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I see that you have beautiful fingernails. I’m always fascinated by what the process is for nails. As you know, acoustic guitarists are obsessed with their fingernails.
And other stuff, too. [Laughs]
Would you mind if we take a picture of your nails? Because they are really exceptional.
Of course. This is only my third or fourth concert of this tour, so they’re still really new. Maybe in two weeks will be different. I use acrylic nails. Basically, the powder is mixed with some kind of glue, and then this combination becomes hard and they last about a month, sometimes five weeks. As the natural nail grows, the acrylic nail goes up, so I have to file them every two or three days to keep the right length. It’s a process. I just go to nail salons.
Since I started playing nylon string guitar, I like to use my bare thumb versus using the thumb pick because I like the sound of the flesh of the thumb over the nylon string. It’s kind of a sweet sound. When I play steel string, I use the thumb pick.
You use AER amps, which are just about as transparent as you can get. You don’t hear anything except guitar. Have you ever gone the opposite direction and decided to take a delay or a lot of other different sounds and tried to make something completely wacky?
Very much so, yes! I also use a Godin Multiac Synthesizer guitar from time to time. I did a tour three years ago with an electric guitarist, Stef Burns. He plays with Huey Lewis and the News, and we have this quartet: acoustic, electric, bass and drums. With them I use the Synth Multiac Jazz model, for jazz. I like that dimension, it really gives you ideas, just by listening to the sounds. I also work with the World Guitar Ensemble, now called United Guitar Ensemble, in Europe. They play classical music, but also avant-garde classical music, so with them I use the synth as well. We actually recorded Concierto de Aranjuez, just the very fast adagio by [Joaquin] Rodrigo. In this ensemble there’s nine guitars counting me, and I played the synthesizer with a pad of strings, and the other guitarists played the melodies, and it came out really nice. That CD is Crossing Borders by the World Guitar Ensemble, and in that CD I used a Roland GR-33 and the Jazz Multiac synth. That ensemble is no longer in existence.
Hammer-ons, pull-offs, tapping, smacking the guitar around—where else can we go? What is going to happen next?
Well, I think that really the guitar has come so far since I started playing in 1970, when Leo Kottke was the guitar hero of a lot of us because of his technique, and now you know the young players which I like, such as Andy McKee or Antoine Dufour, these people are using a lot of percussion. I think that every year there’s something new, so I’m not surprised if from a technical standpoint there’s something new on the acoustic guitar. I hear people playing all kinds of effects and percussion, and it seems to me that they’re using the guitar more as a drum than a melodic, harmonic instrument, which is okay for me to listen to for about ten minutes, and then after that, it’s a little boring. But there are people able to do both, and that’s when it becomes interesting. Tuck Andress—his playing is very percussive, but you hear everything. That to me is interesting because there’s intelligence behind the chord progression choice that he makes. Also, Martin Taylor is a percussive player, but you hear intelligent, sophisticated chord progressions and melodies. Sometimes I go on YouTube because people say, “You should check this guy out!” I go, and my interest goes away fast if I don’t hear melodies or chord progressions that are interesting.
Seagull Peppino D’Agostino Artist
Signature Series Godin SA Grand Concert
Godin Multiac Nylon
Dunlop Strings, Phosphor Bronze Light
LIVE: Compact 60 AER Amp
L.R. Baggs Para DI
STUDIO: Pendulum Preamp
Built in effects on AER Amp
On Stage: Boss tuner
Recently, composing. I’m composing again after long hiatus. When I was younger, I thought everything was a cool composition, and now I listen to that stuff and I’m a little bit sad with myself. But now because I know more it’s challenging, and I like the challenge of sitting down and coming up with something that’s interesting and moves me—not only from an emotional standpoint but from a cerebral standpoint. For me, the highest level is a combination of both—something that has an emotional context that’s also interesting from a progression standpoint. Composing is a challenge and it doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to force myself. I know that after six hours of sitting down, I come up with maybe 30 seconds of music that I like, and that’s very rewarding. Maybe other people won’t like it, but when I listen to those 30 seconds and I’m happy, I feel good and I feel like I’ve been productive.
But the performing part I love to do still after so many years, because every night is different.