acoustic currents

Meet Susan Weinert, a jazz guitarist who blends nylon string guitars and MIDI technology

Susan Weinert

In 2001, I met an incredible fingerstyle guitarist named Ian Melrose at a Folk Alliance Music conference taking place in Vancouver, Canada. Ian took my CD back to his home in Germany (though he is originally from Scotland) and a few months later I got an email inviting me to do a 10 day tour in Germany. Since 2002, I've been going two or three times each year for 10-14 day tours throughout the country. I've also played in Italy, the UK, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Austria.

There's an incredibly vibrant guitar scene in Europe, and in fact there are many American players who've transplanted themselves in Germany because of it. It seems the audiences are excited about coming out to hear new music, new musicians—even if they don’t know you or aren’t familiar with your style of music. I’ve played in bars, culture centers, and festivals, and along the way I’ve met an array of extraordinary acoustic guitarists and musicians. Susan Weinert is one of them. What touched me most when I first heard her play at Peter Coura's small, smokey guitar shop in Frankfurt, was the heart and soul that came through her hands. Colors, textures and emotions melted out of the guitar—sometimes in a rapid fire of single notes, other times as thick, rich, rhythmic chords, all of it seemingly without any effort and in perfect time. I knew then and there that I wanted to play with her.

Susan Weinert is a jazz guitarist. Her first guitar at age seven was a nylon string, which didn't quite fit her body size and small hands. The Classical repertoire didn't quite touch her heart, either, and after three years she put it down. Two years later she got a steel string guitar and found the right teacher. After hearing her play, he told her she needed an electric guitar and she managed to get one from her father as an Easter present. Together, with her teacher and her Gibson ES-335, she began the study of jazz. Growing up in a town with a great music scene, Weinert was able to build her chops not only by practicing, but by playing with other musicians, and eventually by writing her own music and performing locally with her own band.

In 2000, she returned to the nylon string guitar, seeking its warmth and intimacy—but this time playing her own jazz compositions. Peter Coura, who has built her five electric solid body guitars, sent her to Albert & Mueller, a German guitar builder, and together they designed her guitar. It's a smaller body, not as deep and with a smaller neck profile. The frets are not as far apart as on a typical classical guitar—which suits Weinert’s Alan Holdsworth-style of covering six or seven frets at a time. It's also a cutaway, since Weinert's jazz chops take her all the way up and down the neck.

Now—it's already a bit unusual to play jazz on a nylon string guitar, but Weinert's acoustic setup gets even more interesting. Used to using synth sounds with her electric guitar, she wanted to have that option with the nylon string. It would give her a larger palette of tones to draw from. She chose the RMC Acoustic Gold system which is a 13-pin hexaphonic (separate output for each string) piezo pickup, with a Roland VG-8 Module for her synth sounds. Through the use of a Rocktron MIDI Mate foot controller and volume pedals, she can create any blend of synth and acoustic sounds that she wants. I've had the honor of hearing in her acoustic duo featuring her husband, Martin Weinert on upright bass. She may use 100% synth sounds for certain melodic phrases, but she never over-uses the synth effect. A lot of times she'll bring in a really warm, string-like pad along with the nylon string to add elements of space and texture. I've also been lucky enough to have her play with me on my CD, UnCovered. It's a collection of cover tunes, and we picked Sting's “Fragile” to really feature Weinert's nylon sound—but what she added with the synth sounds truly took the song to a new place. No matter what the blend is, Weinert is always true to the music.

Her advice to young players: “Learn how to play your instrument—take it seriously! Practice every day, but always make it musical. Engage your creativity at all times, be open to playing with others and focus on making the music work, not showing off what you can do.”

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