RMMGA Frequently Asked Questions
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Last Updated: 08/15/94
to the FAQ
What is the rec.music.makers.guitar.acoustic Newsgroups
Where Can I Find
on the Internet?
How Do Yoe Describe the
of a Guitar?
How Does a Guitar's
Affect Its Sound?
Top Quality Acoustic Guitars?
Where Are the
Most Famous Acoustic Guitar Stores
What is My Guitar
Where Can I Get
Material For Acoustic Guitar?
What Are Some Good
for Acoustic Guitar?
Who Should I
To? (Great Acoustic Guitarists)
Should I Read?
What's The Best Way To
My Acoustic Guitar?
Are There To Explore?
Should I Use?
What is a Good
What Types of
How Do I Take Care of my
Hands and Nails
Tape I, II, and Tape III
1. Recent Changes to the FAQ
The following major additions have been made since the last release of
this document. There have also been some minor tweeks here and there,
but those are not listed here.
2. About This Document
You are reading the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Document for the
. The goal of this
document is to make information that is commonly asked for in the rmmga
newsgroup available from one consolidated, and centrally maintained
This document will be posted to the rec.music.makers.guitar.acoustic
newsgroup every two weeks. Eventually it will be made available via ftp
from a publicly accessible site. I have no idea where that will be yet.
It will also be available in hypertext format via a WWW Server. Again,
where that will be is yet to be decided.
The scope of this document is limited to those topics which are fairly
objective, and for which the answers do not require extremely lengthy
explanation. In those cases where answers are beyond the scope of this
document, references are given to the appropriate resources to locate
additional information. Clearly argumentative questions (ie "who's the
best") are avoided entirely.
The rmmga FAQ is currently maintained by
(firstname.lastname@example.org). Feel free to send comments, suggestions, and
This document was formatted using nroff.
There are supplemental documents to the rmmga FAQ, that are worth
checking out. These are posted to the rmmga newsgroup periodically, and
are maintained by rmmga readers. These include:
Who's Who - Profiles of rmmga readers. Where they live, what style they
play, influences, etc... Currently maintained by
Guitar Companies and Makes - A comprehensive list of guitar companies,
as well as the different makes they produce. Includes company
profiles, as well as details of options/stylings of a variety of
different guitar models. Currently maintained by
3. What is the rec.music.makers.guitar.acoustic Newsgroups Charter?
This newsgroup is intended for the discussion of all matters pertaining
to acoustic guitar. Common threads include, but are not limited to:
Your guitars construction, sound, setup, maintenance, worth, etc...,
Various acoustic guitarists, their music, setup, history, etc...,
Suggestions for reading material, videos, records, CDs, etc..., Product
reviews, show reviews, album reviews, etc... You get the idea. If its
related to acoustic guitar, then chances are its appropriate to discuss
There are specific news groups for classical guitar and instrument
construction, but even those topics are sometimes discussed here. A
quick look thru the current postings will give a pretty clear indication
of what people discuss here, since the topics remain quite varied.
4. Where Can I Find Guitar Resources on the Internet?
There are lots of guitar resources available on the Internet. Here is a
listing of the most commonly used ones:
- This newsgroup. Discussion of the
relative merits of acoustic guitars, acoustic guitar musicians,
and just about anything of or relating to the fine art of
- Discussion of bass guitars and also
postings and requests for bass tablature.
- Tablature postings and requests for
both electric and acoustic guitar. Also a good forum for "who
wrote this?" type of questions.
- Discussion of general topics/principles of
building musical instruments. Although not aimed at stringed
instruments, there is some discussion of guitar construction
- Discussion of classical guitars and
classical music for guitar.
- An alternative to the rec.music.maker.guitar heirarchy.
This newsgroup has some overlap with the rec.music.makers.guitar
- An alternative to the rec.music.maker.guitar.tablature
newsgroup. Lots of overlap.
NOTE: The guitar newsgroups in the alt.* heirarchy are supposedly being
phased out in favor of the rec.music.* groups. However, they have
persisted for quite some time, and show no signs of going away.
4.2 FTP Sites
For all of these ftp sites use the user name "anonymous" and your e-mail
address as the password. You may have to do a little poking around to
find what you are looking for, but the sites are pretty well organized.
(18.104.22.168) - This is THE central repository for both
guitar tablature and lyrics to all sorts of music, both electric
(22.214.171.124) - This site contains a tablature
heirarchy geared directly towards acoustic guitarists. Examples
include Leo Kottke, Jorma Kaukonen, Blind Blake, John Renbourn,
etc... Look in the directory: /pub/u/dgaudet/guitar
(Maintained by Dean Gaudet).
(126.96.36.199) - This site has archives of this
newsgroup (rmmga). They are archived once a week, and are
accessible in tar files on a per group basis. Each tar file
represent one weeks worth of postings. It also contains
archives of the acoustic guitar mailing list, which was the
predesessor to this newsgroup.
(???.???.???.???) - There was a "guitar lesson of
the week" going on in the rec.music.makers.guitar newsgroup in
1993. The lessons ranged in difficulty from beginner to quite
advance topics. They are archived here.
4.3 World Wide Web, Gopher, and Archie Servers
There are some excellent WWW resources for guitar. Although these are
not geared directly at acoustic guitar, they do contain a lot of
information that will be of interest to the "unplugged" crowd.
The Mammoth Music Meta-List. This is a gathering of links to
all things musical. It contains a link to "Guitarland" as well
This is to WWW what ftp.nevada.edu is to FTP. Not suprising
that it is maintained by some of the same people. It has links
to all kinds of stuff, including home pages profiling various
artists, music listings, etc... Definitely worth checking out.
- Ircam is a french research and education
center in acoustics and music. It is, for the time being,
mostly in french, but several "leading pages" are in english.
- The Ceolas celtic music
archive. The archive covers traditional and traditional-
influenced music from Ireland, Scotland and other celtic
countries, and includes artist notes, tour and festival
information, instrument guides, resources lists (radio,
magazines, mail-order, traditional sessions), electronically-
formatted tunes and much else besides.
- Leeds University Music
Department. It provides an on-line album of traditional tunes
from Ireland, England, Scotland and the Northern Isles,
Scandinavia and elsewhere: jigs and reels, polskas and
schottisches, waltzes, bourrees, horos and more. It contains a
lot of gif files showing staff notation for these tunes, and
indexes of these files sorted in various orders.
5. How Do You Describe the Sound of a Guitar?
The physical characteristics of an acoustic guitar are easy to identify
and compare. A cutaway, mother of pearl inlays, or wood binding are
qualities that are easy to make decisions as to whether you like or
dislike them. The sound qualities of a guitar are much harder to discern
and evaluate. In order to accurately describe the characteristics of a
guitars sound, you must first be familiar with the nomenclature used to
explain the sound qualities of a guitar. An acoustic guitar's sound has
many facets. Here is a brief overview of the terminology most often
used when discussing a guitar's sound. These explanations are for the
most part paraphrasings of the descriptions given by Larry Sandberg in
his (must-have) book, "The Acoustic Guitar Guide".
Tone is the quality that makes guitars from various makers sound
different. When you set a string into motion, the string has a
fundamental vibration, as well as many smaller vibrations, called
overtones. Most guitars share some fundamental tones and overtones.
Thats what makes them all sound like guitars. But they each have their
own unique combination of fundamental and overtones also. Thats what
makes guitars sound unique.
The woods used for the back and sides of the guitar factor most into the
characteristic tone of a guitar. Rosewood gives a soulful, darker
sound. Mahogany is sweeter and softer, as well as rounder and nicely
balanced. Maple is louder, like rosewood, but has less bass resonance
and a more brittle tone.
Volume is how loud your guitar is. But not just as measured by a
decibel meter, but also how loud your guitar *seems*. This is directly
related to the quality of the top wood, the top bracing, and the
rigidity of the back and sides. Heavier strings are louder, because
they vibrate the top more than lighter guage strings. Also, larger
guitars are generally louder, since they have more top to vibrate, and a
larger sound chamber.
Presence is a psychological factor that is very subjective. It is a
guage of how full your guitars sound is. A good measure of presence is
how satisfying your guitar sounds when you play it softly. A strong
presence means that the tone quality does not deteriorate with less
volume. The efficiency of the guitars top plays a large part in the
Balance is the relationship between the high and low notes in point of
fullness and volume. In a balanced guitar, the notes have equal
authority throughout the entire range of the instrument. Guitars that
are over-balanced toward the bass are called boomy. Flatpickers and
folk singers prefer this type of balance. Fingerstyle guitarists might
prefer a guitar that is balanced toward the high strings. Balance is
usually directly related to the size of the guitar. Balance is also
affected by the body woods (Rosewood is boomier than Mahogany), and the
size of the soundhole (a larger soundhole usually balances the guitar
toward the high strings).
Separation is the ability of an instrument to express simultaneously
played notes so that they are perceived distincly and individually,
rather than as a homogeneous whole. In other words, when you strum an
open E chord, is what you hear more like one glob of sound or six
separate ingredients? An analogy might be to the flavors that make up a
fine sauce. Separation is related to the quality of the guitar, as well
as the player's individual touch.
Sustain is the measure of how long a note keeps sounding after you
initiate it. If the sound decays too fast, you have poor sustain.
Sustain is directly related to the quality of the guitar. More
specifically, it is the vibration of the top that gives you an honest,
clean sustain that preserves all the components of the tone throughout
The type of wood used on a guitar is probably the single most
influencial factor to its tone. There are a variety of different woods
to choose from. Below are many different wood descriptions and their
general tonal properties. These descriptions are from a Martin Brochere
6.1 Back and Sides
6.1.1 Genuine Mahogany
(Swietenia Macrophylla) Brazil. Yellowish brown to reddish brown in
color, Genuine or "Amazon" mahogany is exceptionally stable and
consistently clear. Mahogany is much lighter in weight than rosewood,
koa, or maple. In spite of its weight, mahogany yields a surprisingly
strong loud sound with an emphasis on clear bright trebles.
6.1.2 Brazilian Rosewood
(Dalbergia Nigra) Brazil. Sometimes referred to as "Jacaranda", this
species of genuine rosewood ranges in color from dark brown to violet
with spidery black streaks. The smell is like roses when freshly cut.
Brazilian rosewood is considered nearly extinct and is extremely
expensive if available at all. Martin rosewood models before mid-1969
were made with Brazilian rosewood. As a result, Martin's long standing
reputation for tone was closely connected to the historical use of this
wood. Brazilian rosewood is occasionally available in very limited
quantities for custom or special limited edition orders only.
6.1.3 East Indian Rosewood
(Dalbergia Latifolia) India. Typically richly grained with dark purple,
red, and brown color, East Indian rosewood is resinous, stable and
generally more consistent than most other rosewood species. East Indian
rosewood is extremely resonant producing a deep warm projective bass
response that is especially accentuated on large bodies guitars.
6.1.4 European Flamed Maple
(Acer Campestre) Germany. Curly, flamed, tiger striped, or "Fiddleback"
maple refers to the characteristic alternating hard and soft rippling
which runs perpendicular to the grain in some rarer maple trees. This
particular species of European maple is very hard and reflective,
producing a loud powerful projective sound. Uniquely figured domestic
"Birdseye" maple, used on the D-60 models, displays characteristics and
tonal properties similar to European Flamed maple.
(Acacia Koa) Hawaii. Golden brown color with dark streaks and a
lusterous sheen. koa wood occasionally develops a curly or flamed
figure. Regardless of any figuring, koa seems to have a bass response
that is slightly less than that of rosewood and treble response that is
slightly less than that of mahogany. The result is a very equally
(Machaerium Scleroxylon) Bolivia. Also known as Bolivian or Santos
"rosewood", worado ranges in color from a light violet brown to redish
brown with occasional olive and black streaks. Finer in texture than
most rosewoods, morado is a close visual substitute for East Indian
rosewood, and has very similar tonal properties.
6.2 Top (Soundboard)
6.2.1 Sitka Spruce
(Picea Sitchensis) Canadian Northwest & Alaska. Sitka spruce is the
primary topwood for Martin Guitars. It is chosen because of it's
consistent quality as well as it's straight uniform grain, longevity,
and tensile strength. Tonally, Sitka spruce is extremely vibrant
providing an ideal "diaphram" for transmission of sound on any size and
style of stringed instrument.
6.2.2 Englemann Spruce
(Picea Engelmannii) United States. Englemann spruce is prized for its
similarity in color to European (German) White spruce as well as its
extreme lightness in weight which seems to produce a slightly louder and
more projective or "open" sound than Sitka spruce. Englemann spruce
grows in the alpine elevations of the American Rocky Mountains and the
Pacific Cascades. It is considerably more limited in supply than Sitka
6.2.3 Western Red Cedar
(Thuja Plicata) United States. Western Red Cedar has long been utilized
as a soundboard material by classical guitar makers for its vibrance and
clarity of sound. It is extremely light in weight compared to spruce
and the tonal result is generally a slightly louder, more open response.
6.2.4 Western Larch
(Larix Occidentalis) United States. Western larch has clearly marked
annual rings and a fine uniform texture. Larch is harder and stronger
than most conifers including spruce. It bears a close visual
resemblance to Sitka spruce and due to its increased stiffness, it is an
appropriate choice for scalloped braced models yielding a projective and
(Acacia Koa) Hawaii. Historically, koa tops have appeared primarily on
small bodied 0 & 00 size hawaiian guitars and ukuleles although recent
koa Dreadnoughts and custom guitars have been popular. Koa produces a
predominately bright treble response with less volume than spruce, but
the slight loss in volume is overshadowed by the extreme beauty of the
grain. Koa tops are available on special order and custom instruments.
6.2.6 Genuine Mahogany
(Swietenia Macrophylla) Brazil. Mahogany was first introduced as a
topwood in 1922 on the lesser expensive Style 17 guitars. Tonally
mahogany is less projective than spruce, producing a subdued response
that is crisp and delicate with emphasis on the midrange. Mahogany tops
are available on custom instruments only.
7. How Does a Guitars Construction Affect Its Sound?
Bracing adds strength to the top without (hopefully) killing too much of
the top's vibration. A set of medium gauge steel strings on a normal
dreadnought scale length (25.4") guitar exerts about 185 lb of tension.
This would splinter a thin wood top if it weren't braced. A top thick
enough to hold this much tension without bracing would be very quiet and
tinny-sounding. Another important function of the braces is to
efficiently propagate the vibrations through a large area of the top.
Bracing also plays a major role in determining the tone of a guitar.
7.1.1 Scalloped Bracing
In scalloped braces, wood is selectively removed from certain areas of
the braces to weaken the top enough to allow it to vibrate freely
without weakening it so much as to make it structurally unsound.
Scalloped braces typically have a longitudinal cross-section reminiscent
of a suspension bridge.
All current Martin steel-string guitars that have scalloped bracing have
the following stamp on the inside: "USE MEDIUM GAUGE, OR LIGHTER,
Martin steel-string guitars (and most of the multitude of guitars that
are copies of them) have X-bracing. This means that the two main braces
under the top run in an "X" from the upper bouts to the lower bouts. The
"X" crosses somewhere between the soundhole and the bridge (about which
more below). There are several auxiliary braces other than the main X-
7.1.3 High-X bracing
On most X-braced steel string guitars, the "X" crosses about 1.5 - 2"
below the soundhole. On guitars with "high-X" bracing, the "X" crosses
about 1" below the soundhole. The effect of this is that the bridge
rests less directly on the main X-braces, and can thus transfer more of
its vibration to the top. This is also called "advanced X-bracing" and
One of the features that make the pre-war Martin steel-string guitars so
desirable (and sound so good) is their scalloped, high-X bracing.
Supposedly the reason that Martin stopped using this type of bracing in
the '40's is that so many people back then used heavy-gauge strings,
which will quickly damage a guitar with such light bracing, and which
led to many warranty repairs.
Some builders currently offer models with high-X bracing. These include
(but are no doubt not limited to) Martin (D-16H, HD-28 Custom 15, and
some "Guitar-of-the-Month" models) and Collings (dreadnoughts). High-X
bracing is usually scalloped.
8. Who Makes Top Quality Acoustic Guitars?
There are hundreds of guitar makers around the world. Some are large
companies that have been around for over a century. Others are highly
skilled luthiers who have just surfaced in the last decade or so, and
only make a handful of guitars each year.
8.1 Large Guitar Companies
These are companies that produce 1000+ guitars each year, and generally
incorporate some sort of automated manufacturing process in the
construction of their guitars.
A list of the more popular and respected names in the art and business
of producing hand-made acoustic guitars.
Santa Cruz -
And then there are the Resonator guitars, which vary in construction.
Some are metal bodied, while others are wood. Need more info on these.
National Resophonic -
9. Where Are the Most Famous Acoustic Guitar Stores?
The Following stores are generally acknowledged to have the finest
selection of new or used acoustic guitars in the world. Reports from
rmmga readers who have visited these guitar stores indicate that most
people seem to leave these establishments either drooling, or in debt.
9.1 United States/Canada
9.1.1 Elderly Instruments
P.O. Box 14210-FG
1100 N. Washington
Lansing, MI 48901
9.1.2 Gruhn Guitars, Inc.
9.1.3 Mandolin Brothers
629 Forest Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10310
(718) 981-3226 (phone)
(718) 981-8585 (phone)
9.1.4 Guitar Gallerie
W. 421 Riverside #102
Spokane, WA 99201
(800) 346-9042 (phone)
(509) 747-1083 (phone)
(509) 747-1493 (fax)
10. What is My Guitar Worth?
Well if your guitar was built in the last 30 years or so, you can
probably figure out its worth from a local guitar shop with no problem.
However, if you own, inherit, or discover a vintage instrument, it may
prove to be more of a challenge to get an accurate appraisal. The net
wisdom seems to be to give a call to Elderly Instruments, Gruhn Guitar,
or Mandolin Brothers, and ask them. From a serial number and general
description they can give you a pretty good idea of its worth. I
believe some of them will give a certified appraisal if you send them
pictures. All of these places traffic large numbers of used/vintage
instruments. The monetary value of old/vintage instruments is directly
related to their desirability to collectors. These folks have their
collective fingers on this pulse.
11. Where Can I Get Instructional Material For Acoustic Guitar?
There are a variety of resources available for instructional material.
The internet resources have already been mentioned above. Here is a
listing of other resources you might want to check out.
11.1 Mail Order Companies
The Internet is great for getting tablature and lyrics, but when you
want video tapes, audio tapes, and authorative transcriptions of your
favorite artists, mail order is the way to go.
11.1.1 Homespun Tapes
Homespun Tapes is run by Happy Traum, who has been producing quality
instructional tapes for quite a while. His mail-order catalog contains
lessons in all styles of guitar, both electric and acoustic, as taught
by popular guitarists. The catalog contains over 150 video tape
lessons, as well as audio tape lessons, books, and various musical
Woodstock, NY 12498
11.1.2 Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop
Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop is a mecca for fingerstyle videos in
blues, ragtime, celtic, and jazz. But his forte is country blues, so if
you want to learn the styles of Blind Blake, Rev. Gary Davis, or Big
Bill Broonzy, this is the place to go. He also has a circle of friends
who provide lessons in a variety of styles from country blues to jazz.
People like Duck Baker, Leo Wijnkamp, and David Laibman contribute to
many of the instructional tapes. (You often see these same people in
Fingerstyle Guitar magazine, giving Master Workshops as well.)
Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop
P.O. Box 802
Sparta, NJ 07871
Phone: (201) 729-5544
Fax: (201) 726-0568
11.1.3 Crossroads Music
They carry all the Grossman workshop stuff, plus a few other interesting
bits and pieces.
439 Newchurch Road
Phone: (0706) 875729
11.1.4 Workshop Records
Workshop Records has a wide variety of video and audio tapes, that
rivals those of the other guitar mail-order big boys. But they also
offer a wide array of 1/2 speed tape players, 4-track recorders, and
other devices for both transcribing and recording music.
P.O. Box 49507
Austin TX 78765
11.2 Other Resources
There are, of course, other resources for obtaining instructional
material for guitar. The following sources generally won't give you a
wide variety of topics to choose from, but you may get lucky and find
something useful every once in a while.
11.2.1 Local Library
Your local public library usually has some guitar books, and a nice
collection of records and/or CD's. You certainly can't beat the price.
11.2.2 Local Video Store
Instructional videos have been known to be hiding out in video store
rental bins. And since they don't make for prime Friday or Saturday
night viewing, they are usually available. :-)
11.2.3 Local Bookstores
Many of the larger bookstores will carry guitar instruction books, and
other material relating to guitar.
Almost every guitar oriented magazine on the market has a column
dedicated to guitar instruction. They will often describe a technique
or style, and then provide a piece of music (standard notation and
tablature) that demonstrates that technique. See the section of this
FAQ that lists popular guitar magazines for more information.
12. What Are Some Good Beginners Books/Videos for Acoustic Guitar?
If you know nothing about guitar, then a few lessons with a local guitar
teacher are probably in order. This will help you develop the basics of
proper right and left hand technique. If you are learning on your own,
then the following might be effective learning tools.
12.1 No Guitar Experience
12.2 Beginning Fingerstyle
12.3 Beginning Flatpicking
13. Who Should I Listen To? (Great Acoustic Guitarists)
This is a very subjective topic. There are tons of great musicians to
choose from. There are many who are often cited as being masters in a
particular style, or having a style all their own that sets them apart
from the rest of the guitar playing community. The following list is
by no means definitive. It is merely a listing of the artists and
performers who frequently come up in discussions on rmmga. Think of the
following recommendations as a survey of acoustic guitar musical styles,
as well as a survey of great musicians.
Fingerstyle guitar can be broken down into two basic categories, old and
new. By old, we generally mean country blues popularized during the
1920's and 30's by black artists in the South, Chicago, and New York.
By new, we mean contemporaries of these popular country blues players,
as well as modern players who have developed their own style or greatly
expanded upon the ideas of those who preceded them. (Does that make
sense? Also, anyone who can give a blurb about Celtic influences,
13.1.1 Early 20th Century
Reverend Gary Davis -
Mississippi John Hurt -
Blind Blake -
Lonnie Johnson -
Big Bill Broonzy -
Blind Lemon Jefferson -
Robert Johnson -
Blind Willie McTell -
I'd appreciate it if people could help out with a short blurb about each
of these people, citing stylistic points, as well as recommended albums.
Additions to the list, or opposition to current list members is welcome.
Pierre Bensusan -
Rory Block -
Roy Book Binder -
Alex de Grassi -
John Fahey -
Jorma Kaukonen/Hot Tuna -
Phil Keaggy -
Leo Kottke -
John Renbourn -
Martin Simpson -
Doc Watson -
Though bluegrass and old-time string band music have been around for a
long time, the use of guitar as a lead instrument is a fairly recent
development. The styles of flatpick guitar for other than rhythm
playing range from relatively simple statements of song/tune melodies to
spontaneous melodic improvisation much as a jazz soloist might play.
Most bluegrass and flatpicking guitarists play dreadnought guitars.
There are a few reasons for this: a) Tradition: "Well, that's what Uncle
Newt and Cousin Stub played." b) Bass response: Dreadnoughts have a
strong bass response, which makes them the ideal guitar for playing
rhythm behind a string band. c) Loud: Bluegrass/flatpicking guitarists
have to compete with _seriously_ loud instruments like banjos and
fiddles. Small-bodied guitars sound sweet by themselves, but they
quickly get lost when doing single-string lead work in an ensemble that
includes louder instruments.
Norman Blake - Norman Blake plays in a deceptively simple, elegant
style. He's not a 900-mile-an-hour fire-breathing monster, as
are some of the folks discussed below (see Tony Rice, Mark
O'Connor). He plays in a syncopated, chord-based, "self-
contained" style in which the melody and chords are played
together. Not really a "bluegrass" guitarist as such, he
classifies his music as "old-time country," though it's quite
different from what is usually called "old-time" music nowadays.
One of his chief claims to fame is resurrecting obscure old
fiddle tunes and songs and arranging them for guitar. Good
examples of such tunes are "President Garfield's Hornpipe,"
"Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine," and "Whiskey Before Breakfast"
(which has become a standard part of most flatpickers'
repertoire). He's been a studio musician on many albums
(including Bob Dylan's "Nashville Skyline" and Michelle
Shocked's "Arkansas Traveller"). He's usually found in the
company of his wife Nancy (who accompanies him on a 1929 Martin
00-45 and cello). Norman Blake's instrument of choice is a 1934
Martin D-18, which is a mahogany dreadnought with wide
fingerboard, slotted peghead, and 12 frets clear of the body.
Maybelle Carter - Maybelle (of carter family fame) wasn't a flashy
picker, but is generally credited for popularizing the style
where the melody is picked on the bass strings. i believe she
was using the style as early as the late 20's.
Dan Crary - Dan Crary is one of the inventors of the style. He is a very
fleet and fluid player who invented many of the licks and runs
that have become standard cliches of the flatpicking vocabulary.
Dan Crary's instrument of choice is a Taylor Dan Crary model,
which is a 14-fret cutaway rosewood dreadnought.
Steve Kaufman - Steve Kaufman is the only three-time winner of the
National Flatpicking Championship, which is held yearly in
Winfield Kansas, USA. Steve is an extremely inventive, humorous,
and fluid player, with impeccable tone and a seemingly
bottomless well of improvisational ideas. His melodic material
seems to be more based in traditional melodies and harmonies
than in the blues and jazz vocabularies as with, say, Mark
O'Connor and Tony Rice. He also has lots of instructional
material available, and he (or more usually his answering
machine) can be reached by phone at 1-800-FLATPIK. He publishes
a free quarterly publication called "The Flatpicking Hotline."
Steve Kaufman's current instrument of choice is a seven-string
Gallagher cutaway rosewood dreadnought. (The seventh string is
tuned to a low B, two octaves below the second string. He uses
a 0.066" gauge for the seventh string.)
Mark O'Conner - Though known these days primarily as a prolific
Nashville studio session fiddler, Mark O'Connor is a virtuoso
flatpicker of the highest order. A child prodigy, he won the
National Flatpicking Championship at age 14. His playing is very
fast, very clean, and melodically very chromatic and intense.
Many of his melodic ideas seem closely related to those of jazz
guitarist Django Reinhardt and saxophonist John Coltrane.
Tony Rice - Tony Rice is one of the true visionaries in the world of
flatpick guitar. He's a very adept player and is a brilliant
linear improvisor, with a vocabulary all his own. A significant
portion of his playing is based in the pentatonic and blues
scales, and he has a rhythmic drive that no-one can match. He
can develop a line that moves logically between very
traditional-sounding melodic areas and some very modern-sounding
modal/pentatonic areas. One striking aspect of Tony's playing is
the evenness of his articulation - it's almost more like a piano
or even a clarinet than a guitar. Melodically, Tony Rice is the
player that it seems most young flatpickers try to sound like
(with varying results and degrees of success). Until recently,
his instrument of choice was the famous Clarence White/Tony Rice
herringbone, a modified pre-war Martin D-28 with a large
soundhole and non-original, bound fingerboard with no fret
markers. That guitar was damaged last year when his house was
flooded 8^O His current instrument of choice is a Santa Cruz
Tony Rice Model D, which is basically a copy of the White/Rice
Doc Watson - Doc Watson is the grand old man of flatpick guitar. He
first came to prominence as a flatpicker in the Folk Boom of the
'60's. He plays in a clear, sparkling down-home, "ragtimey"
style. He usually plays in smaller ensembles, typically with
just one or two other guitars. He is often seen accompanied by
Jack Lawrence, who is a great picker in his own right. He most
often plays mahogany dreadnoughts.
Clarence White - Clarence White was one of the inventors of the
flatpicking style, and with The Kentucky Colonels, became one of
the first guitarists to break out of the "strictly rhythm" role
of the guitarist in most bluegrass bands. He played with great
speed, economy, cleanness, and inventiveness. He played many
guitars, but he is most associated with the famous White/Rice
herringbone mentioned above. Clarence White was run over and
killed by a drunk driver in 1974, while carrying equipment to
his car. He is sorely missed.
Lenny Breau - Breau is noted for his skill at self-accompaniment, and
his use of artificial harmonics. His solo playing often sounds
like two guitarists. Two of his solo albums - Five O'Clock
Bells, and Mo' Breau - are available on a single CD, on the
Earl Klugh - Klugh uses a nylon-string acoustic to play fingerstyle
Jazz. Check out Earl Klugh Trio, Vol. 1 for a fine example of
Joe Pass -
Django Reinhardt - Reinhardt was a Belgian Gypsy who became the only
European to significantly influence Jazz during the swing era.
He lost the use of his pinky and ring finger on his fretting
hand after being burned in a caravan fire when he was eighteen.
Despite the loss, Reinhardt's speed, and power were phenomenal.
Melodically, he was an arpeggio-based player, who also posessed
a highly sophisticated sense of harmony, though he could not
read or write a note of music. He was one of the only Jazz
guitarists to use a flattop acoustic guitar. An excellent
collection of his recordings is available on a set of CDs called
Djangology/USA on the Disques Swing label (distributed in the US
by DRG Records).
There are invariably those artists that can not be classified as finger-
pickers or flatpickers. They fall into the "Other" category.
Eugene Chadbourne - is an incredible guitarist that most people have
never heard of. His playing can be put into several categories,
but he is usually considered an avant-garde player or a free-
improvisor. Possibly one of the fastest guitarists alive, his
playing can remind one, at various times, of orchestra pieces by
Stockhausen, of Jerry Reed or Albert Lee at 78 speed, of
industrial machinery, or of Looney Tunes cartoon soundtracks,
and often all within the same piece. He's a very humorous player
and uses various nonstandard techniques, including prepared
guitar (placing alligator clips, paper, and other things in the
strings to change the tone) and bowing the guitar with various
items, including other strings, balloons, and so forth.
Hans Reichel - conjures some lovely, eerie, and some downright weird
sounds from his acoustic guitars that he builds himself. One
main feature of his guitars is that, instead of a fixed bridge
like on a normal flat-top, they have a moveable bridge and and a
tailpiece like on an archtop. These guitars have frets
_between_the_bridge_and_the_tailpiece_ as well as the normal
frets on the neck, so he can play the strings on both sides of
the bridge. On these guitars, he can set up some resonances that
you would swear were produced by some kind of space alien
steam-harp from Jupiter. He is definitely worth checking out, if
you can find any of his recordings, which will most often be
found in the import bins of more open-minded record stores.
Derek Bailey - is a free-improvising guitarist from England. He started
out as a more-or-less straight-ahead jazz guitarist, but in the
'60's and '70's, he and several others in the European jazz
scene, including John Stevens, Evan Parker, and others, moved
into totally free, sound-based improvisation. His playing is
extremely angular and totally abandons all standard melodic,
rhythmic, and harmonic material. He makes jawdroppingly
virtuosic use of non-standard techniques, including tone
clusters, beating tones, percussive effects, high harmonics, and
wide intervals. If you like 20th-century music by people like
Xenakis, Stockhausen, Babbitt, and the like, you'll probably
like Derek Bailey. If not, well, maybe not. His main acoustic
guitar is a Martin D-18. One of the finest recordings of his
acoustic playing is the album "Duo Exchange," with the cellist
14. What Books/Magazines Should I Read?
Here is a listing of periodicals that, in addition to advertisments for
every guitar product known to man, also contain interesting articles
pertaining to guitars, performers, music theory, etc... And they ALL
thrive on publishing tablature of songs by popular guitarists.
14.1.1 Acoustic Guitar
P.O. Box 767
San Anselmo, CA 94979-9938
Phone: (415) 485-6946
Fax: (415) 485-0831
14.1.2 Fingerstyle Guitar
7620 Delmonico Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80919-9954
Phone: (719) 599-5076
14.1.3 Acoustic Musician Magazine
Border Crossing Publications, Inc.
Steve Spence, Editor
P.O. Box 1349
New Market, VA 22844-1349
Phone: (703) 740-4005
Fax: (703) 740-4006
14.1.4 Country Guitar
Harris Publications Inc
New York, NY 10160-0397
14.1.5 Guitarist (British)
14.1.6 Vintage Guitars
14.1.7 Guitar Player
14.1.8 Guitar World
P.O. Box 58660
Boulder, CO 80323-8660
Phone: (303) 447-9330
These books vary widely in topic, but are all invaluable resources for
every acoustic guitarist.
14.2.1 The Acoustic Guitar Guide
Everything you need to know to buy and maintain a new or used guitar.
This book has it all. The history of the guitar; how guitars are made;
how different things affect tone; and even simple repair. This is a
must have book for anyone who is thinking about buying a guitar, or
simply wants to gain a strong working knowledge of the guitar.
14.2.2 The Complete Guitarist
This is a broad overview of all kinds of guitar topics. Primarily an
instructional book, it also talks about technique, sound, and style. It
also discusses various makes and models. It covers electric as well as
14.2.3 American Guitars: An Illustrated History
This book is both a complete guitar reference guide, as well as a
complete history of the modern guitar. It contains complete histories
of just about every guitar maker that has ever operated in the U.S., and
chronicles these companies thru the various stages of their existence.
It covers both electric, as well as acoustic guitar, and dedicates about
half of the book to Fender and Gibson guitars. Hundreds of great
14.2.4 Nothin' But the Blues
This is a detailed account of the evolution of the blues. It breaks the
development of the blues down by region (Texas, Piedmont, Delta, Urban)
and then charts their merging and metamorphasis into modern day blues.
Lots of rare photographs of just about every blues great ever known. If
you want to be an authority on early 20th century blues, this is a great
place to start.
14.2.5 Acoustic Guitars (and other fretted instruments)
A visual history of the evolution of the acoustic guitar. Contains
hundreds of color photos of vintage instruments. The ultimate wish book
for people who are connoseiurs of vintage guitars.
14.2.6 The History and Artistry of National Resonator Instruments
Bob Brozman, a noted collector and performer of Resonator Guitars, gives
a history of the instrument, and shows off his extensive collection of
Resonator guitars in color photos.
15. What's The Best Way To Amplify My Acoustic Guitar?
16. What Alternate Tunings Are There To Explore?
Tired of Standard Tunings? Give an alternate tuning a try.
Here are the names of some cheap books (more like pamphlets) that have
chord diagrams for a variety of open tunings.
Open Guitar Tunings - by Ron Middlebrook, published by Centerstream (Hal
Leonard Publishing). $4.95 (US). Information on over 75
The Alternate Tunings Guide For Guitar - by Mark Hanson, published by
Amsco. $3.00 (US).
16.2 Popular Alternate Tunings
Here is a list of some popular alternatives to EADGBE, along with
artists/tunes that utilize them.
16.2.1 DADGBE (Dropped-D)
This is standard tuning with the 6 string E dropped to a D. Used mostly
when playing in the key of D, so that one can have an open string for
the tonic. Also used in the key of G, where the D rings open on the V
Chord. No doubt, there are lots of other uses for this tuning also.
16.2.2 DADF#AD (Open D)
Used extensively for fingerstyle and slide guitar. Fahey & Kottke use
this alot. Kottke's "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring", "Vaseline Machine
Gun", "Sailor's Grave on the Prairie", "Crow River Waltz" are in this
16.2.3 DGDGBD (Open G)
Used extensively for fingerstyle and slide guitar. Lots of the Turn of
the Century country blues guitar players used this. It is also commonly
used in contemporary guitar.
16.2.4 CGCGCE (Open C)
Fahey & Kottke use it alot. Kottke's "Busted Bicycle" is in open C, as
is Fahey's "Sunflower River Blues" and "Revolt of the Dyke Brigade"
16.2.5 DADGAD (D Modal Tuning)
Pierre Bensusan plays just about his entire repertoire in this tuning.
His book, "The Guitar Book", contains many beautiful arrangements in
both tab and standard notation, as well as lots of Pierre's exercises
for stretches. It even includes recipes and poetry!
16.2.6 DGDABE (Cross-Tuning??)
16.2.7 DGDGBbD (Open G minor)
Used frequently by John Renbourn and Stefan Grossman.
16.2.8 EADEAE (E modal)
Used extensively by Martin Carthy and other English guitarists.
17. Which Strings Should I Use?
17.1 How Strings are made
17.2 How The Strings Material Effects The Guitars Sound
17.3 Euphonon Strings (mail-order)
This is a mail order company that sells amazingly inexpensive strings
(~$2/set) in bulk orders of 1/2 dozen or 1 dozen lots. They have a wide
array of string types, and you can custom order string sets to suit your
personal needs. The reports from rmmga readers indicate the quality and
consistency of their strings is very good.
P.O. Box 100A
Orford NH 03777 USA
Phone: (603) 353-4882
18. What is a Good Travel Guitar?
19. What Types of Capos are Available?
The capo is a device that lets you change the key to which your
instrument is tuned, without retuning. Simply slap it into place, and
voila, you're ready to go. Capos are often used to allow you to change
keys, but still utilize open strings. For example, you can play the
chords F#, B, and C#7 simply by placing the capo on the second fret and
playing the basic E, A, and B7 chords.
Capos come in 3 basic types. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
They are outlined below, and makers of each type are given.
19.1 Elastic Capos
These are the least expensive capos you can buy, but also have the
shortest expected lifespan. They are basically a piece of rubber-coated
metal rod with a piece of elastic attached. Simply put the rod at the
fret you want, and pull the elastic band as tight as you need. If you
are going to use one of these, make sure it has a heavy elastic band, so
it will hold firm, and last longer. Some makers of elastic capos
include: Bill Russell, Jim Dunlop, and Third Hand.
19.2 Clamp Capos
This type of capo clamps onto the fretboard and has an adjustable "thumb
screw" that allows you to select the proper tension more precisely than
an elastic capo. This type of capo also allows you to do partial
tunings, by only clamping it across the strings you want capoed. For
example you can achieve dropped-D tuning from standard tuning by capoing
the 2-6 strings at the second fret and leaving the 1 string uncapoed.
This capo is a little slower to get into place than an elastic capo, but
is more versatile. Makers of clamp style capos include: Shubb, Saga
Golden Gate, Victor, and Kyser.
19.3 U-Shaped Capos
This type of capo is a flat rubber-coated surface with a U-shaped metal
bar that hinges around your guitar neck, and is adjusted using a thumb-
screw. It has the advantage of applying even pressure across the whole
neck, but is slower to get into position than the elastic or clamp style
capos. Makers of U-shaped capos include: Picker's Pal, Paige, Baldy
Brothers, and Golden Gate.
20. How Do I Take Care of my Hands and Nails?
Taking care of your hands and nails is important, especially if you play
on a daily basis. Hand care includes both stretching your hands (ie
warming up) before playing finger-busting arrangements, as well as nail
care, ie preventing nail breaks and dealing with broken/worn-down nails.
20.1 Hand Care
One area that can not be overlooked is warming up before you play.
Common sense prevails here. Start off each guitar session by playing
something that is slow, and doesn't involve huge stretches. Scales and
arpeggios are always a good starter. Also, you may want to do some
sightreading of a simple piece, since this will normally keep your
movements slow. Or you might try a piece that you know (and enjoy!)
that is not too difficult. Play thru at a moderate tempo, just to get
the juices flowing. A few minutes of warm-up goes a long way towards
preventing hand injuries, just as warming up prevents injury in sports
and other physical activities.
And what about those callouses that build up on your fretting hand? A
lot of British guitarists (e.g. Eric Clapton) use "Surgical Spirit" to
toughen up the skin on their fingertips. Surgical Spirit is simply the
English term for rubbing alcohol. If you wipe your fingertips with it
twice a day for a couple of weeks you'll get callouses tougher than
NOTE: Need info on callouses and Carpal Tunnel.
20.2 Nail Care
Nail care seems to be part voodoo, part common sense. Keeping your
nails strong and evenly filed is essential to maintaining consistency in
your sound. There are basically 2 things to consider: "How do I
prevent nail breaks?", and "What do I do when a nail does break?".
Part of preventing nail breaks means don't expose your nails to
dangerous situations. Common nail breaking incidents are: opening
aluminum can tops, zipping your fly, and snagging them on clothing.
Don't let your nails grow longer than their optimal playing length. The
longer they get, the more suseptible they become to damage.
Another part of preventing nail breaks is preventive maintenance.
People claim that nail polish makes their nails stronger (and shiny!).
Others use hand lotions with Keratin (a natural protein) in them. Still
others claim that your nails get stronger if you ingest powdered
gelatin. And there are other products, like "Barielle Nail Strengthener
Cream", which was originally used to strengthen horse hooves, which has
been modified for use on your nails.
If you do get a nail break, your options are basically: 1) Remove the
broken part of the nail, and file the nail as best you can, and wait for
it to grow back, or 2) attempt to repair the broken nail, or 3) replace
the nail with a fake one. Filing the nail is pretty straight forward,
and is described later on. Repairing the nail can be done by
reinforcing the nail with a paper/nail polish, paper-mache type fix up
job. Replacing the nail can be done thru a number of means. These
include growing your non-picking thumb-nail long, and using it as a
replacement nail, using a piece of ping-pong ball, using some brand of
fake nail, or even temporarily moving to the use of fingerpicks. There
is a brand of picks called "Alaska Picks" that fit under the nail, and
are made of plastic, so they don't give that metallic sound that normal
NOTE: Need info on how to properly file your nails.
21. How Should I Take Care of my Guitar?
21.1 Avoid Climate Extremes
Do not expose it to extremes of temperature. If it's too hot or cold for
you, it's probably too hot or cold for your guitar. Don't expose it to
quick temperature changes. If you're in an area of low humidity (<20%),
keep it humidified. Humidifiers that fit in the soundhole are available,
or you can easily make one out of a plastic prescription bottle, some
string, and a piece of a kitchen sponge.
Here is a set of instructions for making your own guitar humidifier:
When you put your guitar in the case, drop the bottle in the box.
(You'll probably have to pull a string out of the way a little to do
this, unless you have one of those large soundhole Maccaferris. It will
probably not be necessary to loosen a string to do this, though.) Leave
the string hanging out so you can pull the bottle back out later.
Get a small plastic prescription bottle.
Using a soldering iron or something like that, poke, oh,
about 10-15 holes in the bottle, wherever you want. The
holes should be about 2-3 mm in diameter. Make one hole
in the bottom.
Get a piece of nice thick string about 40-50 cm long.
Run that string through the hole in the bottom and knot
it so it won't come back out.
Cut a piece off a kitchen sponge that will fit in the
bottle (but not too tightly). KIDS - ask Mom before doing
Put the sponge in the bottle, put a few drops of water in
the sponge, and put the top on the prescription bottle.
The sponge should be damp, not dripping wet.
Make sure the outside of the bottle is dry.
Obviously, you don't want to vigorously shake your guitar and case when
this humidifier is installed. Also, on dry winter days, you'll have to
put more water in it every two days or so.
NOTE: Contrary to popular belief, using a Prozac prescription bottle
will not make your guitar sound mellower ;^)
21.2 Simple Maintenance
21.3 Travelling With Your Guitar
22. What Are Tape I, II, and Tape III?
A wonderful idea was brought to fruition by the early participants of
the rmmga mailing-list. Larry Corbett put together a series of tapes
containing tunes performed by rmmga participants. These mysterious and
elusive "Tapes" are quickly developing into rmmga folklore. Why is
there no Tape I? What happened to Tape II? How can I get Tape III?
The following is Larry's explanation of the rmmga Tape I/II/III saga:
The Tape I story. Tape I was "guit's" first attempt to share some guitar
music with its members, and failed big time. The whole process of Tape I
was not a good one. It began as a tape that went from one member to the
next on a long list of folks who were from many different parts of the
globe. Almost as soon as it began we could see the short comings of
doing a group tape in this fashion. It would have taken months to get
the tape just through the list let alone to anyone else who might be
interested in hearing it. And then, two months into the project, it got
lost in the mail. End of Tape I.
Tape II and III went much better. Tape II was complete and available to
anyone who wanted a copy in six or seven weeks. Some one suggested that
all contributors should send their contributions to one location, get
dubbed on a master and then distributed to the net. This worked well. I
did both Tapes II and III. Tape II was pretty simple to do and both
tapes II and III had a lot of luck going for them. There was no control
on how many folks would contribute, so, Tape II just about filled a 90
minute tape and Tape III nearly filled two 90 minute tapes.
I sent out over 80 copies of Tape II, and only 10 copies of Tape III
after the contributors got their copies. It took me about 20 minutes per
tape to make a copy. Tape II wasn't too hard to deal with, but Tape III
really began to take up more time than I was willing to deal with. I
needed to pass the project on, which is what I did.
Some one thought it would be a good idea if a few of them would decode
to make ten copies each of Tape II and III and then pass the masters on
to the next person. This is where I left off. I sent both master copies
and all liner notes and jackets out to a volunteer. The masters of Tape
II and III are out there somewhere.....
Thanks to the following people for their contributions to the FAQ. This
is a great combined effort from a number of helpful and knowledgeable
email@example.com (Douglas Asherman) LCORBETT@MAINE.maine.edu
(Larry Corbett) firstname.lastname@example.org (Richard Darsie)
email@example.com (Charles Donaghe) firstname.lastname@example.org
(Christopher Eveland) email@example.com (Bob F?????)
loredo@astrosun.TN.CORNELL.EDU (Tom Loredo) firstname.lastname@example.org (James
McGowan) email@example.com (Mcipriani) firstname.lastname@example.org (Mike
Neverisky) email@example.com (Mo Oishi) firstname.lastname@example.org
(Bo Parker) email@example.com (Guy Snape)