A student of mine has a guitar of moderate value that needs a repair and he is not thrilled about the prospect. The problem is a quite common one: a lifting bridge. I told him that assuming the repair person doesn’t want to replace the bridge entirely it will most likely cost him at least $50 to have it re-glued. His first reaction was – wow, that seems like a lot. Can’t I just apply a little glue under there and clap in down myself? I told him that he could certainly try but there are risks involved, things like splitting the bridge when pressure is applied or not getting a good bond, which would mean trying to remove the old glue and starting all over, with even less likely positive results. He is going to opt for a professional repair, I think.
While re-gluing and leveling a bridge on an acoustic guitar is a common repair it is hardly the only bad thing that can occur. Probably the next most common annoyance is a loose brace inside the guitar. The most obvious symptom of this is a rattling sound when a certain note or notes are played. Unfortunately, this is definitely a job best performed by a professional who will have flat knife-like blades to probe the places where the braces are glued to the top or bottom of the guitar. A loose brace is hardly ever obvious but you can locate its approximate location by placing the fingers of one hand on top of the guitar in a variety of places while the offending tone is played. If you’re lucky you may actually feel the loose brace vibrating against the top. Then at least you have confirmed the source of that nasty sound and can give that information to your repair person. If a back brace is loose this feel-around method will probably not work as the wood of the back is slightly thicker and harder than the top so the vibration will not be as easily transmitted.
Those are just two of the many problems that can occur with acoustic guitars, regardless of their price or quality. After all, they are made of wood and wood moves! Good luck if you’re experiencing one of these things and my advice is of course to consult with a competent repair person.
Shifting gears now, I’ve been listening to Public Radio station WUMB in Boston quite a bit lately because they have changed their format somewhat and are featuring more modern singer-songwriters (as compared to the old war horses that used to dominate their play lists) and even some electric folk/Americana type stuff. I’ve heard some interesting music lately by groups like the Punch Brothers but the album that has impressed me the most is the latest by Bonnie Raitt. Yes, she could qualify as an older musician but Bonnie sounds better than ever and her slide guitar work just gets more and more inventive and interesting. The album has been out for about four months now and is called “Slipstream.” Her voice has the quality of a sip of a nice, smoky single malt Scotch; it’s almost like she’s finally grown into the being the singer she always was trying to be. My slightly nasty side kind of wants to say – hey, Susan Tedeschi – give this a listen. This is what a funky, sexy blues woman is SUPPOSED to sound like! But that wouldn’t be very nice, now would it?! Anyway, I highly, highly recommend this recording by Bonnie Raitt, her first new album in seven years. Rock on, Bonnie.
In a completely different musical vein, I was turned on to the wonderful Irish singer and songwriter Christy Moore by one of my students. Now, if you are a fan of Irish music this is not news to you but Christy is a simply an absolutely wonderful musician. My student is Irish himself and while he has little use for most of the pseudo-Irish music that’s heard in this country he went on and on about how genuine and well respected Christy is back in the Old Country and I could immediately hear why. While I love most instrumental Irish music by groups like The Chieftains and Planxty (Christy was once a member of that group) I have little tolerance for a guy in a local bar belting out “Me Mother She Was Orange and Me Father He Was Green” while pounding away on an out-of-tune Ovation 12-string. But I may have to open up my mind a lot more if Christy is any indication of what’s really out there. His song “Mary from Dungloe” is beautiful, sad and touching, and his most famous tune, “Ride On” features stark imagery that is the hallmark of a great songwriter. So if you’ve written off Irish vocal music as little more than trite drinking music by Irish American wannabe’s, give Christy Moore a listen. You’ll be amazed.
From all reports, last weekend’s annual Newport Folk Festival was a huge success with Saturday sold out and close to a sell-out on Sunday. I’ve listened to a few performances that have already appeared on You Tube and I am again very pleased to find so many younger performers stretching the boundaries of what we consider folk music, while still respecting what went before. I would have been especially interested in hearing the great Jackson Browne, who closed out the festival with a long acoustic set. He is another one who knows how present multi layered images in his songs without being obvious or too obtuse. Martin Guitars apparently had a very cool “performance tent” where attendees could try out many guitars and some of the performers stopped by for short impromptu sets. Next year, I swear….
Finally, this: Are you getting more than a little tired of your guitar sounding like someone stuffed it with pillows thanks to the hot, humid weather? Me too. Well, have faith. In a few short weeks the air will cool and dry out and your baby will sound just fine again. In the meantime, play some funky old blues tunes. They sound just fine on the thunky guitar!
As always, I welcome input and comments and I’ll be more than happy to bore you with my opinions! Just drop a line.
Peace & good music,