Kim Walker SJ

Kim Walker SJ in Adirondack/maple

Kim Walker SJ in Adirondack/maple

In 2005 I played John Thomas’s Nick Walker at Little Brother’s jam in Georgia. It took all of two minutes before I knew I would have to put my name down on Kim’s list. In November 2013 Kim finally tracked me down to tell me that my slot had come.

In February 2015, I booked flights from Glasgow to Boston via London to go and pick the guitar up, and that has turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. Flying into the USA always makes me excited, I guess because every time I’ve been, it has been to meet friends and play music and, yes, a few times, to pick up a guitar. I took the Amtrak down to Connecticut and it was an amazing journey, filled with excitement as I looked out over snowscapes and coastline, listening to Dark Side of the Moon on my headphones.

Kim picked me up and we drove to his place and, after 10 years of waiting, I got to try my Adirondack spruce and maple SJ. Being tired after the journey, I didn’t get to appreciate fully just how amazing this guitar was, but I could feel its solid build quality and lightness straight away.

After a great night’s sleep and a fantastic breakfast with Kim and Diana, I brought the guitar up to the living room and played it for a solid two hours. It was amazing. I worked on an arrangement of Auld Lang Syne in DADGAD for new year this year and had been worrying that I’d forget my arrangement, so I put the Walker into DADGAD and had the most amazing time figuring it out and getting it back under my fingers.

John Thomas came round to Kim’s for lunch and we had a great time catching up before heading to John’s for the night. There I got to play that Nick Walker guitar that started the whole thing off once again, as well as John’s own SJ from the same batch of maple as mine, and his 1/3 century.

I’m still feeling the joy of that trip and it brings a wee tear to my eye when I consider what amazing friends I’ve made through a common love of acoustic guitars and music. It reduces us all to our bare souls and then we can join together without the social ball-and-chains of rank and fortune and play music together. It’s the most incredible thing.

Audio sample

Ye Banks & Braes as part of the Arran Ceilidh Band CD.

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Photos — Copyright Kim Walker

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My Flickr Gallery of the trip

Gig at the Douglas Hotel

Cams practising at home for a gig

I’ve got a solo gig this coming Saturday 25 January at the Douglas Hotel in Brodick, my first solo in gig in over a year.

I generally practice through my PA at home when I’ve got a gig, so that I can get used to the differences of playing amplified. I have a D-Tar Wavelength pick-up in my SCGC Vintage Artist and I couple that with a D-Tar MamaBear preamp and I had never really got my tone dialled until after a recording session a month or so ago, when the sound at the recording session was so bad that I got home and was determined to figure it out or give up on it.

I’ve got the pickup set as:

  • 16: Neutral – No Input Compensation
  • 14: Gypsy Jazz
  • Blend – 11 o’clock, so one hour into wet

It’s really the input selection that makes the biggest difference and that’s where I’d been going wrong all these years!

So, now to prepare for the gig. I managed to squeeze into a corner of the living room with the MamaBear by my side, an SM58 mic and the XLR cables going into my passive Soundcraft mixer. I’ve got one XLR running from the mixer, behind the sofa to an AER AcoustiCube60 and I can leave it set up all week without anything really being in the way. Result!

The tone I’m getting is very good indeed! Both fingerstyle and strumming work well, and the vocals sound great. Even my wife has commented on the good playing, which, I explained, is a direct result of having good sound! If it sounds good, I play well; if I’m constantly worrying about the tone, as a normally do, the playing suffers.

I’m going to see what kind of tone I can get with my Model A tonight. It has a PUTW 54 and UST wired in stereo and I’ve always had trouble getting the balance right. I find that there are too many variables with that set up so, although I prefer that guitar, I find myself using the VA for gigs because of the simple, single-source pickup. I’m now reviewing pickups for my next guitar and reckon I’m going to go with a K&K. I’ve never tried one and they get great write-ups.

Ceilidh Band Accompaniment

Arran Ceilidh Band1

The Arran Ceilidh Band is coming along very nicely indeed. I switched from standard tuning to DADGAD a month or so ago and it’s made a world of difference to the accompaniment.

We’ve been having two practises a week and we’re pretty much ready to start. We have our own website:

http://arranceilidhband.com/

You can also follow us on Twitter @arranceilidh and find us on Facebook

For bookings, the contact info is all on the Ceilidh Band site.

Guitar-playing Dad

Rather than reading Catch 22 or the photography book I paid £20-odd quid for this morning to read on the boat, I thought I’d write something that was inspired by Write for your Life episode 101. Creation’s better for the soul than consumption, right? In that episode, host Iain Broome was talking about how he can’t read when he’s tired and can’t stay awake in bed for longer than three minutes. Rather than talk about how I deal with that (answer: audiobooks!), I’m going to talk about what I’ve referred to as my number one passion since I was 21, playing guitar.

When my daughter was born in 2004, I was already obsessed with guitar. I had by then bought and sold a few high-end guitars, was moderator on a couple of guitar forums (remember them?) and even ran one of my own. How good my day was was determined by how much practice time I had managed to fit in that day. We lived in Luxembourg then and it’s a very family oriented country. Parental rights of employees are very generous and so I found myself doing the modern dad thing, working part time or from home. So I was home and able to play a lot while Freya slept or watched CBeebies or Baby Einstein.

In October 2004 I made my first trip to Atlanta to meet a bunch of online friends IRL and it was utterly fantastic. (2007 jam photos) I went every year for the next five years after that, as well as a two-week trip to Steve Kaufman’s Acoustic Kamp in Tennessee. These were good times. Something that stood out to me in both places was the large number of 50-something dads with high-end guitars who were just getting back into playing after a long hiatus while their kids were growing up. I remember thinking to myself that I would never let that happen to me. I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. I had a kid and was playing more than ever, right? My son was born in 2006 and, same deal – play, travel, buy, sell, chat, moderate. Guitars were everything.

We left Luxembourg and moved to Arran in 2008 to take on a new business and that’s when things began to change. I started experiencing a lot of what Iain talks about in episode 10. I was too tired at the end of the day to play anything and, for the first six months, I don’t think I played for more than half an hour. But the passion began to come back slowly. I recall one evening sitting by the coal fire, getting out the guitar and playing some of my trickiest material. Much to my surprise, my playing was just about as good as ever, undoubtedly caused by the fact that I was hearing my guitar for the first time in months and in such a romantic and calming atmosphere. It never sounded so sweet.

So, problem solved? Well, kind of. My playing went from strength to strength. I got asked into a bluegrass band and had some of the best musical experiences I’d ever had, playing local village halls and opening for bigger acts like Phil Cunningham & Aly Bain and Lunasa. The Atlanta jams had stopped happening since I moved to Arran, which, selfishly, was kind of good for me as there’s no way I’d have been able to go anyway. But good fortune shone my way and the host jam, Little Brother, decided to have another one in the October when I was to turn 40. So, I gigged hard that summer, playing local hotels three nights a week and putting all the earnings into my plane ticket. And what jam it was! It was one of the best experiences of my life, to have made such good friends and get to see them all again in one of my favourite places for my birthday. And my playing then was probably as good as it’s ever been.

After that I was feeling burned out. I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and the meds were making me tired and depressed. I came off the strong pain killers that had been propping me up for so long and the guitar playing started to suffer. When I was asked about the following summer’s playing schedule, I opted out. If I wasn’t in bed for 10 o’clock, the tiredness became overwhelming and gigging though the week would mean getting home at midnight or later.

Last year I had a few fairly high profile gigs and they didn’t go great. Well, in actual fact they were probably fine, but my fear prevented me from enjoying them. Family life was okay because I was now home most evenings and getting to see the kids and I was happiest staying home at nights. I’ve hardly played my guitar at all this year. I’ve felt the passion stirring when I’m out listening to music on my headphones and walking the dogs, but I’ve been getting increasingly bitter about being in middle age and not having created anything. I was listening to Fatboy Slim of all people, loving it and wondering why the hell I’d never created anything like that. I’m a talented musician, but in terms of creativity, I suck. So I began to look more towards my second hobby, photography. Like music, it is also all consuming, at least for me anyway. But it has the advantage of making me feel that I’m creating something.

And now I’m at a crossroads again. I have family and work commitments, as well as a podcast subscription list that gives me no breathing space at all during the day. My reading list is also long, but I’m struggling to get to any of that now. But why the crossroads? Well, my good friend and fellow musician that I played in the bluegrass band with has asked me to join him in a new band. I didn’t think I wanted it, but as soon as he suggested it, I got a little glow in my tummy. This guy is one of the best fiddle players I’ve ever heard and, without rhetoric, this could be the chance of a lifetime for me. I know I can commit, and stick to it. Ask my masonic brethren. My worry is the fear. I’m feeling all right just now, but I’ve felt all right before and had the fear come back. I think what I’ll have to do is get back on top of my life again. Cutting back on the podcasts would help (not yours of course Iain!). If only Myke bloody Hurley would stop putting out so much good content! I think that getting on and staying on top will keep the fear at bay. I know that because it has worked before. And better attendance of AA meetings will help too. I reached eight years last month and still need the meetings to keep the darkness away.

Thinking back to what prompted this post, I think what I’ll have to do is start scheduling things in my life again. I did it before for a few months and it was surprisingly effective. I’ll make a weekly schedule of repeating tasks and take care of things in bite-sized chunks. So, rather than reading none of Catch 22 each day because I want a decent sized chunk of time to enjoy it, I’ll allow myself to tick the box after having read only two pages. Rather than practising a song until it’s perfect, I’ll practice for 10 minutes then check the box. Last time I did this, the 10 minutes often turned into 30 or more, but the fact that 10 minutes allowed me to tick the box made me far more likely to pick it up in the first place. What can I say? I’m a box ticker. I think the advice that Iain put into his Room 101 of ‘just write’ or ‘bums on seats’ in this case can work. Schedule 10 minutes of writing time, be sure to do it at a time of day when you know you’re not going to be sleepy (tea time’s the worst for me) and write for 10 minutes. It might become 30 minutes or more, and it might not.

Creativity and Homeschooling

Is it a cop-out to copy? I’ve been thinking about this for a while. This time I’m thinking about it in the context of guitar playing, which is the context in which I think about this more often than any other.

I just heard Hymn 11, by Pierre Bensusan, used as part of a video photo montage showcasing the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968.

[Link to YouTube]

Learning

Isn’t copying the best way to learn? Sure it is. But I’m now at the stage in my guitar playing that I am competent enough to create, rather than copy.

If you look through the magazines, you’ll find the pages filled with tablature of popular songs. Look in a music section of a book store and you’ll see books upon books of chord and tab books.

But is that not the case with classical sheet music as well? And don’t symphony orchestras make a lifetime out of performing classical music?

Interpretation

Where symphony orchestras are concerned, it is the conductor who plays the most important role. So, although the musicians are playing the music as it was composed by the composer, there is infinite room for movement, for interpretation.

And with popular songs, some cover versions are preferred over the originals, i.e. Hurt, originally written and recorded by Trent Reznor and then recorded by Johnny Cash. The JC version is invariably the one that people have heard, and, indeed, the one that I play. Incidentally, I was into Nine Inch Nails long before I stared listening to Johnny Cash!

[Me playing Hurt]

Chops

I got my chops from learning songs that I liked. I guess that’s the route to learning any instrument: get inspired enough to want to learn to do what your favourite artists do. But where does that end? When does one stop copying and start creating? Or are copying and creating inextricably intertwined?

Teaching

I often feel so incredibly inspired that I sit down and attempt to create. I’ve done this countless times. I’ve come up with some interesting tunes, but whenever I try to put words to it, they fall apart into embarrassments. I don’t know what it is that prevents me from writing lyrics that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to share.

My autistic 6-year-old son is heavily into a computer game called [Everybody Edits]:(5). He gets excited and shouts me through to hear his ‘new songs’. What he’s done is create music using some sort of building blocks based on well-known classical tunes. At least as far as I can gather. He was raised on the Baby Einstein classical music videos and recognises a lot of it now. It’s his favourite kind of music to listen to as well.

We’re home-schooling him now and it is my plan to teach him Garage Band on the iPad to see what kind of things he can come up with. I want to encourage his creativity before it gets stifled. I don’t think he’ll have the patience for much else. He much prefers doing something, so having him listen to music and explain to him won’t be possible right now.

I’m sure this will be and interesting a project to me as it is to him.

Recording Gear

My recording studio is PC based. The components were specially chosen to make as silent a system as I could.

The equipment is as follows:

Computer

  • AMD64 3500+ Winchester
  • Asus A8N SLI Premium Motherboard
  • Antec SLK3000B
  • AcoustiPack BQE3700 Kit
  • Nexus NX4090 Ultra Quiet PSU
  • Mushkin XP4000 (DDR500) RAM (991482) 2 x 1GB
  • nVidia GeForce 6600
  • 3 x Nexus 120mm Case Fans
  • Scythe Ninja cooler

AV gear

  • RME Hammerfall HDSP9632 soundcard
  • MindPrint Di-Port (2 x preamps, DA<>AD converter)
  • StudioProjects B3 LD condenser microphone
  • 2 Marshall MXL 603S SD condenser microphones
  • Adobe Audition 2
  • Sony TRV22 miniDV cam

I basically went for gear that will do me for many years to come without needing much in the way of upgrades. For those looking for help in setting up a digital audio workstation, I’d recommend the forums at homerecording.com and silentpcreview.com

Guild DV4

Guild DV4

This is the first guitar I’ve bought on eBay and I’m pleased to say it went as smoothly as could be hoped. I was the only bidder, I guess as Guild guitars are more expensive in Europe and perhaps not so desirable. Anyhow, I’m really pleased with it and feel I got quite a bargain. The guitar has a spruce top with solid mahogany back and sides and a hand-rubbed (i.e. matte) finish. It’s brand new and without a ding or scratch anywhere. Of course as it’s new it hasn’t started to open up yet, so I’m expecting great things from it. The reason for buying this was so that I’d have a nice, trustworthy solid-wood guitar for busking and travelling; something plain and simple, but loud enough to be heard out on the streets. And d’you know, I think that’s exactly what I’ve got!! It came with an original hardshell case so this will be my guitar for jamming with my mate back home in Scotland. — he also has a Guild, a DV6 which I believe is a more deluxe version of my DV4.


Recordings

Here are some recordings I’ve done on this guitar. I record using condenser microphones. Here’s a page showing the gear I used: Recording Gear

Islay Ranters Reel

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Trainstop Blues

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Lola, the Kinks

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Quicksand, David Bowie

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Gallery

Brook Tamar Baritone

Brook Tamar Baritone: European spruce top, English walnut back and sides. Gold Schaeller tuners; bound fretboard and headstock. Scale length: 690mm (27 inches).

Recordings

Here are some recordings I’ve done on this guitar. I record using condenser microphones. Here’s a page showing the gear I used: Recording Gear

Messing around in CGCFGC

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Ye Banks & Braes

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Gallery

Gibson J150

Gibson J-150

I’ve now sold this guitar but shall keep this page up for those who are interested in seeing some pictures and hearing some recordings. I sold it to make way in part for the Heiner D and Brook Tamar baritone.

Meet my Gibson J-150. I went into the shop where I bought my Lakewood for some some strings and thought I’d have a browse, as one does in a guitar shop. I saw this ugly, gaudy-looking guitar that screamed out country & western hanging on the wall and thought I’d give it a try. It took just one strum of an open E chord and I was floored. This was a J-200 and, after that chord had been strummed, its gaudy pickguard and over-the-top fretboard inlays were suddenly things of great beauty. GAS had struck! I hung it back up, palms sweaty, heart thumping and walked away. Well, who wouldn’t with a ticket price of €4,200?

But of course I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and started trying to justify it. I needed a strummer, right? Something loud and flamboyant for when I’m feeling in need of some chest-rumbling bass, right? Long story short, I bought it, got it home, and was horrified to find a crack across the bridge, right where the holes are for the bridge pins. I rushed it back to the shop and awaited the results. A week later the shop guy brought it round repaired but I’d decided that a repaired guitar just wasn’t what I was after and got myself a refund.

A month or so later I was in London for the Paul McCartney gig and popped into the Acoustic Centre near Liverpool St Station. They had a J-150 there, which is basically the same guitar as the J-200 but with fewer appointments, i.e. no binding on the neck or headstock, no rosewood seam down flamed maple back, Indian rosewood moustache bridge and fretboard rather than Honduran, but as far as I could tell, the grade of woods used is the same as on the J-200, but for a lot less lolly.

The Acoustic Centre has a pretty impressive inventory and I got to compare the J-150 with a couple of Lowden Os, a couple of Lakewood jumbos and a Martin D-28; that made me sure that the J-150 had the tone I was after and then the umming/ahhing process began. I’m pleased to report that my lovely wife told me to stop being so silly and just buy the darned thing. So I did!

Recordings

Here are some recordings I’ve done on this guitar. I record using condenser microphones. Here’s a page showing the gear I used: Recording Gear

Highway 29, Bruce Springsteen

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Trainstop Blues

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Gallery

Lakewood M14

The Lakewood M-14CP (cutaway, pickup) has a solid cedar top and mahogany back and sides. This was my first “real” guitar, bought in December 2002 after much deliberation. Much thanks is due to the generous posters on the Acoustic Guitar forum, which I stumbled upon when I knew next to nothing about acoustic guitars. The advice I got over there was sterling, and still is for that matter. Of course, the downside is the affliction affectionately known as GAS: Guitar Acquisition Syndrome, an affliction for which there is, sadly, no cure.

I’ve got to know my Lakewood pretty well now and it has inspired me more than I thought possible. It found a great partnership with Elixer Nanoweb 12s. I compared those with a set of D’Addario EXP 11 lights and would say that the D’Addarios give the guitar a more “woody” tone, but the brightness of the Elixers seems to suit the Lakewood very well. For altered tunings, I hunted for a set of GHS True Mediums to try out but couldn’t find them. I was then pointed in the direction of John Pearse’s Slack Key strings which did the trick; this package of strings is put together for altered tunings, being a mixture of lights and mediums and they work great. I was also put onto a custom set of Newtones by Rob Jessop, who favours CGDGAD for his Brook Lyn. They use a different core for the wound strings, which results in more tension. Tonally speaking, they’re similar to the Slack Keys, but, for longevity, I’d choose the Newtones every time.

I spent some time working on String Letter Publishing’s Acoustic Blues Guitar Essentials book on the Lakewood and it really suits bluesy chord progressions and boogie woogie bass lines. I recorded a song for our inspired by Freya called the Freya Shuffle; have a listen and see what you think!

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I’ve also been taking advantage of Little Brother’s resources — I got his DVD and have to say it’s pretty good! I picked up his interpretation of John Hurt’s Candyman from his site too. Nice work, Doug!

I also have a Mel Bay book of British Fingerstyle Guitar, featuring Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Davey Graham, and have been working on Bert’s Black Water Side. It’s a tricky one but it’s coming along nicely with hours and hours of practice!

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I’ve also recently got two instructional videos of Tony McManus, a Scots fingerstyle guitarist who plays celtic pipe and fiddle music on guitar. If you haven’t heard this guy, I strongly suggest that you do – unbelievable!

And my most recent discovery is El McMeen; he plays almost exclusively in CGDGAD, a tuning which seems to be what I’ve been looking for without even knowing it! I’ve had the Lakewood in that tuning for a couple of weeks now and really like the way it sounds on the Lakewood.

I’ve posted a review of this guitar over at Harmony Central under the username Cams.

Here is a high-ish res image showing the colour of the mahogany. I sat the guitar down to stop playing for a bit and the sun was coming in the window and it lit up the mahogany making it almost magical.

Click image to see bigger

Recordings

Here are some recordings I’ve done on this guitar. I record using condenser microphones. Here’s a page showing the gear I used: Recording Gear

Trainstop Blues

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Blackbird

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Ye Banks & Braes

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Hurt – Johnny Cash version

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The Queen & the Soldier

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Gallery