After conquering Guitar Hero II, she's reimagining acoustic guitar with two-hand lap tapping, percussive flourishes, and washing it all through reverb and modulation.
Yasmin Williams' gateway drug to guitar was a video game. After defeating Guitar Hero II (on expert, no less), her parents encouraged the budding interest by giving Yasmin an electric.
"I guess they were impressed that I beat the game," admits Williams. "They got me an electric first and so I learned Hendrix and Nirvana songs. I really wanted to be a metal-head shredder like Paul Gilbert and Steve Vai … that didn't work out [laughs], so I switched to acoustic because I could lay the guitar across my lap and tap on the neck much like playing the harder, faster songs on Guitar Hero."
In addition to playing the acoustic guitar (in traditional and non-traditional styles), Williams sprinkles in toe-tapping percussion (yes, she wears tap shoes that dance on a board that rest on her guitar's case), cello-bow drones, metallic-hammer touches, and even dabbles in traditional African instruments like the kalimba and kora.
She's joined the venerable instrumental label Spinster (women-run label), shared the stage with fingerstyle icon Kaki King, and aims to continue expressing herself through the guitar with any means necessary.
She's been playing for over 10 years and released two buoyant, joyful instrumental records—2018's Unwind and 2021's Urban Driftwood. Her most recent collection of songs was an empathetic and uplifting response to U.S.'s social unrest in 2020.
Just after putting out her latest album, the one-woman ensemble virtually welcomed PG's Chris Kies into her D.C.-based rehearsal studio.
In this episode, the unconventionally great guitarist shows off her main instruments, illustrates how she expands the acoustic guitar's possibilities (incorporating two-hand lap tapping, an Engle hammer, and a cello bow), and gets wild and weird with a pair of digital dreamers—a Strymon BigSky and Hologram Electronics Microcosm.
[ Brought to you by: D'Addario Pro Plus Capo]
Skytop Grand Concert Multi-Scale Acoustic
Above is Williams' mainstay acoustic—a multi-scale Skytop Grand Concert model handbuilt by luthier Eric Weigeshoff. No, your eyes aren't deceiving you, the teredo Sitka spruce top does have holes in it. Before coming to Weigeshoff's New York-based shop, the sourced Sitka was used in the PNW to line around rafts accessing the Puget Sound. The teredo worms chew through the logs, boring out unique patterns and grooves. The use of the holed tonewood enhances Williams' percussive playing style. In addition to the teredo holes on top, Weigeshoff put in two of his signature side soundholes that create a stereo effect allowing her to hear herself better onstage.
Her No. 1 came loaded with James May Engineering Ultra Tonic V3 pickups. The Skytop takes GHS Silk and Steel (.011–.048) strings, she goes with a Black Mountain thumbpicks, sometimes strikes the strings with an Engle Guitar Hammer, and exclusively uses Shubb Capos. The guitar will be in all sorts of tunings, but most often it rides in open D ("because things just sound beautiful and light").
Here's the reverse side of Yasmin's Grand Concert with its stunning spalted tamarind used for the sides and back.
Timberline Guitars T60HGHpc
"I never thought I'd get a harp guitar," admits Williams. "It just looks like too much is going on [laughs]." However, when she was introduced to this parlor-sized Timberline Guitars T60HGHpc during NAMM 2020, the idea of a harp guitar was more in her grasp.
Its top, back, and sides are made from solid acacia, while the mahogany neck is paired with a Macassar ebony fretboard. Tamarind is used for the comfort arm bevel and it's also used as binding to contrast against the acacia body.
The double-neck harp is outfitted with a dual-output system that uses a pair of 3-element contact K&K Sound Pure Mini pickups.
And the upper sub-bass strings are typically tuned to a g scale.
Another instrument Williams will pluck on is this 21-string Kora. The instrument is native to West Africa and was developed in the 16th century.
Hugh Tracey Kalimba
As a child, Yasmin loved Earth, Wind & Fire's hit "Kalimba Story" (off Open Our Eyes) and it inspired her to add it to her onstage repertoire. In practice, Williams will rest this Hugh Tracey Kalimba on her acoustic's top (behind the bridge) and tap out melodies on the guitar's neck with her left hand and hit the kalimba with her right. (A great example of her dexterity is the song "Guitka" that closes out her debut album, Unwind.)
Since finding her footing with the acoustic guitar, Yasmin has been slowly filling her Holeyboard stomp station. (She's a big fan of the Holeyboard because she can test out new pedals without the long-term commitment of Velcro and its residual gooeyness.)
Her pedals (going from utilitarian to oddball) include a TC Electronic PolyTune 3 and Loop Community Looptimus (not pictured). Then we have the Audio Sprockets Tone Dexter that allows her to map her recorded guitar tone and blend that with her soundboard pickup almost giving her acoustic a 3-D sound. Next she has the Pigtronix Infinity Looper, a Strymon BigSky, and the zany Hologram Electronics Microcosm.