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East/West Classical Guitar


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  • East/West Classical Guitar


    This group is new to me, and it looks very interesting. By way of introduction, I was Concert Master of my high school orchestra back in 1964, when the Beatles made their Ed Sullivan debut. WOW! Anyway, by the time I had graduated, I was playing lead guitar in a Rock band, one that played for the Senior Dance. This was a wonderful transition from nerd to cool!

    I made a living in Rock and Folk music for a few years, but in the early 70's I began training in the classical styles. Segovia was a great inspiration, and in 1972, I met the great Spanish maestro, Narciso Yepes, as he toured through Boulder, Colo. I began my studies with him, and by the mid-70's, I was teaching in Universities--everything from folk music to running classical guitar Performance Major's program, mostly at the University of Alaska. In the late 90's, I moved to the Bay Area and began studies under India's grandmaster musician, Ali Akbar Khan. In the last year or so, I have been building a small but extremely elegant P.A. and a project studio. My dream of "mastering" the classical guitar and bringing it back to the "real world" has been turning full circle. Soon, I will begin recording and performing in this new format, attempting to see where my career might go with it.

    As everything is new to me again, and since a lot has changed in live sound since the 60s, I'll list what I'm using. Hopefully, others in this group will share their experiences with me, so much of what I've done has been in the real of simple exploration. I use Mackie SRM-450 speakers. I was at AES last week, and I met former Mackie speaker designers who were trying to take this basic self-powered speaker design to state-of-the-art levels, essentially trying to out-do Meyer Sound. The new company is called KV2 Audio, and the EX12 2-Way 12-inch self-powered speaker just blew me away ($5200 pr.)--beautiful to look at, rich and powerful, and with audiophile definition in the sound. I am really lusting after those babys, wish I had the $, I'll certainly be working that direction!

    For a mixer, I use the Trident 8-Channel S100. It sounds fantastic, and can even do Surround Sound mixing. I also use 2 channels of Millennia and two S40 Trident channel strips, which offer compression, eq, and the full sound of a classic Trident console. I sing through the Neumann KMS-105, which I truly love. For my classical guitar, I am currently using 2 Schertler DYN-G stick-on type transducers, panned wide to stereo. These sound excellent, but please share your experiences here and elsewhere, folks, reaching the world with full classical beauty is everything to me right now, and I'm new to PAs again! For reverb, I use a Lexicon MPX-550 running through 2 channels of the mixer, and running through the Benchmark DAC1 converter before entering these channels. I love a tweaked version of the "Rich Plate" on that reverb unit. For my project studio, I use the Mac G5 2.0 running Pro Tools LE via the Digidesign 002 console. I'm not quite recording yet, but I did finally get my main mikes, Shoeps wide-cardiod, and a stereo bar for running ORTF, at least for my first experiments, which are just now beginning. I also have a Rode K2 and a Neumann KM184. Soon, I hope to understand all this stuff. For all my years of playing, I've never made a CD, and it's past time. I will begin with classical guitar, but I'll be working toward the classics of Woodstock nation on guitar and voice, I don't agree with politicians who think that musicians aren't supposed to say what they think, we're supposed to leave this to politicians and conservative clergy, I guess! Funny, I just went on a tour of Ireland with Danny Doyle, one of the finest balladeers I've ever heard, and a wonderful person. He related how Elizabeth I ordered death to all harpists and bards in Ireland, she feared them just like some folks now fear the music of Dylan, John Lennon, and others. Joan Baez played in Reno recently, and she commented that we musicians are SUPPOSED to be the ones who comment on politics! Boy, I'm wandering, but go for it, my fellow musicians!

    As a singer, I sang some as a Rock/Folk musician, and I studied voice in Colleges and University for many years. I have a decent Beatle-ish voice, but I've never quite "found myself." As I work with a mike again, I am dropping most of the stage production stuff I learned. I never really loved it, but that is the name of the game in the Western classical vocal tradition. My feeling is that only a few folks actually sound good using this technique, and we're not all Placido Domingo, that's for sure. Currently, I drive to the Bay Area (I live in Nevada, near Lake Tahoe) monthly to take from Shweta Jhaveri, one of India's great classical singers. Boy, I have a lot to learn, and a lot of work ahead to truly "find" my real voice, but I am getting closer every day now, I am convinced the India's classical vocal tradition is infinitely better at developing singing styles that "the People" are naturally drawn to. Finding my voice, yes, perhaps by next year, perhaps I'll be there at last...

    Hey, I'll continue this with another post...

  • #2
    Guitar, whew, this is the big one, and I'm not so lost here! In the early 70's, Narciso Yepes introduced me to his 10-String Ramirez classical guitar. I've bought many of them through the years, by many makers, and my personal concert instrument is a 1973 Ramirez 10-String that Yepes toured briefly with, then sold to Angel Romero, a family friend and occasionaly student of his. This has always been one of the great Ramirez guitar, but several years ago, I redesigned it so it would work more like a sitar or sarod in the classes of Ali Akbar Khan. These modifications improved the sound even further, and I had the guitar re-built under Amalia Ramirez last year, incorporating my new design. The Jose Ramirez firm replaced the fingerboard with one that is awesomely in-tune, thanks to computer-generated fret placement, and Ramirez replaced the top with a top that they swore would be "much better" than anything they had back in 1973. This was one of the scariest decisions I've ever made, but I decided to trust their judgment, and I ended up with the most beautiful guitar I've ever heard in my many years of playing. Thank you, Amalia, and the wonderful luthiers at the Jose Ramirez workshop!!

    My guitar is tuned thus:

    1st-6th strings are standard tuning.
    7th string is on Contra-B, a bass note that seems to fulfill the dimensions of the classical guitar in the bass range.
    8th string is on F#, pitched 4th fret on 4th string.
    9th and 10th string are patterned after sarod and sitar "chikari" strings: positioned together like a 12-string and divided by a post at the 12th fret which gives the upper "B" the pitch of the B on the 7th fret of the 1st string.

    In this design, I have obviously stepped away from Yepes's idea of chromatic resonance on all pitches of the chromatic scale. However, most of the pitches resonate now, and if I'm playing a long note that needs to be "milked in the resonance," I usually just finger a pitch an octave below the note I am playing so the overtones will be picked up on that pitch. Whew! I know that this will fly by a lot of you, but I don't want to write a book today. What I would say is that my design opens up the guitar into a realm of beauty that is truly unique, at least to my knowledge. And when I go through the PA system now, I do so with the full Steinway-like richness of a great Spanish classical guitar. And, thanks to Amalia's family of great luthiers, this guitar is striking alive, even, and in-tune--from the lowest bass note to the 20th fret!

    What this guitar allows me to do is to set up some rather wonderful rhthmic grooves, especially in the key of "B" which is the natural "SA" of the guitar, in my opinion. This is done, like on a sitar, by alternation of the high "chikari" on the 9th and 10th strings with the melody. Having a Contra-bass "B" as well certainly adds a beautiful element. Essentially, the sitar players of Southern India play instruments with a minimum of strings and strive for a "dry" sound, one without ringing overtones. In the guitar world, such folks as George Van Eps (sp?) have developed damping devices, which allow guitarists to play chromatically without particular notes ringing out due to overtone response of the open strings. The sitar and sarod players of North India march to a different drummer. They have a large collection of open strings that are tuned to give overtone response on every note of the Raga to be performed. This is a very lush sound, much like carrying a built-in reverb. In the guitar world, my teacher, the late Narciso Yepes, developed the miminum string # (which was 10) that would give a full chromatic response with overtones. So, we have guitar traditions that mirror the development of India's long-standing traditions of "wet" and "dry" overtone response.

    My design loses much of the chromatic idea that Yepes advocated. But, after many years of India's music, I'm more than a little bit enamoured with pure intonation. In the key of "B," I can often correct the intonation of a melody via subtle pressures of my left hand. The result can be magical! Have any of you ever taken your guitar out of the case, and heard a magical kind of "growl" in the sound of it when you first played it? This is because the strings slipped in a way that lined up the overtones along the line of pure intonation. And as soon as we tune up, that magic goes away! Anyway, I actively pursue this overtone wealth, especially when playing melody in "B." In other keys, or when playing with keyboard instruments, I simply fit as best I can. Sometime, when singing the 3rd of a chord, for example, I play only open 5ths on the guitar so I can purifly the sound, add a little beautiful "color." Equal temperament loses a lot, and I am forever grateful to my teacher, Ali Akbar Khan, for releasing me at least a little from the generic blah of living entirely within the world of Equal Temperament! But don't get me wrong here, folks, I'm no music genius (although Idiot Savant sometimes seems to fit for many of us guitar players), most of the time, I'm having a hard time singing in even approximate Equal Temperament! I started voice too late in life, but I'm planning carefully for my next incarnation, at least. Ali Akbar Khan had me sing the tonic "SA" ("B" for me) an hour a day! I still sing SA, but not enough any more, I fear. BUT... one of these days I'm going to nail that sucker! I hope the Universe survives...actually... there is something truly magical about singing closer and closer to perfection, it is like you tune the World itself. Perhaps the perfect note will at least stop armies from fighting.

    Okay, folks, sorry for the self-indulgence. I'm pleased to meet you!

    Mischa Z


    • #3
      Misha Z. Welcome.
      I am convinced the India's classical vocal tradition is infinitely better at developing singing styles that "the People" are naturally drawn to. Finding my voice, yes, perhaps by next year, perhaps I'll be there at last...
      I think you are right about that.

      The Equipment you are working sounds to die for. Tell me something, which Bay Area are you refering to? The S.F. Bay area perhaps?
      Los Boleros / Hot Latin Band in the San Francisco bay Area
      Acoustic Son Montuno - Merengue - Cumbia and Bolero
      Let passion guide you.