About Me

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Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

One More String

After saving my pennies, I bought a 7-string guitar. At $800, the Ibanez Artcore isn't exactly cheap, but it's the closest thing to an entry level price I could find for a 7-string archtop. It's a beautiful looking guitar. I prefer the tone of my Heritage 575, but still, this Ibanez has a pretty sound.

So why spring for a 7-string guitar when I haven't come close to mastering six strings? I've been fascinated by jazz guitarists who play 7-string instruments. In particular, I've been watching videos of Bucky Pizzarelli, Howard Alden, and Charlie Hunter. You can do a lot with a guitar, but if you are playing solo, or if the guitar is the only accompanying instrument, I find that even the best players lack a certain depth of sound. The extra string adds that depth.

The 7th string adds a bass note below the low E string. From what I understand, guitarists will either tune it to a low B or A. Like most jazz 7-string players, I've tuned mine to an A. Any note that I play on the 5th string can be played an octave below on the 7th string. I discovered right away that this adds a lot of body to chords with 5th string roots.

With the 7th string tuned an octave below the 5th string, I find the new landscape easy to understand intellectually. Physically, it's going to take a lot of adjustment. The guitar is tuned the same way with just one more string added. How tricky can that be? Plenty tricky! I'm so used to navigating from the 6th string, that I constantly find myself playing on the wrong group of strings. On the other hand, I find that the extra string doesn't affect my single note playing all that much, probably because I play most of my single note lines on strings 1 through 4.

This is not an instrument I would use while playing with a bassist. I'll continue playing my Heritage in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra and my church band. When I begin to feel comfortable with the Ibanez, I'll use it for Godfrey and Guy and solo playing.

The only way I'm going to learn to play this instrument is to simply play it as often as possible (which is obvious – this isn't rocket science). I spent quite a bit of time with the Ibanez today, mostly experimenting with different chord voicings. I'll also explore the 7th string in a more methodical way. I learned basic jazz guitar chord forms from the Mel Bay Rhythm Guitar Chord System. I've already taken myself through the book three times. I guess it's time to play through it a fourth time, adapting the chord forms for seven strings. I'll bring the Ibanez to my next lesson, too. Although he doesn't play a 7-string guitar himself, my teacher may have some suggestions for getting to know the Ibanez.

I already knew it would be challenging to learn the 7-string guitar, but all I had to do was play an "A" chord, and I was hooked. Even with the little experimenting I've done, I find that I love the depth of sound that the extra bass string offers. I'm looking forward to exploring and discovering new sounds and possibilities.

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