Over the last couple of years, I’ve been playing far more acoustic guitar than electric – and really enjoying it. A Mini Taylor GS came into my life, and after a suggestion from my foresighted producer Jez Coad, I’ve largely abandoned the use of a guitar pick for solo acoustic gigging. I’ve even bought an acoustic guitar amp – albeit Mesa Boogie’s very recent addition to their full-on electric guitar amp catalogue.
But isn’t Linden Tree is a rock band I hear you ask? Our records sound more along the lines of Nick Cave than Nick Drake? So why all this acoustic guitar?
All true – nevertheless I’m a songwriter first and foremost. Although I have done most of my playing in rock bands, I write songs. If the song works, it doesn’t matter how it’s played – by rock bands, folk bands, ska bands, big bands – any sort of band. It’s all the same if the song works. In fact, one of our songs “Smoke Ascending” emerged from the recording process with a strong reggae chorus – which we’ve now dialed back, although having told you this, you’ll still be able to hear it.
Secondly, having written then recorded all my songs in acoustic solo “mode”, I love playing them with just acoustic guitar. It has a simple richness that allows it to be a lone instrument, plus depending on how you play it, a drum-like effect. Like little loaves of homemade bread fresh from the oven – as opposed to the main course from a five-star chef.
So for all my songs, the drums, bass and guitar are the first things we record – playing together, live. I sing a guide vocal to keep it all together, but as I’m focusing on playing guitar, this is usually recorded again afterward. On the other hand, as with for example a track we’re still working on called “On My Radio”, my guide vocal worked, so that’s what will be on the record.
But the next track we record is always acoustic guitar. If you listen carefully (headphones are best for this), you’ll hear it underneath everything else. For this I play with a pick, to accentuate the drum-like effect, keeping totally in with the drums and bass, relentlessly on the beat. It may get dialled back a bit in the mix, or overlaid with other guitar parts, but it’s always there pulling the other instruments together and driving the song along.
When playing solo, I have to include bass and other guitar lines in my acoustic accompaniment. Jez Coad’s advice to play with fingers and not a pick gives this a much greater variety of sounds, which I think an audience listening to an hour’s worth of music deserves!!
As an electric guitarist, I use a lot of guitar effects. So I am considering their use for my solo acoustic shows. But I have to say this is going to be minimal – simply because acoustic guitar sounds so good just on its own. The variations will have to come from the music – which is how it should be.