Saturday, February 11, 2006

Performing on Radically Different Instruments

Today was a two gigger: I had a private function in the late afternoon and a dinner gig in the evening. Usually, I perform on my Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA with my mini-PA sound system, but this afternoon's gig was in a very small space with just a few people, so I played my Anthony Murray acoustic classical. I love performing on the acoustic, but the only chances I get to do that are at art galleries or other very small spaces that are going to be quiet. In order to keep myself comfortable performing acoustically, I play for a half hour before services begin on Sundays at my little local LCMS Lutheran church. Most Lutheran churches have pipe organs, but my particular congregation is so tiny there is no way we could afford to call a music minister (We even share our Pastor with two other congregations!). Needless to say, they love having me and even work me into the services from time to time.

The Godin and the Murray are radically different for a pair of six-string nylon string guitars. The Godin is a cutaway, while the Murray is a non-cutaway; the Murray's body is over twice as thick as the Godin's is; the Godin probably weighs twice what the Murray does; and the Godin's fingerboard is radiused, while the Murray's is flat. The Murray is set up with a very low action - more like a Flamenco than a Classical (Which has everything to do with Tony's philosophy, and nothing to do with any changes I made to the instrument) - so the string heights are about the same between the two guitars, but overall the Murray is more difficult to play because all of the sound is coming from the guitar; I don't have the amplification system doing a lot of that work for me. It's like I never have to strain past a forte on the Godin, but the Murray requires more of a fortissimo level of playing. Then, of course, I have to finger some things differently that are up at the top of the fretboard on the non-cutaway, so that's a major consideration since I write a lot of stuff that goes up there.

*****

Many years ago - when I was doing my undergraduate work at Berklee - I discovered that if I put a set of strings on my Martin D-28 that had an unwound G-string (So that I could do string bends on it) and did most of my practicing on that instead of my electrics, I developed much more physical strength in my forearm so that when I played the electrics it was nigh onto effortless. But I still had to do a certain amount of practicing on the electrics, or the longer necks with cutaways would confuse me: I had to balance it out. Going from a Martin D-28 to a Gibson Les Paul is even more of a sudden switch than between my current six-stringers because the Gibson had not only a cutaway, but a thinner neck and more frets: Easy to get confused up at the top. At least that isn't an issue between the Godin and the Murray becase they both have 2" nut widths, nineteen frets, and the neck joins the body at the twelfth fret.

As a result of this, it's actually a little easier for me to go back and forth now than it used to be. Or rather, it was. Now I have the Glissentar to deal with. It's much more difficult to play in terms of the effort required due to the string courses, the body is even smaller than the Multiac's, the fingerboard has twenty-two frets instead of the nineteen I've dealt with almost exclusively for nearly twenty years now, and the neck joins the body at - are you ready for this? - the 15.5 fret position (?!), which is... ah... absurdly weird. Admittedly, the neck joint position has everything to do with the fact that the stock instrument is fretless and nothing to do with capriciousness on Godin's part: The scale length I wanted just made it end up that way.

Though this is going to be a bit uncomfortable for a time, in the end I know that the Glissentar will improve my technique because it is so much more demanding to play. That's a good thing.

*****

One of the reasons I bring this up is that I've noticed over the years that students of mine who have a variety of guitars learn faster and play better. Many classical guitarists are entirely hopeless in this regard if they play exclusively on a single guitar or just a couple of instruments that are almost identical. As an anecdote - and a chance to name-drop - back in 1989 at the GFA John Dearman of the Los Angles Guitar Quartet graciously allowed me play with his seven-string Humphrey Millenium when I told him I'd like to see if it gave me any ideas for composing for it, and I couldn't even play things I knew on it! It was that weird and different. A guitar so exotic I couldn't even play it at all. That taught me a lesson I'll never forget, and as an asside I have an incredible luthier working on a unique guitar for me: A seven-string acoustic nylon stringer (With a low B) that has a Dreadnought size and shape to the body, but with a radically light and innovative construction. No cutaway, but the neck will join the body at the fourteenth fret. It'll also have the same internal condenser mic system Linda Manzer uses in some of her instruments plus an RMC Polydrive. BWAAHAAHAAHAAHAAAaaa!!! Wonder how long that will take me to figure out how to play.




Left to right: Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA, Anthony Gaillard Murray, Godin Glissentar w/Ed Reynolds fretted neck.



Reason #1 why guitars are better than girls: You can have more than one; the other guitasrs don't get jealous. Of course, just one like her would be enough.

2 Comments:

Blogger Michael Manning said...

As a developing guitarist I followed you on the ease of action and as a kid I just started learning Arpeggios on the Martin D-28 which to me is a fine instrument. I learned a lot from this post and would have guessed the cutaway body would have served you better than bulk. Let me know if you know Carlo Pezzimenti!

12:37 AM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

Every classical guitarist since Segovia has known Pezzimenti! He's one of the greats.

1:26 AM  

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