The highly acclaimed fingerstylist, Grammy winner and composer discusses composing, recording, and adapting to the situation.
Since Wings disbanded in 1981, Juber has simply done consistent, exemplary work that cannot be denied or ignored, earning him frequent critical acclaim and awards such as Fingerstyle Guitar magazine’s Guitarist of the Year in 2000. Even if you don’t own a single one of his CDs, you’ve probably heard his music in television shows (and a few commercials) and movie soundtracks. He released his 14th CD in October of 2009, Wooden Horses, in which he shows off his considerable chops as a composer of great solo acoustic guitar music. Like so many guitarists of our generation, your desire to play came from hearing The Beatles, and again, like so many, those musicians have had a long influence on your music.
Take me back to when you first fell in love with the guitar.
Actually, I really wanted to learn to play guitar. I had already been motivated to play guitar by The Shadows, who were the English version of the Ventures, and they did all this twangy stuff that would have been surf music if we had any surf. That was kind of the initial inspiration, and then I started playing guitar in November of ’63, and I think “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was released right around then.
How young were you when you started?
I was 11 when I got my first guitar.
Did you decide that guitar was going to be your life early on?
At that point it was really just something that I wanted to do. By the time I was 13, there was a local bandleader that started hiring me to play gigs, like weddings and stuff like that. The fact that I was actually being paid to play was kind of a revelation, because up until then earning money had meant either babysitting or washing neighbors’ cars. And then by the time I was 14 it was either working at the local supermarket on Saturdays or going out with the local Top 40 band and doing gigs during the week, and you can imagine which one I preferred. So, from the time I was about 13 I just figured that this was what I wanted to do for a living, but my ambition was to be a studio player. I was just enamored and enraptured by the guitar itself, and so I was exposing my musical self to all kinds of influences; not only the English pop/rock thing, but also jazz guitar players like Barney Kessel, Howard Roberts and Django Reinhardt. I guess right around that time the whole folk scene was happening and you were kind of obligated to learn a bunch of protest songs. I really started getting into fingerpicking at that point and learned Davy Graham’s “Anji.” But as time went by I started getting more into playing ragtime pieces, and got into the Merle Travis style. But I was also learning how to read music and studying classical guitar in high school and getting myself a sort of wellrounded guitar education.
You were doing everything you needed to do to prepare yourself to be a really great session guitarist, all on your own.
Oh yeah, it was very conscious. That’s what I wanted to do because I discovered that that was how you could make a living being a guitar player, outside of being in a band—not that I wasn’t in bands as a teenager, I was. But there was something very appealing about it as a teenager. I think part of it was because when Ilistened to records, I would deconstruct them. I was constantly figuring out what the bass part was or what the drums were doing or how the guitar parts fit together, so eventually when I did get into being a studio player I had a consciousness of how you put together parts, and how you make up your own parts, which is a real prerequisite for being a session player.
Once I got done with college and went into full-time studio work I was essentially doing three or four sessions a day, sometimes seven days a week, because at that point in the mid ‘70s there were no computers, there was no MIDI, there was nothing to substitute for real musicians, so there was just a lot of stuff. Whether it was a demo session or a jingle or a record or a TV show or a movie, there were all these different kinds of sessions that were going on. I was very lucky that I was adopted by this one particular guy: David Katz, a violinist who was one of the top contractors in London. He had seen me on TV with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and called me up the next day and wanted to start using me on sessions. And the level of musicianship that I was exposed to was really quite remarkable, because at that point the guys that were doing studio work, rhythm section players, were the same people that had been playing on the records in the ‘60s, the English pop records that I was listening to on the radio and figuring out. So it was just a really remarkable environment.
Let’s talk about composing a little bit, because you’ve done everything from jingles to segue music in TV, composing for stage and movies, and then for intimate little “you and your guitar” situations.
Photo by Hope Juber.
I’ve done Brady Bunch projects—there’s the Brady theme as a starting point, and I’ve probably arranged that theme about 15,000 times, for string quartet, orchestra, different kinds of ensembles. I love the arranging thing. I love doing the kitschier kind of things, like copy a style but inject it with humor. I enjoy doing music for comedy, which is what led me into dealing with musical theater, and that’s a whole other area, because when you write a song for the stage it’s not like you’re going to be sitting in front of an audience playing the guitar. You’re going to be handing it over to a singer who is going to be doing it with somebody else playing the accompaniment, and there’s a musical director who basically takes it out of your hands, and it then turns into something that’shopefully above and beyond what you had imagined it would be.
We need to talk about DADGAD. How did you discover it?
James Jensen at Solid Air Records encouraged me to think about doing some more open tunings stuff, figuring that since I was so comfortable in standard tuning that I would kind of thrash around in DADGAD and maybe find some different things. What he didn’t anticipate was that as soon as I started working in DADGAD I pretty much went straight for all the musical stuff that I already knew and I just adapted the fingerings: “Where are my 6ths, where are my 10ths, and where are all my familiar intervals, and how do I make this work and make the texture of this work?” And it wasn’t just DADGAD; I started off with some open G, open Gm, CGDGAD, but the one that I ended up sticking with more than anything else is DADGAD. I just found that it’s such a musical tuning, especially when you start stepping outside of D major and start playing in other keys, whether it’s G or A or B.
Or F, I love to play in F.
Oh, F is great in DADGAD! I am looking at an arrangement of “I Am the Walrus” right now that starts on a B and I’m doing that in DADGAD. The main verse is in A. A is a great key in DADGAD. To be honest, I forget that I’m in DADGAD. I’m just in another standard tuning. And having those two adjacent scale tones, so that you have the G and the A string next to each other becomes a really useful thing.
A lot of people never get out of D major. And you know that’s great, in DADGAD the D stuff is like what E is in standard tuning, and there’s certainly no shortage of E stuff in standard tuning. But it has proven itself to be extremely musical, and very often it allows me to do things ... for example, I have an arrangement of “Every Breath You Take” that’s on my last album Pop Goes Guitar, and it’s also in the book that Hal Leonard put out. In DADGAD, doing that in G I can play the riff and I can play the melody at the same time, whereas in standard tuning if you use Andy Summers’ fingering, there’s just no way that you can play the melody because it’s not accessible to you, and that’s true with a lot of stuff. DADGAD allows pop tunes to sit very soloistically in a way that standard tuning doesn’t, or you have to work a lot harder.
ut I really have enjoyed B% because then you can get an E%maj7 chord that just doesn’t exist in standard tuning, where you’re basically fingering the first fret of strings six, four and two, and if you miss out the fifth string, what you have is E%-E%-G-B%-D. And, of course, the D on top is the major 7, and that’s an open string so you get that extra sonority that comes from that. The thing I’ve really enjoyed, and I hope that when people play through my transcriptions and compositions that they are alert to all the cross-fingering, because DADGAD can let you do so many cool cross-fingerings that are just so hard to get in standard tuning, and being able to just throw an open string in there—and open string against those two adjacent scale tones on the second and third strings—it gives you all kinds of fun stuff to play with.
It’s being called “Second Standard” now.
Yeah, “The Other Standard Tuning.” I call standard “missionary tuning.”
That’s it! That’s the name! Let’s talk about the new recording; you told me a while back it was a real return for you to composing for the guitar.
What I did was just put October 2009 into my workflow and started writing. Typically, I start on something and I keep going until it’s done, and sometimes it’s done very quickly and other times it might take a long time. And one song on the album I started in standard tuning, worked on it for months, wasn’t happy with it, then one day I put it in DADGAD and it all made sense. That kind of thing happens. But I just figured that I was basically gonna have nine months—it takes nine months to make a baby and it takes nine months to make an album. I’ve done albums much quicker. My PCH album was recorded in a day, as was my Different Times album, but typically those kinds of records get made fast because they’re ensemble things and I can only afford the union scale on the rhythm section for one day [laughs]. Not to mention having to go into Capital and a decent sized room to record, whereas when I do my solo stuff I do it at home. Not exclusively, but typically.
So you’ve set up the home studio.
It’s a production facility, and on these two computers I have Logic, Pro Tools, Sibelius, Finale, things like Acrobat and all the stuff that you need in the digital world. Right now we’re just finishing up transcriptions for the new album and I’m assembling a PDF book that’s gonna go on a DVD, rather than doing a book. Books are lovely but they’re heavy and they’re expensive to produce, whereas anybody can stick a DVD in their computer and print off of a PDF file and then they have the music in their hands. But in assembling that, going from Sibelius and generating PDF files and loading that into Acrobat and assembling the book from it, I tend to be pretty hands on with this stuff.
Let’s talk about how you do your recording.
I typically like to record in Logic, only because it’s just a bit easier. The thing I like about Logic is I can have all kinds of other stuff going on at the same time and Logic doesn’t mind it. Pro Tools is a little more precious, so I have a separate computer running Pro Tools. I much prefer Pro Tools for editing, and I really enjoy editing audio. But Logic is just a little friendlier within my kind of workflow; I can just kind of zoom in and out of it. I have an Apogee Symphony card with a couple of Rosettas, and when I’m recording solo I use a pair of Schoeps CMC5s, cardioid small diaphragm condensers. I’ve had this pair of mics for about ten years and they always get the job done. I’m running them into a pairof Neve 1272s, which are the modules that don’t have any EQ on them. Typically, when I’m recording the acoustic guitar I don’t use any EQ, unless I’m doing it with another instrument. When I’m producing Al Stewart’s albums, for example, then I’ll EQ the acoustic because it’s more of a pop-rock sound. My solo acoustic stuff I don’t do any EQ’ing, and I do minimal compression, too. Basically, I’ll just do a little EQ tweak here or there when I’m in mastering.
Laurence Juber and Paul McCartney in Scotland in 1978.
Yeah, it’s a very pure sound. I’m always trying to get that feeling of the guitar player being in the room with the listener. Just enough reverb to give it some dimension, although my Guitarist album had no reverb. But I actually prefer a little bit of reverb. My room is treated so it’s a pretty focused sound. I have bass traps, so I can move the mic a little further away without hearing too much of the wrong kind of room. You want to be careful with small cardioid capsules, because if you are too close you get a lot of bass buildup, which can be very exciting, but that’s when you do need the EQ. So I’ll tend to do my EQing by moving mics around, or by changing guitars, although on the new album the only guitars used were various examples of my signature Martins, which at this point are Brazilian, Madagascar rosewood, mahogany and the new one is maple. [Go online at premierguitar. com for the review of Juber’s new Martin OMC-LJ Pro Custom Artist Edition, No.1]
What are you using for pickups?
I’m using the Wavelength [D-TAR]. We’re doing it with just the single source Wavelength. I’m not a fan of that particular dual source configuration. On stage, I have an Audix mic that we add to the D-TAR. If somebody’s going to be playing acoustic guitar plugged in, I always recommend that they use an external mic because you have a lot of control that way. And typically on stage I’ll blend the pickup and an internal mic, but I’m just as happy to use an external mic. It depends on what kind of stage I’m playing on.
What are you using on stage for your outboard gear?
Typically what I use is a Highlander, the Pro Acoustic Mix DI (PAMDI). I use that if I’m using a preamp, and in the effect loop of that I’ll run a DigiTech reverb, which I really like because it’s $150 and it has a Lexicon reverb chip in it. And I use it sparingly. If I’m playing in a 500- seat venue then the room itself has reverb, so you don’t necessarily want to be competing with the sound of the room, but I’ll use it as just a little bit of an enhancement. If I’m doing something where I need to bring my own reinforcement, I’ll bring a Bose—I have one of the first generations of the Bose thing that looks like it needs a basketball hoop stuck on it—or I have an AER Cube 60.
You mentioned to me before that you get one record done and you’re already working on a second one. So what’s going on from here forward? What’s the next record percolating in your mind?
The next record is Lennon/McCartney because my record company, Solid Air Records, asked me to do a followup, since it’s been 10 years since my LJ Plays the Beatles album came out. And there’s some other business going on as far as doing a transcription book. It’s going to be a pure Lennon/ McCartney project. And beyond that, next year is 20 years since I’ve been putting out solo albums, so I’m just kind of revisiting the early stuff, seeing if there’s anything I want to re-record—some of my early stuff that is no longer in print, and maybe that will include some more tab. We’re kind of testing the water with this idea of PDF files on a DVD because it makes some sense.
Today’s climate, and the future climate, is not good for doing physical books. You can work from a PDF and print as you need it, or even some of these [PDF reader] tablets now. It’s quite possible that you could just sit there and put your tablet up on the music stand and read PDF pages from that. And one of the greatthings about PDFs is that you can make annotations and change them later if you want to.
At this point I know you’re doing some touring with some concerts and clinics.
I’m always touring; it doesn’t tend to stop. I’m just adding new dates, and I just got a new agent so hopefully it’ll build some more.