From the uber psychedelically titled Surrealistic Pillow album, Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen’s solo fingerpicking tour de force Embryonic Journey highlights his country blues influences and provides a rootsy counterpoint to far out songs like White Rabbit. Though I don’t listen much to the rest of the album, Embryonic Journey stayed on rotation in my car for a number of years – sometimes when I was in the mood I would listen on repeat four or five times in a row. It seems like this song was often playing when I was cutting over from Waialae to cruise on down Kapahulu, stopping for groceries at Kokua Co-op or Down To Earth Moiliili, or hanging out at Kapi’olani Park. Hope you enjoy.
Recorded with a Taylor 912ce (Rosewood/Spruce, with Elixir Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze HD Light strings) and an Ear Trumpet Labs Edwina microphone.
Slack Key No. 1 is a classic showpiece of slack key master Sonny Chillingworth. I first heard it on the Dancing Cat release “Endlessly,” and it also appears on his 1964 solo release “Waimea Cowboy.” The Waimea Cowboy version sounds like it was recorded on an electric guitar, while the version on Endlessly was recorded on acoustic guitar. Both versions are very similar, though with some slight differences. I have incorporated elements from both versions in the arrangement I play. 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.
Moonglow is a dreamy fingerstyle song I wrote years ago while sitting outside under a full moon. I’ve played it on and off for years, most always on steel string guitar. Recently I tried it on nylon and found it worked quite well – perhaps even better. Hope you enjoy.
Recorded with a Taylor 414ce-NR (Rosewood/Spruce grand auditorium nylon string) and an Ear Trumpet Labs “Edwina” microphone.
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 an Ear Trumpet Labs Edwina microphone.
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.
Today, we explore the essentials and benefits of Taylor’s smallest full size guitar, the Grand Concert (GC for short). Grand Concert guitars have a model number that ends in “2” such as the 912ce featured here, and are offered in a variety of styles.
The advantages of Grand Concert guitars is that they are super comfortable, super playable, and super easy to EQ alone or in a mix. These are short scale guitars, which means easier reaches because the frets are slightly closer together and an easier playing feel because of slightly lower string tension. Soundwise, the Grand Concert has a wonderfully balanced EQ and controlled overtones that make it perfect for fingerstyle and recording applications. Grand Concerts sound great on their own and also sit well in a mix with other instruments. Also note, this is Taylor’s featured size for 12 fret models, where the neck joins the body at the 12th rather than the 14th fret. The 12 fret models have a punchier sound that is perfect for roots music.
Overall, Grand Concerts are perfect for fingerstyle and light strumming. They are comfortable to play, and their focused and articulate sound make them great guitars for recording and stage use. Of course they’re also very nice to play at home.
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.
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.
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.