Guitar History

In the fall of 1986 I visited my parents. During that short stay I bought a student model classical guitar in a shop in Köln. I think it cost me around $300-500. During the first recording sessions for what became NF, in January and February of 1989, this was the guitar I used. The first phase of recording for NF included these pieces: Barcelona Nights, Heart Still/Beating, Waiting 4 Stars to Fall, Road 2 Her/Home, and several more. I have never actually sat down to listen to the difference between, say, the guitar sound of 2 the Night and Barcelona Nights, which were played on two different guitars.

In late Spring of 1989 I bought a guitar from Lorenzo Pimentel, in Albuquerque, that was used during the second phase of recording sessions for NF, in May and June of 1989, as well as to record Poets + Angels and Borrasca.

Sometime in 1991 I bought a guitar from Eric Sahlin that was first used on Solo Para Ti. That guitar, a Blanca Flamenco model, shown on the cover of Solo Para Ti, was with me for a long time and can be heard on every album released between 1992 and 2002.

In 2003 I started using a guitar made by Lester DeVoe and I have played his guitars ever since. I played a Negra model 2003-2014 and since then I have been in love with a Blanca model that was built in 2005 and that I still play today and which can be heard on Fete and vision 2020.

Blanca Flamenco guitars generally have cedar tops and cypress sides and back. Negra Flamenco guitars utilize rosewood sides and back instead of the cypress.

  • 1986-1989: Nameless Spanish Classical Guitar
  • 1989-1992: Loranzo Pimentel Negra Flamenco Guitar
  • 1992-2002: Eric Sahlin Blanca Flamenco Guitar
  • 2002-2014: Lester DeVoe Negra Flamenco Guitar
  • 2015-Present: Lester DeVoe Blanca Flamenco Guitar

While those were the main guitars I also used a Midi-Flamenco Guitar by Keith Vizcarra, first played on the song “Lush”, on The Hours Between Night + Day, and a Negra Flamenco by Keith Vizcarra, used on Leaning Into the Night and several other albums.

What can be learned here is that the value of a guitar does not determine a successful album. NF clearly sold more copies than any album I have recorded and yet it was recorded on a very inexpensive guitar in a tiny studio with a 1/2″ 16 track analog recorder – when industry standard at the time were 1″ 24 track machines. Sometimes the idea is more important than the material used to convey the idea.

I have often used surfing analogies, despite never having surfed in my life. For example:

In order to catch a wave you have to be in the ocean with your surfboard. In other words, you have to create in order to, perhaps, catch a cultural wave of recognition.

Even if you are out there, waiting for a wave, it doesn’t mean that a suitable wave comes along. You can produce work after work, but it may not gain traction with an audience.

Sometimes you are in the ocean AND a suitable wave comes along AND you manage to surf it as far as it can carry you… and then you have to make a second and third album! As my friend Al Masocco, my product manager at Epic Records in the Nineties, liked to point out you have a lifetime to create your first album and about a year or two to create the second one.

The Rise of Bullies

It’s been very interesting to watch how people react to the pandemic in general and to mask-wearing in particular. This year has shown us a lot about people. There is the amazing and selfless care that so many nurses and doctors continue to give. Too many of them pay for that with their lives. There is also the careless and egotistical behavior of those who endanger others on purpose.

We don’t wear a mask only to protect ourselves; we also wear it to protect others, in case we are unaware of being infected. People in Asia have been doing this for decades. If you’ve ever visited Japan or Hong Kong, you will have noticed people wearing masks in public, especially on crowded trains. Most of these mask-wearers either have a cold or another infection and wear the mask so that they don’t spread their illness.

Somehow we have allowed people to hold the belief that wearing a mask is equivalent to being afraid. Wearing a mask whenever I go outside does not mean I fear the virus; it means that I want to protect you as much as myself. I also want to protect some of the people closest to me, one of whom has diabetes and another, asthma. If I myself get the virus don’t bother with ventilation…just give me morphine until I die and then throw me in a dumpster. It’s not me that I am worried about.

Experts continue to tell us that if everyone were to wear a mask in public the virus would be gone within five to eight weeks. Just imagine… the pandemic could have been over months ago if everyone had actually done this!

The other day, I was grocery shopping when I saw a young man approach the store without a mask. A person working for the store, counting the people entering the store and checking for masks, asked the guy whether he had a mask. He pulled a bandana over his mouth and nose and was let into the store. Immediately upon entering he removed the bandana and started walking up and down the aisles of the store at a fast pace, mumbling to himself. The young man appeared to be homeless. He continued to run-walk around the store mumbling threats. Eventually, I saw him escorted from the store by a security guard.

I realized that what I was witnessing was an act of bullying. This person, most likely homeless, probably feeling powerless, entered a store that required the wearing of masks and proceeded to run around without a mask, talking and spreading potentially infectious droplets of his saliva.

This pandemic is offering bullies a golden opportunity through which they can flaunt their disdain for masks and watch people shy away from them. The sense of power! I am fearless! No, perhaps you are stupid, you act like a bully, and you are endangering yourself and others… all in order to give yourself a little jolt of power.

I think bullies have always been around, but they didn’t have the massive opportunities they have right now. Yelling at people who speak a different language, beating up a Japanese musician in the subway in Manhattan because he looked Chinese, marching around with weapons, not wearing masks… it’s a golden age for bullies.

My thoughts return to the homeless man in the grocery store. Bullies tend to be people who feel powerless. One aspect of bullying is called Radfahren in German. I don’t know whether the expression is used all over the country but I have often heard it used in Köln. The word literally means bicycling. This particular meaning derives from the position of the cyclist in the saddle kicking down into the pedals. Radfahrer bend their backs to receive the kicks from people or institutions above them and in turn they kick down to someone they perceive as less powerful than themselves. And perhaps this is what we are really learning now. Too many people feel helpless, powerless, uncertain, and not in control of their lives, and some of them derive a false sense of power from bullying others.

Our world is evolving rapidly and not everyone can keep up with the changes. People feel left behind, excluded and ignored. Inclusivity also means including the bullies and, perhaps in time, they will cease to be bullies. Bullies, like racists, aren’t born; they are created by society.

Bandcamp Messages

When I published the two new versions of “Dance 4 Me” to Bandcamp yesterday I added a brief message to one of them.

I asked several musicians to create versions of “Dance 4 Me” (the original was released on the album “vision 2020”) and here is the first one of these versions.

I would like to know whether the message only appears under the community heading of my page or whether Bandcamp also sends out an email to followers or subscribers. Please let me know in the comments.

Dance 4 Me – Ultra Violet Version

I asked several musicians to create different versions of “Dance 4 Me”, from the recently released album vision 2020. They could take the piece into any direction they envisioned, I told them. Here is the first version in that series. Stephen Duros created a remix he calls “Ultra Violet”. I uploaded two versions of Ultra Violet, his mix and my mix.

photo by Lisana.
design by OL

Mixing, part 3

I generally don’t like using stereo sources and I especially don’t like stacking one stereo source on top of another. Many people stack multiple stereo keyboards on top of multiple stereo drums, all panned in full stereo and, in my opinion, that only serves to flatten out a mix.

At the suggestion of engineers I have tried various setups with multiple microphones on my guitar. To me it ends up sounding like a really wide, or really big, guitar… a guitar the size of a piano. It might be useful for certain solo recordings but takes up far too much space in a band recording. In order to create a stage for all of the instruments each must come from a clear and defined point in space. Even my solo album One Guitar was done using just one microphone, albeit a very excellent Neumann mic.

When I use piano, which isn’t very often, I make the stereo field of the piano narrow otherwise it sounds like a band set up in front of, or behind, a giant piano.

When I use synthesizer I rarely use the stereo file of the recording. I may narrow the field or I might do this: instead of using one stereo track for the synth I create two mono tracks. Track number one will contain the left side of the stereo recording and track number two will be the right side of the recording BUT I will move the right side so that it is 1/4 or 1/2 beat behind the other track. Both tracks will be panned hard, say -90 or even -100 to +90 to +100. The effect is that the sounds seem to move from one side the other. This is especially useful for pads and other slow-moving keyboards.

I don’t ever use compression on my Flamenco guitar. Some guitarists swear by compression but I don’t like what it does to the nylon strings. I am a disciplined rhythm guitar player and stay within a narrow range of dynamics when I play. I prefer that to using compression. If I want to play a section of the rhythm softer I will put that on a separate track in order to have complete control during mixing.

Rather than using a delay/echo on a melody track I use what I call smart delay. I pick the exact melodic phrase I want to repeat like an echo and copy it to a new track. Then I move that section by a quarter beat of half beat. I often do this twice, once left and then right. We read left to right and that influences my mixing… if I had grown up in a culture that reads right to left my mixes would surely sound differently. Also, sometimes a delay that is ever so slightly longer than for example half a beat sounds better to me.

I prefer a slightly darker reverb for the guitar. The nylon-stringed guitar isn’t very bright and a reverb that is brighter than the guitar sounds unpleasant to me. I always EQ the reverb – all reverb, not just the guitar reverb -removing a lot of the low-end. Leaving the low-end in reverb muddies up the mix; it doesn’t add anything positive to the image. Without that mud mixes become more clear and transparent.

The Irish and the Iroquois

I came across this story today and wanted to share it.

Ireland Lacrosse Bows Out Of 2022 World Games So Iroquois Nationals Can Play:

“None of us would be going to Birmingham, Ala., in the first place if it wasn’t for the Iroquois and giving us the gift of their medicine game,” Sonny Campbell, a player for Ireland Lacrosse, tells Morning Edition.

He says the Irish team wanted to do more than make a statement.

So earlier this month, it dropped out of the tournament, allowing the Nationals to take its spot.

“We support them, and if it means we’ll give up our spot, then so be it. But the Iroquois, they need to be there,” Campbell says.

Thompson says the move was unexpected.

“A sense of me felt bad because they’re sort of sacrificing and giving up their opportunity. But a part of me felt like this is the right move, and I do truly believe that,” he says.

Thompson says Ireland’s sacrifice won’t be in vain.

“The Iroquois Nationals are going to put together the best team the world has ever seen, and representing not just the Iroquois Nationals, but Ireland lacrosse also,” Thompson says.

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