November 29, 2007

Brazilian Rosewood

"Why is it so expensive?" is a question that we field from time to time.

Perhaps the most sought after tonewood - and certainly one of the traditional favorites used in guitar construction - Brazilian Rosewood has been scarce for almost twenty years now.

In the early 1990s, Brazilian Rosewood (Dalbergia Nigra) was added to the list of endangered species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). As an endangered species, the harvesting and exporting of new timber was largely banned.

To obtain Brazilian Rosewood today, it needs to be wood that was both harvested and exported before the ban or wood that was harvested pre-ban and has the required documentation of its provenance to permit exporting today. Also allowed for export are repurposed timbers and harvested stumps (or more accurately, taproots.)

The Brazilians and the international community take this ban very seriously. In October of this year, 350 federal officers in Brazil arrested 23 people and served 67 search and seizure warrants for the illegal extraction and exporting of this endangered species.

The builders represented at The Podium take this ban very seriously as well, and only build with certified or pre-ban timbers.

So, the price of legally obtained Brazilian Rosewood, of a quality acceptable to a world-class guitar builder, is affected by supply and demand.

It is a very beautiful wood, often deep brown with red or reddish hues and black figuring. It is rather dense, and this density results in tightly focused bass notes and ringing, bell-like trebles. It looks and sounds great.

Recently, we’ve had the good fortune of having a number of beautiful, Brazilian guitars in the shop. They have been wonderful instruments.

While there are certainly other exceptional tonewoods, with each new guitar featuring Brazilian back and sides, I can’t help but think that these represent the end of an era.

May we learn from the past as we embark on the future.

November 26, 2007

Dakota Dave Hull CD Release Celebration

Dakota Dave Hull is celebrating the release of his new album Time Machine. The concert will be held at Patrick's Cabaret on Saturday, December 1st, at 8:00 pm.

Tickets are available at The Podium and the Homestead Pickin' Parlor.

November 25, 2007

The Podium Will Be Open Sundays

The Podium will be open on Sundays through the holiday season from 12:00 until 4:00 starting Sunday, November 25th. We know that our customers are busy folks, and while we can't add extra hours to the day - we could use some of those too - we can help out by offering another day to pick up those strings, grab a songbook, drop off a guitar for repair, or finish some holiday shopping for that string player on your list.

Speaking of holiday shopping...

In addition to all of the guitars, mandos, banjos, and related accessories, we have some neat Podium gear in as well - t-shirts, sweatshirts, ceramic mugs (and travel mugs too!), guitar picks, and keychain harmonicas.

So stop in, we'll be here!

November 22, 2007

Interview with Dakota Dave Hull

“There’s a million good things I could say about Dave Hull but I’ll narrow it down to two: He’s an excellent picker, both flatpick and fingerstyle, he collects some fine instruments, and we’ve been at a lot of good places to eat together.”
—Norman Blake

“One of the best guitarists in the world.”
—Dave Van Ronk

Local guitar legend and long time friend of The Podium, Dakota Dave Hull, plays guitar with conviction. His inimitable style borrows from the past – country blues, folk, ragtime, Tin Pan Alley, early jazz – the list could go on. He plays what he calls Classic American Guitar, and the results are as masterful and rich as the traditions he draws from. A gifted composer, arranger, soloist, and accompanist, the proverbial hats that Dakota Dave wears are as numerous as the bright Hawaiian shirts that have become his trademark. He carries on the tradition of American song, keeping it alive and visceral, and avoids the pitfalls of slavish mythologizing that all too many revivalists are guilty of. That’s because Dave isn’t a revivalist. To be sure, he has been to the wellspring of the past, and has drunk deeply. But what emerges is a living and breathing homage – a style that keeps the best of the past alive, and leaves the trappings of what folk music is “supposed” to look and sound like at the door. His original compositions blend seamlessly with the classic pieces of his repertoire. In my estimation, Dave is one of those rare talents that can hit the ball out of the park, all the time…every time. He’s also an affable guy, never at a loss for a story, and more than a casual fan of the brewed bean– as evidenced by the name of his recording studio – Arabica.

This past week, Dakota Dave Hull took time away from his busy schedule to talk a bit about his new album, Time Machine.

So Dave, tell us a little about the making of your latest release - Time Machine.

Well....that’s a big question. I usually do better with yes or no questions, but I’ll give it a try [laughter]. Seriously, it came together over time. I’d been thinking about percussion some and wondering how music might have sounded before there were recordings. There’s photographic evidence that people played together regardless of the instruments—the “rules” governing, say, old-time music or country blues in these modern times are, in my opinion, more a product of the revival than of any reality. Certainly the tradition is the best possible filter but you need to remember that the stuff that was recorded in the old days was released for the same reason the labels record today: money. That’s why, for example, there’s lots of country blues available but very little of the black songster tradition. But I digress. If it sounds good it is good.

You recently released an album with Pop Wagner, Airship. Time Machine and Airship each have a very different feel. Did you work on them concurrently, or did they just happen to find their way to completion at the same time?

They were pretty much concurrent. I started Time Machine first but they finished about the same time. We mixed them both the same week. That was interesting.

Unless I’m mistaken, this album features more players than any other of your releases since New Shirt. You have some solo / mostly solo albums and the wonderful duet albums with Kari Larson. How did you arrive at approaching the material this way? What sorts of challenges arise in arranging the material for a larger set of players?

As you said, I hadn’t done a recording with more than solo or duo guitars since New Shirt in the early ‘90s, so it was time to try something like this again. There were some musical ideas I’d been kicking around for awhile and I was really ready to try, like the use of percussion. Also, I’ve been doing a certain amount of work in a supporting role, with other players taking the lead, and I think sometimes guitarists forget just how versatile the instrument is, how many different roles it can take. I love playing rhythm guitar behind a lead instrument—the choices for chords, colors, rhythm, all of that stuff—it’s just big fun. Don’t get me wrong, solo guitar is big fun, too.

You wear many hats – writer, performer, interpreter, radio host, recording engineer, producer, arranger, teacher – and I could go on. How do you balance the different aspects of your musical life? How do you find these aspects feeding or informing each other?

I guess you could look at it that way, but really everything you mentioned thrives on everything else. For example, the radio show forces me to listen to music pretty much constantly and that trickles down into my playing by osmosis, or at least that’s my hope. All of the things actually depend on each other in order to work. The bottom line is that it all comes down to listening. As an aside, it seems to me that many guitarists make the big mistake of only listening to other guitarists. It’s all music, for one thing, and if you steal from a fiddler or a piano pounder or a horn player you’re far less likely to get caught. There’s a lot of great guitar music out there, of course, but there’s lots of other great music, too.

Tell us a bit about your studio, Arabica.

One of the great things that’s happened in the last 20 years is that recording technology, the ability to make a good-sounding recording, has become affordable. Of course that’s also one of the worst things that’s happened, too [laughter]. My room is small—I can record a trio comfortably—and I have some nice mics and preamps. I usually do my mixes with Steve Wiese at Creation Audio, but not always. I’ve mixed several recordings at Arabica, too. Leo Whitebird of P.O.D. Studio actually built the room. In fact, he talked me into having a studio of my own. I’ve really tried to make it a comfortable place for acoustic musicians to work.

The climate of the music industry is rapidly changing. The big label model is on its way out, and the future of distribution, as we know it, is likely to change radically. As the owner of a small label, with a pragmatic outlook and strong sense of self-promotion, what are your thoughts on the future, mostly as it relates to independent acoustic artists?

Well, first of all, the acoustic scene, such as it is, is probably about five or six years behind the curve. Most of my sales come at live shows, directly to my audience. I’m not really sure how that will change over time. The industry as a whole is going to digital downloads. There’s a part of me that’s worried; with the price of gas, motels, etc., traveling is basically paid for by CD sales. I’m not sure how it will eventually play out, but these things do have a way of working themselves out, so we’ll see. For now it still seems to be the status quo. I grew up with album covers, so I’m of the generation that likes something I can hold in my hand. I can see that that’s changing, though, and I’ll do whatever I can to get my music to the dozens of people that want it [laughter].

While your tastes are clearly rooted in the past, I know that you are far from being a Luddite when it comes to embracing useful technology. Today, people use blogs, forums, online calendars (i.e. Yahoo, Google), and social networking sites like MySpace, etc. to promote themselves and stay connected with their audience. How has technology helped you in your work?

The Internet has kept me in business. In terms of booking shows, sending promo, even letting promoters hear my stuff, it’s all there. If there were 28 hours in the day I would be doing better with MySpace and the rest. I do use Yahoo Groups as my mailing list and calendar. Go to Yahoo Groups and look for dakotadavehull and sign up, please. There’s also a link to it from my own site. I suggest that anyone who thinks they’re not getting enough spam should sign up. You’ll get about six more notes a year.

Ok, here’s a related question (sort of)…I know you are an Apple Macintosh guy and an iPod user. Do you think the usefulness of the iPod outweighs the loss in fidelity that comes with Mp3s, M4as, and AAC files? Do you find that iTunes and the iPod have changed the way that you listen to your music collection? What is currently at the top of your play list?

That’s actually a more complicated question than you’d think. I use my iPod for old music, mainly. Pre-war stuff that’s been remastered from old 78s. When I’m on a long trip in the car or on an airplane, it’s great. You don’t lose much. At home, listening to a modern CD, I listen on a good stereo system. Actually even the old stuff. Do I notice a difference? Yes. But I think being able to carry 30,000 tunes in my pocket trumps the sound issue, at least on the old stuff. If something comes into my mind when I’m on the road, I’ve probably got it with me. It’s really expanded my whole musical experience. I love putting it on shuffle play for a long road trip. It’s like the world’s biggest jukebox.

I’ll probably get a second, smaller iPod for whatever work I’m doing at the moment in the studio, either as a producer or performer. They will take .wav files (the same sound files as a CD) so I wouldn’t lose anything qualitatively there and there’s plenty of space for a few CDs worth of material. It’s certainly an inexpensive and easy way to take your work with you.

As far as the top of my play list is concerned, that changes almost daily. I’m digging Merle Haggard’s bluegrass album a lot, and the new Levon Helm recording is simply great. And the great reissues that are coming out, like Yazoo’s The Stuff That Dreams are Made Of and nearly everything on Old Hat continue to do it for me. Back in the day we were lucky if we got a re-release or reissue once or twice a month. Now there’s so much it’s nearly impossible to keep up.

Well, it is a guitar-centered blog, so I’d be remiss if I neglected the topic. Tell us a bit about what guitars are finding their way into your recordings and shows. Favorite strings? Accessories? Picks? Fingerpicks? Acrylics?

My main instrument is a 1935 Gibson Jumbo. [see the picture at the top] They’ll have to pry that one from my cold, dead fingers. I use a 2000 National Style 1 and I like to say that National Reso-Phonic is the exception that proves the rule—their new instruments are better than the old ones. I had, for many years, a 1931 Style 1 guitar that I loved, but when I got the new one I kinda stopped playing the old one. The new one is better in every respect. They also made me an M-2 baritone guitar. It’s a prototype, and it’s incredible. I played it a lot on Airship. Charlie Hoffman made the piccolo guitar that I play, and that’s a monster, too. I had a ¾ size Gibson L-0¾ that sadly had a three quarter size neck, too. My fingers would get tangled up on it. The Hoffman improves on that guitar by having 24 frets, a cutaway, and a full sized neck. It sounds great, too.

I have a small flattop called a Kel Kroydon that I use in the studio and take out rarely. It’s just too delicate to travel well. It’s from about 1930, and Gibson made it. My 1929 National Triolian is a treat to play, especially since Don Young at National rebuilt it. It’s my ugliest guitar. I have a big maple-bodied cutaway that Charlie Hoffman made for me in the 1970s that’s a great guitar. I recorded with it last on Sheridan Square Rag and I use it when I have to fly to gigs. I don’t generally fly with the Jumbo. If I didn’t have the Jumbo it would be my main guitar and I’m incredibly lucky to have it. There are a couple more guitars and a couple of ukes around here, too.

Every three weeks I go to the Vietnamese ladies and have my three nails done. Acrylics. They think it’s a hoot when I walk through the door. Before I got the baritone I played on the natch, just my own nails, but that guitar chews ‘em up beyond belief. I had to do something. I’d say I lose a little tone, but this is way better. The volume and control is great and I still have the subtle stuff that you’d lose with fingerpicks. For flatpicking I have a few real tortiseshell picks that I bought in the ‘70s, before they made the endangered list. I think I have enough for the rest of my life. I won’t be buying more.

I use and endorse John Pearse strings. Phosphor bronze on the flattops, nickel on the Nationals. Basically a light set with a medium high E and a heavy low E. Naturally the baritone and piccolo take custom sets that I devised over time. The low string on the baritone is a .076! Last time I was at the Pearse factory we tried to put an .080 on there but it wouldn’t fit through the hole in the tuner.

So the new guitars from National Reso-Phonic are that good?

They’re incredible. Better than the old ones.

At The Podium, a question we often field is how to amplify an acoustic guitar. Most people are set on a pick-up solution. I know that you are ardently anti-pickup. I can see where they can be useful in some contexts, particularly in a noisy band situation. What advice can you give to someone who is interested in “cutting the cord”?

Look, a “good” piezo pickup (I don’t really believe there is such a thing) might cost $400 bucks or thereabouts, with preamps, controls, all that crap. You can put the same pickup into a $6000 guitar and into a $200 guitar and if you listen through the amp you won’t be able to pass a blindfold test. I’ve done it, and failed. If you’re going to give up all that tone why bother with a great guitar? You’d do better just getting an electric guitar and amp. They have tone. A Tele, or a National Reso-Lectric would be my choice if I had to do that. Even then, I’d still mic the amp.

One of the things about the sound of an acoustic instrument is air. Part of the sound of an instrument is the space around it. If you’re a singer using one of these pickups it doesn’t sound like your voice and guitar are in the same room. I could go on and on, but to me the whole thing is about tone.

I use a GrooveTubes GT-44 (now it’s the GT-40). It’s got a wonderful volume to feedback ratio. That means I can turn it up pretty loud before it starts to feed back. Louder than it needs to be, usually. I’ve rarely had a problem with it and usually my soundchecks take all of five minutes. I don’t have to dink with switching between guitar systems, either, when I change guitars. All in all, a great solution. There are a couple of live recordings on my website that’ll give you a great idea of what they sound like.

For those that like to move around on stage, there are some good internal microphone solutions. The main thing is not to mic is right under the soundhole, the boomiest part of the guitar. A mic up under the neck extension seems to be the best way. Martin Carthy mics his guitar that way, and it sounds glorious.

Last question…your collection of shirts is amazing (and colorful). When did you first start getting into Hawaiian shirts? How many do you have (roughly)? Do you have any favorites?

I’ve been digging Hawaiian-style shirts since I was a kid. I started getting into them in a big way in the late ‘70s. They sorta became a trademark by the mid-‘80s. I think I have about 90 by now. Maybe I should count them. My favorite right now is on the back cover of the new album. The fabric was sent to me by Dave Van Ronk’s wife Andrea and I had it made into a shirt. She told me that it would have been his next shirt and that he was really looking forward to one-upping me next time we got together. With that shirt he would have! God knows I wish he’d been able to.

Thanks Dave!

Dakota Dave Hull is celebrating the release of his new album on Saturday, December 1st, at Patrick's Cabaret in Minneapolis. The Podium is proud to support Dave in the release, and tickets are available for purchase at the store.

November 20, 2007

The Podium Will Be Closed

The Podium will be closed on Thursday, November 22nd, observing the Thanksgiving holiday.

If you're traveling, may your journey be a safe one. If you are hosting family, may your turkey be a fat one. If you're watching football, may the Packers take down the - wait a second, we're in Minnesota and have some pretty serious opinions about Green Bay. Scratch that. Hmmm.

However you spend the time, we hope that your Thanksgiving day is full of joy and happiness.

- The Podium, thankful for all our friends, families, and customers around the world!

Dakota Dave Hull and Phil Heywood

Two more videos have been edited from the Dinkyfest 2007 block party thanks to the ever industrious Kevin Lee. Kevin captured a number of the performances via a hand-held digital camera during the event.

Here Dakota Dave and Phil play a medley of Reverend Gary Davis tunes, starting out with a bit of Sally, Where'd You Get Your Whiskey? and transitioning into Hesitation Blues:

Here Phil and Dakota Dave run through a Big Bill Broonzy number Good Morning, Miss Brown:

Dakota Dave Hull is celebrating the release of his latest album, Time Machine, at Patrick's Cabaret in Minneapolis on Saturday, December 1st.

This past week I had the chance to pry Dakota Dave away from his busy schedule for an interview about the album, guitars, and his take on a variety of other topics. Ever the engaging raconteur, and never at a loss for words, the interview was a blast. Look for it in an upcoming post!

November 19, 2007

Goodall to a Good Home

It isn't uncommon for a customer to call The Podium for directions. While Minneapolis is a reasonably easy city to navigate, many of our out-of-town customers make a special trip to the shop while in town on business, vacation, or just passing through. Given the recent demise of the 35W bridge, even regular customers can find the trip to the shop a little challenging, particularly those folks driving in from locations south of the city.

So, when Edward Suh called the shop last Thursday, asking for directions from the Minneapolis-St.Paul airport, it didn't seem at all unusual. He wanted to make use of the local public transit system, so I pulled up directions on the transit website, and helped him plan the trip using a combination of our light rail and bus network. My assumption was that he wanted to visit the store while in town for some other purpose.

When I arrived at work on Friday, Edward was grinning, as evidenced in the picture, and enjoying many of the lovely guitars that grace the walls of The Podium.

What was unique, is that Edward's trip had a singular purpose - a visit to The Podium! He flew in via the red-eye from La Cresenta, CA and had visions of Goodalls in his mind as he waited patiently from around 5:00am until the store opened at 11:00.

Well, Edwards trip was a success - and a lovely Goodall Concert Jumbo is now in good hands.

Thanks for the visit Edward, and we wish you many happy years with a lovely guitar. We hope your return trip went smoothly, and that the Goodall is acclimating to sunny Cali-for-ni-a... it gets to miss out on a Minnesota winter, which is more than I can say for the rest of us!

November 15, 2007

Holy Brazilian!

AAA Brazilian Rosewood...

"Holy Grail" Adirondack...

Hide Glue...

I was thinking about which picture to post for this beautiful OM - yet another masterpiece made by Dana Bourgeois, exclusively for The Podium.

The Brazilian is incredible. Gorgeous in that special way that a picture can only hope to hint at.

The top is creamy and smooth - it almost glows!

You can't see the hide glue, but like the other hide glue OM built for us by Bourgeois, the sound tells the story better than I ever could.

So which picture to choose? I don't do it often, but on this one, I'm going to exercise some bragging rights!

To hear the Bourgeois Brazilian OM Podium Signature Hide Glue Model...

(Hint: If you click the picture, those visual delights are only a URL away...)

November 14, 2007

This Saturday - Phil Heywood at the Riverview

This Saturday, November 17th, Phil Heywood will be performing at the Riverview Cafe and Wine Bar in Minneapolis.

Tickets are $12, and the show begins at 8:00 P.M.

Phil is a great guitarist, gifted singer, and longtime friend of The Podium.

His shows are engaging, his playing remarkable, and his taste impeccable. Whether singing in his warm baritone, or fingerpicking in his fluid, rootsy style, you are sure to be entertained.

This year, during the Dinkyfest block party, Phil was kind enough to grace the stage - playing some songs on his own, and duets with Dakota Dave Hull.

Here is a clip from that performance:

November 11, 2007

Congratulations to The Rose Ensemble

The Rose Ensemble
, featuring The Podium's very own Kim Sueoka, took first prize for sacred music in the 39th Tolosa International Choral Competition. The Rose Ensemble was the exclusive representative of the United States at this prestigious festival held in Spain.


To read more about the festival, and The Rose Ensemble's trip to Spain, visit founder and artistic director Jordan Sramek's blog.

November 9, 2007

Leo Kottke on MPR...

If you missed Leo Kottke's appearance today on MPR's Midmorning program, here is a link to an archive of the show:

Leo on MPR

November 8, 2007

Seasick Steve - Cut My Wings

Seasick Steve (a.k.a. Steve Wold) and his "Three Stringed Trance Wonder"...

November 6, 2007

Leo Kottke on MPR Friday

On Friday, November 9th, Leo Kottke will be appearing on the Minnesota Public Radio show Midmorning hosted by Kerri Miller.

Leo will be taking calls, answering questions, and even playing a few tunes during the hour long segment, which begins at 10:00am CST.

Listeners in the Twin Cities can tune into the program at 91.1 FM.

Listeners outside the Twin Cities can stream the station here.

A longtime friend of The Podium, Leo is sure to be an entertaining guest. Arguably one of the best fingerstyle guitarists in the world, Leo is also a very affable guy and an engaging raconteur. The stories and between song banter at Leo's concerts have become the stuff of legend.

November 5, 2007

Clip-On Chromatic Tuners

One thing that all stringed instruments share in common is the need to be tuned. Aside from strings, the accessories that we probably field the most questions about are tuners.

At the simplest, one can use a tuning fork or pitch pipe to successfully tune a stringed instrument. They provide a single reference (in the case of a tuning fork) or a number of references (in the case of a pitch pipe) to tune the pitch of the strings against.

To achieve successful results, the user must have a fairly well-trained ear and patience. But even the best-trained ear will be challenged in a loud room, particularly if other musicians are also tuning their instruments.

At the other end of the spectrum is the strobe tuner. Highly accurate (and rather expensive) these tuners are usually reserved for critical applications like setting the intonation of an instrument in a repair shop, or preparing an instrument for recording in a well-outfitted recording studio.

In the middle are electronic tuners of various shapes, sizes, and price points. Many of them feature a small microphone that picks up the vibrating pitch of the string, and displays that on a meter of sorts, to allow tuning to the desired pitch. While these tuners work perfectly well, they also are subject to interference from ambient sounds. Like the well-trained ear that is put to the test in a noisy environment, these types of tuners can also be challenging to use in such an environment, unless your instrument has a pickup and is plugged into the tuner directly.

The clip-on chromatic tuner is a solution that offers accurate tuning with little hassle. Instead of picking-up the pitch of the string via a small microphone, the clip-on tuner senses the pitch through the vibration carried through the instrument. Typically clipped to the headstock of a guitar, mandolin, banjo, or fiddle, the clip-on tuner is resistant to ambient noise, making it ideal for tuning in acoustically noisy environments. Further, it is easy to read the illuminated display, and it accurately picks up lower pitched strings, (something that isn't always the case for electronic tuners with small microphones.) As it is chromatic, it can be used for any tuning scheme, making it appropriate for a variety of string instruments and altered tunings that are common among guitar, banjo, and fiddle players.

Additionally, these tuners, like the Oasis OH-11 pictured, can be calibrated to standards outside of A=440. This is useful when tuning to keyed instruments that don't feature adjustable tuning.

Small, accurate, flexible, and hassle free - for most players, the clip-on chromatic tuner is an excellent choice for most applications.

November 1, 2007

Phil Jones / AAD Cub AG-100

The folks at AAD / Phil Jones have a winner on their hands, and we are happy to have this new amp here at The Podium!

The CUB AG-100 is a 100 watt, Solid State class A/B amplifier voiced for acoustic instruments. (It also does a tremendous job at amplifying an archtop jazz box with a magnetic pickup as Dave Roos proved with his custom Ted Megas guitar!)

At only 11 pounds, this micro-amp isn't a burden to carry, but don't think you are sacrificing tone - it has it for days.

On the flattering side of neutral and not at all clinical sounding, this amp is really brings out the best of a variety of pickup systems - under saddle and soundboard transducers, magnetic soundhole pickups, internal microphones, and any combination thereof.

The amp features a single input, with an option -10dB pad to accommodate either high-output active pickups or external preamps. It isn't noisy at all, with a better than 95dB signal to noise ratio, and with a 100 watts, it has headroom to spare.

It works around the world without the need for power switching or external step transformers. It also features a useful 3 band EQ, balanced line out with a ground lift, FX send and return, and a preamp out.

Feeding the preamp out of one AG-100 into the input of a second AG-100 (with the -10dB pad engaged) gives you a flexible option for situations where more volume and expanded directionality might be wanted.

They even include a rugged, padded gig bag, and an extra-long IEC cable (eliminating the need for an extension cord under most circumstances.

I'm not sure how they did it, but for the price it is the best sounding amp in its class.