ACOUSTIC EXPO 2014: With the likes of Andy McKee using social media to carve out a career on the live circuit, and Newton Faulkner and Ed Sheeran having a crack at the pop charts, modern acoustic guitar playing has never been bigger. But don’t worry, you don’t need to be as technically flawless as McKee nor possess the boyish appeal of a Faulkner or Sheeran to count yourself among the modern acoustic cognoscenti…
Michael Hedges is your Jimi Hendrix
When pub talk turns to ‘the legends’ your eyes glaze over as your electric-playing chums rhapsodise about the big three: Page, Clapton and Hendrix.
“Well, of course Hendrix is number one,” a misled pal opines, “He was the most inventive guitarist of all time!’ ‘Inventive?!’ you think, ‘Inventive?! Try inventing an entire genre that depends not on amplification and effects but solely on the skill of the performer; try turning your acoustic into a ‘band in a box’, then - and only then - can you talk to me about ‘inventive’!” Probably time to find some new friends…
The soundboard of your guitar looks like crap
Technically speaking, the soundboard of an acoustic guitar provides a place for the bridge to anchor the strings to the body, thus transferring the energy of the strings to the soundboard.
So far, so snoozesome. But part of the modern acoustic guitar player’s genius is to turn this anatomical feature into something a bit more exciting: a mini drum kit you can strap on or cradle in your lap.
Be warned, though: banging away on the soundboard leaves its mark, as the guitar tops of many a modern acoustic guitar player will attest. Don’t think of it as damage, think of it as ‘character’.
You pride yourself on your simple setup, but…
There is something to be said for spartan gear setups. The logic goes that if you can get a great sound out of one or a few items of gear then you must be a fairly decent player - no using equipment as a crutch for you, ace!
So hats off to you, sir, that’s a pretty damn impressive sound. We’ll just pretend we didn’t notice that Roland Loop Station by your mic stand…
You'll play anywhere - literally anywhere
Playing acoustic rather than electric clearly has its advantages. Chief among them is your ability to gig pretty much anywhere.
Seriously, all you need to impress music-appreciating folk in your immediate vicinity is your guitar and your chops. Open mic nights? Easy. Intimate acoustic sets? Well, duh! International Space Station? Yep, astronaut Chris Hadfield proved that when it comes to acoustic guitar performances, the sky is no longer the limit when he performed (miming to a backing track, granted) David Bowie’s Space Oddity in zero gravity conditions.
Your guitar was handmade by a bloke in a shed
Tommy Emmanuel favours his native Matons, Newton Faulkner, Thomas Leeb and Eric Roche have all fallen for the charms of Nick Benjamin’s guitars, while Jon Gomm has been known to squire a Lowden named Wilma around the acoustic circuit.
When it comes to choosing guitars, the modern acoustic guitarist is proud to eschew the big brands in favour of luthiers of more humble but no less impressive operations. A rare talent demands a rare instrument. You might like to have that tattooed to the massively over-developed thumb of your picking hand. Just a thought.
Your onstage banter is legendary
When you’re a one-man operation, inter-song tuning, retuning or string breaks can be the difference between a rapturous reception and a room full of ugly, bemused-looking faces.
You need to cover up those awkward moments. And cover them up you do with such aplomb! From the gritty “This one’s inspired by my time travelling in Morocco, hanging out with bedouins and coming down with a massive dose of the thruppeny’s” to the unexpected “This next song’s about the druids” to the practical “Any requests?”, you’ve got it covered.
You have a killer cover version up your sleeve
Jon Gomm has Ain’t Nobody, Eric Roche dazzled with his arrangement of Smells Like Teen Spirit, and Newton Faulkner’s Teardrop revved up the dreary original.
The inspired cover version can be the making of the modern acoustic guitar player. Not got yours yet? The key is to go for something unexpected (who knew Gomm was a Chaka Khan enthusiast?!) or witty (Cobain’s edgy teen angst anthem minus distortion and LOUD drums - still rocks). Time to dust off those Joe Dolce records? Probably not.
You once said "Standard tuning's for wimps" - and were only half joking
Thanks to the proliferation of alternate tunings, it’s a rare modern acoustic gig where songs are performed in EADGBE.
Memorising all the permutations would be a daunting task, somewhat akin to learning a new language with only two vowels and a handful of consonants strung together in maddeningly unpronounceable ways. There are so many alternate tunings, in fact, the chances are you probably have one of your own...
You have a signature tuning
Modern acoustic guitar playing would be nothing without the harmonic possibilities provided by alternate tunings. And frankly, you’re nothing without a signature tuning of your own.
This should be announced prior to your performance of any song that uses it (eg, “This next tuning is one I invented. I call it BAGDAD - it’s kind a Middle East meets Middlesex vibe, yeah?”)
Joking aside, grandaddy of modern acoustic guitar playing Davy Graham really did have his own signature tuning, DADGAD (a distant relative of BAGDAD).