Start me up: Declan Zapala

New and notable guitarists you need to hear

Start me up Declan Zapala

Meet Declan Zapala - a classically trained nylon-string player with a fiery contemporary edge.

Growing up in north London, there was always a guitar lying around the house and so when Declan turned 10, his mother got him lessons at school.

From then, a growing fascination with the classical guitar was nurtured at Watford School Of Music, where he worked his way through the grades. But he also played in a few punk bands, too…

"In some of them I played drums, some of them electric guitar and in one I played bass. I played in loads of different bands, playing all the different instruments, so I had a bit of each one in my brain somewhere."

Who has he listened to?

A friend at university played Declan some Eric Roche CDs and he was instantly drawn towards the percussive style of acoustic playing.

In 2010, I started a Masters at The Royal College Of Music and spent two years just studying classical guitar with Gary Ryan

A chance accident on a bouncy castle at a friend's birthday party saw him break a finger on his right hand, giving him time to explore the percussive aspect of playing while his finger healed.

"In 2010, I started a Masters at The Royal College Of Music and spent two years just studying classical guitar with Gary Ryan. I was really fortunate to start learning with him at the time I did, because he was just getting in to this percussion style as well, and so my lessons became less about exploring the classical guitar and more about looking into this new way of playing the instrument."

What's so great about his playing?

Declan's use of percussion in his music is always musical and not just throwaway pyrotechnics. His material ranges from covers of Eric Roche pieces to his own original music, which combines amazing technique with beautiful tone. He says of himself that he works on the fringes of classical but with elements of folk, and the combination is a winning one.

"When I did the Edinburgh Fringe the other year, I had the BBC come to my shows, which got me on BBC Four television and showed me playing my own original music, and my shows basically sold out as a result of that."

YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FJHapbRtvI

Why do you need to hear him?

He's one of the most exciting players on the acoustic guitar scene at present, that's why. Declan's fortune changed when, at the suggestion of fellow player Mike Dawes, he contacted the CandyRat record label and asked them if they'd be interested in hosting one of his videos.

All my percussive stuff and the folk stuff, that's all pretty much on the fusion guitar, then all the traditional classical stuff on the latticed cedar-top guitar

"I just made a video, got on the phone to Rob Poland [CandyRat's founder] and said, 'I've got this video here, would you like to put it out on CandyRat?' and they said, 'Definitely!' So that was my avenue into CandyRat."

What gear does he use?

Declan's guitars are made by luthier Stephen Hill. One has a spruce top - his 'fusion' instrument - as well as a 'scoop' for high-fret access rather than a cutaway; the other has a lattice-braced cedar top. He uses an LR Baggs iMix pickup and contact mic, sending his guitar signal out stereo.

"All my percussive stuff and the folk stuff, that's all pretty much on the fusion guitar, then all the traditional classical stuff on the latticed cedar-top guitar. It sounds a bit better for the repertoire and it just feels better to play. It's got a solidity to it that the fusion guitar doesn't have, and when it comes to mic'ing it up, it's got a little bit less of a howl-round issue."

Where should I start?

As usual, the best place to start your own personal Declan Zapala voyage of discovery is his new album, Awakenings, but there is a host of videos available to view, too. It has to be said, however, that the best place to hear his music is in the concert hall.

"My style of music has had success in these locations where you've got fringe audiences looking for something different."

Declan's new album, Awakenings, is out now on CandyRat Records

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