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.
Seattle artists David Lasky and Frank M. Young have produced one of the most impressive graphic novels of 2012, a 200-page tome following the history of the Carter Family entitled Don't Forget This Song. On this week’s podcast, the Fretboard Journal's Michael Simmons talks to the duo about the book and the years of work that went into it.
A teenage John Greven built his first instrument, a 5-string banjo, in 1962. Over the last fifty years, he has built over 2,000 instruments and become one of the world’s most in-demand luthiers. On this week’s podcast, we talk to Greven about his unique career trajectory, including his invaluable time working for George Gruhn in Nashville; how he's able to create so many instruments a year; and why so many of his guitars end up in Japan. Greven also talks about some of the magical moments he had with vintage Martin and Gibson guitars during his stint in Nashville. Greven now resides in Portland, Oregon. He is currently at work on his 2,200th instrument, a 000-sized guitar with Brazilian rosewood back and sides.
On this week's podcast, we talk to Stan Jay, founder of Staten Island’s Mandolin Brothers. Jay is considered one of the foremost experts on vintage instruments, but, as he tells us this week, it all started in 1971 with a bag of banjo parts he was able to flip for a tidy profit. As his now bustling store celebrates its fortieth anniversary, we ask him about buying trends in vintage instruments, the guitars he actually plays when he's gigging and the magic behind those legendary Mandolin Brothers instrument descriptions. Intro music from Bill Evans' album, In Good Company.
These days, Seattle guitarmaker Steve Andersen is known primarily for his stunning archtop guitars. That wasn't always the case, however. In part one of our interview with Andersen, we ask him about the early days of Roberto-Venn (he was one of the school's first students) and the Sand Point, Idaho lutherie scene of the '70s (including the store Guitar's Friend and fellow builders such as Franklin Guitars and Bob Givens). We also hear why Andersen will no longer make the F-style mandolins he was once known for.
Singer-songwriter Matt Munisteri is a fixture in New York’s jazz scene, but—as he explains on this week’s podcast—his first obsession was bluegrass. In this 30 minute interview, Munisteri talks about his love for the five-string banjo (including the lessons he took from Tony Trischka), the funk sounds that captivated him in college and the vintage guitar tones he now embraces. Munisteri also discusses his latest project, an album featuring the music of songsmith Willard Robison.
Producer and singer-songwriter Joe Henry is the consummate guitar enthusiast. In the Fretboard Journal #26, he walks us through his vintage acoustic guitar collection and his varied music career. As a follow-up to that lengthy interview, we talk to Henry about his relationship with Folkway Music of Canada; the 13-fret Gibson Nick Lucas that Dylan played (an instrument that Henry has seen firsthand); his forthcoming book project on Richard Pryor and more.
When it comes to repairing vintage Martin guitars, TJ Thompson is, quite simply, one of the best. He’s repaired famous instruments played by some of the biggest names in music and has brought seemingly basket case guitars back to life. He also builds his own Martin-style guitars, which command five digit prices.
In Seattle's Fremont neighborhood, Ben Verellen and his small team custom build some of the most beautiful (and loud) guitar amplifiers available today. On this FJ podcast, we talk to Verellen about his amp company, the recent Kickstarter campaign he launched and much more.
In 2002, musician Michael Andrews and singer Gary Jules performed a mesmerizing cover of Tears for Fears' “Mad World” for theDonnie Darko soundtrack.That unlikely cover not only found it's way to the top of the music charts, but opened doors for Andrews into the world of film composing. But, as the guitarist explains in this week's FJ podcast, composing film music is just one side of Andrews' career. Under the moniker Elgin Park, he's served as the guitarist for the Greyboy Allstars, the extremely popular soul jazz band based out of San Diego. He is a virtuoso at everything from George Benson-inspired funk to intricate fingerstyle playing.
Richard Smith is one of the most impressive fingerstyle guitarists alive today. For our 52nd podcast, Smith stops by the FJ offices to talk about his unique upbringing, meeting hero Chet Atkins for the first time and his career today. At the end of this podcast, you can hear Smith perform a beautiful version of "Cheek to Cheek" on his signature model Kirk Sand guitar.
In the 1930s, Nationals and Dobro-branded guitars often featured a “frosted duco” finish, the result of applying a unique lacquer would seemingly crystalize on the instrument. The guitar finish equivalent of tie-dye, no two of these frosted duco finishes looks alike, but nearly every surviving example is gorgeous. Around 1937, National stopped using the finish altogether and it was quickly relegated to guitar geek history.
Seattle-area guitar collector Rik Besser has spent years perfecting his own version of "frosted duco" and is now the go-to guy for these finishes. On this week's podcast, he explains his process and tells us about some of the new projects he's currently working on.
For over a decade, Portland, Oregon’s Nial McGaughey has made a name for himself creating audiophile-grade guitar cables with his company Solid Cables. He’s also been not-so-quietly hard at work making and repairing guitar amps. On today's podcast, we talk to Nial about his various projects, how he got started, his "recycled" amps and much more.
Over the course of his 39 years as a luthier, Tom Ribbecke has become one of the world's great archtop guitar builders and a tireless educator, promoter and spokesperson for the world of hand-built instruments. Sadly, Ribbecke may soon lose the legendary workshop, teaching facility and home that he occupies in Healdsburg, California.
On this week's podcast, we talk to Ribbecke about his vision for saving the property and transforming it into a center where luthiers can share their knowledge and elevate the craft of the guitarmaking even further. He describes a couple of ways guitarists can help him: by pre-ordering one of the Final 25 series of guitars that he will be building to a customer's specs or perhaps by joining him as a partner on the entire facility. Ribbecke only has about a month to secure the land and realizes that it's a long shot, but he's confident that someone may want to be involved in this unique endeavor.
Ribbecke likens the area around Healdsburg -- and all of the talented luthiers working nearby -- as the modern day Cremona of guitars. We here at the FJ hope his vision for world class center for lutherie comes to fruition.
For more information on Ribbecke, his guitar creations or the Halfling model he invented, check out his site here. Or watch some of the many YouTube clips from the reality show based around his instrument company, Guitar Planet. And look for a feature on Ribbecke in a future issue of The Fretboard Journal.
Update: There is currently a Kickstarter campaign to help create the Ribbecke Center for Stringed Instruments. As of March 5, 2012, over $25,000 has been raised but there are still many worthy rewards available in exchange for donating.
Background music is by Michael Chapman, from the newly reissued Rainmaker album.
For the last few years, Char and Gordon Mayer of Mya-Moe Ukuleles have combined creating stunning ukuleles with an interesting business model. They hope, quite simply, to be the Collings or Benedetto of high-end, American-built ukes. In this week's podcast, we talk to the couple about how they got started making ukuleles, the incredible growth their company has seen in just a few years and just how they get ukes into the hands of some of the music world's biggest artists. In addition to being used by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder (who will be appearing on the cover of Fretboard Journal #24), Mya-Moes have been embraced by Dave Matthews, Florence & the Machine, Ben Harper and Trey Anastasio (Phish), to name a few. It's an interesting half-hour talk with one of the ukulele world's newest makers.
From his home in Louisville, Kentucky, we talk to guitarist and music historian Nathan Salsburg. By our count, Salsburg has released two of the best instrumental acoustic guitar albums of 2011: Avos, a duet record with James Elkington, and a solo album entitled Affirmed. We chat with Salsburg about both records, the guitars he used on these projects and his unique day job, working for the Alan Lomax Archives. We also discuss some of his favorite guitar players, including Nic Jones (featured in the Fretboard Journal #21) and E.C. Ball (a huge influence on luthier/player Wayne Henderson). It's an interesting half-hour chat with one of the guitar world's rising stars.