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Friday, November 21, 2014

“A Guitar A Day”
Installment #7 – the American Guitar Continued
Takamine & Godin Guitars

            Wow, the end of the series is already here! We checked out guitars that went from seven strings, four pitches and mustaches, to five stringers with wedding cakes, to six stringers with v shaped necks and pyramids. We took a quick look at the contributions of guys like Torres and Tarrega, and Perez, Tezano and Ramirez. I hope you got a chance to check out a few of the videos. Did you see Brent Mason burn his electric nylon string guitar down to the ground? Oops I spilled the beans, but don’t worry that video is coming right up! Speaking of electrifying classical guitars.
            My favorite electric/classical guitar is my Takamine CP-132SC. It’s not high end. I think I paid $500 for it back in the mid 90’s. But, it’s a working mans’ guitar. It sounds awesome plugged in, it’s rugged, it holds up to temperature changes like no other guitar. The expensive guitars are high maintenance. My Takamine is always there for me day in and day out. This guitar has a cedar top. It sounded great the first time I played it and 100’s and 100s of gigs later – it still sounds great! I have played hundreds of gigs on that guitar. I played at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC for three years five nights a week. This guitar has been the consummate workhorse and has passed every performance test along the way.
I don’t see a serial number. I’m not sure what year it was built. I did replace the pre-amp on the guitar a few months ago, but that’s to be expected  - electronics wear out. The new thing on this guitar that we didn’t see on any of our previous instruments is the fact that there is wood missing from the top right portion of the body of the guitar. That’s called a cutaway. It allows the performer to easily stretch their fingers to the end of the fret board. I really like it. Of course classical guitarists can extend their fingers up the neck of traditional classical guitars, but the cutaway is awesome for those of us that do a lot of electric guitar work. Now, I have heard that having a cutaway with a strictly acoustic classical guitar greatly affects the sound of that instrument. That makes perfect sense to me, but having a cut away on a gigging classical guitar for restaurants and theatre gigs also makes sense to me.  
And now the Godin ACS slim SA. This guitar is cool. It has a solid body so no matter how loud you play; you won’t get any feedback like you might get on an acoustic like the Takamine. The Godin also has the capability of being played as a midi guitar. There is a midi out on the guitar that can then be connected to a midi effects rack such as the Roland GR20. I have included a link for a video where you can learn all about the capabilities of this awesomely versatile guitar, truly a part of the next generation of instruments.
It’s perfect for recording and composing. You can play any line on the guitar and since it records with midi information you can assign any instrument to the guitar part that you record such as flute, trumpet, or even an organ. Of course there’s no substitute for having real players but everyone doesn’t have a budget for hiring musicians and even if they do hire live musicians for their recordings, the midi is a fantastic way to sketch out ideas for a variety of instrumental parts. This guitar provides an incredibly creative outlet for guitar players that they didn’t have for many years prior, so thank you Godin!
And so this wraps up my very first blog series! I’ve written inspirational pieces, funny pieces and now a researched informational series of pieces. What’s next? I have no idea. Stay tuned. I need to get back to composing in my studio. I have played very little guitar for the past few months spending a lot of time on the “Waves of Soul” record release and then I rolled into this blog series. I’ll look to find a nice balance between music and blogging. I also enjoy doing a bit of teaching and performing. I’m going to Florida and Mississippi to perform on stage with a Christmas musical. That will be in a few weeks. It should provide me with some really interesting material, maybe a travel and life on the road blog. We might even run into a drummer sault or two along the way (I describe that in on of my older blogs).
Until next time, surf it mellow my brothers and sisters!             

Brent Mason really leans into his acoustic/electric on this video!

How to use a Godin Multiac Nylon SA

Takamine is showed above. Below is the Godin.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

“A Guitar A Day”
Installment #6 – The Modern Classical Guitar

            Today’s instrument represents a modern classical guitar that was built in the year 2000. The label inside the guitar reads “M. Tezanos Perez.” After doing a bit of research it looks like the name of this company represents collaboration between Teodoro Perez and Mariano Tezanos. They both began working in the 1960’s in the famous Ramirez guitar shop in Madrid. They were both teenagers at the time taking full advantage of their opportunity by working their way up from sweeping floors and making deliveries to making guitars for Ramirez. It was when they left Ramirez and joined forces that they started building under their new name “M. Tezanos Perez.” The guitars that they made together put them at the top of their industry. It looks like Perez is still making guitars today. I’m not sure about Tezanos. I provided a link to a video of Perez being interviewed just a few years ago – looks like he’s still going strong!

            The body of todays’ guitar is a bit bigger then the parlor guitars that we’ve taken a look at over the past two days and the pyramid bridge is gone.  A couple of good descriptors for this guitar, from my perspective, would be “beefy” and “solid.” It plays like butter, but projects like a megaphone. The bass is prominent, but not boomy. The mids and highs are perfectly balanced. The sound of this guitar represents what is considered to be the traditional Spanish guitar sounds that Ramirez and many others were shooting for when they came up with the designs for these guitars. I love it. If I remember correctly this guitar has Brazilian rosewood sides and back and a German spruce top – really high end materials and it sounds and plays like it.
While this guitar has a spruce top, the Takamine that you’ll see tomorrow has a cedar top. The difference between these two woods is that the spruce tops need time to open up. They sound better and better the more you play them. The cedar top guitars don’t change as much in tone as you play them but you get a really good sense of how their going to sound from day one since they don’t really change, two things to consider when buying your next classical guitar. It’s important to learn something about the inherent sound qualities and tones of different woods especially when it comes to higher end guitars because you’ll have a wider range of choices. There are lots of luthiers to get to know. You’ll find all sorts of woods and design techniques. No matter what your price point is on a guitar, especially acoustic guitars, make a point to find out what they’re made of. You’ll eventually have preferences for playing and listening to particular guitars based on what they’re made out of and how they’re made. Maybe you’ll become fond of guitars built in the tradition of Torres – maybe not, but it’s fun to learn and decide for yourself!

The Guitars of Tezano Perez

Tedero Perez – How He Started As A Guitar Maker

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

“A Guitar A Day”
Installment #5 – the American Guitar Continued
Martin & Co. EST. 1833

Steel strings!

            “The robust steel-string guitar began to make its official appearance from instrument makers’ workshops in the late 1880’s. Apart from its suitability as an accompanying instrument for the voice, the guitar was portable and very cheap. The Sears Roebuck catalogue of 1908 was advertising guitars by mail-order from $1.89 to $28.15. Otherwise the local country store sold a variety of guitars. For $1.95 you could purchase one of the “Spanish models with patent head, maple wood, red shaded, varnished soundboard, good quality in pasteboard box”; for $5 there was a wider choice. But even these were often out of the reach of the poor country boy and many learned on home-made instruments.” The quote above comes from page 287 of Guitars: Music, History, Construction and Players from the Renaissance to Rock by Tom and Mary Anne Evans. I really enjoyed reading this so I thought that it would be a great idea to give you the direct quote.   
Our guitar for today’s blog, having steel strings, was best suited for music styles ranging from bluegrass to gospel, to country western and maybe even some bottleneck blues. But wait. I just remembered that there was one really famous dude that played classical guitar repertoire on steel strings as opposed to gut. His name was Agustin Barrios Mangore. Was he wacky for doing that? You decide! I’ve included a link below in case you’re interested in knowing more about his colorful and remarkable life. He’s considered to be one of the greatest composers to ever live – at least among classical guitarist. In contrast, the nylon Bay State guitar from yesterday was more suited for classical guitar music, which was very popular with guitarists such as William Foden and Justin Holland. Their musical styles included instrumental arrangements of popular songs, arrangements of famous operas and music from European composers like Sor, Giuliani and Carcassi.
Lawrence K Brown modeled today’s guitar after an 1898 Martin style 40. It has a pyramid bridge, Indian Rosewood sides, anglemen spruce top, African mahogany neck, ebony fingerboard and any ebony bridge. It was finished with garnet orange shellac and French polish. The bracing is light making it quite necessary to use extra light silk and steel strings so as not to damage the guitar. After all, a heavy gauge of strings could pull the bridge right off the top of the guitar!
One more thing before we wrap up. Let’ not forget Francisco Tarrega who is recognized in history as having developed a number of performance techniques directly related to the new construction standards that were set by Antonio de Torres. Some of Tarrega’s improvements included specific left and right hand positions as well as the precise use of a footstool. He also indicated where each note should be played on the guitar neck for specific compositions in order to be able to take full advantage of the incredible tonal qualities of these new guitars. Tarrega was an incredible virtuoso classical guitarist and a quintessential romantic.
Here’s a video of an 1890 Martin Guitar by O’Brien Guitars – very similar to mine – steel strings - you can hear how beautiful this guitar sounds.

Check out this Martin Guitar from 1889 with nylon strings – similar to the Bay State but I think the Martin sounds much better then mine.

Agustin Barrios – here’s a fun article in which the use of steel strings by Barrios as opposed to gut strings is discussed. By the way, it sounds like Andre Segovia was not down with Barrios using steel strings. Segovia referred to steel strings as “wire fences” – ouch!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

“A Guitar A Day”
Installment #4 – the American Guitar – Bay State
The Romantic Era - approx. 1820-1900

Today’s instrument is a Bay State parlor Z style guitar with rosewood sides and back. Yeah, yeah I know it’s missing a string. I haven’t played this guitar in a long time. That string was all jacked up when I opened the case but my iPad photo shoot was in full swing. Anyway, on to more important business. I’ve been trying to figure out when this guitar was constructed. The serial number is 14,809. Bay State constructed guitars from 1865 to 1903. They show a Z series guitar on their website that has a 1530 serial number. They think that it was probably built in the 1860’s. Bay State’s building pace for guitars is thought to have been on average, about a 1,000 a year. So, if I’ve done my math correctly, then this guitar was probably built in the 1870’s. Having said that, I’ve seen a handful of guitars on the internet that look very similar to mine that were built much later, so I’m not so sure. I’m going to try to solve this once and for all by using the Bay State guitar registry. I’ll keep you posted on my findings!
I’ve performed recitals on all of the guitars in this weeks’ blog series. I would have to say that this is one of my favorites. It has an incredibly well balanced gentle nylon string sound – really sweet and super easy to play. Take notice of the v shape on the back of the neck and the bridge design. The sides of the bridge are in the shape of little pyramids.
Parlor guitars were exactly what you’d imagine. They were played in peoples’ parlors and in their music rooms. Parlor guitars took up much less space then pianos, plus they were a whole lot less expensive! Women were taught, in some of the private female academies, how to play a variety of musical instruments in school including keyboards, the harp and the guitar. It was not typical for them to be trained for professional positions but it’s interesting to note that the first conservatory in the United States was a seminary for women. I’ve included an awesome link below to an article on women in music. Something to note, there’s been a recent resurgence in the popularity of parlor guitars for their portability, tone quality and vintage appeal.
We ended yesterday’s blog with two things hanging, one being the standardization of guitar construction and the other being performance practices and techniques. Enter, Antonio de Torres and Francisco Tarrega. Torres revolutionized guitar construction providing a standard for all other guitar builders. He introduced a specific structure, string length, and a new way of bracing the inside of the guitar. Torres also addressed the use of specific types of wood and the overall proportions of the guitar – hence the foundations and standardizations of the classical guitar for generations to come!
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog on the Martin style parlor guitar and a brief look into the contributions of Francisco Tarrega. Cheers!

A link to the Bay State registry.

This link is to an Oxford Music article on Women in Music.

Link to different styles of bracing for guitars including the Torres design.

Monday, November 17, 2014

“A Guitar A Day”
Installment #3 – the Classical Guitar
The Classical Period - Approx. 1750-1820

And then there were six. Six single strings to be exact. This guitar looks like a modern guitar with a smaller body. Look, the mustache bridge is still there. I know we’ve seen plenty of mustache bridges, but this is the last generation for these guys - bummer. The neck is quite substantial in girth and size while the body remains small in comparison. It tends to be a top-heavy guitar for that reason. It took me a few rehearsals to get used to the weight distribution. Lawrence K Brown built this guitar. It’s a ladder barred guitar (ladder bracing is a specific design for bracing the inside of the guitar) after Rene Lacote, pre-1850. It has bird’s eye maple for sides and back, a black stained maple neck, raised ebony fingerboard, a spruce top, ebony and holly binding, and an ebony mustache pin bridge. This guitar would have been played in the Classical and Romantic eras. I have noted the Romantic era as beginning approx. 1820 but the next generation of guitars did not surface until the mid 1800’s. This guitar is an example of a European classical/romantic era guitar. Tomorrow I will show you an example of a 19th century American Guitar that straddled the romantic and modern eras.
Of course, the six single string guitars didn’t come out of thin air. Evidence indicates that guitarists had long since been experimenting with the number of strings on their guitars as well as the number of strings per pitch. The fact is that there were four different guitars in existence during the 18th century. They included the five-course, the six-course, the five-string, and the six-string guitar. Six single string guitars became universal in the 19th century spreading all throughout Europe and the American continent. The sixth string was added in Italy and France towards the end of the 18th century and Spain around 1800. Please be sure to read more about this subject in a book titled “A Concise History of the Classical Guitar” by Graham Wade. You’ll find this information on page 65. 

While having six single strings was becoming standard, guitar construction and performance techniques were lagging behind. There are two significant names attached to the revolution of guitar construction and performance practices; Antonio de Torres, and Francisco Tarrega. Their stories are coming up later this week! Stay tuned for day four when I reveal the Romantic Era parlor guitar!

Check out pictures of the front and back of a Lacote Guitar and a beautiful sound sample as well! Notice the design of the bridge on this guitar.

Here is also a link to the Thomas Heck article that I referred to with information on the evidence of the earliest six-string guitar.

Here’s a performance by Alex Timmerman on a guitar from the 1830’s. His guitar is much fancier than mine! He has additional frets on top of his guitar. Also, notice the modern tuning machines.