Tips, Techniques, Examples about my favorite musical instrument, the Twelve-String Guitar.

If you play guitar check out Playing Technique, or Strings / Setup. There are also some interesting posts about guitars at, you guessed it, Guitars.

If you want to spread your musical talents around, you will find some good info at Recording.

Marketing - meh - I'm probably the world's best bad example. Although you could find funny stuff there.

I've made some music videos through the years, and you can find them and other interesting music at Music I Like, Music I Play.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Contrasts...and stretched metaphors

The modern classical guitar is so much more expressive than the modern steel guitar, and the 12-string is even less expressive than a 6-string. The expressiveness of an instrument lies in the ability of the player to present contrasts in tone and loudness of the music. The double course strings of the 12-string don't seem to lend themselves to subtlety. In fact, most 12-string players just flail away at the instrument. But I think some attempt at expression might have a musical pay off.

For example, in the Race Across America, RAAM, an annual bicycle event that draws many ultra-endurance athletes, it takes even the fastest rider more than a week to make it across the country; riders usually ride for as long as they can each day, surviving on an hour or two of sleep each day. The speed might not be high, but the moderate average speed yields large distances over time. But in 1985 Jonathan Boyer changed that. He was a former professional bike racer who had finished as high as 12th in the Tour De France and was used to riding very, very fast for 100 to 150 miles. He gobbled up huge chunks of distance and got extra sleep which fueled him to a new record. To stretch this metaphor a bit, my 12-string guitar only rides at one 'speed' of expression, whereas the classical guitar is like Jonathan Boyer and easily switches from staccato to legato.

A steel stringed guitar cannot do all of what the nylon stringed instrument can do. Here are some the the effects that I've found it can do sometimes as well as a classical guitar:
  • loud / soft
  • muting (or damping)
  • harmonics
  • slight timbre change from picking at bridge to picking at fretboard
The last item, timbre changes, depend on your finger tips - if you use picks...not so much. I can get better contrast with just the slightest fingernail. That allows me to use bare fingertip or nail.

I've been working on muting lately by lowering the pad at the base of the thumb onto the strings. But this causes some pain, so I'm trying to find a better way.

Loud / soft dynamics are probably the easiest to do, and probably should be used more, at least by the home recordist who doesn't have to compete with bar patrons to be heard.

A last note: using an electric pickup probably limits dynamic expression even more.

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