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What do you mean by “break up”?
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 you use?
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 Augustine Regal.
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 recording process?
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)