Grammar gives us the structure of language but doesn’t help us figure out the story we want to tell.
Music theory teaches the rules of the musical language but not what to say.

Keeping that in mind we need to strive for a balance between training the understanding of the rules and structure on one hand and the development of our own message, our emotional story, and our vocabulary.

Do we want to write an essay that has perfect structure or do –
want to
write poetry?

Maybe somewhere in between is the place to be, is where the balance lies.

You may have heard the cliche: the classical musician who performs the notes in front of him perfectly, but cannot improvise; the self-trained musician who can’t read music but who play his instrument beautifully. There are jokes about it, like this one:

How do you get a pianist to stop playing? You take away their sheet music. How do you make a guitarist stop playing? Put sheet music in front of them.

Most musicians are a combination of the two varieties. I can read music, but can’t sight-read. I read haltingly like a second grader reading a story. I remember telling Jon, who can sight-read his way through a whole performance, but also improvises as well as anyone I know, that I wanted to study music theory – this was sometime in the Nineties. There was a pause and then he simply asked why? I think I replied that I felt there were a lot of rules I didn’t know and that learning them might make me a more well rounded musician. Jon said something like, but it’s working for you. I felt he could be right. What if I wrecked the secret sauce of my music?

It’s all about the balance. What is enough structure and what is too much? Perhaps it is the tension between the feeling we want to convey and the structure that we express it with that creates beauty?

Capturing the Guitar

I have written about my guitar sound before. Here is a post from 2010 and here is a post from 2019. This will be a more comprehensive post with more photos.

The microphone’s position has not changed in over twenty years. Tape marks where the chair needs to be, should it be accidentally moved.

The microphone is a Neumann M-149, which I have used since 1999 – following the loss of the previous Neumann. As you can see I tend to stick with something I like. I don’t feel the need to experiment and am rather loyal to things that work. I own only two Flamenco guitars, which is very unusual, and have only used one of those two for the last five years. I generally prefer depth over variety. I would rather be very intimately familiar with one guitar than be vaguely familiar with a hundred.

One photo shows the back of the M-149 which shows that the bass roll-off is set to 40Hz. There is also a photo that shows the mic pattern setting on the front of the microphone. 

From the microphone the analog signal travels to a Martech MSS-10 microphone pre-amp. Sadly Martinsound no longer makes the MSS-10, but luckily I have two in case something happens to one of them. In 1999 we rated a number of mic pre-amps and I wrote about that test here. The MSS-10 is by far the nicest mic pre-amp for the flamenco guitar that I have ever heard. When we listened to it the three of us – Jon, engineer Gary, and I – immediately preferred it over all others tested. From the MSS-10 the analog signal travels to the Digidesign 192 HD Interface that converts the analog signal to a digital one. I use the DigiDesign Reverb One plugin on the guitar, preferring a dark, but longer reverb. I put an EQ on the reverb, removing much of the lower frequencies of the reverb as they muddy the waters in my opinion. The guitar EQ is a GML (George Massenburg Labs) software plugin. I use it to dip out a frequency of my guitar that sounds boxy and to add a very small amount of presence. 

That’s it. The analog equipment – microphone and mic pre-amp – is expensive, but the digital side is not. I just looked up the Reverb One plugin and it retails for $300. The GML software EQ is no longer available. 

When considering a guitar sound one should not forget the guitar itself, the type of strings, the player’s way of holding the guitar – some players choke their guitar by holding it too tight – and, of course, the nail treatment and how the strings are struck. There are so many variables that it is good to go step by step.

Today, Saturday, I added four screenshots to the viewer. The first screenshot shows the EQ setting for my Blanca guitar when playing a melody. The second shows the EQ setting for my Negra when playing rhythm. I start with two EQ settings for each guitar:
There is a setting for playing rhythm – anything that’s not the main melody. This setting only removes a low frequency that every guitar has when one places the microphone relatively close. This becomes a problem when playing multiple rhythm guitars because that low-end builds up. A second setting, for the melody, removes a little less of the lower frequencey and adds a little bit of a high frequency. I look for a sweet spot where I can add a little bit of treble that sounds smooth and silky. Over time I collect more EQ settings for each guitar because the guitar can subtly change according to string wear or humidity.

The next screenshot shows one of the EQs for reverb that filters out much of the sound below 150 hertz. The last screenshot shows the One Reverb setting I prefer for all of my guitars. It is called “Dark Concert Hall” and I have used it for two decades.


A man walks through Japan. He takes photographs and sometimes he pauses to explain what he captured.

What he wrote sounds like a long poem to me. You can subscribe to it here.

At 0240 I woke up and it didn’t seem as if I could go back to sleep. So I picked up “The Overstory” and finished it. This one will stay with me for a long time. At 0500 I got up and poured myself a glass of cold brew coffee—a new habit I started about a month ago—and waited for the day to break.

Yesterday I downloaded the last percussion and upright tracks for “Bare Wood 2” from Dropbox. In the studio I added them to the songs. Just a few guitar lines left to do then the album is done. The music speaks of longing and sadness and of hope and joy. The usual human stuff. :-) Hopefully it will sound like poetry to you.