In the late 1970s, Preston Thompson moved from Texas to Vermont to learn the art of lutherie at Charles Fox’s School of the Guitar Research & Design Center. He’d eventually spend time at Randy Wood’s legendary Pickin’ Parlor before returning to Fox’s school, setting up his own shop and working for numerous flatpicking legends, including Charles Sawtelle and Peter Rowan.
Thompson now resides in Bend, Oregon. After a long stint away from guitarmaking to serve as a Director of Marketing at a local golf resort, he has started making guitars again. Operating out of a small shop in Sisters, Oregon, Thompson and his team are busier than ever crafting guitars inspired by vintage Martins. This year, he expects to make around 75 instruments.
From a tiny workshop in East LA, the small staff of Guadalupe Custom Strings create string sets not only for acoustic and electric guitarists but also for mariachi, jarocho, bajosexto and arpa players (to name a few). On this Fretboard Journal podcast, we talk to Guadalupe’s Gabriel Tenorio about how he became a full-time string maker and why handmade, RoundCore strings are so important to their customers. We also learn about the company’s connection to the band Los Lobos (founding member Fransisco Gonzalez started Guadalupe).
Roger Siminoff has always been a tinkerer. At 21, he designed and built a prototype offset press for his family’s printing business. When the music bug hit, Siminoff began building instruments, including banjos, pedal steels and, eventually, mandolins. Today, he is considered one of the foremost authorities on mandolin and banjo construction as well as the physics of musical instruments. He teaches classes and clinics, supplies many makers with banjo and mandolin parts and sells mandolin and mandola kits. He also has a deep history in publishing, both with his own book projects (both music and boat-related) and for his work with Pickin’ and Frets magazine. On today’s podcast, Siminoff talks about all of that as well as his latest project, Straight Up Strings. Straight Up Strings are strings Siminoff designed specifically for mandolins and banjos with traditional bridges. Roger tells us what makes these strings unique and the many years of R&D that went into their creation. In addition to chatting with Siminoff, we also hear about the just-announced Fretboard Summit from Fretboard Journal publisher Jason Verlinde. The event takes places November 6-8, 2015 and will be a unique weekend for guitar fanatics, filled with some of the magazine’s favorite artists, luthiers and speakers. http://siminoff.net https://www.fretboardjournal.com/summit
Chris Eldridge of the Punch Brothers stops by the Fretboard Journal to talk about his love for John Hartford, how his recording sessions with Thile and company come to be and a lot more. We also talk about his current lineup of acoustic guitars and ask when a Chris Eldridge solo album will be available. It’s a 20 minute chat with one of the world’s finest flatpickers. Special note: Eldridge will be featured at the first-ever Fretboard Summit, taking place November 6-8, 2015.
Over the years, Nashville's John Knowles has earned a PhD, a Grammy and even two Emmy nominations. Perhaps even more impressive, he's one of a handful of musicians given the "Certified Guitar Player" award from Chet Atkins. On our 82nd podcast, we talk to Knowles about Atkins, the state of fingerstyle guitar playing today, his role as an educator and arranger (he's also the publisher of FingerStyle Quarterly) and about the influence Lenny Breau had on his playing. We also hear a bit about the recording project he's currently working on with Tommy Emmanuel and, at the very end, get a gem of a Bill Monroe story.
Call it whatever you like: torrefaction, thermo-cured, roasted or baked. Fact of the matter is that acoustic guitar companies are flocking to a process where woods are put in a specialized, oxygen-free kiln and essentially cooked, resulting in a stiffer, drier end product (not unlike the woods found in a 60 or 70 year old guitar).
In this hour-long interview, Nels Cline (Wilco) and Julian Lage sit down to talk to us about their fateful meeting (thanks to a lunch date with the late jazz great Jim Hall), the art of the guitar duo, gear (Cline is playing a Gibson Barney Kessel here; Lage is playing his Linda Manzer archtop) and much more. We also hear three tunes from Room, the pair's debut album. This interview features the audio tracks from our Fretboard Journal Live session with the duo, the FJ's live streamed video series.
On this week’s podcast, we talk to luthier Dana Bourgeois about a truly special one-off guitar he recently built to benefit Tony Rice. This is Dana’s first (and likely last) attempt at an enlarged soundhole D-28-style guitar, just like the famous Martin belonging to Rice and, formerly, Clarence White. Dana’s creation is a truly special instrument, with a Bourgeois Aged Tone top, Brazilian rosewood back and sides, a bound fretboard sans position markers and more. Dana will be holding a two week-long auction from his site starting December 1, 2014.
Michael Bashkin’s life took a unlikely turn when the former New Jersey resident enrolled as an Art major at the University of Montana. “Living in Western Montana, I quickly discovered the outdoors and developed a strong interest in natural resources and forest management,” Bashkin says in this 40-minute podcast interview. “I [then] switched my major to Forestry.”
Bashkin would go on to spend several years in laboratories and in the woods, researching trees and forest ecology. “It was during my master’s program that I got bitten by the guitar bug,” he says. “At some point, my thinking about the trees did shift.” Since 1998, he’s been bulding instruments full-time in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Back in November of 2013, trend analyst, author and musician Eric Garland decided to post an entry to his blog entitled “Guitar Center and the End of Big Box Retail.” He described how GC’s corporate bond had been downgraded to junk status and how, in his view, it signaled “the end of a terrible model” of retailing. Garland never expected the post to go viral but within a couple of weeks it was shared by thousands of guitarists and musicians, GC customers, industry insiders and music lovers (his most recent updates can be found here).
For our 76th podcast, we head north to Lynnwood, Washington to visit with Sinasoid Stage & Studio. Sinasoid's Andy Kim and Jonathan Suhr are two musicians who have created a whole new way to purchase guitar cables with their Custom Shop Cable Builder. The recently-launched site allows customers to select from several different guitar cable offerings, pick an exact cable length and choose from a variety of input and output plugs. Sinasoid then makes the cable for you in-house and ships it to your door. As if that wasn’t enough, they're guaranteeing each cable for life.
When Portland, Oregon computer programmer Philip Graham decided that his singer-songwriter daughter needed a better microphone, he didn’t just turn to the latest pro audio catalog. Instead, Graham decided to do some research and build her one from scratch. Two years and a ton of R&D later, Ear Trumpet Labs was born and Graham found himself with a new day job, hand-assembling microphones for professional and amateur musicians.
Though Graham’s microphones are visually distinctive and look almost steampunk with their copper tubing, plumbing flanges and unique designs, each is made with function in mind. Onstage, acclaimed acoustic artists such as the Milk Carton Kids, Tom Brosseau and Della Mae have all embraced Ear Trumpet microphones.
Noam Pikelny and Stuart Duncan are arguably two of the greatest players to ever pick up their respective instruments. Pikelny is, day in and day out, pushing the boundaries of the five-string banjo both on his solo records and with the Punch Brothers. Meanwhile, Duncan is the world-renowned fiddler who has played on innumerable country records and even with Yo-Yo Ma (The Goat Rodeo Sessions).
When he was 25, musician Chris Funk left the Midwest for Portland, Oregon. Why? “I knew John Fahey lived in Oregon, and that was a big draw for me. And I knew Bill Frisell lived here [in Seattle]. They’re two of my idols.” As he tells us in this podcast, shortly after relocating to Oregon, he’d meet Colin Meloy and, soon thereafter, become a core member of the Decemberists. In 2007, Funk and the Decemberists’ Nate Query, Jenny Conlee and John Moen decided to form their own bluegrass-inspired offshoot band, Black Prairie. Black Prairie recently released their third studio record, Fortune (Sugar Hill).
For our 72nd podcast, we chat with Southern California singer-songwriter Tom Brosseau. Brosseau is no stranger to the magazine, he appeared in our third issue. On this week’s podcast, he talks about the Largo music scene he calls home; his Martin 000-18; the story behind the Punch Brothers covering his tune “How to Grow a Woman From the Ground” and more. He also describes the making of his 2014 album Grass Punks, which was produced by Sean Watkins.
We also have a great video of Brosseau performing “I Love to Play Guitar” at our offices on our site here.
Nashville flatpicker David Grier is no stranger to our magazine, he was the cover story of our 16th issue. In this hour-long interview, part of our new Fretboard Journal Live video series, the acoustic guitarists talks about his unique background (his dad played banjo for Bill Monroe), some of the fateful encounters he had with Clarence White as a boy and how he’s developed the phenomenal technique he has today.
Grier’s playing, as always, is otherworldly. He plays a few tunes in this podcast, including “King Wilkie’s Run” and “Red Haired Boy.” Grier is playing a guitar built for him by Bellingham, Washington builder Dake Traphagen.
Podcast duration: 1:05.
What exactly is “Bill-gebra”? On our 70th podcast, the always entertaining Bill Collings of Collings Guitars explains the concept to us and a lot more. We talk about the diverse Collings offerings, which include acoustics and electrics, mandolins and ukuleles. We also discuss Bill’s current obsession, creating the perfect guitar case. As Bill puts it, “whatever I like is whatever I do.”
All told, it’s a frank and funny half-hour discussion with one of the world’s best fretted instrument builders. Like this FJ podcast? We hope you’ll subscribe to them on iTunes.
Photo of Bill Collings taken by Alex Rueb.
A North American-built, handmade acoustic guitar for around $1,000? As unlikely as that sounds, Ed Bond of Halcyon Guitars is making it a reality. Bond, a former employee of Larrivee and a maker of high-end Tinker Guitars, has set out to make lutherie-made guitars affordable. His Halcyon line offers a variety of body styles, scale lengths and nut widths (and limitless customization) with a satin finish and other stripped down adornments. On this week’s podcast, the Vancouver-based builder talks about the influence of David C. Hurd’s Left Brain Lutherie book and discusses some of his favorite woods to work with. Bond is pleased with how his no-frills Halcyon creations play and sound. “It makes every guitar come out sounding really, really good,” he says.
Follow Halcyon Guitars via their Facebook page.
As a member of the legendary Romero family, Pepe Romero, Jr. grew up in a self-described classical guitar “gypsy camp.” Instead of following in the footsteps of his father and relatives, however, Pepe decided at an early age to become an instrument maker. On this week’s podcast, he talks to the Fretboard Journal about his nylon-string guitar creations, as well as his latest passion: ukuleles.
He also describes the nylon-string guitar he built for Jack Johnson (which was used extensively on Johnson’s From Here to Now to Here); his work for the Climate Reality Project; the reverse fan-bracing that he utilizes and more. “It’s a new angle on my family tradition,” Romero says of his career in lutherie, “but it’s perfect for me.”
Learn more about Pepe Romero, Jr. handmade ukuleles and guitars via his website here. Pepe has started a production line of ukuleles called Romero Creations. To learn more about the Climate Reality Project and the beetle-kill guitar that Romero made for Jack Johnson, watch this video.
Martin Guitars is celebrating its 180th year in business. The venerable, family-owned company is also the subject of two new books and a forthcoming 2014 exhibit at the Met. On this week’s podcast, we talk to Martin CEO Chris Martin (C.F. Martin IV) about Martin’s place in guitar history and much more. We discuss the groundbreaking Hal Leonard book Inventing the American Guitar: The Pre-Civil War Innovations of C.F. Martin and his Contemporaries and how Martin’s earliest creations were truly a melting pot of different guitar construction styles and techniques. Chris also discusses Martin’s important role in the world of ukuleles (a new book on Martin ukuleles is now available), what he’s excited about guitar-wise and much more.
Greg Leisz is prolific, to say the least. For decades, the Southern California-based multi-instrumentalist has been a go-to guitarist and pedal steel player for musicians such as Eric Clapton, Buddy Miller, John Mayer, Bill Frisell, k.d. lang, Robert Plant and others. Leisz recently contributed a track to the wonderful Big E: A Salute to Steel Guitarist Buddy Emmons. On this week’s podcast, we talk to him about the tune he performed on the tribute record (“Wild Mountain Thyme”), the impact Emmons’ playing had on his own music education, his gear of choice and more.
In early 2014, Leisz will be the subject of a lengthy Fretboard Journal magazine feature, penned by producer and singer-songwriter Joe Henry. As always, subscribe if you’d like to get that issue delivered to your home. We have a lot more pedal steel and steel guitar coverage in the works, too.
For our 65th podcast, we talk to banjo musician and educator Bill Evans and old-time fiddler Fletcher Bright. The duo recently released an album entitled Fine Times at Fletcher’s House.
Despite their varied backgrounds – Evans is a Bay area bluegrass powerhouse while Bright is an old-time fiddler from Tennessee – the duo sound like they’ve been performing together for years. Each of the 16 traditional tunes on the album were recorded in three or four takes with no editing – just two guys making great music. Evans plays a 1930 Gibson Granada that formerly belonged to Sonny Osborne, while Bright uses a contemporary fiddle built by Jonathan Cooper of Portland, Maine.
Evans is no stranger to the FJ. You may remember his great 14-minute crash course on the evolution of the banjo that we filmed here. And, though it’s hard to believe based on his playing, Bright is 82 years old this year. He’s been a member of the same band – the Dismembered Tennesseans – since 1945 (when he was in high school). He’s also a successful real estate developer.
At the end of our interview, the duo perform two songs from the record: “Yellow Barber” and “Polly Put the Kettle On.”
Folk music icon Richie Havens passed away on April 22, 2013. On this week's podcast, we listen in to an interview we conducted with Havens in 2010 at the Guild Guitars factory in New Hartford, Connecticut. This informal conversation covered Havens' earliest days as a folk musician, his love for Doo-wop, his appreciation for Guilds and a lot more.
During our visit, Havens performed a few tunes for the Guild employees. Below, is some shaky footage we took of the musician performing "Here Comes the Sun."
As one of the founding members of the Fireballs, George Tomsco is a true rock & roll pioneer. In the late ‘50s and ‘60s, his guitar playing was ubiquitous on the radio waves with hits as “Torquay,” “Bulldog,” “Sugar Shack” and “Quite a Party.”
Tomsco is the subject of a comprehensive, 18-page interview in the Fretboard Journal #28, where he talks about the sessions the Fireballs did at Norm Petty’s studios, his gear and his influences. On this week’s podcast, we ask Tomsco a bit more about those early sessions, how the classic surf instrumental “Torquay” got its name and how he stumbled upon the Fender Jazzmaster. We also hear about what Tomsco is up to these days and the future of the Fireballs. Also on the podcast: Fretboard Journal updates and much more.
Running an independent guitar store is no small task, but Reuben Cox of Los Angeles’ Old Style Guitar Shop has found success with an unusual formula. On this week’s podcast, we talk to Cox about his unique store, which is filled with vintage gear from the ‘40s and ‘50s, along with funky old guitars that Cox has personally rebuilt for playability. It’s quickly become a cult favorite with both famous indie rock musicians and area players who just need a new set of strings or accessories. Interview conducted by the FJ’s Ryan Richter.
Be sure to check out Old Style’s Facebook page for their latest creations.