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Paco de Lucia   Leave a comment

Today it became known that the famous flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia suddenly died at the age of only 66 years, probably from a heart attack.

I am not an expert on flamenco, but it is a style that has always appealed to me very much, and one of the first flamenco guitarists I ever heard was Paco de Lucia. I didn’t know then that he was also one of the very best flamenco players that ever existed at all.

When I got my fifth degree at music school at my seventeenth (my school used a degrees system that officially ranged from 1 to 6, only they just went to 5 at my particular school) my parents had asked my older brother to go look for a record with some very special guitar playing on it, that I would get for getting this degree.

My brother, not as much into playing guitar as I but always much more the curious listener and researcher for new music, found that famous record ‘Friday Night at San Francisco ’ featuring Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia.

He gave it to me with the words “Just so you don’t go imagining that you’re already really good”. He has always known me very well.

Well, it WAS an eye opener. I never had imagined that guitar playing like this existed in the first place so it set a new – ahem – target.

I mostly preferred the playing of Al Dimeola and Paco de Lucia on that record. Al DiMeola had the clearest tone, but in Paco de Lucia’s playing there was that special Spanish intensity and the specific flamenco melodies and dissonant harmonies that appealed to me.

In hindsight those concerts of course were kind of a tournament in fast guitar playing and not everything in it was musically all that appealing, but to be confronted with something like that at the age of seventeen is hugely impressive.

But hearing Paco de Lucia playing real flamenco is even more impressive. The man could keep up your attention in a ten minute solo piece like this:

Now that’s an immense achievement for any musician.

When listening to Paco de Lucia, you know that he’s someone who captured the very essence of an instrument, that he’s doing what should be done with the instrument. These are the sounds supposed to be coming from it. It all sounds so natural and easy. Until you try it for yourself. Then you discover how much dedication and hours must have gone into this kind of control and creativity. Of course he must have had a great talent, but part of that talent ís the kind of dedication you can put into things as well.

Apart from the great loss this must be for his famlily and friends, there were definitely also many years of musical brilliance that were lost here.

An impressive concert from a longer time ago:

Taylor 114

Taylor 114Sometimes you pick up a guitar and right after the first few notes you go “Yes!”. This Taylor 114 was one of those guitars when in 2012 I went to Elderly Instruments in Lansing (a true heaven for guitarists, by the way; I rarely saw such a big choice of top range instruments and you’re allowed, even invited, to play them all).

I live in the Netherlands but my girlfriend lives in Michigan. 2012 was the third summer I was travelling there, and the fees for excess luggage had been going up so steeply that I figured it would be cheaper in the long run –  and safer for my guitars –  to just buy one in the US and leave it there instead of taking one on the plane every time.

I wanted to buy a second hand one (most of my guitars I bought second hand), and I discovered that Elderly instruments actually had about five second hand ones available. Within minutes it was clear to me that out of five candidates it was going to be this 114 or a slightly more expensive Taylor 210 series. It was this one that sounded the best though.

The 100-series being the cheapest series of Taylor guitars, it still has your typical chrystal clear Taylor sound, but with warm basses as well, and equally typical perfect playability. It’s got laminate sapele back and sides and a solid sitka spruce top.

Em11/Stewart-MacDonald Dreadnought acoustic

ImageThis Em11 (named after a chord that I like) is a so-called kit guitar from Stewart-MacDonald. I had been wanting to build a guitar myself for some time, but especially with building acoustic guitars there’s a lot that can go wrong. Subscribing for a course and building one from scratch was an option, but then I hit upon this thing called kit guitars, where the parts that require expensive machinery to manufacture come more or less prefab, which you only have to finish or make to size. That seemed to be a more flexible way of working to me, so I opted for that kit guitar.

I chose a Stewart-MacDonald kit, because their kits come with an extensive manual and a demo DVD, which is something you really need with your first build. They had only two models to pick from, a Dreadnought model based on the Martin HD-28 or a Martin OM model. I picked the dreadnought because that was a model I didn’t have yet (I opted for the rosewood version).

It has been a great experience to build it, and if I ever have time for it again I’ll build another one. I was very pleasantly surprised by its great, deep sound as well, the materials for this kit are really top notch. The hardest and most critical part is to get the neck set up right (which is why I picked the bolted neck rather than the dovetail construction). Second hardest thing is to get it finished nicely, in which I didn’t succeed entirely. That’s typically a matter of experience.

The kit and additional materials cost some 450 euros and I spent about 550 euros on tools. So in total this cost me some 1000 euros, but it definitely sounds as good as many guitars of such a price, and I also have played more expensive ones that weren’t as good (also cheaper ones that WERE as good; there’s quite a wide variety in price-quality ratios with acoustic guitars). It definitely sounds a LOT better than my 550 Euro Crafter GAE-30, but without its pickup system that guitar would cost less than 500 euros, to be fair.

Latin music

For all you people who think I am just a guitar maniac: I was listening to this song just now, by La India:

An artist I got introduced to by my friend Ramsy from the Dutch Antillies. I only got the album with this song on it (and on tape; damn, I’m going to order the album NOW!), but boy do I love salsa music.

I can’t even begin to understand were it comes from, but from very early on I’ve liked Spanish and/or Latin music. In summer I also look more mediterranean than your average pale/bright-red Dutch person, so perhaps it’s genetic. Anyway, as I said my friend Ramsy later introduced me to salsa, and I got to see his friend Leonard Reymound’s bands playing, a really great singer and percussionist. I got to understand the power and dynamics of horns, something I hadn’t liked at all before, being a symphonic rock fan.

But also, and more importantly, I got to understand that rhythm isn’t the strong point of main stream western music. We adopted the strong emphasis on rhythm through blues and jazz during the 1940’s and 1950’s, but in popular music it’s still very simple compared to what is done in salsa, which must be a mixture of African and Spanish rhythms, the Spanish also being influenced by the Moors from North Africa. Perhaps they also were influenced by flamenco, the music of the Spanish Gypsies. Who originally came from India, which is indeed another part of the world where they came up with some really intricate rhythmic patterns. Europe had strong rhythms as well in its folk music – Bulgarian folk music will have strange rhythms like 11/8 time – but somehow it’s mostly classical music that’s become the main European heritage (although at least part of British/Irish folk music has been preserved in bluegrass music, I think).

Salsa means sauce, and that’s indeed what it is. We Westerners are mostly masters of melody and harmony, that’s what we got down in Europe. That got mixed in with jazz and blues harmonies in the US, rooted in Africa as well, mind you, but anyway: combine jazz with the rhythmic inventions of Spain, Africa and India and you get amazing music, which is what salsa is.

There are brilliant people everywhere; just extract as many ideas from everywhere and you’ll come up with something great.

Posted 24/01/2014 by L in Blog

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Video Demo Gibson SG Special

Posted 23/01/2014 by L in Blog

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Gibson SG Special

Gibson_SGThis 1973 Gibson SG Special was bought secondhand by my brother somewhere in the mid-eighties, when he played rhythm guitar in our band and needed a better one than his old Maya Stratocaster.

Anyway, two weeks after that it nearly had gone again already, when it appeared that we had left it standing outside leaning against the car, the morning after we came home from rehearsal. I rushed outside the moment we discovered it but it was nowhere to be seen. After we put a note on the wall in the hall of my apartment block, to our immense relief someone appeared to have spotted it early that morning when leaving for college, and had taken it inside. We got him a nice bottle of wine.

After the band stopped my brother didn’t play it very much anymore, playing his acoustic guitar mostly. Three years ago I made him an offer on it (his daughter plays music as well, and I thought she should have first choice, but she proceeded on piano) and since then it has been mine.

I have used it in several recordings ever since, mostly for its open, transparent rock sound, partly due to its mini-humbuckers (only used during one year on this model) which almost sound like Gibson’s famous P90 pickups: clear, but warmer than Fender style single coils. It’s a perfect guitar for playing rock chords with a light touch of distortion. I am always amazed by its sustain, despite it being very light weight.

Posted 22/01/2014 by L in Blog, My guitars

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Aria Pro II PE-175

Aria_PE_175In 1987 I was planning on going to a music college, specialized in jazz, which required a real jazz guitar. I bought this secondhand Aria Pro II PE-175, Herb Ellis signature model (its serial number starts with a 2, so probably it’s from 1982).

It has been made in the Matsumoku factory, known for manufacturing many quality guitars for several Japanese midrange brands. Aria also was a midrange brand, but with this model they wanted to make a real quality guitar. Its model number, PE-175, seems to suggest a reference to the Gibson ES-175, although it really isn’t a one-to-one copy of that. It sooner resembles a compact kind of Gibson L5.

As often is the case with midrange brands, when they do make a quality guitar the price-quality ratio can be very good. Because of their midrange image they can’t really ask a top price for their instruments, even when they are (almost) top quality. Back then it was a guitar of around 900 dollars (new) (a Gibson ES-175 then already would have cost 1400 dollars), nowadays – if you can find one – they’ll sell for around 650 dollars.

Nowadays I often use it when being asked to play in a big band. This guitar plays very easily and has a warm yet transparent sound. With its pickup switch in the middle position, it’s even possible to get a very usable, clear funky rhythm sound out of it.

Posted 21/01/2014 by L in Blog, My guitars

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