When I was 8 years old, I was obsessed with the Everly Brothers. (This is how bad it got: I had two little monkey hand puppets with pompadours. I named them Don and Phil.) I mention this because it was the subconscious beginning of my obsession with the Gibson J-200.
A few words here about the J200. It is, beyond a doubt, the most beautiful, most iconic acoustic guitar of the 20th century. An American classic; big, flashy, striking, and unmistakeable.
The first time I remember being struck with the J200 was when I saw this picture on Eric Andersen’s album, “‘Bout Changes And Things”.Soon, I noted fotos of Dave Van Ronk, the great fingerstyle blues artist, playing a J200:I developed a great urge to own one of these guitars, especially if it was a sunburst. When I became enthralled with the masterful guitar playing of the Rev. Gary Davis, and subsequently found that his signature instrument was the J200, the mythological importance of this guitar grew in my mind.
It was the winter of 1970 when I finally wangled a deal, through a friend’s father, to purchase my first J200 at a big discount. We drove from Ohio to Long Island, NY, and took delivery of a brand new ’69 J200N (the N meaning “natural”…no sunburst…)
It was, indeed, a beautiful thing, and I was enthralled, but I soon realized that this guitar, built during one of Gibson’s worst eras, was a victory of form over function: It looked great, but did NOT sound great. I kept it for several years, and eventually sold it, opting for a smaller but better sounding Gurian guitar. And yet….the obsession never totally disappeared. Friends would give me Elvis memorabilia, thinking I was an Elvis fan, but, actually, I just coveted Elvis’s J200!
In the early ’90s, I traded my handmade Hoffman guitar to my old friend Chris Reitz for his ’50 J200…Still no sunburst… 8^(
Now THIS was, if not Gibson’s golden age, still a very good era for Gibson guitars. Surely, this one would meet my expectations. It was a thing of beauty, with the classic outlined pick guard and cut-out bridge:
I played this guitar for a few years. Never totally taken with the sound, but it just LOOKED so good!! Asked to do a radio interview about Martin Guitars, I played a student’s old small bodied Martin and compared it to my J200. When I heard the interview on the radio, I was appalled to hear that my big Gibson sounded like a cigar box compared to the rich, warm sounding tiny Martin. I ordered a Martin MC-28 and sold the Gibson. But the obsession never really went away. I discovered part of the reason when Jan and I rented a VHS tape (remember “VHS”?) on the Everly Brothers from a video store (remember “video stores”?) . This was the first image I saw:
So, every 10 years or so, I get a serious jones for a J200. In fact, I was pathologically surfing the internet for the past couple days, looking at various models on eBay, when I came across a reference to a pocket-size J200 built for Emmylou Harris, and dubbed an L200.
I became glassy-eyed and decided I was fated to own an L200. After all, I’d actually gotten to MEET Emmylou when we adopted Suki the Cattle Dog/Demon Dog from her wonderful rescue, Bonaparte’s Retreat.
AND, reviews said that the L200 LOOKED like a little J200, but had its own distinctive sound!! In a trance, I scoured the internet, and located an eBay link with only 30 minutes till expiration! I had to act FAST!!!! And it was a SUNBURST!!! How could I not buy it???
So, what happened next??? Could this little guitar finally meet my expectations? Well, I’ll report back when the package arrives. Life is short. If the fates want you to have a sunburst J200 (or maybe an L200), it’s pointless to resist. Stay tuned!!
Disclaimer: I own several fantastic sounding guitars, built by brilliant luthiers Mario Proulx, Ken & Virginia Miller, Rockbridge Guitars, and Chris Myers…but none of them look like a J200….this is my sickness, my personal pathology. I’m already holding a winning hand. I just WANT A GUITAR THAT LOOKS LIKE A J200, and maybe sounds half decent in the bargain….
I’ll be doing a workshop in Huntingdon Valley, PA, just north of Philly, on the evening of Nov. 10, from 6 till 9 p.m.!
This should be fun:
- one hour on playing solo Blues Guitar
- one hour on “how to jam”, also known as “beginning improvisation”
- one hour for questions and answers. If no one has any questions, I’ll still have lots of answers! :^)
That last hour could cover info on jazz, blues, ragtime, flatpicking, fingerpicking, composition…you name it!
In 2006, I had some spare time one day and thought, “Hey, maybe I’ll make a little video and put it on Youtube. I called it “240 chords in 6 minutes”, and, while its 100,000+ hits don’t match the view numbers of talking dog videos or Andy McKee’s “Driftin’”, it reached exponentially more people than I’d reached in my previous 37 years of guitar teaching. In the video, I mentioned that there would eventually be a full length DVD covering the material in more depth. That day has finally come, with the help of Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop. We embarked on a series of five DVD’s, and the first two are now available at Stefan’s website.
The introductory material is now posted on Youtube for the first two videos. One is “A Nuts And Bolts Approach To Chords”.
The other is “A Nuts And Bolts Approach To Melody”. These videos have allowed me to go into much greater depth, and I’ve been able to teach many easy little tricks for improving your playing!
Stefan has also posted an extended interview with some performance. Hope you enjoy watching it.
Still in the pipeline: DVD’s on the Nuts and Bolts Approach to improvisation, solo flatpicking, and “owning” a jazz standard. Stay tuned and enjoy!
Here’s a quote from Martino’s “Quantum Guitar” DVD. It shatters some myths about the importance of “music theory” in soloing…whaddya think?
Martino is talking about fingering patterns on the neck: “I refer to these fingerings as spacial fingerings, because they came from spacial positions in this structure (demonstrates fingering), and were applied mechanically to this [other] structure (demonstrates again) with no melodic concern whatsoever…in doing so, I would then advise you to take fingerings of the things that you are playing, the patterns that you already have absorbed, and begin to spread them into different various areas of the guitar, with your ears neutral in the process, so that your ears are not judgementally governing your choice of possibilities for improvisation, which has to be neutral at all times”.
Here’s how I hear this: We probably all agree that the ear is the final arbiter. Whatever we normally play is organized by some kind of logical construct: Maybe it’s chords in progression, maybe it’s a scale or series of scales, maybe it’s a series of arpeggios…and we know what it’ll sound like before we play it; that’s the hallmark of you playing the guitar, rather than the guitar playing you. Then, from these logical constructs, we choose what we like. What Martino is suggesting is an organized way of enlarging the menu of available sounds by also using physical constructs (fingering patterns) which may have worked for you logically, but which you now take out of their context and sort of randomly insert them elsewhere, so they no longer “make sense” musically. This would lead to new sounds from which to choose. He doesn’t say that you should not be judgemental in creating the final product, just that “your ears are not judgementally governing your choice of possibilities”.
In the video, he then demonstrates various ways of applying these ideas in his usual mindblowingly fluid playing style.
I’m gonna chew on this for a year or two, and just felt compelled to share…
It’s busy times these days in Rollyworld! Check the “gigs, etc.” link for fall events. Mark Cosgrove and I are producing our 19th annual Bucks County Guitar Summit. Our guests this year are Tim & Myles Thompson. Tim is the ’08 Int’l Fingerstyle Guitar Champion from Winfield. He’s just a monstrous player in many styles. His 17 year old son Myles is a killer violin/fiddle virtuoso. Mark is one of the world’s great flatpicking guitarists, a former Nat’l Flatpicking Champion, currently playing in the band of legendary guitarist David Bromberg. It’ll be a great day, with a 3 hour afternoon workshop from 1 till 4 pm, and an 8 pm evening concert. Check this video of Tim’s killer arrangement of the Flintstones theme: If you’re interested or nearby, info is here.
Lenny Breau, the brilliant Canadian jazz guitarist, was a great admirer of jazz piano master Bill Evans. One of the things he found in Evans’s playing was the use of sparse chord backing, which allowed a kind of “less is more” approach to arranging. Lenny moved it onto the guitar in his own unique way.
Here’s how it works: “7th” chords are made up of 4 notes: 1-3-5-7. They are commonly Major (1-3-5-7), Minor (1-b3-5-b7), or Dominant (1-3-5-b7). Note that the 1 and 5 remain the same in all 3 families. The 3 and the 7 denote the “color” of the chord (major, minor, or dominant), and are often referred to as the “color tones”, or “essential tones”. These three primary chord families often represent the larger ideas of motion (minor), tension (dominant), and resolution (major). The model for this idea is the “ii-V-I” progression. In the key of G, the “ii chord” is the Am7, the “V chord” is the D7, and the “I chord” is the Gmaj7. Played in that order, they cycle through motion, tension, and on to resolution.
The 3 and 7 often occur on adjacent strings, commonly on the D and G strings. They can occur in either order: “3-7″, or “7-3″. In cases where the 7 is on the bottom, the chords tend to have a darker, more ominous sound, and this facilitated the dark pallette on which Breau painted his impressionistic masterpieces. The video below shows some examples.
Those of you who know me have heard me tell tales of Steve Mann, the elusive West Coast guitarist who influenced the likes of Jorma Kaukaunen, Stefan Grossman, Paul Geremia, Barry Melton, etc., then went off the rails, diagnosed as schizophrenic, and disappeared for decades, re-emerging in Berkeley in 2003, where he lived and held court until his death until 2009.
During those missing decades, many of us listened to old tapes and a couple albums, and tried to learn Steve’s complex jazzy blues guitar licks. While the older Steve was still a great guitarist, his degenerating health and medications clouded the brilliance of his youthful playing. Recently, guitarist Joe Mackessy, one of Steve’s good friends during his last years, wrote and alerted me to this previously unknown live concert recording from 1966. It gives ample example of the jawdropping musicianship and comprehension of the blues coming from a young SoCal suburban kid.
Click below to go to “Wolfgang’s Vault” and here this rediscovered concert from one of the great guitarists of our era.
For more info on Steve, or to order the released CD’s of his earlier recordings, go to Janet Smith’s website for Steve, here:
Janet was instrumental in looking after Steve and getting his recordings re-released in the later years.
To read about my experiences when visiting Steve in 2006:
To see some video of Steve from 2008
A great old tune from the previous Great Depression! A tip of the hat to the late Steve Mann for the high-powered 8va ending! Played on the old Gibson L-0.
Grooveyard was written by a West Coast jazz musician named Carl Perkins (not to be confused with the “Blue Suede Shoes” guy). I first heard it done by the great British guitarist Davy Graham, and I tried it in several keys before I found one I liked. Choosing a key for a solo guitar piece is crucial to the success of the arrangement, and it’s important to remember, when considering many jazz tunes which were written in flat keys, that they were written that way to make it easy for horn players. The fact that they were then difficult for guitar players was a side effect. When playing solo guitar, that side effect is often unnecessary, so we choose the most “guitaristic” key for the arrangement. This is one of those great tunes that walks the line between jazz and blues. Played here on a 1938 Gibson L-0 model guitar.