for me in 1981. Sweet, crisp, and clear. Nothing like it.”

DEL REY “I’m really monogamous with my Ron Phillips parlor-sized resonator. Well, maybe not monogamous—I have three of them, and I go back and forth as to which guitar I play most. It’s like a polyamorous musical relationship with triplets. I really do only play the Ron Phillips concert uke—no other uke makes the shimmery sound of nickel silver. But I have a long list of instruments I used to have before Ron made me guitars. I never have made enough money to keep instruments—I’m always selling them to get something else or to go somewhere. Here’s a list of instruments I once owned that I still regret selling:

Gibson 1929 dot-neck L-5, formerly owned by Nappy Lamare 1940s Epiphone Emperor 1940s Epiphone Triumph 1965 Gibson ES-330 1969 Lucite Dan Armstrong 1960s Gibson J-45 “The last three were things my dad found in pawnshops around San Diego when I was a teenager. He came home with some cool stuff, but you had to watch him. One time, he was about to take the J-45 down to his friend’s shop to have it stripped and repainted—he thought the crazed finish was unattractive. He wanted to use silver spray paint on a 1938 National Style O (a guitar I don’t regret, since it sounded like a cross between a banjo and a can of cooked peas). When I was 16, I was trying to play guitar, fiddle, and banjo. I came home from school, and my dad had pawned the fiddle and the banjo. I guess he could only stand so much.” AcousticGuitar.com 43

SPECIAL FOCUS GEAR ACQUISITION SYNDROME

KAREN SHELDON-SWANSON “Taylor Liberty Tree guitar, special limited edition of 400, made around 2002. Why? Because it is a true piece of history, using wood (tulip poplar) from the last remaining Liberty Tree. As a lover of American history, to me, this would be the ultimate in owning something which represented American patriotism, a symbol for liberty.”

BETTY BUCKEL “I’ve had a Hummingbird since 1970, bought used. Absolutely sweet. However, I’ve never forgotten the heavenly experience of handling a Martin D-28, some 35 years ago.” ROGER LARKIN “I have a guitar I found on the side of road in 1980. It’s a 1950 Clou flattop guitar. It plays and sounds like a million dollars. Ninety-five percent of people have never heard or seen one.”

DAVID BUSH “I am partial to my ’76 Yamaha YS. I’ve tried almost all types of strings for it and keep returning to bronze flatwound strings to keep the sound I like. It has mellowed and gotten richer over the years.” RICK NOGRADY “Without a doubt I would buy another McPherson.” DEBBIE BARRETTE “If money were no object??? My brain just exploded.” RICK JENNINGS “Duh, Trigger!” (Willie Nelson’s Martin N-20)

Accentuate

CHARLES BERRYHILL “Jean Larrivée Guitars, the best there is. I have three. Larrivee SD-60, Christmas present from my wife, Denise, custom made for me.” MARIA WILLIAMSON “A big body, emerald green Takamine with a cutaway. Custom pickup, please.” TONY MORENO “I got a flyer in the mail from Guitar Center last week. It had an $11,000 Martin parlor acoustic guitar made from Brazilian. I would say that one, just to know what an $11,000 guitar plays like.” STEVE MOONEY “I have mine, a Gibson J-200. Bought it last year. It has been my life-long dream to own a Gibson J-200 Standard.” MICHAEL REILLY “Taylor 614ce first edition, solid spruce top with flame maple back and sides. Beautiful guitar with great sound with or without plugging it in.” DAVE HULL “If money was not an issue, it would be challenging to limit myself to one, but I am strongly leaning toward a Bill Tippin in German spruce over Indian rosewood.”

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STEVE WILLIAMS “A 1937 Martin D-28. Although I have never had the opportunity to play this guitar, it would be a dream to be able to own one and subsequently pass it to my son and grandson to keep future generations playing a wonderful instrument. Sound, quality, and heritage.

MICHAEL MACE “I already have my Rainsong AWS, but if I had the cash I’d buy the Rainsong 12-string. There is nothing I don’t love about that guitar.”

GILBERT STEVENSON “If money were no object, then I’d have Harvey Leach build me the best sounding dreadnought he’s capable of. Since it’s Harvey Leach, I’d have the headstock inlaid with a fancy MOP design.” BILL NOEL “A Sears Silvertone Jumbo Western (Harmony Sovereign H1260). Or a 12-fret wideneck shortscale walnut guitar with Adirondack top, pearl inlay, and a sunburst top.”

JEFFREY THOMAS GIANVITO “I am a simple man: Guild D-25M (late ’70s to ’80 with arched back) that doesn’t need a neck reset. It’s not the money, it’s what I like to play. . . .” MILTON MESSENGER “A Lowden F50 cutaway with stainless steel medium jumbo frets. Adirondack spruce bracing, sinker redwood top, African ebony back, and Mexican cocobolo for the sides. And it would be voiced by the master luthier George Lowden himself. Only $13,000!”

ARTHUR STRAND “I would like a custom-built Martin! But I’ll carry on with the Fender acoustic that has done me proud for 42 years.” MITCHELL BEATTIE “Taylor African ebony—hands down—looks, sounds, feels amazing. Wish I had the $5,000 for it all.”

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EARL FULLMER “Froggy Bottom Model L parlor guitar in walnut. I have admired Froggy Bottom Guitars for around 35 years; sadly I am a poor man. . . .” GARY BRERETON “I would stick with my £150 Washburn with Fishman Rare Earth pickup. It’s the first guitar I ever had—that my lovely wife Sandi Brereton bought for me way back when. I would not change it or supersede it for all the tea in China, and I love tea.”

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SPECIAL FOCUS GEAR ACQUISITION SYNDROME

ZACHARY WILLIAMS “I actually just got to purchase my dream guitar! A beautiful Collings Winfield with custom sunburst. Rosewood back and sides with Adirondack top!” KEN DRAPER “Had an old Martin D-28 that was lost in a fire. Never have found anything that sounded that good again.” JOE BLAYONE “Peter Sawchyn [of Sawchyn Guitar Ltd.] showed me a ’30s Gibson parlor 12-fret that was $4,000. Beat up and beautiful sounding. That was months ago and I’m still thinking about it.” CHIP WOODS “Years ago I played a Breedlove—at the time it was $3,000. They were a new company at the time. That guitar has remained the single most amazing guitar I have ever played. Wish I could have bought it.” BANJO MOORE “I own over 20 guitars. But I’d like to have the Taylor John Denver tribute acoustic guitar. And a Gibson wouldn’t hurt, either.” MARK SCHOENBAUM “At this moment, the Martin OM-45 De Luxe Authentic 1930. It has everything I would want if I built my own custom-shop model.” PRASHANT POKHAREL “I want to play the guitar and make some good music rather than hoard expensive guitars, keep them in a vault, worry about them all the time and do nothing musically. So, I’ll be happy with Yamaha FG730S tobacco brown sunburst or Seagull S6 Entourage Rustic burst!” MATT TOMS “I would return to the tiny guitar shop in Paris on my honeymoon last year, where I [found] three original vintage 1920s acoustic lap slides: a Weissenborn, a Knutsen, and a Kona. It was incredible to find these three all in the same shop. Even more incredible to be given free rein and as much time as I needed to get to know them alone in a room unsupervised. To find such craftsmanship still sounding so good, from three unique handmade guitars all of which were close to 100 years old, is something that returns to my mind again and again. I would walk from my home in Sydney to Paris to receive one of these guitars. Or swim. And I would donate my converted 12-string Kasuga (now the closest thing I can afford to a Weissenborn-style guitar) to someone who was not so lucky.” 46 July 2015

STEVE EARLE “There are several holes in my collection. I still haven’t found the perfect J-200. I let one go, years ago—the jazz drummer Brian Blade brought in a perfect one to [a guitar store]. I already was looking at a D’Angelico mandolin and I had to buy one or the other. I let it go. I called Buddy Miller and I told him where it was and he got it. So I know where it is and I’ve still got my eye on it. “I’ve had my eye on a J-185 for years and if I ever found a really good Everly Bros. model I’d probably buy it. And I want a really good [Martin] 000

slot-head of some sort, I don’t even care what kind though I’d love to have a rosewood one. I’d love to have a prewar Martin 000-21, but they’re the rarest of Martins. One reason I love the quadruple-aught guitars, the M guitars, is that if you measure the interior volume of an M guitar, and this is real guitarnerd shit, and a slot-head 000, not a 14-fret 000, is that when they flatten the bout to expose those other two frets, they gave up some volume inside. So 000’s and OMs that came about after the 14-fret thing started are smaller inside than their 12-fret predecessors. And the interior

Far Left Steve Earle with a D’Angelico Style B Left Alvin Youngblood Hart with his Stella

TED BARRON

ALVIN YOUNGBLOOD HART

volume of a slot-head 000 and an M guitar are almost identical. To me, the triple-0 12-fret is the perfect Martin guitar. “I also own three really great archtops: a ’35 L-5, one of the last New Yorker specials that Jimmy D’Aquisto built, and it’s a monster, and a Gilchrist archtop, which I think is the best archtop that I own.”

[Editor’s note: On his latest album, Terraplane, Earle used a Gibson L-00 (with raised fretboard and black pickguard) and a 1951 CF-100 as well as a 1929 wood-body National Triolian.]

EMILY FRANTZ (of Mandolin Orange, who plays a 1951 Gibson J-45) “Definitely a prewar 1930s Martin, probably a D-18. The D-28 sounds great, too—we’re just more mahogany people.”

“I suppose the most prized guitar I own would be my spruce top mid-’30s Stella six-string. It’s nothing fancy, a single-0 size, I suppose. When I started to ‘study’ pre-WWII music in my late teens, I often wondered why the guitars you buy overthe-counter at Guitar Conglomerate didn’t sound like the ones on the records. I soon found out what they used. I also found that if you wanted to play ’em, you had to learn to fix ’em. I scored this guitar at a flea market in ’94 for $60. Had to do a bit of rebuilding, but it has since been around the world and played on a record or two. I’ve put in lots of time with this instrument and it’s taken me a lot of places. “As for a holy grail, I don’t know. My ‘unplugged’ phase lasted roughly from 1982 until the mid ’90s. That was a long time and a lotta guitars thru my hands. As a youngster, I always wanted an old National resonator. As a young adult, I went through many of them. I recall around 1992 I had six of them. After the reissues took hold, they kind of became a cliché guitar for the blues crowd. I decided I liked the wood bodies better than the metal bodies and narrowed it down to one, a 1928 Triolian. Now I don’t know that it’s a ‘holy grail’ or anything. It’s my oldest playing guitar and I will probably play it to shreds.” AcousticGuitar.com 47

SPECIAL FOCUS GEAR ACQUISITION SYNDROME

‘My 1967 Guild F-20 that I recorded the entire Mississippi Mile album on.’

Right John Oates with his Gibson B-25

JOHN OATES (of Hall & Oates) “What are the most prized possessions in my current acoustic-guitar collection? My 1967 Guild F-20 that I recorded the entire Mississippi Mile album on. It’s a sweet small-body guitar that is very easy to play and doesn’t take up a lot of sonic space in a track, but at the same time has a lot of character. I have a 1946 Gibson J-50, which is the classic big-box cannon. It brings the vintage wooden full-spectrum classic sound that is so familiar to Gibson lovers. Next would be two custom Gibsons that I designed with Ren Ferguson in Bozeman, Montana. One is a custom-built 2006 Gibson B-25 made like a mini J-45 that is built with bracing to resemble a J-45. It is rosewood and spruce with a long ’60s-style pickguard and unique purfling. It is a red-andgold sunburst that resembles a Hummingbird in color. The other is a 2007 custom-built L-00. I also own a 1983 custom black dreadnought made by Ron Volbrecht, from Nashville, Indiana, built in the style of a D-45. It is Brazilian rosewood and spruce; it has abalone binding and heart-shaped fret inlays. “In 2012, I worked with the Martin custom shop and had a one-of-a-kind 00-28 made. Spruce and pine with a half-inch deeper body than the normal 00 Martins. It has herringbone binding and is a dark sunburst similar to the mid-1930s style with an ebony fingerboard and mother of pearl inlays. On the 12th fret my Good Road to Follow compass logo is inlayed. This guitar is my current favorite and I record with and play it all the time. It sounds like it’s 30 years old. “I would like to find and buy the Guild F-30 that was given to Mississippi John Hurt back in the late ’60s. After he passed away, it was given to my guitar mentor, Jerry Ricks, and he brought it to New York so I could play it on the first two Hall & Oates albums at Atlantic Studios.” Here’s the full inventory from Oates: 1947 Gibson J-50 (banner) 1949 Martin 5-18 slot-head 1951 Epiphone Zenith 1967 Guild F-20 1983 Martin D-28 (150th anniversary) 1983 Volbrecht (custom) 1994 Taylor 612 CD (custom) 1995 Takamine 2010 Martin 00-15M 2011 Trussart resonator 2012 Martin 00-28 (custom) 

48 July 2015

AG

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52 Basics

JOEY LUSTERMAN

Use strumming dynamics to bring songs to life

54 Weekly Workout

Learn the intricacies of single-chord grooves

60 Acoustic Classic

Dylan is one of many to tackle ‘Black Jack Davey’

62 Acoustic Classic

Try this colorful approach to ‘Londonderry Air’

PLAY

New music from folk legend Tom Paxton, p. 58

AcousticGuitar.com 51

SPONSORED

BASICS

Learn from the Best! Blues in the Gorge September 30-October 4, 2015

Exploring Strumming

BY JANE MILLER

Use dynamics to bring a performance to life

he best public speakers have a rise and fall to their delivery, both in pitch and in volume. It is captivating and even dramatic, drawing listeners in and holding them. Musicians use this sense of dynamics to great effect as well. Your acoustic guitar can handle a wide range of volumes, and it can be fun to explore that range. Whether you are using a flat pick, thumb and finger picks, or your bare fingers, here are some ways to experiment with your delivery. This fairly simple strum can be played evenly: one-and two three four-and, played as down-up down down down-up. Beats one and four are divided into eighth notes, while beats two and three are quarter notes taking up the whole beat. Try it on an E chord in open position and strum all six strings. Use a medium tempo at first, then try it at various slow and fast tempos.

T Immerse yourself in music for five days with five of the best blues and fingerstyle guitarists around! Space limited to just 54 participants and these amazing instructors: •

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Grammy nominee and Tony winner JOSH WHITE, JR.



Blues Music Award nominee and awardwinning fingerpicker MARY FLOWER



National Slide Guitar Festivals’ Living Heritage Award winner SCOTT AINSLIE



And Piedmont blues musician and filmmaker ELEANOR ELLIS

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Register at: Menucha.org/Programs/Blues Questions? Call Scott Crane at (503) 695-2243.

SPONSORED 52 July 2015

Consider the song as a story that you are telling. You can indeed keep a steady strum like that going throughout a song, but listen to what happens with a slight adjustment in your picking hand. If you accent beats two and three, you’ll get a nice rock groove, keeping the eighth notes even in the first and fourth beats: one-and TWO THREE four-and. An effective way to create a greater dynamic gap between the accented beats and the non-accented beats is to lighten up on beats one and four. Now you will hear beats two and three really jumping out at you. Notice that you have just created a very different feel from the original strum. One way to lighten up on a strum is to only strum a few of the strings. You will not be

sacrificing the sound of the chord if you are playing the entire chord at some point in the measure. It will be a nice change to your ears to mix up the number of strings you play while strumming a groove. To make this a greater challenge, try this same exercise on a D chord in open position. You will want to make sure to only strum from the open D string, which is the root of the chord and its bass note. Lightening up on the non-accented beats will be easy, but be careful when hammering out the loud passage; it will take practice to gain accuracy with regard to playing only from the bass note of the chord. Now repeat the exercise for an A chord in open position. The bass note is now on the A string. You can mix up these three chords in a variety of cool-sounding chord progressions. The focus here should be on the expression of the sound, which you will be controlling with your picking hand. Along with creating a groove through dynamics within a single measure or pattern, you will also make a song come alive by bringing some sections—like a verse—way down, and then make another section—like the chorus— come way up in volume. Consider the song as a story that you are telling. Is it a scary story that is quiet and then explosive? Is it a love story that stays sensitive with subtle shifts in the dynamic range? Is there a solo instrumental break that makes listeners lean in to hear the intimate details? Or does it become a loud party celebrating making music with friends? As you listen to some of your favorite guitar players, tune into the bigger picture of the loud and soft of it all, regardless of style, technique, or complexity. Don’t be surprised if you start noticing similar dynamic patterns in conversations with people. You will be fine-tuning your listening skills, which will come through the next time you pick up your guitar. AG

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HERE’S HOW

BY OCTOBER CRIFASI

More Than the Blues G

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Open-G tuning can take you many cool places

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pen-G tuning is one of the most versatile and widely used tunings for the guitar. It has been the go-to tuning for many of the great blues slide players, as its voicing allows for A m11 chords B m a single barre major tombe playedEwith x 23 0 1 0 x 23410 2 x 3004 across all of the strings. Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson used this tuning often, choosing to pair open G and a capo when in need of a key change. To create an open tuning, the strings must be reset from standard E A D G B E tuning into the combination of notes needed for the G major chord. That chord is made up of three notes from the G major scale—the root (G), the third (B), and the fifth (D). The nice thing about this particular tuning is that the standard tuning for guitar already includes these three notes (or triad), so you only need to retune a few strings versus five or six.

O

TUNING UP The most common open-G tuning is D G D G B D (from sixth to first string). This means the low E, A, and high E strings must be brought down a whole step. If you don’t have a tuner, use the sound of the open fourth string (D) to tune both the sixth and first strings. Use the third string (G string) to tune the fifth string. Notice that in this particular tuning the sixth string is not tuned to the root of the chord (or G) as is the case in other tunings. Instead, the low E becomes the note D. An alternative to the standard open-G tuning is to tune the sixth string to G as well, thus doubling up on the root. This creates a

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slightly different sound and is worth exploring once you become familiar with the more common tuning. Joni Mitchell’s “For the Roses” and “Electricity” use this alternate voicing, as does Pearl Jam’s “Daughter.” Keith Richards eliminates the sixth string altogether and uses G D G B D almost exclusively. Once the new tuning is locked in, start to explore. Pay attention to how the sound of an open-string G chord differs from its standard tuning equivalent. Each tuning has its own character, so take the time to get a feel for it. You now have three octaves of the fifth, or D, note to play with. Or if you are using double G in the bass, try playing a simple melody on sixth-string G while alternating with the open G of the fifth string to create a drone effect. THE CHORDS Playing a I IV V blues progression in open G is easy—simply use the open-string G, barred C, and D chords. Go ahead and substitute the additional shapes of the dominant-seventh chords pictured here once you are comfortable with the movable barre shapes. You can also try the open-chord versions of C and D7, as they work well with non-blues pieces and fit well with arpeggio or fingerstyle arrangements. Test out moving the Cadd9 down the neck as well as the open G7 shape with a return to the openstring G to see if any recognizable songs spring to mind. Make sure to incorporate the minorchord shapes into the mix as well. Take your time and explore what works well together and what does not. AG AcousticGuitar.com 53

WEEKLY WORKOUT

Single-Chord Grooves

BY PETE MADSEN

Playing alone or with a friend, these phrases are fun and satisfying

y far the most common structure in blues is the 12-bar progression, with its sequence of I, IV, and V chords. But there are other forms, including those of eight, 16, or 32 bars in length. And then there’s the singlechord groove, a harmonically static structure containing any number of bars. That’s what you’ll focus on in this lesson, starting with a two-bar shuffle, then working through different

embellishments—harmonic additions and rhythmic variations—all based on an E7 chord. You’ll then be able to extend the pattern to create an infinite number of variations.

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WEEK 1 Week

WEEK ONE Ex. 1 depicts a two-bar shuffle pattern pitting notes on the fifth string against the open sixth string. Remember, the shuffle eighth-note

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54 July 2015

pattern has a long-short-long-short-long feel to it. Pick all the notes as downstrokes or use an alternating down/up picking pattern. The fretted notes occur on the downbeats; give them a little more emphasis by picking a little harder than you do the open Es. In Ex. 2, the fifth-string notes from the previous figure are harmonized in thirds, creating a fatter-sounding riff. Again, picking the fretted

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WEEK TWO notes with a stronger pick/strum will allow you This week you’ll play some rhythmic variations to create a heavier groove. As for the fret hand, as well as some licks. Ex. 5 starts off identically play all the fourth-string notes with your first to Ex. 6, but the second bar is replaced with a finger. triplet-based lick—bar the fifth and fourth Ex. 3 uses the fifth-string notes yet again, strings with your first finger. Be sure to follow this time harmonized with sixths on the third the pick-stroke suggestions for maximum effistring, along with the constant open fourth ciency. string, D, the E chord’s flatted seventh, or the 2 6 is a rhythmic 1 displacement of 9 Ex. 1; Ex. note that helps define6 the dominant 4 seventh 0 0 0 0 0 the upbeat is removed from beats 2 and chord. You’ve been creating bigger and bigger 7 5 4 2 74. This 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 helps create a little more space in the progressounds. You started with a simple single-string sion and makes for a stronger back beat. groove, but now, by adding more notes to the Week 2 got three good options to Borrowing rhythmic ideas from Ex. 6 and harmony you’ve harmonic ideas from Exs. 2 and 3, Example switch Ex. between 5 when negotiating the same Ex. 6 7 is a neat variation that adds more spice to the chord. 3 3 progression. Ex. 4 is like Ex. 3, but based in octaves You’ll need to do some hybrid picking to play instead of sixths. There are different ways to Ex. 8, which means you’ll articulate the bass finger octaves, but it’s preferable to use your notes with your pick and the others with your first finger to fret all the fifth-string notes and ≥fingers.≤ The ≥ treble≤ notes ≥ ≥use the ≥ same idea of your third finger on the third-string notes. The harmonized thirds from Example 2, but played octave run might have less harmonic color than on the third and second strings. The second beat those based on thirds and sixths, but it can of each2 measure uses really beef up your single-string sound. 2 2a triplet that bounces back 7 5 2 4 2 4 4 7 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0

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AcousticGuitar.com 55

WEEKLY WORKOUT

BEGINNERS’

TIP 2

Your fret-hand fingers can do double duty, fretting notes while muting others you don’t want to hear. For instance, at the beginning of Ex. 7, use your first finger to depress string 4 at fret 6. Let that same finger gently touch the upper strings, to prevent them from sounding when you play the double stop.

BEGINNERS’

TIP 3

A quarter-step, or microtonal bend, will add a slurred effect to your notes, giving them a more vocal quality. Try bending the string(s) slightly, moving it toward the floor or the ceiling, just enough to hear the pitch raised subtly.

BEGINNERS’

Guitar Week, July 26-Aug. 1, with

Clive Carroll, Dakota Dave Hull, David Jacobs-Strain, Al Petteway, Sean McGowan, Jonathan Brown, Steve Baughman, Allen Shadd, Mike Dowling, Folk Arts Workshops at Robin Bullock, Warren Wilson College Vicki Genfan, PO Box 9000 Toby Walker, Asheville NC 28815 Gerald Ross, 828.298.3434 Rolly Brown, www.swangathering.com Josh Goforth, Greg Ruby, Bill Cooley & more. • Trad. Song Week, July 5-11 • Celtic Week, July 12-18 • Old-Time Week, July 19-25 • Contemporary Folk Week, July 26- Aug. 1 • Mando & Banjo Week, August 2-8 • Fiddle Week, August 2-8 56 July 2015

TIP 4

In navigating quick doublestops, try to be as efficient with your finger movement as possible. For the last two bars of example 12, for instance, use your first finger to fret the notes on string 4 and your second or ring finger on string 5, depending on if there’s a one- or two-fret spread between the strings.

WEEK THREE Now you’ll play through some longer phrases and combinations. In Ex. 9, the two-bar phrase from Ex. 6 is combined with a new pattern that’s rhythmically identical to Ex. 8 and harmonically similar to Ex. 2. If you’ve been diligent with this workout, you’re probably starting to see how these rhythms and harmonies can be mixed and matched to create innumerable variations. Ex. 10 uses pentatonic scale licks in the first and third measures, combining them with harmonized thirds. Sometimes the rhythm of the thirds is drawn out, such as the half notes in measure 2 and 4 of the example, giving some space and gravity to the sound. A slide double-stop—a partial E7 chord— announces the beginning of Ex. 11. Slide from one fret below the target frets, frets 3 and 4 on strings 2 and 3, respectively. Notice that the phrase starts on the “and” of 4. This phrase is echoed slightly in the third bar of the phrase by a partial E9 chord. (Dominant seventh and ninth chords are often interchangeable.) Be careful with the double pull-off in the fourth measure; it’s a quick run and might require a little practice to get it up to speed. Make sure both fingers—2 and 1—required for this slur are in place. WEEK FOUR Now you can combine everything—singlestring runs, double-stops and harmonies, hybrid picking, and rhythmic variations—to come up with an extended groove. Ex. 12 starts off with a very simple single-string run played four times to establish the jam. The next four bars come from the first week’s group of exercises. The following four bars are a variation on the hybrid picking exercise from Week Two. After that, there’s a four-bar section combining single-string licks with double stops. You’ll then finish off with a two-bar double-stop phrase that gets repeated three times. Single-chord grooves are a lot of fun and you could literally spend hours working out new phrases. It can also be quite satisfying to play with a friend who improvises over these grooves. The better you get, the more you can play off each other, adjusting your rhythmic patterns, phrases, and solos. Since there are no chord changes, you have a lot of freedom to explore your instrument. AG Pete Madsen is a San Francisco Bay Area-based guitarist who specializes in acoustic blues, ragtime and slide guitar. He has authored several books of guitar instruction. His latest titles are A Guide to Bottleneck Slide Guitar and Improvising and Variations for Fingerstyle Blues, both available at his website: learnbluesguitarnow.com.

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AcousticGuitar.com 57

SONGBOOK

A Lighthearted Blues Tom Paxton’s ‘Susie Most of All’ says it all BY ADAM PERLMUTTER

Tom Paxton

t’s always a pleasure to hear a new recording by Tom Paxton, the venerated American singer-songwriter whose body of work spans a half-century and whose tunes have been interpreted by everyone from Joan Baez to Bob Dylan to Pete Seeger. From the recent Redemption Road, Paxton’s 61st album, “Susie Most of All” is a gem of an old-timey piece. The song’s intro and verses are based on the 12-bar blues progression in the key of G major, which, due to a capo at the fourth fret, sounds a major third higher (key of B major). Four chords—the I (G), IV (C/G or C), and V (D)

I

service the whole piece. (These chords sound as B, E, and F.) Before learning the song, make sure you’re familiar with the grips. Note that when you move between the G and C/G chords you can keep your third and fourth fingers in place for efficient switching. On the recording you’ll find layers of guitars, but I’ve suggested an intro figure that will work for one guitar in the notation here. The first four bars include a neat little melodic pattern heard on guitars and mandolin on the original. Strive for evenness when you articulate the pull-offs on certain notes.

In the next eight bars, you’ll find a simple Travis-picking pattern. To play it, pick the notes on the bottom three strings with your thumb and use your other fingers on the higher strings. (In the notation, p stands for thumb; m and i for middle and index fingers, respectively.) Let all of the notes ring for as long as possible, holding each chord shape until it’s time to move to the next one. Any sort of eighth-note strum should work for the rest of the song. If in rhythmic doubt, just play along with the recording and try to lock in with its smooth, relaxed feel. AG

Guitar Foundation of America International Convention and Competition 2015 JUNE 23-28, 2015 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Oklahoma City University | Matthew Denman, Local Host

International Concert Artist Competition International Youth Competition | Concerts Lectures | Vendor Expo | Private Lessons Masterclasses | Technique Workshops Guitar Orchestras Registration and information at:

guitarfoundation.org

Featured Artists:

Assad Brothers

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58 July 2015

Pavel Steidl

Vida Guitar Quartet

Pablo Sainz Villegas

Xuefei Yang

SUSIE MOST OF ALL

WORDS AND MUSIC BY TOM PAXTON

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ACOUSTIC CLASSIC

Whistling Seducer

‘Black Jack Davey’ is an ageless folk tale that still enthralls

Bob Dylan Good as I Been to You Columbia

BY ADAM PERLMUTTER

he Raggle Taggle Gypsy” is one of the most well-known border ballads, originating hundreds of years ago in the area where Scotland and England meet. In the folk tradition, the song has been disseminated aurally and has received a great many different treatments and titles, among the most common, “The Gypsy Laddie,” “Seven Yellow Gypsies,” and “Black Jack David” (or “Davey”/“Davy”). All of the different versions center on a woman who runs off to join a charismatic individual or group. In the readings by Bob Dylan and the White Stripes (from Good as I Been to You and the “Seven Nation Army” single,

“T

60 July 2015

respectively), a well-kept young wife and mother is lured away from her home by Black Jack Davey, with his magical whistling. Though the tune is often played in the major mode, it works just as well in the minor, as shown in our arrangement, informed by both the Dylan and the White Stripes versions. Harmonically speaking, the piece is very streamlined, containing just four open chords— Am, Em, G, and D. The notation and tab depict a figure you can use as the basis for an intro and for the accompaniment to all ten verses, as well as for an occasional instrumental interlude between

verses if you’d like. It uses an approach pioneered by “Mother” Maybelle Carter, in which a melody on the bass strings is embellished with chord strums. If you play this figure with a pick, use all downstrokes, save for the upstroke when a chord falls on the “and” of a beat. If fingerpicking, play the notes on strings 6–4 with your thumb and those on the higher strings with your index, middle, and ring fingers. Don’t worry too much about playing exactly what’s written in the notation; use it as a guideline for composing or improvising your own variations. AG

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VIDEO PERFORMANCE AT ACOUSTICGUITAR.COM

ACOUSTIC CLASSIC

A Plaintive Irish Melody

A colorful approach to the traditional ‘Londonderry Air’ (aka ‘Danny Boy’) BY RON JACKSON

ne of my all-time favorite tunes is “Londonderry Air,” the traditional Irish melody originating in the 1700s or 1800s. More commonly known in the incarnation of “Danny Boy,” this tune has so much soul and feeling, lending itself to a jazz interpretation. A particularly nice rendition is one that George Benson played in concert in Ireland, documented on his DVD Absolutely Live. When I teach my jazz-guitar students the chord-melody style, they always harmonize

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every note of the melody, and that’s exactly what I did for this arrangement of “Londonderry Air,” with its many different chord types and inversions. Playing the arrangement rubato—in this case, slowly and freely—will help you sound expressive, while making it easier to grab these quickly moving chords. I play the tune fingerstyle, but it can also be done with hybrid picking. Whichever approach you choose, it’s important to play the melody with more emphasis than the surrounding

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notes, so that it can be clearly heard. I use free strokes on the melodic notes, applying just a little more pressure than the other fingers picking the chord. You’ll notice in the arrangement that I like to use guitaristic effects like open strings and harmonics. I also use a bunch of different arranging strategies to keep things interesting. For instance, in bar 5, I play an inner melody within the chords; in 11 and elsewhere, I harmonize the melody with parallel voicings. In measure 21, I throw in a bit of contrary motion between the voices of the chords; in 31–32, I double the melody using octaves within the chords, making the melody sound like church bells. I hope that you’ll enjoy learning to play these details as much as I did writing them. AG Watch a video of Ron Jackson performing “Londonderry Air” at AcousticGuitar.com.

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AG TRADE

SHOPTALK Off the drawing board: prototype of an Alembic acoustic

Alembic Unplugs

California-based electric bass and guitar powerhouse has sights set on the acoustic-guitar market BY MARC GREILSAMER

est easy, Alembic fans—your cries might have been answered. AG has learned that the venerable maker of highly prized electric guitars and basses is working on the development of a line of acoustic guitars. “We are a customer-driven company,” explains Alembic general manager Mica Wickersham Thomas about the company started by her parents, Ron and Susan Wickersham, in 1969. “This is why after Stanley Clarke hit the scene big in 1973 that we became known for our electric bass guitars, and most of our production was occupied with basses. Some years, we only made a few electric guitars. “Over the past few years,” she continues, “we’ve been making more and more electric guitars—now our production is about 50 percent guitars. Along with this increase, the requests for ‘when are you going to make an acoustic?’ have been increasing as well. Since we aim to please, we decided to try it out. “Plus, my mom wanted an acoustic guitar.” In its earliest days, Alembic was a consulting firm that worked closely with bands like the

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Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Crosby Stills Nash & Young to increase the quality of live sound and recordings. It started building instruments in 1972, and demand grew rapidly. So far, the company has only built one acoustic-guitar prototype. “The purpose was to see if our design elements would impact the sound with any negativity,” Thomas says. “We were pleased it didn’t!” Next step for Alembic is a maiden run of eight instruments. Stay tuned for more updates.

Guitar sides in the mold

TRAVELING GUITAR FOUNDATION WORKS TO SAVE MUSIC EDUCATION Damon Marks still vividly remembers how music rescued him during a troubled childhood. “Music helped me through tough times when I was a child,” he says. “It helped me find my friends and get involved and ease the pain I was going through.” Five years ago, he founded the non-profit Traveling Guitar Foundation (TGF) in the hopes that he might help keep music alive and thriving in local schools with struggling (or even non-existent) music programs, but the scope of the project continues to grow. Since its formation, the TGF has worked with more than 30,000 students in over 100 schools across the United States and abroad, giving away hundreds of acoustic and electric guitars and other instruments in the process. For elementary, middle, and high schools with AcousticGuitar.com 67

SHOPTALK Damon Marks, founder of the Traveling Guitar Foundation

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inadequate or under-supported music curricula, Marks’ work has been a wonderful boon for students who want to learn how to play an instrument. “We identify schools that are either without music education courses or have failing music courses,” Marks explains. “We then work closely with the school and get a wish list of needs— guitars, percussion, amplifiers, and instrument cables.” Students are subsequently introduced to a “full-blown” eight-to-nine-week guitar curriculum that Marks created himself. Each participating school hosts a live concert and benefit, involving anywhere from 200 to 800 students, and the kids are invited onstage to perform with Marks and his bandmates. This past spring, the foundation embarked on a tour of six schools in the New York/New Jersey area, offering instruments and education services and not getting a dime in return. “This is the first time in five years that the Traveling Guitar Foundation has funded six schools in a three-month period of time,” Marks says. “All six schools have never had a guitar curriculum in them.” Marks expects student enrollment for the music classes will triple with the addition of the new guitar curriculum. Slowly but surely, guitar makers have noticed the impact that Marks’ program has had

on music education. In March, Mérida Guitars announced a new partnership with Marks and the TGF. “Our relationship with Damon and the Foundation is relatively new,” says Michael Spremulli, CEO of Mérida Guitars USA. “We had spoken several years ago at a gig he was on with one of our other endorsing artists where he briefly explained what he was doing. I feel strongly that the Foundation serves an important purpose and am very proud to be a part of it. Mérida Guitars will be donating many instruments, and I plan on attending many of the functions myself throughout the year as well. “It disappoints me to think that so many children around the country won’t be exposed to the many benefits of an organized music program [as I was growing up] because of budget cuts and perhaps the lack of foresight of our elected officials. So, any way we can give back in support of this, we are, with both quality instruments and personal involvement.” Marks echoes this sentiment. “I want kids today to have that same chance to connect to music in such a meaningful, creative way. It’s a true blessing being able to give music back to schools, students, and communities in need. Music is so universal—it makes up a huge part of all of our everyday lives.” —M.G.

GIBSON ACQUIRES HARMONYCENTRAL.COM For the past two decades, HarmonyCentral.com has been one of the most popular Internet resources for practicing guitarists. Thanks to its wide-ranging collection of crowd-sourced gear reviews, industry news, classified ads, and forums, the site has built a diverse and devoted online community, with hundreds of thousands of registered users to its credit. About ten years ago, Harmony Central was purchased by online retailer Musician’s Friend, itself a wholly owned subsidiary of Guitar Center Inc., and now Harmony Central will be changing hands once more. In April, Gibson Brands announced that it has acquired Harmony Central, adding to a rapidly growing portfolio of companies that includes instrument makers Epiphone, Dobro, Kramer, Steinberger, Baldwin, and Wurlitzer, as well as pro audio manufacturer TASCAM, and consumer electronics brands such as Onkyo, TEAC, and, most recently, Philips Home Entertainment.

reassure them 100 percent is to build a time machine, fast-forward a year, have them look at the site, and go, ‘Wow, I guess you really meant it.’ Meanwhile, we invite everyone to be part of Harmony Central. There’s no better path to neutrality than if Harmony Central represents everyone. And in the process, that means a lot of community involvement.

“Sure, we make guitars and pro audio and consumer electronics, but if all we wanted to do was make money, we could be making shoes or cars or whatever. But Gibson is part of the industry of human happiness, and we’re happy to be a part of it. People are welcome to be skeptical. Meanwhile, the people who aren’t will be helping us change the world.” —M.G.

‘We’re not afraid of controversy, opinions, or humor.’ HENRY JUSZKIEWICZ

“Gibson Brands is all about music and sound, and Harmony Central is all about music and sound,” Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz told me by email. “We want people to be passionate about making music, learning instruments, and enjoying great sound. Of course, that benefits Gibson, but that benefits the industry and, ultimately, benefits the world. Fortunately, Gibson’s success puts us in a position to give Harmony Central the attention it deserves to reach its full potential.” Asked about Gibson’s long-term goals for the site, Juszkiewicz replied, “All we want is for Harmony Central to be truly informative and entertaining. We’re not afraid of controversy, opinions, or humor. The music industry has always had a great deal of camaraderie, even among competitors. We want to embody that spirit and have everyone reach for the higher goal of making great music and listening to great sound.” The company noted in its announcement that it will remain committed to Harmony Central’s “site neutrality” and “community involvement.” Though some users might be skeptical of these goals, Juszkiewicz believes that they will come around in due time. “We expect people will be skeptical,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, the only way we can

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MAKERS & SHAKERS

Right-Hand Man

Builder, designer, player, and surfer Andy Powers

Master luthier (and player) Andy Powers is helping to reinvigorate Taylor Guitars BY ADAM PERLMUTTER

ndy Powers was an independent luthier and local musician when he took a cryptic call from Bob Taylor, the president of Taylor Guitars. “Out of the blue, Bob called and said, ‘Hey, come down here—I want to talk to you alone,’” Powers says. “I didn’t know what he wanted and wondered if I should wear running shoes in case he tried to push me in the wood chipper when I showed up.” As it happened, Powers had nothing to worry about—Taylor’s intentions were not homicidal. He was looking to enlist Powers as kind of a righthand man—head luthier of his company. “It was a surprising conversation. Bob told me that he couldn’t stand the thought of Taylor Guitars, a

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70 July 2015

first-generation company, being turned into a soulless corporation and not driven by a luthier when he’s done. He said, ‘You’re a better maker than I am, a better guitar player, and I know that you can design guitars that are made for musicians.’” Says Bob Taylor, who first got to know Powers and his work when they began chatting at trade shows 20 years ago: “Andy’s an absolute genius when it comes to making guitars. And he’s also one of the very best players I’ve ever met. You don’t normally get a pro player and a world-class builder in one package, except in rare cases like Wayne Henderson. This rare combination of talents will migrate the tonal qualities of our guitars down the path.”

AN EXPLOSIVE START The affable Powers took his position at Taylor— one of the most important gigs in the guitar industry—in 2012. Though barely 30 at the time, he already had decades of instrument making under his belt, as well as a lifetime of playing music. He grew up in Oceanside, in San Diego County, California, not far from where he now works, in an environment that was advantageous to his career path. Powers’ parents are both musical, and their house was littered with instruments—guitars, banjos, mandolins, a Dobro, and a piano—and frequented by musical guests. Powers says, “A lot of my parents’ friends were commercial fishermen, many of them

hobbyist musicians. So as a child, I had a distorted sense of reality—my normal was that everyone goes out fishing overnight on Friday and comes back Saturday, barbecuing what they caught and sitting around for hours playing tunes.” Powers’ father is a carpenter, and he often brought home scraps of wood for Andy and his siblings to play with. One day, the elder Powers returned from a job with a scrap of wood, probably leftover from a mantle, that was large enough to make a guitar. Though he was only seven or eight and had no knowledge of guitar construction, Andy gave it a go. “I put something together that sort of looked like a guitar—I didn’t even know that it needed braces,” he recalls. “My mom took me to the music store, and we got some mismatched tuning pegs and some strings. I put the whole thing together, and it just imploded into splinters. After being disappointed for about five minutes, I thought it was so cool— kind of like an M-80 had gone off inside it.” It wasn’t long before Powers started making guitars that maintained their structural integrity when tuned to pitch. As an avid surfer inspired by beach culture, he also started building ukuleles. By the time he was in his early teens, Powers had devoured every guitar-making book and magazine article he could find and was selling instruments to his parents’ friends, repairing and restoring guitars for local shops without those capabilities, and playing in a bunch of different bands. “My life was this guitar-shaped thing I was carrying around,” he says. Powers was 13 when the remuneration from his building and repair work caught the attention of the taxman. “I wasn’t even old enough to have a driver’s license when I got this letter from the IRS and took it into the house to show my mom and dad,” Powers says. “My dad just laughed and said, ‘Well, lemme show you about taxes—you need to make things a little more formal.’ It was a pretty comical entry into the realities of being in business.” Still an adolescent, Powers officially hung out his shingle. Just as he refined his craftsmanship as a luthier, Powers developed his musicianship by constantly checking out local players. He was fortunate to have John Jorgenson—the guitar virtuoso known for his association with the Desert Rose Band and the Hellecasters, as well as his work as a session player and sideman— as an unofficial mentor. “He used to take me around to sessions, so that I could see how music got made in the studio,” Powers says. “And he also did so much to broaden my musical horizons, turning me on to everything from Django Reinhardt to instrumental surf like Dick Dale to Cuban music.” Powers formally studied music at the University of California, San Diego, and after graduation, he planned on cobbling together a

career playing sessions and touring as a sideman. But not long after his commencement ceremony in 2003, Powers had an epiphany while out surfing, and he shifted his focus. “I had officially been in business for ten years and had a several-year waiting list,” Powers says. “It sounds funny in hindsight, but at that moment I realized that making guitars wasn’t just a job but such a big part of who I am. I committed myself to continuing my one-man shop in a fulltime capacity.”

SHOCK & AWE In his shop, which he’s since shuttered to focus on his work at Taylor, Powers built a comprehensive range of fretted instruments—flattops of all sizes, archtop acoustics, solid-body and semihollow electrics, a full range of ukuleles, and all of the mandolin-family instruments— with a single guiding principle: to create highly responsive musical tools. “At the very core, music is really important in the lives of people. My desire has always been to create a better and more musically able instrument, one capable of reproducing exactly what a musician wants, of being played ffff [fortissississimo, as loud as possible] or at a whisper, and everything in between,” he says. After he signed on to work with Taylor, Powers unplugged his phone and worked feverishly for a year to fulfill all of the orders on his 24-month-long waiting list. In his earliest days at Taylor, he experienced a bit of a shock transitioning to the new situation. “In my old workshop,” he says, “I’d spend all day without ever

talking to another person. I’d come home and think, ‘It was really pleasant to get to know that piece of wood really well.’ Then all of a sudden, I was in an environment where the phone was constantly ringing and I was interacting with a whole team of people working to help me accomplish tasks, in a big, industrialized space. “It was a bit of a learning experience,” he continues. “In the past, when confronted with a challenging piece of wood that wanted to keep bending or twisting, I would figure out how to work with it—or just get a better piece of wood. But now, in a factory environment, I can’t expect someone else to make a judgment call like that 500 times a day. I need to have a design process in which every piece of wood works well and behaves the same every time.” As different as it might seem on the surface, Powers finds many similarities between working in a tiny shop and working in one of the world’s largest guitar factories. He sees his work at Taylor—in a nutshell, finding and sourcing materials, preparing and evaluating prototypes, and figuring out how to bring them to the marketplace— as an extension of his work as an independent luthier, though on a much larger scale. “For so many years, I worked like a luthier would’ve 100 years ago, kind of like going into a pharmacy to ask for leeches,” he says. “But whether I bend a guitar’s sides with a hotplate— like I still do for Taylor’s prototypes—or build a machine to bend 100 sides every day, the end result is essentially the same.” Powers’ first design contribution to Taylor was the Grand Orchestra (GO) body—a shape inspired by the traditional jumbo flattop and conceived to respond equally well to the gentlest fingerpicking and the most frenzied strumming. Not long after starting at Taylor, he reinvigorated every aspect of Taylor’s flagship 800 Series, from the bracing to the finish. “I’m especially proud of the 800 Series,” he says. “I want to build guitars that do more than players could ask them to do, and which will still be delivering when my time is done. These guitars are a step in that direction.” More recently, Powers gave a similar treatment to the 600 Series of instruments. The bodies of these guitars use maple instead of less sustainable tropical species. Like his boss, Powers loves traditional tonewoods, but is a strong advocate of forest stewardship. “I hope that mahogany and rosewood will always be around,” he explains, “but at this point, I can’t feel all that great about using these woods in building instruments in large quantities, because the forests aren’t in the best condition. We can’t be sure what they’ll look like in ten years. “On the other hand, maple tends to come from forests that are well-managed, and I can feel confident in using it. It feels so good to be able to build a really good guitar in and of itself, on a large scale, and in a more conscientious way than ever before.” AG AcousticGuitar.com 71

NEW GEAR Neck-angle adjuster

AAA Sitka spruce top

Unconventional Wisdom Riversong’s Tradition Canadian Deluxe is free-swinging yet familiar BY ADAM PERLMUTTER

ith a metal rod poking out of its neck heel on one end and its end block on the other, not to mention a wooden disc floating in its soundhole, Riversong’s Tradition Canadian Deluxe is, indeed, a strange beast. But whether strummed or fingerpicked, it’s got a warm and familiar voice, rich in sustain and harmonic detail—a sound that lends itself to many styles and approaches. If this particular guitar is any indication, the British Columbia-based company is making smart modern guitars for guitarists of all stripes.

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BOLD DESIGNS Riversong Guitars are the brainchild of Mike Miltimore, whose designs are intended to relieve the instruments of the great tension exerted on them when strung to pitch. To that end, the neck of a Riversong extends well past its customary meeting point and to the end block, allowing the guitar to be less heavily braced and therefore more resonant. Riversong guitars also use only about a third of the kerfing as a traditional guitar, which is said to further expand the vibrating area.

B-Band T65 electronics

In its highest region, a fretboard is most commonly glued to a guitar’s soundboard, but on a Riversong, the fretboard is instead attached to the neck throughout. This scheme is intended to negate the dreaded 14th-fret hump, which occurs when the neck wood expands at a different rate than the body wood, a circumstance that can wreak havoc on a guitar’s action. The neck is removable—obviously advantageous for repair or even replacement— and this also allows it to accommodate 24 frets (on the highest strings only, due to the curvature of the fretboard’s upper edge), as opposed to the traditional 20. Though the usefulness of those four additional high notes is debatable, it’s cool to have them there. Perhaps most interesting about Riversong’s design is its proprietary system for adjusting the neck angle: using a hex wrench at the neck heel, with the ability to fine-tune at the endpin. This is a definite improvement over having to sand—and potentially ruin—a saddle to adjust a guitar’s action.

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Maple neck with walnut fretboard

1.65-inch nut width

Chrome die-cast tuners

BODY Dreadnought size AAA Sitka spruce top AAA maple back and sides

EXTRAS D’addario EXP 16 strings (.012–.053)

NECK Maple neck with walnut fretboard

B-Band T65 electronics 25.5-inch scale length Deluxe hard-shell case

AT A GLANCE

RIVERSONG TRADITION CANADIAN DELUXE

Walnut bridge

42-mm (about 1.65-inch) nut width

Clear pickguard

PRICE $5,349 list (as reviewed)

Chrome die-cast tuners Gloss finish (Seattle Sunset as reviewed)

The Riversong is built from a fine selection of tonewoods. The AAA Sitka spruce top is finely grained, with some prominent bear-claw figuring, and the body’s AAA maple has impressive flame throughout, especially on the guitar’s back. The walnut used for the fretboard, rosette, and bridge is a thoughtful choice, more sustainably harvested that the customary rosewood. To be sure, Riversong’s aesthetics are not for everyone. Its skinny asymmetric headstock seems at odds with the body’s ample dreadnought silhouette, and as useful as the neckadjustment rod is, it looks a little crude. The guitar also has too many extraneous details, like the Rainsong logo emblazoned not once but five times: on the headstock, soundhole disc, preamp controls, and on two parts of the endpin adjustment panel. Then there’s the “Seattle Sunset” finish on our review model—a kind of rainbow-colored sunburst ranging from blue to orange that is best described as an acquired taste. (The instrument is also available in natural, for the less adventurous.)

Satin finish

SATISFYING SOUND While the Tradition Canadian Deluxe might lack cosmetic grace, its flawless craftsmanship and, more important, impressive playability and sound more than make up for it. The satinfinished neck is very slender, and its action is a dream. There’s no unwanted buzzing, and the intonation is perfect. Overall, the guitar is well balanced between registers. It has a tight, present bass, without the boominess sometimes associated with dreadnoughts—perfect for Carter-style strumming—and the treble is sturdy, giving a nice presence to single-note lines. The instrument has a good amount of headroom and responds equally well to strumming and to fingerpicking. Its sound doesn’t muddy up when the guitar is placed in lowered tunings, and tunings tend to stay put, too. All told, it’s a satisfying guitar to explore, whether for traditional steel-string approaches, hearty rock strumming, or chord-melody improvisation.

Made in Canada riversongguitars.com

This Riversong comes complete with B-Band’s T65 electronics system, incorporating a three-band EQ with tuner working in concert with an undersaddle pickup. There are bettersounding and less visually obtrusive solutions on the market, but with a bit of EQ tweaking on the preamp and a Fender Acoustasonic amp, this system does a sufficient job of reproducing the guitar’s natural acoustic sound. At $5,349 list ($4,599 with natural finish), Riversong’s Tradition Canadian Deluxe is not a cheap guitar, and it’s got a lot of strong competition. Its unusual design won’t be for everyone, but it’s a uniquely built guitar with a strong voice, sure to be a rewarding companion for a player who’s unafraid to venture beyond the traditional when it comes to selecting gear. AG Contributing editor Adam Perlmutter transcribes, arranges, and engraves music for numerous publications. Visit his website at adamperlmutter.com. AcousticGuitar.com 73

NEW GEAR

Little Big Tone

Simon & Patrick’s dynamic Showcase Rosewood Concert Hall boasts depth and balance BY ADAM LEVY

imon & Patrick’s new Showcase Rosewood Concert Hall guitar hits a sweet spot in the marketplace. Its size and voice will appeal to folk and fingerstyle guitarists, yet it has the timbral potential to suit most any style of acoustic music. And though the Concert Hall features some stylish design flourishes, there’s nothing precious about it. It’s a smallish bundle of eye candy designed to provide maximum ear candy. While tone and functionality are what separate truly great guitars from merely good ones, let’s face it—first impressions usually come from an instrument’s appearance. Here, the Concert Hall does not disappoint. The solid spruce top is a lustrous shade of “new guitar” blonde, the striking rosette is made from tiny strips of dark wood, and the position markers

S

AT A GLANCE

SIMON & PATRICK SHOWCASE ROSEWOOD CONCERT HALL

are offset to the bass side of the fretboard—an unusual twist. The rosewood back and sides are richly colored, like alternating layers of melted milk and dark chocolate. It’s a shame to keep wood this beautiful essentially hidden from view, but there it is. A three-piece wooden accent stripe (light/dark/light) runs down the center of the back, and both top and back feature natural wood binding. VOICED FOR STORYTELLERS The Showcase Concert Hall’s sound is more evenly balanced than you might expect from a rosewood guitar. (Many such instruments project lots of bottom end without much midrange.) This S&P has the tonal depth of rosewood, yet speaks with the immediacy and

BODY 14-fret OM size

NECK Mahogany neck with slotted headstock and satin finish

EXTRAS Godin A6 LT phosphor-bronze strings (.012–.053)

Indian rosewood fretboard

TRIC lightweight hard-shell case

24.84-inch scale length

Limited lifetime warranty

1.72-inch nut width

PRICE $1,575 list with A6T electronics ($1,379 without)

Solid spruce top Solid rosewood back and sides High-gloss finish ELECTRONICS B-Band A6T (optional)

Gold-plated, open-gear tuners (14:1 ratio) Tusq nut, saddle, and bridge pins

74 July 2015

midrange punchiness usually heard from mahogany guitars, with a remarkably long decay time. The instrument is dynamic and responsive to different types of plectrums and varied fingerstyle techniques, so it may appeal to players of many ilks—folk and beyond. The scale length is 24.84 inches—shorter than most other models in the current S&P product line. (The Canadian company’s standard is 25.5 inches; only its Folk model guitars share the shorter scale.) Still, this dapper, OMsized flattop doesn’t feel small when held and played. Its string spacing is wide enough to comfortably accommodate fingerstyle playing, though it’s not overly wide either. If you prefer to strum with a pick or to use some combination of pick and fingers, you’ll have no trouble getting your musical point across. The

Made in Canada simonandpatrick.com

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satin-finished mahogany neck is nicely contoured, so you can play an awfully long time before feeling fatigued. The guitar comes equipped with a sophisticated B-Band A6T pickup system, which features two sound sources—an under-saddle transducer (labeled UST on the side-mounted control plate) and a second transducer (AST) mounted beneath the soundboard. A mix slider finesses the blend between these two sources, another slider controls volume, and three more adjust EQ (bass, midrange, treble). Two small knobs serve as notch-filter controls, which can help minimize feedback, while the phase button can also thwart feedback by changing the phase relationship between the pickup system and your amp or PA’s speaker(s). With EQ and mix controls at a neutral setting, the sound is a little, well, neutral, but if you’re after a more colorful tone, it’s easy to dial it up with a couple of minor tweaks. S&P’s Showcase line of guitars, considered the company’s “upper echelon,” are built in a “separate, secluded acoustic studio where each guitar can be individually and meticulously crafted.” Judging by the review model, the Showcase Rosewood Concert Hall seems to actually deliver on the company’s promise, at a truly modest price point. Clearly, the crew at S&P are aiming to make a stage-ready guitar for working players that’s easy on the eyes, ears, and wallet. Mission accomplished. AG

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NEW GEAR

AT A GLANCE

TANGLEWOOD JAVA TWJP E BODY Parlor size Solid cedar top Amara and spalted mango back Amara sides Sonokeling bridge Natural gloss finish NECK Nato neck with sonokeling fretboard 25.5-inch scale length 1.69-inch nut width Open-back nickel tuners Natural gloss finish EXTRAS D’Addario EXP16 strings Fishman Sonitone electronics Hard-shell case PRICE $599 list/$449 street Made in Indonesia tanglewoodguitars.co.uk 76 July 2015

Light & Lively

The affordable, parlor-size Tanglewood Java TWJP E doesn’t skimp on sound BY ADAM PERLMUTTER

t’s great fun to pick up the featherweight Tanglewood Java TWJP E. Only 3.8 pounds on a postal scale, this parlor guitar is big on sound, delivering the sort of warmth and roundness typical of, say, a small-bodied flattop from the 1930s. Making the instrument even more appealing is its meager price tag, only $449 street (or just $379 without onboard electronics). Tanglewood’s TWJP E is designed in the United Kingdom and made in Indonesia. It’s based on a classic parlor design, with a slotted headstock and 12th-fret neck-to-body junction, but features some unusual choices in terms of wood selection. The sides and three-piece back are made of amara, a rosewood substitute, with a spalted mango center piece on the back. Sonokeling, a type of Indonesian rosewood, is used for the fretboard and bridge, while nato (sometimes seen in lower-cost instruments) is used for the neck. Meanwhile, the soundboard is built from a more conventional choice, solid cedar.

I

The test-model woods are beautiful: The cedar is a lovely tannish color with regular, narrow grains, while the figuring and varied coloration of the back woods offer a dramatic visual statement. And wooden details throughout—the neck and body binding, heel cap, rosette, and back strips—lend a classy, boutique-like feel to the instrument. FINGERPICKER’S DELIGHT The TWJP E is well built, with clean-enough fretwork, precisely cut nut and saddle slots, and tight, flush mahogany binding. Inside the guitar, the bracing and kerfing are fairly tidy, smoothly shaped and sanded, and for the most part lacking traces of excess glue. As is common on guitars in its price range, the polyurethane finish is a little on the thick side. All of the notes on the neck ring clearly and vibrantly, without any unwanted buzzing or dead spots, and the guitar’s intonation is spot-on. The Java’s moderately large C-shaped neck is very comfortable to cradle, too.

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Amara sides and amara back with spotted mango wedge

An instrument like this begs to be fingerpicked, and it really comes alive when country blues and other down-home styles are played. It sounds tight and focused, with a cool midrange bark and a surprising amount of projection. The guitar also sounds just as good in alternate tunings like open G and DADGAD as it does in

standard, though things start to muddy a bit in a more slackened tuning like open C. It doesn’t fare quite as well as a strummer, losing some fullness of tone when driven hard, but that’s to be expected of this style of guitar. Tanglewood is known for its smartly priced fretted instruments, and the Java TWJP E is a

tremendously appealing guitar with great playability and sound—a tone that amplifies well, thanks to the onboard Fishman Sonitone electronics. The guitar would be a definite boon for players looking for an old-school sound but lacking the means to purchase a vintage or boutique example. AG

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GUITAR GURU

Quartersawn

Flatsawn

Riftsawn

Sawing Logs

How much does grain orientation matter? BY DANA BOURGEOIS

Q

I occasionally see guitar woods described as quartersawn or flatsawn. What exactly is the difference? How does grain orientation affect the sound of a guitar, and what should I look for when selecting a guitar? Daisy Robertson Lawrence, Kansas

GOT A QUESTION? Uncertain about guitar care and maintenance? The ins-and-outs of guitar building? Or a topic related to your gear?

78 July 2015

A

“Quartersawn” is a term mistakenly used to describe guitar tops—which are actually riftsawn. Imagine the round end of a log. To quartersaw, first split the log into equal quarters. From each quarter cut parallel boards. A riftsawn board is sawn from the center to an edge, rotating the log around its center to produce radially oriented boards. On the end of a riftsawn board, annular growth rings run perpendicular to its face; on the face, annular rings appear as straight lines running parallel to the long edge. Spruce, cedar, and redwood guitar tops are riftsawn, with the familiar annular grain pattern running parallel to the strings and the perpendicular end grain visible on the edge of the soundhole. On the face, cross-grain, medullary rays, or “silk,” run perpendicular to the annular rings, though only when the top is perfectly oriented relative to the radius of the log. Backs and sides are usually either quartersawn or flatsawn, but rarely riftsawn.

Ask Acoustic Guitar’s resident Guitar Guru. Send an email titled “Guitar Guru” to editor Marc Greilsamer at [email protected], and he’ll forward it to the expert luthier.

Again, imagining the end of our log, a flatsawn (sometimes called plainsawn) board is cut from edge to edge without passing through the center. The face of a flatsawn board appears quartersawn on both edges. Grain in the middle, or heart, of the face might be wider than at the edge, or it may travel in strange directions; sometimes, it appears as a series of nested arches. Unless carefully cured, flatsawn boards are prone to cracking through the heart. Differences between riftsawn, quartersawn, and flatsawn wood can be significant. Stiffnessto-weight ratio, highest when boards are perfectly riftsawn, drops noticeably when a top is cut even slightly different. Velocity of sound— the ability to vibrate efficiently—corresponds closely with stiffness-to-weight ratio. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that different logs have varying stiffnesses and corresponding sound velocities. A perfectly riftsawn top may be less stiff than a not-so-perfectly sawn top from a different log. I recently ran into a prewar D-28 that had nearly a 45-degree (vs. 90-degree) grain on the edge of the soundhole—a top that most contemporary luthiers would reject on sight alone. The D-28 had a classic mid-’30s voice, illustrating that grain orientation doesn’t always trump all other factors. In some higher-density woods, grain orientation has less effect on velocity of sound. Flatsawn Brazilian rosewood may well have greater velocity of sound than riftsawn or quartersawn examples of softer woods such as mahogany, walnut, or maple. Some luthiers, including my violinmaker friend Jonathan Cooper, actually prefer flatsawn backs for the particular way they color sound—again suggesting that ingredients are only important in the context of a recipe. Happily, there are many ways to season the stew. My recommendation to players is to let the luthiers worry about how wood gets sawn and to select a guitar for its sound, rather than by orientation of grain. AG Dana Bourgeois is a master luthier and the founder of Bourgeois Guitars in Lewiston, Maine.

If AG selects your question for publication, you’ll receive a complimentary copy of AG’s The Acoustic Guitar Owner’s Manual. Dana Bourgeois

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Spider Sense Many hands helped create Santa Cruz No. 10,000 BY TEJA GERKEN

egardless of how many instruments a maker builds, important milestones should be commemorated. For a new luthier, the tenth guitar may be worth popping a bottle of champagne, while large factories ponder what they should do the millionth time they assemble an instrument. Bearing serial number 10,000, the guitar pictured here is representative of Santa Cruz’s stature among contemporary acoustic guitar makers. Coinciding with the company’s 30th anniversary in 2007, it reflects both Santa Cruz’s growth and the company’s ability to facilitate custom work. A collaboration between Santa Cruz, inlay artist Larry Robinson (robinsoninlays.com), and painter Michael Coy (coyart.com), the guitar’s art-nouveau theme is carried out in a dizzying combination of creative efforts.

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Built with a set of Brazilian rosewood (which Robinson had saved for many years in search of the right project) and a spruce top, the guitar is based on Santa Cruz’s 12-fret 00 model. Depicting natural forms, motifs of water, land, and air are repeated on each available surface, either through alkyd (oil) paint, inlay, or engraving. Inlay is usually reserved for a guitar’s fretboard, headstock, pickguard, and purfling (in this case, 45-style purfling supplied by Santa Cruz), but Robinson took this project a step further by also adorning large areas of the sides and back. He used a variety of materials including abalone, exotic hardwoods, gold, copper, and even seaweed for the image on the guitar’s back, which takes its inspiration from Czech art nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha. Other unusual

elements include a removable soundhole insert depicting a spider web. The guitar’s engraving was performed by David Giulietti (engraverdavid.com; who, like Robinson, also worked on C.F. Martin and Co.’s one millionth guitar), while Michael Riley was in charge of casting metal parts such as the spider and the guitar’s bridge pins. Displayed at the 2007 Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, California, Santa Cruz No. 10,000, called the Nouveau, was a feast for the eyes. What’s more, the guitar plays and sounds like a great 12-fret 00 should: rich and balanced, with a quick attack and sublime presence across its tonal range. AG This article was first published in the August 2007 issue.

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Playlist Tallest Man on Earth stretches his sound

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Playlist The Gibson Brothers’ sibling revelry

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Final Note Martin Carthy waxes philosophic

PLAYLIST

MIXED MEDIA

Sugarcane Jane, p.83 AcousticGuitar.com 81

PLAYLIST

Standing tall: Kristian Matsson

Spreading His Wings Fourth album finds Swedish folkie Tallest Man on Earth stretching artistically as he embraces lush orchestration

Tallest Man on Earth Dark Bird Is Home Dead Oceans

BY WHITNEY PHANEUF

t’s been a great year for new music—even as artists have branched out of folk and embraced experimentation. First, Laura Marling plugged in for Short Movie, though more than half the album is devoted to her phenomenal acoustic playing. Then, less surprisingly, Sufjan Stevens blended fragile acoustic-guitar melodies with subtle keyboards, synths, and other electronic elements on Carrie & Lowell. And Mumford & Sons fans will be hard-pressed to find any banjo on their electrified forthcoming album Wilder Mind. Now, Americana-by-way-of-Sweden singer-songwriter Tallest Man on Earth (né Kristian Matsson) has significantly expanded his sound on his fourth album, Dark Bird Is Home. Inspired by Bob Dylan’s songwriting and Nick Drake’s open tuning style, Matsson emerged in 2008 as a powerhouse performer with just an acoustic guitar, his craggy vocals, and urgent lyrics—usually about life on the road. Gradually, over the course of three albums, his music has gained more instrumentation and

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higher production values. His last album, 2012’s There’s No Leaving Now, gave a hint of what was to come with its use of multi-tracking to add woodwinds, drums, and fingerpicked baritone guitar and pedal steel to the mix. Dark Bird Is Home opens in familiar territory, with Matsson strumming his acoustic and crooning about making his way through “sorrow wailing low,” but “Fields of Our Home” takes a turn midway through as layered vocals cast a hazy spell, and synthesizers, horns, and keyboards penetrate the spare acoustic melody. By the second song, “Darkness of the Dream,” Matsson crosses fully into toe-tapping, rambling folk rock—vibrant, uplifting, with this-couldbe-on-a-car-commercial production. It’s a pleasant song and a pleasant surprise, but a significant departure. That said, there’s plenty here for fans of Matsson’s older material. “Singers” is full of virtuosic fingerpicking and has a melody reminiscent of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” (a song Matsson frequently sings). The Western

swing on “Beginners” demonstrates Matsson’s gift for syncopated guitar patterns, while the wistful ballad “Seventeen” is centered on intoxicating rhythmic strumming. Though acoustic guitar is featured on most of the album’s ten tracks—with the exception of “Little Nowhere Towns,” a country-tinged, Bruce Hornsby-style piano tune—it’s difficult to pinpoint any one layer in the lush orchestration. On “Slow Dance,” Matsson’s strumming is accompanied by exuberant woodwinds, bright piano, and jangly percussion that recalls spirited chamberfolk. The album’s first single, “Sagres,” uses Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run-era production to pack guitar, mandolin, piano, and more into a singular, sweeping melody. He brings it all together on the title track, the album’s five-minute closer, which swells from a melancholy love song into a heady, psychedelic opus that evokes nostalgia, loss, and hope. If that last song is a sign of things to come, Matsson should be able to cross over into rock and pop without sacrificing his folk roots.

The Gibson Brothers

Ross Hammond

Sugarcane Jane

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Bluegrass bigwigs deliver heartfelt tribute to close-harmonizing idols There may not be any scientific proof to support this notion, but there’s no doubt that siblings have a preternatural ability to sing the most heart-stirring and closely woven harmonies. From the Monroe Brothers to the Everlys, the close-harmony tradition has a long and storied history in country and folk music. Hailing from upstate New York, Eric and Leigh Gibson have proven over the past two decades that they are a most worthy addition to the lineage. For their all-covers Rounder debut, the Gibsons put down their pens and pay homage to the brother duos that have inspired them from the beginning. (Working title: Maudlin Parlor Songs.) The set is bookended by songs associated with the Everly Brothers: A breezy, relaxed reading of “Bye Bye Love” kicks things off, while a somber version of “Crying in the Rain” (co-written by Carole King) closes the proceedings, complete with Russ Pahl’s mournful pedal steel. There’s also a brisk take on the Monroe Brothers’ spiritual “I Have Found a Way,” as well as two songs from the Blue Sky Boys songbook, the rousing “I’m Troubled” and absolutely spine-tingling ballad “The Sweetest Gift.” They also turn the Stanley Brothers’ hard-driving classic “How Mountain Girls Can Love” into a jaunty waltz. For the most part, the musical settings are created by traditional bluegrass-style instrumentation, featuring the sparkling, crystal-clear sounds of Jesse Brock’s mandolin. (Stalwart guests include Ronnie Reno, and Rob and Ronnie McCoury.) In the end, Brotherhood is the kind of genial, low-key effort that is tailormade for Sunday-morning listening. Pour a cup of tea, sit back, and enjoy. —Marc Greilsamer

Free-jazz guitarist’s solo-acoustic effort makes for stimulating listening Sacramento’s Ross Hammond grew up around folk, blues, and gospel, but like his heroes— Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, and Pharoah Sanders—he took a left turn along the way and wound up playing free jazz. The 15 songs on Flight range from radically re-imagined versions of “Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen” and “In the Garden” to freely improvised pieces of his own, with titles like “Seven Years Later, I Still Remember You” and “The Jellyfish Reached the End of the Journey.” It’s all solo, one-take acoustic, played on a Martin 000-15, a Fender Villager 12-string, and a Savannah resophonic. And though he’s clearly indebted to American Primitives like John Fahey, Hammond’s too firmly rooted in free jazz and electric guitar to fit, discarding most of what once seemed important.

Husband-and-wife team deliver a varied set of porch songs Sugarcane Jane is the married Alabama Gulf Coast duo of Anthony and Savana Lee Crawford: Anthony writes most of the songs (many in collaboration with Nashville-based Buzz Cason, who co-produced with him) and plays all manner of stringed instruments (acoustic and electric guitars, lap steel, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and bass, not to mention piano, harmonica and drums); Savana sings, plays guitar, and adds a little snare drum to this engaging and impressive outing. As the album title implies, Sugarcane Jane is going for a rustic, down-home feeling—you can almost picture a bunch of musicians cranking this out on a front porch in the country (except it’s mostly one guy, overdubbed). Anthony’s confident and propulsive acoustic guitar drives nearly every song, but there’s lots of banjo, harmonica, and other coloration underneath the pair’s appealing unison vocal leads, usually delivered in spot-on harmony. Call it “country,” I guess, but within that there’s a range from bluegrass to rockabilly flavors, and lots in between. Anthony—who’s worked with a range of A-list acts, including Neil Young, Vince Gill, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Winwood, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band—also adds imaginative and varied electric-guitar textures. My favorite songs seem to change with each listening, but right now I’m especially digging the autobiographical “Ballad of Sugarcane Jane”; the lovely ode to California—earthquakes and all— called “San Andreas” (in which I hear a touch of Gram and Emmylou, perhaps); the chugging locomotive tune “Louisiana”; and the soaring oldtime vibe of “Sugar.” The lyrics are simple but smart, the hooks plentiful and pleasing. All in all, a highly likable outing. —Blair Jackson

There’s nothing pastoral about these compositions and nothing pretty about the performances. There’s nothing pastoral about these compositions and nothing pretty about the performances, which is part of what makes Flight so challenging, so unlike anything else. Hammond has little interest in pulse, and he’s more likely to imply a melody than to play it, especially if it’s one we know, like “You Are My Sunshine.” Instead, he’s focused on stripping these songs bare, then building them back, but without the strength they’d need to stand for more than that one moment. The strings stop ringing, and in the silence that follows, the questions just lead to more questions. — Kenny Berkowitz

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FINAL NOTE

THERE IS TRULY NOTHING YOU CAN DO TO HURT THIS MUSIC. IT LOVES BEING MAULED AROUND. THE ONLY THING YOU CAN DO TO HURT IT, AS I’VE SAID BEFORE AND WILL NO DOUBT SAY AGAIN, IS TO NOT SING IT AND NOT PLAY IT.

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