Tag Archives: Acoustic Guitar

Interview : Burton LeGeyt

Legeyt_GuitarDuring my most recent solo tour, I had the pleasure of staying with Boston-based luthier Burton LeGeyt and touring his workshop. In addition to being a swell guy, Burton makes gorgeous, distinctive steel string guitars that look and play like a dream. Burton’s guitars seem to walk the line between modern and classical design traditions; when I initially saw his instruments online, the first thing I noticed was the cutaway design: a very organic, bowl-esque shape that offers a unique solution to reaching the uppermost frets. I was also quickly smitten by his logo design and the shape of his headpiece.

As inspiring as Burton’s guitars were his independent spirit, attention to minute details, and his cozy but well designed workshop. I was able to get a few questions together and Burton was kind enough to answer them below.  Shop photos by Chuck Johnson and myself, guitar glamour shots courtesy of http://www.legetyguitars.com.

W&W : Please describe your history with guitars before you started building. When did you start playing? What kind of music?

Well, it is kind of funny now that I make acoustic instruments but my introduction to the guitar was through hardcore music. I started taking lessons in junior high and by high school a few friends and I had a band and were either playing or attending shows every weekend. We were a part of a very vibrant scene in Connecticut and my life was all about music and it was a great time for me. I had a Les Paul copy and a nice loud amp and I was really into this deep saturated aggresive sound. Later when I learned more about music and started to appreciate a bit more nuance I was able to look back and laugh a bit but I still like that music and am proud of the work we did. Since then I have played in everything from jam bands to a very brief but fun stint in a speakeasy band. Lately on my own I like to noodle around with more jazz styles but I wouldn’t consider myself seriously playing anything too well anymore.

W&W : Explain what got you started with building acoustics. How and where did you begin? Who were your early inspirations and what did you hope to contribute to the craft?

I had been pursuing painting, I had finished art school and was involved in a great art scene in Boston when I first moved here in 2003. After a year or so the large studio space we were renting and sharing became a real headache to keep together. I was working in a woodshop building picture frames and had always been intrigued by the idea of building instruments so I gave up my art studio for a while and shifted my attention over to instruments. I found that I really loved it and have spent the last 6 years very dedicated to pursuing that craft. My early projects were building strange things with features I had always wanted to try but had never seen. I built a small fretless teardrop instrument with classical strings that I loved playing. I had a sitar that I liked messing around with and built a few gourd instruments as well. Eventually I got around to building a copy of my Dreadnaught and since that first one I have focused pretty exclusively on steel string guitars. I became involved with the New England Luthiers Guild soon after finishing my first few guitars and the members in that group have been a very direct influence on my work, I feel lucky to have met them and been a part of that group. Continue reading

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Raymond’s Fall 2011 Tour Journal

While I don’t get out on the road nearly as often as I’d like, it seems that for the last few years, I’ve been able to tour with some regularity… and though I normally relish these trips as an opportunity to be alone with my thoughts and tunes on the sometimes long drives between gigs, my last three outings have been cooperative tours with other musicians, which is really the more interesting way to go. This time out, I had the good fortune to spend a week with Chuck Johnson, in my opinion one of the coolest players recording today.  Chuck had secured a small arts grant and was hitting the road to promote A Struggle, Not A Thought, his debut solo LP on the Strange Attractors Audio House label.  I’ve been following Chuck’s music ever since his appearance last year on the amazing Beyond Berkeley Guitar compilation, and was really excited to spend some quality time with the man, exploring each others perspectives on our tool of choice, the steel-strung acoustic guitar.  Throw in our mutual friend Trevor Healy, not only a talented luthier but a fantastic fingerpicker in his own right, and we had ourselves a week-long guitar bro-down of epic proportions!  Having interviewed both men for the release of BBG, I knew that they would be thoughtful and intelligent travelling partners, and alas the short time we spent playing shows together passed far too quickly.

For me, this particular trip started with a whimper: having played a house party the night before and getting to bed in the 3am area, I was not able to rise in time to catch my 7am Megabus from Pittsburgh to New York City, where I was supposed to meet up with Chuck and Trevor to start my leg of the tour.  I wasn’t actually on the bill in NYC, but was planning to concentrate on getting photos and videos for this here blog, and I was looking forward to visiting the Zebulon venue for the first time.   As it was, it gave me an extra day to pack properly and to practice, which was welcome… but it also meant that I’d have to figure out how I planned to get from Pittsburgh to Cambridge the next day for our gig at Zuzu.  I decided to rent the tiniest car that Budget offered (and my budget afforded), which turned out to be a Chevy Aveo.  Tiny it was, for my dreadnought case didn’t even fit in the trunk!  It mattered little, though, since I’d be leaving the car in Boston and travelling in Chuck’s rental the rest of the trip.  I spent that grey, rainy Monday traversing Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and finally gunning it across the Mass Pike to get to the gig with a little time to spare. Continue reading

Grayson Currin Interviews Glenn Jones

 

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This interview originally appeared on Pitchfork.  Reprinted with permission.

As best as he can remember, Glenn Jones has been playing guitar since 1967, when he was 14 years old. Despite four decades spent behind six strings, though, he still talks about the instrument like an infinite terrain– not only for himself but also for the current crop of new, young guitarists following the sounds of his calloused fingertips. He discovers and sometimes discards new tunings almost constantly, and his best tunes sport the sense that they were considered and carved with the diligence and patience of some elaborate wooden trinket.

“It was a gradual process that came from a lot of time and hours and weeks and months and years playing guitar alone and being alone,” says Jones. “Eventually, it’s to say this is mine.”

The Wanting, Jones’ first full-length album for Thrill Jockey, is a collection of tunes for banjo and guitar that explores dozens of different ideas within its hour run-time. From the redolent moan of the title track to the withdrawn sigh of “Even to Win is to Fail” and from the gentle climb of the opener to the elliptical expanse of the 17-minute closer, Jones has made a record that twists and turns through both feelings and techniques, impressing even as it empathizes.

Pitchfork: Even more so than with your previous records, I was immediately taken by The Wanting. I kept needing to hear it. For you, what’s different on this record than your other LPs?

Glenn Jones: I’m not sure if it felt that different going into it. I’m not a fast writer. It takes me about two years to write enough material for an album. Generally, that two-year period is just a reflection of where I’ve been during that time, new tunings I’ve uncovered, and how I’ve navigated the twain of those particular tunings. The only thing that feels different about this one is that I spent more time with the banjo in the past two years than I had going into Barbecue Bob in Fishtown, which had a couple of banjo pieces. Also, the duet I recorded with Chris Corsano is a little bit of a departure, at least for my solo guitar records. It’s not so unusual maybe to Cul de Sac fans. That may be the extent of what I think is different. People tend to look for new directions, and I’m not sure if there is a marked new direction rather than a further exploration of what I’ve always been interested in. Continue reading

Guitar Honeymoon Through The South

Though my lovely wife Minette and I got married all the way back in May, we’ve both been pretty swamped with work ever since, and the idea of a decent honeymoon has been on the back-burner.  Well, that all ended this week, as we filled up our tank and decided to take a scenic drive through the south!  We didn’t do all that much pre-planning, figuring that we would just set up a few hotels along the way, and do whatever struck our fancy on any given day… but knowing that we were going to be spending a little time in both Asheville NC and Nashville TN, I made sure to have a few fine guitar stores on my mental list of places to visit, and they did not disappoint.  WARNING : if you’re not interested in some pretty subjective ideas about sound and a lot of out-and-out minutia concerning some positively lovely acoustic guitars, you’ve probably already read too much… things are about to get long and geeky! I’ll also take this moment to point out that for every minute I spent looking at guitars, Minette probably spent five in thrift stores and boutiques shopping for unique and vintage articles of clothing… so everybody came away happy!

About twenty minutes outside of Asheville, nestled inconspicuously along a residential country road sits Dream Guitars, a unique appointment-only showroom and internet store owned and operated by Paul Heumiller.  Paul started the company a while back with none other than world-renowned fingerstylist Martin Simpson, and both men know more than a little bit about fine acoustic guitars.  There are few places in the world where so many unique hand-built and small shop guitars are available to play, and I tried my best to take it all in… though it wasn’t easy!  In 90 minutes I played just a handful of instruments, each one just as beautiful as the last, and each with its own particular set of aesthetic and tonal strengths… and though I’ll admit it definitely feels a little haughty to pick apart any of these guitars, as a longtime fan of the instrument, I had no choice but to follow my ears, and these are some of my thoughts. Continue reading

Review : Cian Nugent “Doubles” LP/CD (VHF Records, 2011)

cian_DoublesI first became aware of Dubliner Cian Nugent when his solo guitar contributions to Imaginational Anthem Volume Three and We Are All One, in the Sun: Tribute to Robbie Basho appeared in back-to-back years.¹  Both recordings evidence clean, confident playing and command of the freeform, open-tuned style that continues to prevail in today’s acoustic guitar underground.  Cian’s debut album, Doubles, was released earlier this year by VHF Records, joining a recent string of excellent guitar-oriented albums issued by the label, including Jesse Sparhawk & Eric Carbonara’s Sixty Strings and Alexander Turnquist’s Hallway of Mirrors.

One cannot help but ponder the meaning of the album’s title, “doubles.”  Simply stated, it is a symmetrical work, in that it pairs together two side-long pieces that mirror one another structurally and musically.  On both sides, series of improvised passages comprise two primary movements that repeat, resulting in a loose, “ABAB” form. Additionally, for each work Nugent establishes a vocabulary of intervals and melodic phrases built from adjacent tones and half-tones.  The resulting “duplicitous” voicings provide the album’s primary musical themes as well as the constant sensation of push and pull. I could go on!  Let’s just say the “doubles” motif gives the work a dimension beyond pure emotion, which I found somewhat unique for a freeform guitar album. Continue reading

Review : James Elkington & Nathan Salsburg “Avos” LP/MP3 (Tompkins Square, 2011)

AvosLife is full of funny coincidences, isn’t it?  Exactly a decade ago, I was playing guitar in The Higher Burning Fire, something of a chamber-pop group that (by my influence) dabbled with folky and fingerpicked guitar patterns.  In the middle of a full-band relocation from Kansas to New York City, I received an interesting phone call from our drummer, already in the Big Apple – “I met this guy, he’s really cool, he’s gotta be in the band…  you’ll love him, he plays just like you!”  My excitable drummer must have somehow forgotten that I also played just like me, and that I was but one of the three more-than-competent guitarists in our band… a fourth guitarist?  Did it really matter what he played like?  His mind was made up, though, and I took the whole thing as a sign that maybe I didn’t want to carry on with the band any more.  “They’ll be fine, no shortage of guitarists there!” They did the New York thing (for a little over a year) and I found my way up to Boston.

Can you tell where I’m going with this?  That mysterious fourth guitarist was none other than Nathan Salsburg, freshly arrived to NYC from Louisville and working for The Alan Lomax Archives, a post that he holds to this day.  When I went back to New York a little while later to see what my former band mates had been making of themselves in their adopted home, I found Nathan to be not only a great guitarist but a sweet guy as well, and we hit it off talking about Bert Jansch and Scott Walker.

Fast forward about seven years… the band had long broken up and gone our separate ways, and I had devoted myself almost exclusively to acoustic guitar music.  I picked up the fantastic third volume in Tompkin Square’s Imaginational Anthem series and saw who else but Nathan listed among the artists on the back of the disc.  His standout track “Bold Ruler’s Joys” was not only one of the disc’s (and series’) highlights, but was one of the most compelling and confident acoustic instrumentals that I’d heard from any of the current generation of young fingerpickers.  Nathan didn’t play “just like me” at all, he was worlds better, in a league of his own!  I quickly got a message to the man, and we started keeping in touch regularly.

Over the last couple of years, Nathan has been sending me some of his works-in-progress, mostly next-level fingerstyle jams named after race horses… for he has moved back to his native Louisville, and the Kentucky Derby is like the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras combined down there!  Last year, I began hearing from Nathan about another project, a guitar duet record involving a guy named Jim from Chicago.  Jim turned out to be James Elkington, of The Zincs and The Horses Ha, who also turned out (by yet another coincidence) to be the drummer for Brokeback, a Chicago group led by the legendary Doug McCombs (he of Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day). I’ve shared a bill with Doug many times in the last few years, since he and my duet partner Dave are old friends from Dave’s Chicago days. It’s a small, small musical world folks, and it’s only getting smaller… but this back story and all its little coincidences could not have led to a more exciting moment, and now I have the great pleasure to review James’ and Nathan’s stellar debut Avos. Continue reading

John Renbourn Tackles Satie’s “Sarabande”

Renbourn_70sJohn Renbourn is a wonder. His recording career began in England during the mid-sixties, just as the late Davey Graham was blazing new trails with the acoustic guitar.  John followed Davey’s lead, performing on his early Transatlantic albums with a sense of abandon, cleverly weaving together musical styles and traditions from around the globe. Over time, Renbourn’s playing became more measured but also increasingly detailed, sometimes blurring the line where folk music ends and classical music begins.  While his discography features a wide variety of modes and collaborations, his solo albums from the late seventies, The Hermit and The Black Balloon in particular, feature expansive long-form guitar instrumentals that are among his most ambitious and best works.  The latest album, Palermo Snow (Shanachie Records, 2010) belongs to that lineage… I was excited to discover it included an arrangement of Erik Satie’s “Sarabande,”¹ as I’ve been absorbed in Satie’s music recently and, more importantly, imagined that interpreting it would be an interesting change of pace for Renbourn.

Satie’s piano compositions are generally regarded as precursors to ambient music, which he referred to as musique d’ameublement, or “furniture music.” Their quality is atmospheric, repetitive, slightly dissonant.  Satie is identified with the avant-garde for his later associations with Dada, though his early compositions are often referred to as “impressionist.”  The series of three “Sarabandes,” introduced in 1887, just a year prior to his best known work, the “Gymnopédies,” indeed have a drifting, romantic quality.  Here is the late French pianist’s Jacques Février’s rendition of Satie’s “Sarabande No.1”²:

A “sarabande” is a dance in triple meter.  From what I’ve gathered, it was developed in Spanish colonies in the sixteenth century and later banned in Spain for its sexual undertones.  The dance was revived and commonly used as movement within a suite during the Baroque period, when the German music theorist, Johann Matthesson, declared that it “expresses no passion other than ambition.”³ It’s easy to imagine how the peculiar reputation and history of this dance would appeal to Satie, whose sense of humor is well documented.  One even wonders if the circularity of his “Sarabandes” was intended to be satirical. Interestingly, John Renbourn included an electric guitar rendition of a Bach “Sarabande” on his fourth album, The Lady and the Unicorn.  Despite the heavy vibrato effect, it sounds more formal than Satie’s “Sarabandes,” and I suspect provides a better sense of a typical, Baroque version of the dance:

Adapting ambient music to the guitar provides one with an opportunity to obsess over each individual note or chord; to allow the overtones that occur during sustain, as well as fret and room noise, to become the “detail” of the piece.  The timbre of steel string guitar seems particularly well-suited to the task, especially compared with classical guitar.  Solo fingerstyle guitar music, by contrast, is a show of dexterity, where bass and melody lines interact in a complex, sometimes dizzying manner. Renbourn is regarded as a master of fingerstyle form, and would seem to reside in a different ballpark from the ambient musician.  I know from my own attempts to feather ambient pieces into a fingerstyle repertoire that the adjustment in mindset is not easy to manage in one sitting.  Not to suggest that John Renbourn is uninterested in tonality, it seems reasonable to point out that the opportunities for him to really fuss over it have been somewhat scarce in his music.  I can’t think of many examples from his recorded works that resemble Satie’s music, save perhaps the duet rendition of the Charles Mingus’ “Theme from The Shoes Of The Fisherman’s Wife Are Some Jive Ass Slippers” with Stefan Grossman, which has impressionistic qualities.

Renbourn’s take on Satie’s “Sarabande” is similar in tempo to the Février example.  However, one gets the sensation, especially early on in the recording, that he feels slightly impatient and is struggling to lock in with the odd cadences of the piece:

In fact, it’s the sense of struggle that I find most appealing about this performance.  The voicings he selected for the arrangement also have a mundane quality that I think befits the piece.  If there’s one flaw, it would be the heavy handed use of artificial reverb on the recording, which I think obscures rather than flatters some of the details of John’s performance.  Nonetheless, I find it encouraging that this revered guitar player, who has accomplished so much with the instrument, was willing to venture into potentially uncomfortable musical territory to expand his boundaries, if even only slightly.  While this article focused only on one track, Palermo Snow is a certainly multi-faceted album worthy of celebration by guitar music fans.

¹ Renbourn’s arrangement is of Satie’s “Sarabande No. 1”
² from Piano Music of Erik Satie (Remastered, 2011)
³ from Der Vollkommene Capellmeister (1739)