A very nice and astute guitarist/reader from Australia suggested I address the subject of tempo, i.e., keeping a steady beat but from a slightly different perspective. I’ve talked about the absolute importance of this in the past but it has usually been a case of students slowing down or stopping on chord changes. But there is another thing to watch out for: speeding up!
I have been totally guilty of this many times in the past and I most likely still do it. Usually it has to do with the adrenaline rush of playing a tune you really like or have great confidence in. Examples: Back in the 1970s when I played, toured and recorded with fiddler Marie Rhines we went into the Philo Records studio to record out first record. It was a heady experience to say the least. We were very worried about a couple tunes that were somewhat complex and had fairly complicated arrangements. And you know what? We nailed them in two or three takes. However… a couple tunes that we thought we could play with one hand became big trouble. On the first one we were about one verse in when the recording engineer suddenly said through the headphones, “Uh… you’re speeding up!”
Well, after a half dozen takes he finally suggested putting a “click track” through the phones, which is essentially a metronome. That worked but man, what a mind blower and it made those tunes good, but frankly not quite so spontaneous. Oh well. He was right. But those four or five “easy” ones ended up taking a few precious days of recording time. Lesson learned. Kind of, anyway.
Later on when I was playing lead guitar with my all-time favorite band we were often guilty of starting familiar 60s dance tunes way too fast – and then speeding up! This was obvious when we viewed early videos of our performances. The people always danced and our disregard of tempo came from the pure joy of playing. Not very professional, for sure, but it was fun!
So the take-away point here is basic and simple. Use a metronome when you practice – and don’t take for granted songs you thing you play pretty damn well!
Other stuff. I watched a great show the other night: Mumford & Sons Live at Red Rocks. OK, folks, I am a dinosaur musically speaking in a lot of ways and it’s taken me about a year of exposure to their music, but I think I finally “get it.” And like it very much! If you get a chance to see that program, do check it out. Their performance is amazingly dynamic and my overall reaction was, wow, those guys are TIGHT. Multi-rythmic changes, 2/4 into ¾ into 6/8 and back to 2/4 with absolute precision. I do wish they’d mix up their writing formula a bit. Every song seems to start slow and mellow and then at some point the leader yells “hey!” and they start pounding and strumming and picking and jumping around like crazy – and the crowd loves it, every time. Maybe I just don’t get that part of what they do. But there is no questioning their talent, precision and pure joy.
And lastly for today – I think I’ve finally found it: my Guitar of a Lifetime. It is a virtually new Martin Custom D-42, made in a limited run of 25 pieces for The Guitar Center. It features gorgeous Madagascar rosewood back and sides, Italian spruce top, premium ebony bridge and fingerboard, 45-style pearl inlay, scalloped braces, premium mahogany neck and I installed Colosi antique stained, pearl inlaid bridge pins. The sound? Well, I don’t have the vocabulary to describe it with true justice. Deep, complex, resonant, punchy, much crisper treble than any dread I’ve every heard, and LOUD. A true “banjo killer” if ever there was one. And did I mention beautiful?!
It plays like a dream too, with perfect action. And try as I might, I CANNOT over-drive it – it just keeps giving and giving. I will post some images in the next installment here. The cost was staggering but I have lusted after a D-40 series Martin for all my guitar playing life. And now I have one. The dilemma is now, do I chance taking it out on gigs?!?
Peace & good music,