Friday, April 24, 2009

More sustain

In this attempt, I managed to get a long sustain; here I am not picking at all, just holding the notes on the neck and using the right hand for string damping. Notice the last note on the guitar, which is held for a long time, while I play the moog.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sustained legato playing

I suppose I ought to discuss this topic, since I have placed this video on youtube displaying my efforts in pursuit of the perfect sustained legato sound.

The fact of the matter is that I have always been fascinated by the 'Fripp sound'. It is not exclusive to him of course, other guitarists have similar sounds, but Fripp is the one who perfected and used it consistently. What is this sound? Well, the notes seem to have a never-ending sustain, for one, and to make it more difficult, a lot of times the notes are seamlessly linked, as if played on a mono synth.

The way I figured this could be done is with lots of overdrive, to start with. So in the video I am using a doubly-overdriven sound. I have the overdrive in the amp cranked up to the max, and I put the guitar through a tube-overdrive pedal. To avoid too much brightness, I have the pedal tone control towards the bass. The guitar uses the bridge humbucker and I have the tone control closed fully (bass).

Now all this distortion poses some practical problems. If I am not careful with dampening the strings as I play, it's very messy. I have to play mostly monophonically, otherwise it's a mess. I have to control the volume well, to avoid further mess. In other words, touch and articulation is very important. A long
sustain is possible with this set-up.

Now, the hard part is to give that legato feel. It looks like we need to try
just using the fingerboard to get the notes, avoiding picking as much as possible.
On a single string, this works well. When moving strings, it's hard to get a
good note without picking. As I don't use a plectrum, finger-flesh picking seems to help avoid hard/strong onsets.

I would be interested to hear other people's recipes to produce this guitar tone.
To me, a lot of it is in refining the playing technique.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Darn that Dream

This is a favourite of mine, so I did a quick arrangement to play it solo on guitar. Some chords fall easily with the melody, others don't. No embellishments here, the melody and harmony are good on the own. Of course, when playing this, we can add a bit here and there, but leave most of it for the improvised chorus.

Here are the first 16 bars of my arrangement:

and here is the bridge:

comments on the arrangement later... be continued. Please come back for more.


Guitars are a great object for tuning experiments. The Viola Caipira traditionally has a variety of different tunings. To that repertory I would add the one I learned in Portugal, used in the Viola Amarantina and Viola Braguesa. I was actually surprised that this tuning is not known in Brazil, or at least I have not found any mention of it anywhere. The original tuning goes(from lowest string upwards): D A B E A, or the same 1 tone below: C G A D G. Now the Viola Caipira is slightly larger, so given this change in string length, the tuning goes down a fourth: A E F# B E (or G D E A D). It works quite well because of the fifth in the bottom two strings. Chords of I,IV and V are very easily placed:

Here's a little action on the Viola Caipira:


Just now, looking at the common tunings of the viola in Brazil, I see that one arrangement is very close to the Portuguese tuning I use. That's the 'boiadeira' tuning, which goes G D F# A D, so it only really differs in that by displacing the second between the 3rd and the 4th into a major 3rd, we now have the chord on the dominant in the middle 3 strings. I suppose this makes the V - I very easy, while the IV degree is not so comfortable perhaps. I'll have to think about other chords, but on the whole, I prefer the one I use. The open strings make up a nicer 6th-9th chord, instead of the harsher major7th-9th in this 'boiadeira' tuning.

Another tuning I think might be quite good is the "rio-abaixo": G D G B D, which has a simpler open-string sonority, with the I triad in the top three strings. This looks better for modal stuff, as the V - I voicing is not that clear on the fingerboard. It should allow great play on G major modes, Mixolydian, Ionian, Lydian. The open B makes it a little awkward for minor modes, I suppose (well, I might get told otherwise, but that's how it looks.)

More later... this is an evolving story.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


The question of string choice has been on my mind for a good while now. I decided to re-string the Ibanez archtop, as the original strings were far too light, the top string (.010) sounded very thin. So, not really knowing much about it, I got a round-wound 'Jazz Medium' (D'Addario), but the low strings were too bright for my taste. They also kept giving this rubbing noise, making it sound almost like an acoustic guitar, and that just irritated me. So I changed the wound strings for flat-wound chromes. Now this is more like it, but perhaps a bit too dark. However it gives the guitar a great feel as your hand just slides on them. The downside is that they a bit harder to play, they seem stiffer and require more force. I suppose it will be good for practicing on them.
On my solid (Godin xtSA), I am still using the original light (.010) strings, but when I change, I will try half-round (.012), which is what Godin fits their semi acoustic (Multiac Jazz). They might actually be what I am looking for: a good tone, not too bright, a bit mellow, well 'jazzy'. I will keep on experimenting.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


This is my arrangement of Misty, by Errol Garner. I normally do a chorus of improvisation, but here I just played it once, straight. This was my firstattempt at self-videoing, so i did not try too hard. A couple of mistakes here and there, but I guess it gives you an idea of the piece. The sound is quite bad, as I had to do a bit of noise reduction, the camera's mic is awful. I hope to do a better video and get a decent mic then, too, later on.

The violas (Amarantina & Caipira)

Here they are, the two violas. The one on the right is the Amarantina and the other one is the Brazilian.

The tuning I use is the one I learned in Portugal: from the bottom up, a fifth, a major second, a fourth and a fourth. I am giving the intervals, because as the viola sizes are different I actually tune them in two different keys. The Brazilian is in A: A,E,F#,B,E. The Amarantina, being smaller sounds brighter and better if tuned in C: C,G,A,D,G. However, I think in Portugal they tune it in A,to go with the other instruments of the groups it is used in.

This tuning is quite nice and gives good scope for the full open-string modal treatment, while also making some simple tonal chord sequences easy (in two or three keys). Interestingly, while the Brazilian viola has several different tunings in use, this particular one, which feels just right to me, is not known (or at least not mentioned anywhere) amongst the violeiros ('viola-players'). I must also say that while this tuning seems to be OK on the Portuguese instrument, there are a few intonation issues in the Brazilian one. I wonder if that is because the instrument is 'tempered' to go with the more usual Brazilian tunings. Or it might be just that it was not built that well (it is a factory one, with a fixed bridge, while the Portuguese has an adjustable 'floating' bridge). I have not investigated this matter
too deeply, though.

Tuning is an interesting subject, which I shall come back to later on.