Whether played fingerstyle or with a pick, strung
with nylon or steel strings, tuned to standard or non-standard pitches,
and played conventionally or otherwise—the acoustic guitar has probably
never been more popular, and superb acoustic guitarists more
plentiful. Consider the YouTube phenomena—where Andy McKee
(featured in the April 2009 issue of GP) alone has racked up more
than 100 million views, with scores of others not far behind—and
the enthusiasm for acoustic-wielding folk, rock, country, blues, bluegrass,
Brazilian, Latin, and Gypsy jazz players worldwide. Even some
classical players boast hit records.
|Sergio Altamura playing prepared
guitar with a cello bow.
Here, we present a sampling of four outstanding acoustic guitarists
with very different approaches, some of whom may be new to
you. We’ve also included a list of six Google-worthy players that we
strongly encourage you to check out. Hopefully, you will dig what
they are doing as much as we do.
Italian guitarist Sergio Altamura occupies
a unique aesthetic space: one that encompasses
deft use of sound-altering objects
and devices, skilled looping, and ingenious
playing techniques—including the masterful
integration of a cello bow. Altamura
draws inspiration from a range of artists
spanning Brian Eno and Fred Frith to Jimi
Hendrix and Jimmy Page—with Michael
Hedges and Steve Tibbetts being his most
significant acoustic guitar influences. He
is also a member of Guitar Republic, an
intriguing trio with Pino Forastiere and
What are your primary guitars and how do you
I play a Martin D-28 and an old Lowden
S22-12 12-string. Both guitars are amplified
using a Sunrise magnetic pickup combined
with an L.R. Baggs Dual Source internal
microphone and piezo pickup system.
That allows me to amplify every part of the
instrument. The pickups capture the sound
of the strings, while the condenser mic captures
the sound of the body, which I use as
a percussion instrument. There are separate
outputs for the two systems.
Where do the signals go from there?
The Sunrise and Baggs go into the Microphone
and Instrument inputs on my Boss
RC-20 Loop Station. I also use a Lexicon
LXP-1 Reverb. When I play with a bow, I
run the signal from the Baggs through an
MXR 10-band EQ to remove harshness, and
sometimes also through a Boss DD-6 Digital
Delay. When I’m performing for a large
audience, or recording, I use a Boss RC-50
instead of the RC-20, because it records at
44.1kHz, and has three tracks with separate
outputs, so loops can be panned and
Describe your right-hand techniques.
I use classical technique with a thumbpick
when playing fingerstyle, but for other
songs, mostly with Guitar Republic, I use
a pick. I also play with a cello bow, using
classical technique—where your hand faces
down—and Vihuela technique—where your
hand faces up. My right-hand percussive
techniques are inspired by Mediterranean
frame drum players, and allow me to play
complex rhythm patterns while still having
my left hand free to tap strings.
Do you play in non-standard tunings?
Yes. The most common ones are C,
G, D, G, B, E and D, Bb, D, G, A, E [low
to high], but for some songs with Guitar
Republic I tune all of the strings to F#. My
12-string is typically tuned C, F, Bb, Eb,
G, C, but sometimes I tune it to Bb, F, Bb,
Eb, F, Bb, which is like DADGAD, but two
Describe some of your devices and extended
Besides the Ebow, I use screws and
bolts to pull out incredible low frequency
sounds, and CDs, phone cards, and paper
scraps when creating percussive sounds. I
also use a computer fan with a small wire
attached to one of its blades that makes a
fantastic sound when it hits the strings. And
when playing with the cello bow I place a
homemade bridge under the strings, which
raises them to a more comfortable position,
though it also alters the fret reference so
it’s more like playing a fretless.
What is the future of acoustic guitar?
Nowadays there are many incredibly talented
acoustic guitarists, but not as many
incredible composers for acoustic guitar.
The future is in the hands of those who will
bend the instrument to serve the composition,
rather than the other way around—
a great example of which was Michael
When the Acoustic Masters tour hit San
Francisco’s historic Great American Music
Hall, the first player made a lasting impression
on everyone in attendance. Canadian
virtuoso Antoine Dufour sat on a stool playing
a Beauregard OM mounted on an Ergo-
Play Professional support, as Leviathan lows
and sparkling harmonics reverberated gloriously
off the decorative walls. Supporting
his latest release, Sound Pictures [CandyRat],
Dufour dazzled the capacity crowd with spider-
like fingerstyle moves, adept thumbpicking,
and gargantuan grooves rendered
with body slaps, finger whacks, and fretboard
taps. Afterward, zealots patiently
waited to pick the accomplished acoustic
Why do you favor a cedar top compared to more
common soundboard woods such as spruce?
Cedar sounds thicker and more complete
with more sustain and overtones compared
to the clean, clear sound of spruce. I prefer
a textured, blended sound. My builder,
Mario Beauregard, had me knock on pieces
of both woods, and from that alone I could
hear qualitative differences that reflect in
the sound of a finished instrument. With a
cedar top, harmonics sound like bells and
notes die more slowly and progressively
compared to the fast fade out of spruce.
How do you transmit such a full harmonic
range and percussive punch live?
My guitar is equipped with K&K’s Quantum
Trinity System that includes a pickup,
a little internal microphone, and an outboard
preamp to which I send both signals
via a stereo cable. I favor the pickup heavily
in my blend. I cut all the bass, some
mids, and quite a bit of highs from the
mic’s signal, and send the pickup’s signal
through a Radial Tonebone PZ-Pre preamp.
Mic and pickup signals enter my laptop
through Native Instruments’ Komplete
Audio 6 interface. I use Apple’s Logic software
to process the sound further. I send
a rather flat stereo signal through a Radial
Engineering JPC Computer Direct Box to
the house, and a wet mono feed to my Phil
Jones Cub AG-100 amp.
How do you generally start and then develop
I start with a riff, a bass line, or a chord
sequence with a groove. I write that out
in tablature, either using Guitar Pro software
or on a piece of paper if I don’t have
my computer. Next, I create a melody and
write a tab of that. I examine the two tabs
to see if I can play the parts together, and
if not, I’ll try other fingerings, or I’ll see if
I can make them work in an altered tuning.
For the song “En T’Attendant” from my
Convergences CD, I wound up dropping the
A string a half-step and applying a Spider-
Capo to strings 2, 3, and 4 at the fourth
fret. I’ll do whatever works. In fact, I’ve
been working on electronic music for the
past couple of years, which is fun because
I don’t have to figure out how to play it on
guitar and reproduce it live. —JL
Mark Kroos caught GP’s attention in the
most direct way possible—he won our 2011
Guitar Superstar competition in dramatic
fashion by simultaneously tapping and slapping
the dual fretboards of a doubleneck
Ovation acoustic. The story of how Kroos
came to play that way is as unique as his
“I went to Bowling Green State University
in Northern Ohio to study jazz, and I
just didn’t have the feel or the aptitude
for it,” admits Kroos, who is somewhat of
a punker at heart. Dejected, he quit playing
guitar altogether, and spent the rest
of his college years working on a general
bachelor’s degree while playing bass in the
punk-ska outfit the Argonauts on weekends.
Kroos returned to the guitar after
graduation when he took a gig teaching.
He re-discovered his affection for innovator
Michael Hedges, delved into DADGAD
tuning, and picked up new two-hand techniques
by watching young lions Andy McKee
and Antoine Dufour.
How in the world did you wind up playing two
I wanted to break new ground compositionally,
and I focused on fretting with both
hands because I felt there was room to take
it further. One day I ran into a roadblock
working on “Indigo Child,” which eventually
appeared on my debut CD, And Grace Will
Lead Me Home
. I couldn’t play the melody
and harmony parts simultaneously on the
same neck because they were in the same
region. I laid a second guitar in its case on
a keyboard stand and started playing the
main part while I played the harmony with
my left hand on the guitar slung around
my neck. It was surprisingly not impossible,
and it became a lot easier once I got a
doubleneck. I ordered an Ovation Celebrity
CSE 225 and immediately removed
the octave strings from its 12-string neck.
Once you found your ax, how did you work
out your mechanics?
I’m right handed, and at first I used my
right hand on the upper neck because there
was more space between strings. I eventually
realized my right hand was better suited to
playing parts requiring more power on the
lower neck, and that the angle of my left
hand on the upper neck was better suited
to playing faster, more intricate parts.
According to your Web site, your debut album
features “two signals from the doubleneck for
stereo purposes.” What’s your tracking technique,
and do you also utilize stereo doubleneck
in the live arena?
I made a slight modification to my Ovation.
It comes stock with one monophonic
output, but I added two additional outputs—
one for each neck. Those signals are
the heart of my studio sound, but I’m currently
using only the monophonic signal
onstage. I tried sending the independent
signals to my two-channel, stereo-capable
Genz Benz Shenandoah 300LT 2x10, but I
ran into phase cancellation problems. VFE
Pedals is working on a pedal designed to
fix my phasing issues and allow me to control
stereo panning via an expression pedal.
What’s on the horizon for you musically?
I’m working on some complex new material
with completely independent parts, which
requires a ton of practice. I should have a
new release this fall if all goes according to
“I strive to be somewhere between Ralph
Towner and John Lee Hooker,” says Portlandbased
Eric Skye, who is typically billed as a
jazz guitarist, but plays in an inventive and
eclectic style that’s also heavily influenced
by blues and bluegrass, with vestigial traces
of early classical training.
Skye plays his Santa Cruz Eric Skye Signature
Model 00 exclusively. “The guitar
has cocobolo back and sides and an Adirondack
spruce top,” he enthuses. “It’s also
1/8" deeper than the standard 00 model for
added bass and volume, and has a widerthan-
usual string spacing and a 24.9" scale
length. I use a lot more bends and vibrato
than many acoustic players, which is one
reason I prefer a shorter scale.”
Skye’s upcoming release, A Different Kind
of Blue, is a reimagining of Miles Davis’ 1959
Describe a few of the right-hand techniques that
When I’m playing solo I mostly use
my fingers, though sometimes I’ll use fingerpicks
and/or a thumbpick. When I’m
playing in a trio I use a flatpick, which I’ll
sometimes combine with my fingers when
playing chords. I also use my thumb or a
thumbpick to get Lenny Breau-style false
What kinds of picks do you prefer?
I use Alaska fingerpicks and Fred Kelly
thumbpicks. For flatpicking, I use triangular-
shaped 2mm genuine tortoise
Why did you decide to cover Kind of Blue?
That record has always been important to
me, and it sums up a lot of what I’m interested
in. It’s jazz, but two tunes are straightahead
blues, and all of the pieces have open
spaces for stretching out. It’s just right for
me to do what I like to do, in the context of
a record that people know and love.
How did you decide which elements were essential
to your arrangements?
“Arrangements” may be too strong a word.
I worked out the heads and beginnings and
endings—but in terms of all the stuff in the
middle, I just jotted down outlines and I’ll
wing it from there. If I copied anything it
was little pieces of Bill Evans’ piano parts,
some of the horn parts like in “All Blues”
when the three horns form chords, and the
spirit of what Miles’ trumpet is doing. I want
to bring my own history to it, and approach
each tune in a way that is more about what
I do. For example, “All Blues” turned into
a gospel kind of thing and “So What” has
a funk vibe.
Many modern players use non-standard tunings
and post-Michael Hedges extended techniques,
but you don’t. Why not?
There’s enough for me to concentrate
on just using standard techniques.
I think its great for others to do those
things—but they should be wary of the
temptation to just work on technique.
There are nine-year-olds on YouTube that
can mimic others with astounding virtuosity,
but most have no voice of their
own. Michael Hedges used extended techniques,
but they weren’t the music. His
music would still be valid if you arranged
it for piano. —BC