May 12, 2009

Leo and Harmonics

The use of harmonics in guitar music is common, to be sure. The contrast of the bell-like tones, against the percussive and vibrating timbre of the strummed or plucked string, can offer variety in an arrangement (and a different sonic fingerprint).

Rarely are they used to convey an entire melody, as the challenge of working with natural and artificial harmonics (and executing them cleanly enough to transcend being gimmicky) shouldn't be underestimated.

Leave it to Leo Kottke to offer a lovely example of presenting a tasteful melody with harmonics. Leo playing "Little Martha"...

May 5, 2009

Joe Pass...on a Fender Jaguar???

The archtop guitar is the six (or seven) string machine of choice for jazz players. Jim Hall, Wes, Grant Green, Tal Farlow...see a picture or a clip of one of these guys, and you'll see a large, curvy, thick archtop guitar cradled lovingly in their arms.

Sure - there are also the guys that turned to the solid-bodied Telecaster. Ted Greene comes to mind, as does Bill Frisell and Toronto's Ed Bicker.

Fender's solid body Jaguar - and similarly shaped, but differently appointed Jazzmaster - found early favor with the surf rockers on the West Coast. Later, they became the guitar of choice for indie rock shoegazers and avant-garde musicians like Thurston Moore or Nels Cline.

Here's a clip of Joe Pass cutting it up on a Fender Jaguar. Listening to that tone, I can't help but remember the old adage - it's all in the hands.

April 16, 2009

Fred Kinbom

Fred Kinbom is a fantastic guitar player and songwriter, and no stranger to anyone frequenting one or more of the various online forums dedicated to slide guitar playing.

From his own bio:

Drawing on influences from his Scandinavian roots as well as music from various parts of the world - Eastern Europe, South and North America, Africa - his very personal brand of music and approach to the instrument, along with his strong sense of melody, has won him many fans across the globe.

People often comment that it's refreshing to hear lap steel music that is "not the usual slide stuff". "Soulful" and "unique" are other words uttered more than once by listeners.

An accurate description, for sure.

Here's a clip of a fantastic piece recently posted by Fred...enjoy!

April 13, 2009

Dean Magraw

The world is full of amazing guitarists.

There are flatpickers, and fingerstylists. Performers and composers.

Guitarists engaging in a variety of genres - country, jazz, folk, classical, rock and roll, avant garde, and world music. Players who shine a light on the traditions of the past, and others who look to the future for sounds yet unheard.

It's very rare that a single player can cover so many bases, and still excel at all of them.

Maybe that's the best way to describe Dean Magraw's talent - rare. From bebop flavored jazz sets at the Artist's Quarter, to rollicking takes on folk music from around the world with his eclectic ensemble Boiled in Lead - Magraw never disappoints. His solo acoustic work goes in many directions, sometimes with a pick in hand, and just as often without. At times, very traditional; and at others, wholly contemporary. He can push the sonic boundaries (and his audience's comfort zone) with his forays into the avant garde, embracing the chaos that makes space for the beauty of it all.

Magraw is a guitarist's guitarist - talented, skilled, adventurous, and never lacking the playful spirit behind his ever-present smile.

He sees the threaded connections between all music, threads that might seem disparate to most others.

In a world that asks us to define, categorize, and compartmentalize, Magraw (true to form) runs against the grain and simply asks us to listen.

And we should.

April 4, 2009

Tim Sparks - Sidewalk Blues

One of Minnesota's internationally acclaimed guitar legends - and all around great guy - Tim Sparks stopped by The Podium today to chat about guitars, visit, and generally let us know what he's been up to. His most recent CD - Sidewalk Blues - is now available.

This is a great collection of tunes that will sure to please any fan of guitar music.

As described on Tim's website:

"Sidewalk Blues is a collection of virtuoso Fingerstyle Guitar solos Ragtime and Jazz from New Orleans Sportin' Houses and Harlem Speakeasies mixed with Country Blues and Gospel Tunes that evoke a world of tobacco fields, fire-breathing itinerant preachers with moonshine on Saturday night and rapturous Gospel singing on Sunday morning."

And how!

Tim's new release is available from the link above, or at The Podium...

April 1, 2009

Roland and Clarence White

Bluegrass Legends.

There is hardly a flat picking guitarist today that hasn't been affected by the propulsive style of Clarence White. His venerable 1935 Martin D-28 with the enlarged soundhole - now owned and played by Tony Rice (a legend in his own right) - has inspired custom guitars from almost every maker, including the Clarence White signature model from Martin.

His playing - with the Kentucky Colonels (featuring Roland on the mandolin), as a session player, and with the Byrds - set the benchmark for contemporary bluegrass guitar playing, a style that Rice, Russ Barenberg, David Grier, and others continue to develop and expand.

Recently, Roland published a fantastic book titled "The Essential Clarence White Bluegrass Guitar Leads". With over 100 pages, plenty of photos, and 2 compact discs, this is a must have for bluegrass fans, or anyone interested in the rich contributions made by White to the history of American guitar music.

We've had a few copies at The Podium that went fast, and a few more have just arrived.

Here's a great clip of young Roland and Clarence White appearing on the Andy Griffith Show:

March 27, 2009

The Podium's 50th Anniversary

We wanted to do something special for our 50th anniversary.

It was 1959...

The Podium had just opened its doors when a young and scruffy looking musician came in looking for guitar strings. In those days, The Podium sold pipes, tobacco, and classical sheet music - but he wanted guitar strings...specifically, Martin guitar strings. Well, we had to become a Martin dealer to get them - and we would have to order a few Martin guitars to get started - but since the folk boom was just starting, selling guitars seemed like a good idea. Subsequently, he wound up spending a lot of time hanging around and playing Martins, and Martin guitars really took off for us.

The young musician often played across the street at The Ten O'clock Scholar coffee house, and was generally so broke that we wound up giving him strings. Back then he was still sporadically attending classes at the University of Minnesota, registered as Robert Zimmerman. Of course, he's known to most folks today as Bob Dylan.

In 1974, when Dylan was in town to record his "Blood on The Tracks" album, we lent him a vintage Martin OO and The Podium staff was tapped to be his backup band during the recording of that album.

Since Martins were the first instruments we carried when we started the store, because of the nice history we have had with Martin guitars, and because we think they are making some of the best guitars they ever have, we thought we would work with the wonderful folks at the Martin custom shop to build something really special.

So behold - The Podium 50th Anniversary Martin.

It is similar to a Martin OO18V, but with an Engelman spruce top, Waverly tuners, special vintage bracing, and a heaping portion of juju. The result is a spectacular fingerstyle guitar with a rich, resonant bass, great volume and sustain, and ringing complex overtones throughout its dynamic range.

Here's an audio clip of this fantastic instrument in action.

Speaking of audio clips...

There are two questions that all of us in the shop seem to get asked, at least on a weekly basis.

1. Who plays the clips on your website?
2. What is the song, and can I get a transcription of it?

Well the answer to question one is...

Kevin Lee

Kevin is the store manager at The Podium, and records all of the tracks for the website. He also takes all of the beautiful pictures of the guitars - on top of, you know, running the place. Recording is done with a Zoom H2 recorder, in stereo. Editing is done using the incredibly useful shareware application, Audacity. The sound samples you hear are adjusted for length, but are unprocessed - no eq, reverb, etc. The are then encoded from 16/44.1 wav files to mp3s for the website.

And the answer to question two...

The song is River Road Drive, and was written by Kevin as well. In his words: "The piece was inspired by the beautiful section of Highway 35 between the Wisconsin towns of Prescott and Nelson. Majestic bluffs, wonderful back roads and the Mississippi River are the main elements of this magical area."

While a transcription of the piece - always a work in progress, as Kevin puts it - is not currently available, he took the time to give The Podium 50th Anniversary Martin a workout in front of the video camera.

Here's a slightly slowed down version of the instrumental - River Road Drive - courtesy of Kevin Lee. (Apologies for the slight phasing in the audio...YouTube's codec can do some unfriendly things to audio in the uploading process. For a more representative example of the guitar's sound, see the link above.)

Enjoy! And thanks Kevin!