Tag Archives: Beyond Berkeley Guitar

“Beyond Berkeley Guitar” Interview : Chuck Johnson

Chuck Johnson is based in Oakland, CA. In addition to writing scores for film and dance, Chuck has worked extensively in the fields of modern composition and experimental rock, and also composes very fine acoustic guitar instrumentals. We recently interviewed Chuck about his appearance on the new Tompkin’s Square compilation Beyond Berkeley Guitar, which features new music from seven Bay Area guitarists.  Chuck’s track is available as a free download at the link above.

W&W : Please describe the guitar you play on your track, how long you’ve owned it, where you got it.

It’s a 2001 Martin 000-17s. I bought it new in ’01 or ’02 from Elderly, after playing one at a local store (I lived in North Carolina at the time.) The 000-17s is an all mahogany guitar with the older Martin 000 design – 12-fret body, slotted headstock, longer scale and wider neck. It is really fun to play and has a melancholy voice that works well on certain pieces, especially in the open D tunings. Martin ended up only making a couple hundred of them for some reason, and I have played the 000-15s that looks identical and is still available, but it has different bracing and just doesn’t have the same mojo in my opinion. Like any mahogany top guitar it takes a little more work to get the top moving, but I love how the mid-high overtones sing out when you drive it, kind of a lower register than what you might expect from a spruce top. Continue reading

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“Beyond Berkeley Guitar” Interview : Ava Mendoza

Oakland, California’s Ava Mendoza is a guitarist and composer who channels a broad range of influences, combining them into her own singular style.  Country-blues, western swing, free jazz and heavy rock all find their way into her unique and exciting playing, and she has shared the stage with many luminaries from the west coast improv scene.  We recently interviewed Ava about her appearance on Tompkins Square’s new showcase of Bay Area guitarists, Beyond Berkeley Guitar, which is out this week. Ava closes the collection with her composition “Redwood Regional Park Blues : Between Hay and Grass”.

W&W : Please describe the guitar you play on your track, how long you’ve owned it, where you got it.

I’m playing a Gibson ES 125. It’s a hollowbody with one P-90 pickup on it. I got it about 6 years ago off Ebay for about $600. They are cheap because they were and are not very popular guitars, not sure why… They’re not very versatile I guess, they kind of just have their one warm, fat sound, and they can get muddy through a dirty amp or effects if you’re not careful.  In any case, I love this one a lot and have used it for many different things. Continue reading

“Beyond Berkeley Guitar” Interview : Rich Osborn

Rich Osborn is a Bay area acoustic guitarist working in the style of the late Robbie Basho. Rich is featured on the new Tompkins Square release Beyond Berkeley Guitar. We recently interviewed Rich about his track, his history with Basho, and his approach to playing the guitar.

W&W : Please describe the guitar you play on your track, how long you’ve owned it, where you got it.

For this piece, and almost all of the “free raga style” work that I do, I play a guitar made in 1915 by Vincenzo DeLuccia. I got it in 1976 at Jon Lundberg’s once famous mecca for vintage guitars on Dwight Way in Berkeley. Jon told me that the face had been caved in when he first got it, so it’s gone through a major restoration. The saddle is not the original, and has been extended out to meet the fan bracing underneath. I recently learned in a conversation with luthier Paul Hostetter that this large saddle design was a unique signature of a luthier named Mario Martello who worked for Lundberg. Continue reading

“Beyond Berkeley Guitar” Interview : Trevor Healy

by Raymond Morin

Trevor Healy is a guitarist, repairman and luthier based in the San Francisco Bay area. In addition to playing in the group Meridians, Trevor composes for solo acoustic guitar, and was tapped by Sean Smith for the new Beyond Berkeley Guitar collection, out now on Tompkins Square. We recently talked to Trevor about his appearance on the comp, as well as his approach to building and playing the guitar.

W&W: Please describe the guitar you play on your track, how long you’ve owned it, where you got it.

The guitar is a Stella 12-string, made by Harmony sometime in the 1960’s. I got it on EBay about 6 years ago after becoming interested in Leadbelly’s 12-string playing. When the box arrived, I realized that the guitar had not been taken out of its case since the 60’s, but needed a ton of work to make it a playable instrument. Like many Harmony guitars, its body is made of plywood and the neck is poplar, which some consider low-grade materials. It’s light weight and darker tone spoke to me though, and I thought it had some real potential to become a decent instrument. So, I re-set the neck for proper bridge and action height, made a new bridge and saddle, radiused the previously flat fingerboard and re-fretted it. Acoustically it is pretty quiet and has an almost lute-like tone. I have come to love this quality. I then put in an under-saddle piezo pickup to amplify the sound in live situations. When I first plugged in the guitar, I was blown away by its tone. I have played it almost exclusively since then. Continue reading

It’s “Beyond Berkeley Guitar” Week on W&W!

Back in 2006, Tompkins Square, one of the world’s leading acoustic guitar, jazz and archival folk labels, released a compilation called Berkeley Guitar. The LP showcased the playing of three up-and-coming young guitarists : Matt Baldwin, Adam Snider and Sean Smith, who also assembled and produced the collection. The disc made it clear that the American Primitive guitar tradition, first popularized (I know, relative term) by now-legends like John Fahey and Peter Lang in the 60’s, was still alive and well in Berkeley in the new century.

On June 8, 2010, Tompkins Square will release a second installment, aptly titled Beyond Berkeley Guitar. This new collection was once again curated by Smith, and as the name suggests, the parameters have been expanded… Beyond Berkeley Guitar features the work of seven guitarists from the greater Bay area, and the music of these players covers a wider range of sounds, styles, and techniques, both compositional and philosophical.

The players’ geographic proximity results in only a little overlap in their approaches to solo guitar music… from the Robbie Basho-inspired, free-raga meditations of Rich Osborn to the kinetic, bluesy electric runs of Ava Mendoza, from Smith’s multi-movement psychedelic journeys to the more tightly wound, succinct opening statement by Aaron Sheppard… there is a lot of variety on offer, and the twists and turns all add up to make Beyond Berkeley Guitar not only a wonderful snap-shot (polaroid?) of a vibrant guitar scene, but also a great record in its own right.

With the help of Smith and the label, I was fortunate enough to get interviews with everyone who appears on Beyond Berkeley Guitar. For me, these interviews were both exciting and fascinating. The players who appear on this collection are all fantastic guitar players, there’s no doubt about it… but I was delighted (though not surprised) to find that they are all thoughtful, warm and intelligent people, happy to share their thoughts on the instrument, composition, the rich tradition of instrumental guitar music and its welcome resurgence.

The interviews will be posted one per day, starting tomorrow with Aaron Sheppard. There is little or no editing, in most cases. One important note : though I would usually provide a sound sample with any given interview or record review, each player only has one track on Beyond Berkeley Guitar… and I wouldn’t want to give everything away, just like that! I want to strongly encourage fans of finger-picked guitar music to pick up this release, you won’t regret it! Please enjoy the interviews.