Monday, May 16, 2011

PRS Tony McManus Private Stock Review

"At a Glance
The Specs:
Solid European spruce top. Solid cocobolo back and sides. Mahogany neck. Ebony fingerboard and bridge. Dovetail neck-joint. Hybrid scalloped-X and fan bracing. 25.25-inch scale. 13/4-inch nut width. 27/32-inch string spacing at saddle. Nitrocellulose finish. Keith Robson tuners. PRS pickup system. D’Addario light-gauge strings. Made in USA.

This Is Cool:
Amazing sustain. Great dynamic range.

Watch For:
No adjustable truss rod. Pickup may require EQ.

$10,500 list.

Paul Reed Smith Guitars: (410) 643-9970;"

Cultural alliance presents Sarah McQuaid in concert

"CHINCOTEAGUE -- The Chincoteague Cultural Alliance presents Sarah McQuaid in concert at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, in the Senior Center located on Church Street.

Renowned for her warm, engaging stage presence, McQuaid is a versatile and beguiling performer. In addition to her own elegantly crafted originals, she interprets traditional Irish and Appalachian folk songs, Elizabethan ballads, 1930s jazz numbers, surprise covers and lively guitar instrumentals with panache and poignancy.

Her earthy voice delivers a powerful emotional punch that's matched by her distinctive, eloquent guitar style. Add this to a real rapport with her audience, and you have all the ingredients of a great night out."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Mystical Musical Secrets of Robert Johnson

If timelessness is the mark of true musical greatness, then Robert Johnson deserves to be canonized on the same level as Bach and Beethoven. His popularity has continued to grow since his death in 1938, as evidenced by the continuous stream of Johnson reissues and tribute albums, and the festivals and symposia organized to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth this May 8.

Over the decades, the Mississippi guitar innovator’s music has been covered and coveted by a huge range of artists: Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Big Head Todd, Rory Block, Led Zeppelin, Juliana Hatfield, Peter Green and the Rolling Stones among them. And the latest and best reissue package of Johnson’s own 41 recorded versions of 29 songs — all he left behind besides a few suits and his Gibson L-1 acoustic guitar — has just been released by Sony’s Legacy label. Robert Johnson: The Centennial Collection includes those tracks, superbly mastered, plus two perspective-granting discs of his contemporaries ranging from Sleepy John Estes to the Light Crust Doughboys. It also includes the DVD biography of Johnson and his work; Can’t You Hear The Wind Howl?

There’s still much speculation about how Johnson became the Delta’s undisputed master of guitar. All that’s known is he left the region as a fumble fingered youth and came back so cutting that he literally frightened Muddy Waters when Waters encountered him performing on a street corner. All the junk about selling his soul to the Devil aside, it stands to reason that Johnson achieved his status through a mix of innate talent, instruction and practice. And that’s still what it takes to play like Robert Johnson. That and some soul.

Assuming you’ve got the ability and the feeling, here are a few tips you might consider when approaching the technical aspects. First, if you don’t fingerpick, learn. That is the only way to play Mississippi Delta or hill country blues in an unimpaired manner and with the proper tone, which is a combination of meat and dynamics.

Another is to work with open tunings. Johnson may have used as many as 17. Eyewitnesses weren’t so adept at sussing out how he tweaked his strings, and the details in his recordings will always be the victims of the primitive technology and the scratchy, distorted quality of the shellac discs it yielded for the market.

But listening to the sides Johnson cut in San Antonio and Dallas in 1936 and 1937, it is clear he was playing in keys apart from those to which he was often open tuned, violating common Delta blues practice. To approach his sound, it’s good to start with an even-toned and well-balanced acoustic guitar, like the Gibson L-1 that he was famously photographed with. That guitar sold at auction in 2006 for a cool $6-million, which makes the Robert Johnson L-1 hand built today by Gibson’s acoustic luthiers in Bozeman, Montana, a relative bargain.

The Mystical Musical Secrets of Robert Johnson