Category Archives: Fingerstyle

LIVE 049 • Long Mountain Rag

Long Mountain Rag was named in honor of Mauna Loa (Hawaiian for “Long Mountain”), the Big Island of Hawaii’s largest mountain and also the largest active (though not erupting as of this post) volcano on Earth. Measured from its base on the ocean floor, Mauna Loa is the second tallest mountain in the world, topped only by neighboring Mauna Kea (whose peak is 120 feet higher). Long Mountain Rag was influenced by both Bluegrass and Slack Key musical styles. Hope you enjoy.

Recorded with a Taylor 412ce LTD (Rosewood/Spruce, Gotoh 510 tuners, strings are Elixir Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze HD gauge set) and a Neumann TLM 102 microphone.

LIVE 054 • Jonquils of Spring

An improvised portrait, Jonquils of Spring features a melody outlined with harmonics and played with a slightly wobbly tempo. A cool sunny spring day helped bring out the mood, and relatively fresh set of strings helped bring out the chimes. Hope you enjoy.

Recorded with a Taylor 912ce (Rosewood/Spruce, with Elixir Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze HD Light strings) and a Neumann TLM 102 microphone.

LIVE 047 • Keiki Slack Key on Steel String Guitar

Not long ago, I posted a nylon string version of the Ray Kane classic “Keiki Slack Key.” Here is a similar version recorded around the same time, but on steel string guitar. Keiki Slack Key (not to be confused with the Sonny Chillingworth song of the same name) is one of the first slack key songs I transcribed, and has stayed on my setlists ever since. To me, Ray Kane is probably the best example of an ‘old style’ slack key player, and his tracks are always nahenahe. I never got to take a lesson from Ray, though I did get to speak to him and his wife Elodia on the phone once, not long before he passed – a cherished memory. Hope you enjoy.

Recorded with a Taylor 412ce LTD (Rosewood/Spruce, Gotoh 510 tuners, strings are Elixir Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze HD gauge set) and a Neumann TLM 102 microphone.

LIVE 043 • Earlybird Sunrise

Today’s song is a demo from years back called “Earlybird Sunrise.” Earlybird is a fingerstyle song with an expansive palette and ambitions of invoking a wide landscape. I also thought it would be fun to pull an old photo of myself – replete with long hair – from around the time I recorded this song. I have my old Taylor 310ce in the photo – a trusty guitar – but Earlybird was probably recorded with a budget model from another brand that was nonetheless fairly playable. It’s in an alternate tuning that I haven’t used since and I can’t recall how to play the song, but I still find it fun to listen to and hope you will enjoy as well.

LIVE 046 • At Dawn – My Morning Jacket

Today’s song from the vaults is a cover of My Morning Jacket’s “At Dawn.” The song and its eponymous album came to me at a formative period, becoming both anthem and inspiration for pursing musical goals in life. Sometimes you wonder if music guides you in a certain direction, finds you at the right moment, or if you attract it when you need change and encouragement. There’s a Nick Drake style intro not on the original cut, but it seemed to work. Hope you enjoy.

Recorded with a Taylor 412ce LTD (Rosewood/Spruce, strings are Elixir Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze HD gauge set) and a single Beyerdynamic MC 930 microphone in Honolulu, 9/20/14.

OPEN 104 • How to Tune Your Guitar to Double Drop D Tuning

This lesson shows you how to tune your guitar to Double Drop D tuning (DADGBD), how to check Double Drop D tuning with harmonics, how to approach playing some “CAGED” style chords in the tuning, similarities with other tunings such as Open G and Drop D, and talks about when you might want to use Double Drop D tuning.

CORE 301 • Focusing on Dynamics for Guitar

One sure fire way to improve your playing or bring new life to your repertoire is to focus more on dynamics. Most often, we think about volume when speaking of dynamics – softer passages within a song versus a louder climax or even softer songs versus louder ones. I also like to think about other aspects such as:

– How you play a chord or phrase – with flowing tones or sharp staccato?
– Where on the fretboard you want to play a phrase – low on the neck, high on the neck, do you want to use open strings or harmonics?
– The balance in EQ between bass and treble, particularly with fingerstyle guitar

Of course there are many more concepts that fall under or are tangential to dynamics. Jimmy Page often talked about dynamics in terms of “light and shade,” which is a great metaphor to apply to your sonic palette on the guitar. And really, for such a compact instrument, the guitar has a very wide range of sounds. Thinking about all of the sounds you can pull from your guitar will give your performances more impact and make you a better player.

GEAR 508 • Elixir HD Light Strings Review

Elixir HD Light strings are made the same as other elixirs, but the gauge of the set is unique. Basically they married medium gauge treble strings with light gauge bass strings to find the optimal string gauge for small bodied Taylor guitars (GA/xx4 and GC/xx2).
The idea behind HD Lights is that both string tension and EQ would be more balanced across the strings, resulting in better playability and better tone.
On the high end, the thicker gauge treble strings give you more body, better definition, and improved action. The lighter bass strings keep the bass clear – it’s not muddy even when you tune down. Along with the balanced EQ and improved playability, you also get a more even volume resulting in easier to control dynamics.
Andy Powers at Taylor came up with the idea for these after redeveloping the 800 series, and these strings are indeed great with the revoiced 600, 800, and 900 series GC and GA guitars. The revoiced models have a stronger, more focused bass in particular, so using lighter bass strings helps keep the low end form being overpowering or becoming muddy. The revoiced models also have a livelier top – so the lighter bass strings still have enough presence without being boomy, and the thicker trebles still have snap, but without being too thin.
Overall, their more balanced EQ coupled with more balanced string tension make HD Lights especially conducive to alternate tunings and ideal for fingerstyle guitar.

Other notes:

Phosphor Bronze vs 80/20 Bronze:
⁃ 80/20 Bronze will be brighter with more zing.
⁃ Phosphor Bronze will be a little warmer with more heft or body. I prefer them for fingerstyle because of their combination of warmth, clarity, and detail.

Nanoweb vs Polyweb: HD Lights are only available in Nanoweb (as of now), which works fine for me, but prior to using this gauge I used Elixir’s Polyweb strings. Though they have slightly different characteristics, I have found both Nanoweb and Polyweb coatings to produce good sounding strings.

LIVE 041 • Magic Sands – Slack Key Guitar

Here is a slack key style tune I wrote a while back while hanging out around Magic Sands beach in Kailua Kona, Hawaii. I originally wrote it on an old nylon string guitar. While I have a recording of this song played on steel string already posted, I wanted to go back and do a recording with my nylon string Taylor as well. There aren’t many songs I like to play on both steel and nylon, but this is one of them for some reason. Hope you enjoy.

Recorded with a Taylor 414ce-NR (Rosewood/Spruce grand auditorium nylon string) and an Ear Trumpet Labs “Edwina” microphone.

GEAR 705 • Neumann TLM 102 Review

Here is my review of the TLM 102 large diaphragm condenser microphone from Neumann. In short, this mic is smooth and velvety throughout the frequency range with an overall balanced sound. It adds a nice body and presence to the bass, while smoothing out the highs at the same time – perfect for my Taylor 412ce, which is a bright, focused guitar. The microphone’s small size makes it easy to work with and the large sweet spot makes it easy to place. This would be a good mic for someone who wants to experiment with a lot of different mic positions, or just someone who wants an unfinicky mic that is easy to work with.