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Two Extraordinary Lowdens
Pierre Bensusan is a virtual guitar monogamist. Sure, he played a Gurian at the very beginning of his career, and for a few years he played a signature model Kevin Ryan guitar. But for most of his career, he’s been a Lowden man.
Bensusan first fell in love with Northern Irish luthier George Lowden’s work in 1978, when he acquired an S22 (equivalent to today’s O-22 model). Featuring a cedar top and mahogany back and sides, the guitar was originally a non-cutaway model. Rather than replace it with a new guitar when he felt that a cutaway was necessary, Bensusan had Lowden modify it in 1989, and also had the fretboard and string spacing widened. For 25 years “Old Lady” was the only guitar Bensusan played. He still pulls it out of semi-retirement from time to time.
In 2009, Lowden and Bensusan began work on a signature model. To the surprise of some fans, the result wasn’t a copy of Old Lady, but an updated guitar. Using the company’s midsize F-model body, the guitar is built with an Adirondack spruce top and Honduras rosewood back and sides. It also has a bevel on the bass side of the lower bout, a maple neck with a nut-width of 1.77", and fairly wide string spacing of 2.36" at the saddle. An unusual but very cool feature is the neck shape, available on other Lowdens as a “fingerstyle” option: It flares out slightly more than standard, providing a bit more width in the upper positions, which makes it less likely to slip off the fretboard when playing vibrato on the outside strings. The guitar’s list price is $8,765.
Bensusan and Lowden are now working on a 40th-anniversary signature model: a faithful recreation of Old Lady. Due in 2014, the guitar will have Lowden’s original jumbo body (slightly deeper than the current O-shape, and with a more pronounced taper between the neck block and the neck joint), older-style parabolic bracing, and an optional bevel.
How does it differ from your signature model?
It’s richer. You can’t invent 35 years of life in a guitar. Even if today the high harmonics have less sustain, they are still very present. In fact, I like less sustain, because sometimes it’s overwhelming, and it’s hard work to tailor that sustain so that it’s not in the way of the musical conversation. But the new guitar is a very special instrument. It’s three-dimensional. It has depth, horizontality, sustain, a lot of harmonics, and a lot of sound. The relationship between a note and the history of the note is extremely vivid on those two guitars. It’s a bit like the taste of a great wine. There’s the first taste, and then the whole history of the taste after the first drop. Both guitars have that quality, which is what defines a great instrument.
What can you tell us about your amplification setup?
First of all, the pickup is very important. I use the Highlander. From there I go into a Line 6 wireless preamp, an Ernie Ball volume pedal, and a Roland RC-50 looper. From there it goes into Universal Audio Apollo Duo hardware, and then into a MacBook Pro. I’m very happy with that setup. I can now do my stage monitor sound on my own. I can even do my front-of-house!
And your guitar and vocal mics also go through the MacBook Pro?
Yes, and all the effects—reverb, limiter, expansion, EQ—are there. I can even record the show.
Why a volume pedal?
It’s very convenient, because when I tune, I cut the sound. I also use it to shape the note attack for a bowing effect.
What are you using an iPad for onstage?
For walk-in music. I also use it for my song lyrics, and I have a little Bluetooth foot controller that turns the pages.
I’m going to be doing a lot of touring from January until the end of July. Until then, I’ll stay home, work on some new pieces, revise my old pieces, work on my improvisation, and catch my breath a bit. I’m doing my album release shows in Paris, and I’ll be in the States from March until May. It’s going to be a driving tour with my new van!