What do you mean by
There’s a certain edge to it
that kind of reminds you of
distortion. If you play with
that threshold, I think it’s really
another means of expression.
With the newer designs, my
fingers can’t really get to that
threshold. This guitar sounds
beautiful in a concert hall—it
sounds powerful and the vibrato
is just incredible. There is a
ton of volume, but it can also
sound really soft and delicate.
What type of strings do
I am weird with strings. I
use three different brands at
the same time. The lowest
three strings are High Tension
Hannabach 728s. They’re
really powerful, handwound
strings—like a Savarez bass
string, but a little less scratchy.
They aren’t so live that I get
a lot of noise out of them. I
use Normal Tension Savarez
KF Alliance carbon strings for
the 2nd and 3rd strings. The
transition from the bass to the
wound 3rd string is tricky—it
doesn’t flow really well—so
the carbon evens it out a little.
On the 1st string, I use a traditional
nylon High Tension
Nail length and shape are big
topics among classical guitarists.
How do you feel they
affect your tone?
I have slightly longer nails than
most classical guitarists. I don’t
know if it comes from playing
all the fast stuff, but I feel
more secure with longer nails.
Also, I play a little more across
the strings than most players do.
There is a slightly larger angle
between my nails and the strings
that produces a darker sound.
My wrist position looks normal,
but the way my nails grow a little
bent produces that angle rather
than coming straight across the
string. So the longer nails get
that bright sound back, instead
of that mushy, dark sound you
get from the parallel approach.
Whose tone really inspires you?
I have probably four guitarists
right now that are most inspiring
to me. If you are talking
tone, I don’t think it gets better
than David Russell. The guy has
the fattest tone in the business,
and he is so consistent and such
an expressive player. Two other
guys—Álvaro Pierri and Aniello
Desiderio—are on a whole
different level than anyone
else right now. Sergio Assad is
another of my biggest influences.
He is probably the best living
composer for the guitar—and
the Assad Duo is just dynamite
every time you see them.
You took a real DIY-approach
to this album.
I’ve always been a DIY-type guy.
From how to choose your equipment
to positioning the mics,
picking what room to record in,
and the editing and mastering
process, it was difficult—because
I never had any formal training
in recording. I wish I did,
because I think with a very basic
amount of information I could
have recorded a lot faster.
What did you learn during the
|Palmer’s right-hand technique is
rooted in the classical tradition,
but when playing at faster tempos,
he moves to an a-m-i method.
First and foremost, the room
is so important. This is a really
touchy subject for me, because
this recording was done in a really
dry room. I felt that would get
a cleaner sound. The drawback is
that recording in a dry room isn’t
very inspirational. A dry room
can often lead to dry playing. I
had to dig deep to get a—hopefully—
Next time, I want to experiment
with recording on location.
I will still have mics close to
the guitar—unless I find some
incredible hall or church that has
amazing natural reverb—but the
mics I have are directional, so
they are really more for picking
up the sound of the guitar itself.
What mics did you use?
I used a stereo pair of Neumann
KM 184s about a foot away
from the guitar. Having them
that close brings up problems,
though. You can hear the fret and
nail noise, so sometimes I had
to play more carefully—which I
don’t like to do. I don’t consider
myself a careful player. If there
was a little noise but I thought
the phrasing was good, I would
leave it. I appreciate that when I
listen to other recordings. If it’s
not overly produced it can be a
little raw, and I like that. When
you play guitar, there are noises
that will just naturally arise.
How do you see the art of
classical guitar progressing?
I feel fortunate that we are living
in a time when some really great
guitarists/composers aren’t trying
to write like the great pianists
from the 19th century. They
know how the guitar works and
they are using that to create the
harmony, rather than trying to
make [another composer’s] harmony
work on the guitar. People
like Sergio Assad come to mind.
He knows the guitar so well and
has such a varied background
with Brazilian, jazz, and classical
music. We are really getting some
great music for classical guitar.
Are you drawn to modern
classical-guitar music more
than traditional material?
I think modern music is superior
in many ways. For example,
you have Rak using all these
technical innovations and coming
up with cool textures that
have never been heard before.
Composers are using the guitar
as a tool to get their voice out
rather than trying to stick with
a style of music that people will
think of as “classical.” There are
so many innovations with the
actual construction of the guitar,
as well. They’re making them
a lot louder, and the increased
volume makes it more suitable
as a chamber instrument than
ever before. It will be interesting
to see what kind of instrumental
combinations will develop just
due to the technical and structural
innovations of the guitar itself.
Do you plan on returning to
the electric guitar?
I have always said I would go
back to the electric guitar one
day and bring my knowledge
of the fretboard and harmony. I
probably won’t do that.
Palmer’s Brian Dunn (left) and Kolya Panhuyzen guitars.
Matt Palmer's Gearbox
650mm-scale 2005 Kolya Panhuyzen
(spruce top, Brazilian rosewood back
and sides, Spanish cedar neck) with
elevated fretboard and Rodgers tuning
machines, 650mm-scale 2010 Brian
Dunn (spruce top, Indian rosewood
back and sides) with elevated fretboard
and Rodgers tuning machines
High Tension Hannabach 728 (6th,
5th, and 4th strings), Normal Tension
Savarez KF Alliance Carbon (2nd and
3rd strings), High Tension Augustine
Regal (1st string)
Neumann KM 184 compact miniature
cardioids (stereo set)