Wednesday, 29 July 2009


While I was working for Guitarist magazine, we coined the expression 'Guitar Voodoo' for when we thought a manufacturer was, shall we say, trying to push things a little with his claims for a particular product. These would include certain products which, when retro-fitted to either an electric or acoustic instrument would apparently have some sort of beneficial effect on its tone…

…And most of it was complete bull****!

So, working in that environment kinda encourages a cynical overview of the music manufacturing industry in some respects. You're certainly not taken in too easily, anyway.

So when it came time for me to think about changing the bridge pins (the plastic 'plugs' on an acoustic guitar bridge that wedge the strings in place) for purely cosmetic reasons, I was a little bit wary when I began to read the claims made for different types of pin. There are, for instance, ebony pins and ones made from brass, synthetic bone, real bone, mammoth bone (I'm not kidding) and various other stuff, too. In virtually all cases, there are claims about what this change will do to your sound. In fact, the claims are usually directly proportionate to the cost of the product – the more expensive they are, the better they sound. Allegedly.

So I bought a set of Tusq bridge pins for around ten quid; like I say, my reasoning here was that they would improve the looks of the guitar, rather than its sound – and for ten quid, if they did have a positive effect as a by-product, then I would be happy.

When I installed them, I found a distinct difference. Instead of the wildness you normally get when putting a new set of strings on an acoustic (I replaced the bridge pins as part of a string change) everything was suddenly uniform. It's difficult to describe, but whatever was happening was for the good of the instrument's tone and certainly not to its detriment.

But sometimes I don't believe my own ears and so I bought another set for my other acoustic guitar and went through the same procedure again – with the same effect. Nice, uniform tones across all of the open strings and a kind of warmth from fretted notes which I'm sure wasn't there before.


I've read postings on guitar forums where people say that replacing bridge pins doesn't make any difference, or that it does – the debate rages on. But all I can say is that from my own personal experience, backed up by years of reviewing instruments for magazines and sifting out the truth from various manufacturers' hyperbole, I can notice a difference.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Studio Log: Day One

Y'know it always used to confuse me as to why albums took so long to record – and I'm not sure that I know the answer even now! But I would read in the music press how bands like Yes, Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys and even The Beatles would spend literally months shut away from the world in the murky depths of Abbey Road or somewhere similar in order to record around 45 minutes of music... and I thought, 'What are they doing with all that time?'

My own studio experiences, of course, are a lot more modest. A lot of my books come with CDs and, in general, they all took between one to two days of studio time to finish. However, my first all-music CD 'Nocturnal' took over a year. It seems that when creativity comes a-calling, something weird happens to one's own personal space-time continuum.

Naturally, I wasn't in the studio every day for a year; all-in-all I would suspect that there were around 14 sessions during that time and it was my work schedule and, I must confess, a certain scant regard for self-discipline that drew the whole process out. I made the album in what was essentially my 'spare time' you see... I really do work better when someone gives me a deadline!

So when it came down to making another album, I told myself that it wouldn't take anywhere near as long. I couldn't tell you how we spent all those days working on 'Nocturnal' and so, in order to make sure that every session on its sequel – 'Arboretum' – is accounted for, I thought I'd keep a log.

So 'day one' was yesterday and both myself and my engineer/co-producer Martin Holmes knew in advance that we wouldn't get any actual recording done. Yesterday's mission was merely to mic up my new Fylde Falstaff acoustic to see how it recorded, generally talk things through about how we were going to project-manage the album – and drink tea.

We ticked all the boxes; the Falstaff sounds lovely with just three mics on her and the snippets of new material I played in order to reach that conclusion sound good, too. The main obstacle I face now is to get rid of a bit of what I suspect is tendonitis in my right wrist – and the only way to do that is by resting and not practising like crazy like I ought to be. So 'day two' is already an unspecified date at some point in the future.

I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Hard As Nails?

I play fingerstyle guitar, which means that I rely on my right hand fingernails rather a lot. Let's face it, fingernails are really grow-your-own plectrums and an intrinsic part of your sound. I ought to take more care of them than I do, but I've found that it's when I try to act all precious about not breaking a nail that I run into problems.

Once, I was about to play classical guitar at a Masonic dinner and had walked about with my right hand behind my back for most of the day, just in case. In the end, I was drawing the living room curtains and I tore my thumb nail... It happens doing the most stupid mundane stuff. I can use power tools or service a 747 quite happily and my nails remain intact – but simple interaction with the living room curtains and suddenly we're at Defcon 5.

Luckily, I had my 'don't panic' kit which comprised a tube of glue, the make of which was recommended to me by a flamenco player. It was only available in Spain and so if anyone I knew was going over there, I didn't want any duty free, just some glue. Some of my friends suggested counselling...

Anyhow, the glue did its trick and my nail helped me entertain the Masons. I've since stopped using it and have forgotten the make, too – and if anyone goes to Spain these days, it's a bottle of Rioja, please.