October 30, 2007

Gareth Pearson

It isn't every day that a young guitarist, after playing for merely two years, gets to open for an internationally acclaimed artist like Tommy Emmanuel.

Such is the situation Gareth Pearson found himself in at the ripe old age of 16!

Pearson, of Cwmbran, South Wales, had developed Osgood Shattler Syndrome in his knees, putting to end a promising soccer career. One day, while Gareth was moping around the house, his father put on a video of Tommy Emmanuel for him to watch. At that instant, he knew where he wanted to put his time and energy. His dad bought him a guitar, and Gareth began to digest music at a furious rate, focusing on Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Merle Travis - and of course, Tommy Emmanuel.
Within two years, he was a force to be reckoned with, and today, at 19, he is touring around the world.

Labeled by many as a prodigy, Pearson rejects that assertion:

"Practice, practice and practice. It's really down to hard work. I am forever searching for that groove that sets Tommy apart from any other player out there. Then there is the passion."

"I have had no formal music training and to say that I "excel at playing by ear" would be making out that I was gifted. It mainly comes down to hard work, although the more I play and listen, the easier it is to understand and hear what is going on."

Check out Gareth's promotional video from 2006:

And a live clip from a concert in 2006, supporting Tommy Emmanuel:

October 29, 2007

Porter Wagoner

Porter Wagoner - country music legend, showman, star of the Grand Ole Opry, and 2002 inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame has died at 80.

Read more about Porter here and here.

October 28, 2007

New Photograph

Thanks to Kevin at The Podium, we now have a new photograph for the blog.

Above the box to join our mailing list (hint, hint) you will see a close-up of a Waverly tuning machine. In the reflection you can see other guitars in the shop. I can't quite make out the most prominent guitar, but I think (as does Kevin) that it is likely a Tippin.

Kevin has been handling all of the photographic duties for The Podium website lately and he is doing a great job.

Many people have asked -

"What is that piece that is playing during the audio clips of the guitars?"

Again, thanks have to go to Kevin. It's his own composition, and he plays and records the clips himself. It is a great selection, as it really shows off the nature of each instrument, from both a fingerstyle and flat-picked perspective.

To learn more about the process that is used to record the clips - visit here.

Great job Kevin, all around.

October 24, 2007


Every once in awhile you encounter something really unique in the world of guitars and amplifiers.

The very best instruments are often works of art.

In the shop, I see the unique approach of McPherson's cantilevered neck and offset soundhole. McPherson's marriage of physics and design brings a fresh take to guitar building that is both functional and beautiful. Colling's exacting detail and unsurpassed workmanship, while traditional in terms of aesthetics, is nevertheless inspiring.

Chicago artist Ian Schneller has been creating functional works of art, in the form of guitars and amplifiers, under the name Specimen for nearly twenty years. Leaning firmly in the direction of art, his guitars and amplifiers borrow generously from the past, while seeming to defy most conventions at the same time.

Fans of Chicago singer / songwriter / multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird may have noticed his Victrola inspired Horn amplifier (pictured above) on stage. Far from a theatrical prop, this is yet another example of Schneller's functional art in action.

The parlor guitar, with it's small body and 12 fret neck, has seen a resurgence among acoustic guitar builders in the last several years. Schneller has taken the inspiration of this classic design and applied it to his aptly named electric guitar, the Luddite:

Like any art, the aesthetics of Schneller's designs are as likely to be off-putting to some people as they are attractive to others.

October 23, 2007

The Times, They are a Changin'

The relationship between the major record labels and music downloading has been strained, to say the least. The majors often like to blame downloading as the cause of their downward spiral.

When the compact disc was introduced just over 25 years ago, it provided a healthy shot in the profit arm for labels. This novel format offered the convenience of the cassette, with significantly better fidelity. People pay for convenience, and the majors profited greatly - not only on new releases, but also on music fans replicating their LP and cassette collections on compact disc.

The rise of the digital revolution, portable players, and the explosion of peer-to-peer networks and bittorrent delivery provided a new challenge. Previously, any "copy" of a release, in the analog realm, would largely have a decrease in fidelity. Transferring music from an LP or cassette created what audiophiles would call a generational loss - a copy that, while still highly listenable, would bear the noise and other artifacts inherent to analog transfers.

Given the digital nature of the compact disc, 1:1 copies with a modest computer were no problem, and the loss of fidelity was effectively zero. Before the rise of high-speed Internet connections and massive hard drives, the MP3 codec allowed this music to be compressed into a much smaller file than the Redbook standard 16 / 44.1 uncompressed file. This file was much easier to transmit over the Internet, and though lossy, was still very listenable. The MP3 codec continued to be refined, and today these files have become the norm for downloadable content, legal or otherwise.

Apple saw the light early on in the game, and arranged with some of the major labels to release their catalogs digitally through their Itunes store. Apple dominated, and continues to dominate, the market with their portable Ipod players, and having content available to their customers via the Itunes store at a price less than a new compact disc was just good business. Unlike compact disc releases that could be ripped and traded as MP3 files on peer-to-peer networks, Apple used a protection scheme, Digital Rights Management, which allowed the purchaser to only play the music on a select number of computers. While this protection could be defeated by the more savvy and ambitious user, it certainly helped the alleviate industry fears at least a little, and the number of releases available through Apple's Itunes store increased exponentially.

Earlier this year, Apple began offering higher bit-rate files that were free of the DRM protection, for a slightly higher price, to enable customers to play the files on software other than their own Itunes player, and to support portable players other than the ubiquitous Ipod. Not every major label represented in the Itunes catalog has given the green light on this update, so presently; releases without DRM are somewhat limited. The switch was such a success, that Apple recently adjusted their pricing scheme so that both protected and unprotected files are now the same price.

At the end of the day, successful sales are all about perceived value.

Prince toppled the apple cart in July by giving his latest album, Planet Earth, away for free in Sunday editions of the U.K. newspaper the Daily Mail. Over 3 million copies were distributed this way, much to the chagrin of Prince's European distributor Sony/BMG. Far from a free promotional tool, Prince opted out of the speculation process of the current, stagnant label environment. Industry analysts point out that Prince's last release sold 80,000 copies in the U.K., whereas this time he was paid $500,000 above and beyond the royalties on this album. In short, be ended making over eight times as much, and sold out twenty-one consecutive concert dates, while the Daily Mail sold an additional 600,000 papers. They were able to leverage the promotion and increase their advertising revenue, which more than offset the monies paid to Prince.

Most recently, and perhaps more daring, was the exclusive online release of In Rainbows by the internationally acclaimed act Radiohead. Formerly on EMI and currently without label support, Radiohead released the album online to their fans with a new twist - the price was negotiable. A potential customer could pay as much as they wanted, or nothing at all. They also had the option to purchase an opulent box set for about $80 featuring two vinyl records, a compact disc of the album, a second compact disc of additional music, along with artwork, photos, lyrics and the immediately downloadable digital release. Released on October 11th, over 1.2 million people downloaded the album in one day, with the average price paid being between $5 and $8. Numbers on the box set sales are not available yet, but industry analysts suspect net sales of the download alone to be $6-10 million.

Independent artists have been leveraging technology for a while, using content rich websites, social network environments like MySpace, and offering their music for sale online in a per-track format like Itunes. The buzz of the blogosphere even propelled local artists Tapes 'n Tapes into the national spotlight. Sure, these examples can't compare with the pull of a name like Prince or Radiohead and their respective success with technology, but the appeal of a more DIY ethic, with less dependence on the dinosaur that is the recording industry, is evident.

The times really are a changin'.

October 22, 2007


Stevie Wonder's 1972 release on Motown records, Talking Book, is a tour de force of soulful, funky keyboard goodness. Released just seven months after the also incredible Music of My Mind this album paved the way for soon-to-follow masterpieces Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life.

On these records, Wonder redefines the role of keyboards in pop music, infusing the compositions with incredible hooks, thoughtful arrangements, and a harmonic sensibility usually reserved for the best jazz releases.

It is no wonder that Pete Huttlinger, the 2000 winner of the National Fingerpick Guitar Championship in Winfield Kansas, chooses to explore his music. The arrangements are so full, so layered, that it seems difficult to imagine how they could translate in a meaningful way to solo guitar. Given the dexterity and rhythmic mastery of Huttlinger, it is precisely this complexity that carries through in his arrangements.

And the hook.

When thinking about Wonder, one can never underestimate the power that the hook can have.

Here's Stevie rocking the clavinet in the studio in 1973:

And here's Pete bringing it all together live at the Ryman:

October 18, 2007

Interesting Fahey...

The other day in the shop, I noticed that we had received a book that piqued my curiosity.

American Primitive Guitar taught by John Fahey.

Published through Stefan Grossman's Guitar workshop, this book features three compact discs, and three lessons dealing with technique, composition, and improvisation.

All in all, it looks like a solid selection of material, and a nice introduction to Fahey's unique approach to fingerstyle guitar.

On the topic of Fahey...

There have been a number of unique videos that have surfaced recently on YouTube. One series of videos features a young John Fahey appearing on a television show, talking about guitar.

Most recently, and unlike any Fahey video I have ever seen, is a wonderful 16 minute clip from a 1976 show in Portland, Oregon.

Unfortunately, the video has restrictions with regard to embedding.

But you can just follow this link: John Fahey Video.


October 17, 2007

Phil Heywood

Another promised video clip from this years Dinkyfest block party!

Phil Heywood - fingerstyle guitarist extraordinaire, all around good guy, and teacher at The Podium played a nice set at Dinkyfest, sharing the stage with Dakota Dave Hull.

Here he performs Hedgehog Hedge, a tune he recorded on his 1990 release Some Summer Day.

To find out more about Phil, his releases, and when he is playing next, visit his website.

Without further ado:

October 16, 2007

This Sunday, October 21st

Come out and support the good work of the West Bank School of Music (and enjoy some great music while you are at it!)

Tickets are available at The Podium, as well as the West Bank School of Music.

October 15, 2007

Huss and Dalton 00-SP

Being around a bunch of world-class guitars everyday has an effect on one's hearing. When somebody is playing a guitar in the back of the shop, you start thinking things like -

Which dreadnought is that? Is that the Collings' OM with the Adirondack top? Mahogany sure sounds different than rosewood...

And so on.

All of the guitars have a sonic personality. Sure, the guitars of a particular builder will possess certain aural similarities. As will guitars of a certain size.

But each individual guitar from each builder sounds at least a little bit different than the very same model from the very same builder. It's like a family. Similar features, a shared lineage, but no two fingerprints are the same.
So where am I going with this?

This guitar tricks me. Often.

The bass is big and defined. Dreadnought big, without being floppy at all. The mids jump out like the mids on a great OM. The guitar is really, really loud. The top end chimes up and down the neck. You can back off, or hit it hard and it does what you expect it to do...only better.

Jeff Huss and Mark Dalton are in the tenth year of making guitars and banjos under their own name in Stauton, Virginia.

This guitar is one the best (and quite possibly, the very best) OO sized instrument that I've ever heard.

See it and hear it...here!

October 14, 2007

R.I.P. Mr. Jimmy

I went down to the Chelsea drugstore
To get your prescription filled
I was standing in line with Mr. Jimmy
And man, did he look pretty ill
We decided that we would have a soda
My favorite flavor, cherry red
I sung my song to Mr. Jimmy
Yeah, and he said one word to me, and that was "dead"
I said to him

You can't always get what you want, no!
You can't always get what you want (tell ya baby)
You can't always get what you want (no)
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need

Jimmy Hutmaker of Excelsior, MN died on Wednesday, October 4th. History (legend?) has it that Hutmaker had a chance encounter with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones after their 1964 show at Danceland. Jagger was filling a prescription at Bacon's pharmacy, where Hutmaker was served a regular Coke instead of the cherry Coke he had ordered.

His wry reply was "you can't always get what you want..."

The rest is rock and roll history.

Here is a clip of the Stones from the film Rock and Roll Circus. The verse alluding to Jimmy comes in at about 1 minute, 20 seconds.

October 11, 2007

Early Southern Guitar Sounds

In 1998, multi-instrumentalist, musicologist, historian, and champion of the music of America's rural South Mike Seeger released a wonderful Smithsonian recording - Southern Banjo Sounds.

The recording features twenty-six tracks, ranging from the 19th century to the birth of bluegrass in the 1940's. What was particularly unique about the album, is that Seeger not only played a solid, historic representation of American banjo music, but he did it on twenty-three mostly vintage instruments. Like most Smithsonian releases, the liner notes are thorough and well written.

This widely acclaimed project was followed up in 2000 with a series of video recordings, released jointly by Smithsonian and Homespun - Southern Banjo Styles. This is a fantastic series that follows the model of the audio release, featuring material spanning nearly a century, played on a number of vintage instruments. The ever affable Seeger introduces each segment giving an overview of the particular style, information about the instrument he is playing, and the song itself.

Seeger's latest release, Early Southern Guitar Sounds, follows in the same tradition. Featuring twenty-eight tracks played on twenty-five different guitars, the release follows the rise of the guitar in the music of the American South from 1850-1930. The liner notes, as usual, are a great read.

Here is a great clip of Mike Seeger playing Cumberland Gap at Wintergreen, VA in August 2007:

October 10, 2007

Koerner and Glover at Dinkyfest

As promised...

This year's Dinkyfest block party featured some wonderful performers, including some veterans of the Minneapolis West Bank scene.

Spider John Koerner and Tony Glover played an excellent, energized set. Koerner's signature 12-string guitar and Glover's harp filled the air, making it clear that these icons aren't ready to rest on any laurels or reside on the pages of any history books - yet.

When I interviewed Charlie Parr awhile back, he was as excited about sharing the stage with Spider John this past weekend at the Turf Club as he was about his (then) upcoming tour of the UK.

Here's a clip of Koerner and Glover playing Last Lonesome Blues, captured by The Podium's own Kevin Lee:

If you like what you see, check out the Koerner, Ray, and Glover Story, previously on VHS, but now available on DVD!

October 9, 2007


French guitarist Damien Aribert performs the Badi Assad composition The Being Between with a prepared guitar:

And here is Badi Assad, performing her composition:

October 8, 2007

Keeping Your Guitar Happy - Humidity 101

Here in the Midwest, fall is beginning and the promise of winter approaches. What that means for string players, is that the drop in humidity - exacerbated by indoor heating - is about to wreck havoc on your instrument. (If you live in a different climate, unless it is tropical, the same idea applies to your dry season). Fingerboards can shrink, fret ends can pop out, the top of the instrument can crack, and the action can be affected - you get the idea - bad news. And while many instrument makers extend wonderful and comprehensive warranties, the one thing that is always excluded is damage resulting from lack of care regarding humidity.

Fortunately, the power to prevent such problems can be had with just a little preparation:

1. Be aware of your local climate change. Here in Minnesota, we often use Halloween as a reminder to start attending to an instrument's climate needs, though in reality, it actually can be an issue as early as late September.

2. You can't "guess" humidity. Use a case hygrometer, or at the very least, have a hygrometer in the room where you keep the instrument. Humidifying your home in the fall and winter is a good idea, for both you and the instrument.

3. Maintain the guitar's humidity at 45-50% at all times. This will invariably require the use of a case or soundhole humidifier. There are several on the market, or you can make one following these directions. Keeping your guitar in the case, and keeping the case closed while you are playing is a great way to maintain a stable environment.

4. Bring you guitar in for a seasonal tune-up. The costs are minimal to none, and by making smaller, more frequent adjustments you will save money on repairs in the long run.

By taking a few steps, you will have an instrument that plays well, sounds great, and serves your creative needs for many years to come without costly repairs!

October 4, 2007

A Tale of Two Guitars

When you are talking about world-class guitars, you work from the expectation of “great” and go from there. The guitars that we get in the shop from Dana Bourgeois are no exception.

At The Podium, there are more than a few fans, staff and customers alike, who recognize the versatility of OM sized instruments. Big enough to strum and flatpick, these guitars are also often the best choice for fingerstyle players. As a person who has put a microphone in front of more than a few guitars, I can say from an engineer’s perspective that OM guitars are a real treat in the studio. They offer a wide tonal range, and generally require much less corrective equalization than their bigger (and smaller) relations.

The Bourgeois Vintage OM guitars are some of the best traditionally voiced guitars around. Featuring Indian rosewood backs and sides and high-grade Adirondack spruce tops, they are loud, powerfully voiced instruments with a rich focused bass, articulate mids, and bell-like trebles. Consistent up and down the neck, they are responsive and dynamic.

But can they be better?

Or perhaps, optimized to be even better for the demands of fingerstyle players?

We had all heard a number of instruments built with traditional hide glue. Most guitars today are built with an aliphatic resin adhesive, such as Titebond, LMI, or Garrett Wade. This is a great adhesive with good working time, easy clean up, and a secure bond. Hide glue (made from animal collegans) can be tougher to work with. It dries quickly (so you need to work quickly), requires mixing and heating, and frankly smells a bit funky when hot. It does provide an exceptional bond though, doesn’t creep like aliphatic resins can, and has some unique properties.

For one thing, unlike other adhesives, it is completely reversible. Reheating and rehydrating can return the glue to liquid form. This is why classical string instruments, often hundreds of years old, can continue to be repaired without damaging the wood. Secondly, it cures simply as a matter of evaporation, creating a strong electrochemical bond. Once dry, the joint that is made is tighter (as the glue shrinks a bit as the water evaporates) and harder.

It is this last property, a tighter and harder joint, that we suspect might make a sonic difference. You see, tonally, the hide glue guitars we had heard all had stronger low mids, articulate but more complex basses, and more brilliant "jump in your hands" trebles. They had lovely vintage guitar like overtones that we had always associated with age, and they were more easily driven. Qualities that we think make for a great fingerstyle guitar.

Dana was up for an experiment, but not for any “glue voodoo”. In an attempt to make the test as empirical as possible, he made two Vintage OM's for us with tops and backs from succeeding slices of the same flitches of wood and he wouldn't say anything other than one had more hide glue than the other. It was up to us to figure out which instrument we liked better for fingerstyle.

The verdict?

They were both incredible guitars, but they were different. Having several renowned players give them both a run, (and all of us here at the shop), there was a clear preference for one of the instruments when played fingerstyle. The notable exceptions were flatpickers (who seemed to prefer the second guitar) and one notable fingerpicker with a heavy, percussive attack (who at this time, until we have permission, must remain nameless).

We finally got back to Dana…and the winner…err…the “favorite”…that is, the guitar that sold twenty-minutes after unveiling…

The Podium Signature Hide Glue Model.

Honestly, they are both great guitars. And tone is a subjective thing. But, as we discovered, the glue does make a difference worth exploring. It had the qualities that we expected, and you could hear the differences side-by-side. In our continuing effort to tweak and optimize, this one is a winner!

October 3, 2007

Leon Redbone

"It can even be a single note which defines the entire song - Leon Redbone"

The distinctive voice, the particular manner of dress, (and of course the music) all make up the experience that is Leon Redbone. With more than a nod to vaudeville, this timeless performer takes you on a journey through American song. Redbone pulls from a deep well, with a repertoire so vast, that I can only think of a handful of entertainers who can match it - certainly the late, great Dave Van Ronk comes to mind.

There are so many quirks to this iconoclastic musician, that I sometimes forget what a tasteful guitar player he is.

To be sure, he's not everyone's cup of tea.

My interview with Tim Sparks reminded me of the many interesting finds that are to be had on YouTube.

Here is one - or rather three, if we're counting songs!

October 2, 2007