on “The New “Untitled” Album (House of Guitars)
Q: So tell us about your new album!
A: It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and I’m real excited about it. I’m making a record using only cheap, pawnshop style guitars. A lot of these instruments have tons of character (and I mean that in a good way) and they all record beautifully. The record is a mixture of my stuff, some folk tunes and some improvisations. There’s a multi-guitar version of “Shallow Brown” that actually predates the version I played on “the live album.” There’ll be some blues on there too; some of these guitars are only good for slide! (laughs). At this point I don’t have a title for the record yet.
Q: What are some of the instruments you’re using?
A: Well, let’s see; on a lot of the tunes I’m using an old Harmony OOO-size guitar. It’s a solid mahogany guitar, I think, but if I were hard pressed to absolutely identify the wood, I’d have to say “Uh, it’s brown!” (laughs). It sounds very cool. I’ve got an old Framus 12 string that gets put to work on some stuff. I’ve got several old electric lap steels, one which came with a matching amp. There are two Oahus and a Supro doubleneck. There are also two (acoustic) OO size Oahu guitars set up for Hawaiian lap style playing and a plastic Maccaferri archtop. There will no doubt be others added to the arsenal as well.
Q: The Maccaferri guitar is made out of plastic?
A: Yep. Sounds like it, too. A friend of mine who owns a music store has a bunch of these and I picked through them and found the one I’ve got. These were made in the 50’s or 60’s I think, and they were still in their original cartons and plastic bags. I was the first person to touch this thing since it was packed for shipping! I should mention also that I am not changing strings on any of these guitars unless one breaks, with the exception of the electric lap steels. The strings on the Maccaferri are older than most of my guitars.
Q: Very interesting concept…
A: Yeah, there are lots of angles you can look at this thing from. While these instruments are arguably cheap and in some cases quite hideous, I’m not trying to make a big deal about the “skankiness” of them, although that does factor in occasionally. I’m just trying like always to make a good record that sounds good, uses interesting textures and builds on the raw material of sound to create something unique. There’s also some consideration for what the history of these guitars might have been. You know, who owned this before me? What did they play, why did they sell it, what happened to the person who owned it, etc. It makes me a little sad sometimes to think of it. The bottom line is that all these instruments are useful for something. In trying to pull more out of the guitars I feel like I have to pull more out of myself, as pretentious as that sounds. It’s been a whole lot of fun, and a great challenge.
Q: It’s certainly a different experience than playing the ultra high-end guitars you’re normally associated with. How do you perceive this difference?
A: Well, the whole high end guitar market is a beautiful thing, and I’m really inspired by the work being done now. Guitars have never been made better. But I’ve seen the lust for super high end guitars go way off the deep end in some cases. I thought it might be fun to slam on the brakes a bit. Ultimately it’s the heart, soul and hands of the player that comes through the guitar. A better guitar doesn’t guarantee anything. If you’ve got nothing to say, or if your tone or touch are crude, that’s what comes through. So in that sense, there’s little or no difference, really. These cheapo guitars record really well- they sound exactly like they sound in the room. Expensive guitars can be difficult to record sometimes. The biggest hurdle with these guitars is trying to get them to play in tune. The necks are impossible. That’s one area in which the biggest improvements have been made- today’s guitars are way more stable and playable. They also smell better!
Q: It’s a new millennium and guitar music has really developed. Where do you see the music going in the 21st century?
A: Well, that’s a tough one. The techniques players are using now- all the two handed tapping and percussive stuff, etc.- that’s stuff that I’m sure was never imagined thirty years ago. I don’t know how much further it can go. If I ever see a guitar player taking off his shoes onstage, I’m outta there!! (laughs). Seriously, I think that style and technique will continue to change as it always does. In the seventies and eighties the exploration of tunings was big. Late eighties and nineties was when all the tapping stuff really took off. Who knows, maybe the music itself will get a little attention one of these days (laughs).
Q: Ouch! That was harsh!
A: I’m half kidding, really. It’s easy to get lost in a cool technique or tuning, and it can be fun and produce some good music. I love the fact that the steel string guitar is continuing to evolve. There are no set rules, and as a player it allows you the freedom to do whatever you want with it. Your personal input counts for something.
Q: Speaking of tablature, what’s in the future- any more transcriptions or an instructional video perhaps?
A: I’ve sort of addressed that elsewhere on the website. The short answer is yes, there’ll be some new tablature available sometime. I have no plans on making an instructional video, but may do a concert video sometime. I don’t like having cameras around. (Look for an updated interview when the album is completed in mid 2001.)