Tim Reynolds is a multi-faceted maestro with an extraordinary understanding of what to play when in a given situation. He spends his electric string time ripping in his progressive power trio TR3, and playing lead for the Dave Matthews Band. Reynolds finds balance doing acoustic-duo gigs under the simple moniker Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, and, as an accomplished solo artist with an extensive recording catalogue, including 2017’s stylistically adventurous That Way [Beam On].
GP caught Reynolds doing the duo with Matthews twice in 2017. Once last spring on the main stage at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and again near the end of the year participating in the Band Together Bay Area benefit for Northern California fire victims at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, along with Dead & Company, Metallica, and more.
When he plays with Matthews, Reynolds is the ultimate color man, tackling tricky lead turns, providing sure support, and occasionally adding atmospheric effects. In solo mode, unlike a lot of modern players that try to cover a slew of parts all at once, Reynolds deftly picks and chooses what he does or doesn’t play. He’s confident enough to play melodies and lead breaks stark naked without harmonic or rhythmic support.
How do you approach playing an acoustic gig in a stadium on a bill loaded with electric acts?
For a long time, I’d push it and play louder in big venues. But that’s self-defeating, because, at some point, you can’t play any louder, and you realize, “I’m getting worn out here.” You eventually learn to play soft as a general rule, and let the dynamic intensity come wherever it will during the journey of a song, or the development of a jam. It’s definitely weird to play in-between five acts of sonic boom, but it’s also cool to be the contrast.
How do you achieve the pulsating sound for one of Matthews’ most enduring songs, “Satellite”?
I do it with a volume swell, so you don’t hear the initial attack, and a little bit of delay. I learned that years ago by mimicking the way Jeff Beck uses his Strat’s volume knob, but I use an Ernie Ball volume pedal when I play acoustic. The trick is learning how to hit the note at the right time when you swell so there’s an even flow and the rhythmic bounce of the echo is consistent. That’s hard to define, but you eventually learn how to feel the note beginning as you depress the volume pedal, and how get the echo time right. I use a BOSS DD-5, and I’ve learned how to eyeball the dials like a clock to find tempos that work with certain songs. Luckily, one of the default timing modes produces the perfect medium-tempo delay for “Satellite” when I turn Delay Time all the way to the right.
During a show, I’ll occasionally hear this trippy, wildly effected spectral sound. What is that?
That’s the DD-5. In fact, the main reason I dig that pedal so much is that it’s the only delay in the DD series with reverse pitch shifting. You can pitch-shift down or up an octave on a DD-5, and it’s the coolest effect, because once you’re in reverse and pitch-shifted, it’s not a guitar sound anymore. The most fun thing to do is start high, and then pitch-shift down to a super-low drone. I only use reverse when I go for big, droning bass notes, but you can also start playing weird notes down low, and then pitch-shift up to produce a wild, crazy sound.
What else is in your acoustic rig?
On recent solo gigs, I’ve been incorporating a Strymon Big Sky. It’s an awesome-sounding reverb with simple controls. I’m much better twisting knobs than I am at programming. I always use a Fishman Aura at the end of my signal chain to get a miked-acoustic sound directly from the onboard pickup of my Martin.
Do you always play the same Martin?
I actually have two D-35s. I got the first one in 1995, and I cracked it trying to do all that fancy drumming on it. I’m a closet drummer—I’m nuts about Bill Bruford—but when I damaged the guitar, I realized I should stop doing that percussive thing. Playing guitar the regular way is enough of a challenge. While that guitar was getting repaired at Martin in 1996, I bought another D-35 that has a slightly different body. Ever since the fix, the ’95 stays in the truck with Dave’s gear so that I don’t have to fly with it, and the ’96 stays with me. I’ve played the ’96 so much that the top is all slashed—it looks like the surface of the moon—because I would try to get drones going by hitting the bass string really hard. I remember thinking, “Who keeps scraping my guitar?” Then, I realized, “It’s you Idiot!” So I stopped doing that, too [laughs].
It’s surprising that you don’t use a cutaway model considering how much time you spend working the upper fretboard.
A couple of years ago, I found a video of a guy playing Paganini on a dreadnought, and I was inspired by his upper-fretboard extension. There’s not the same kind of freedom you have with a cutaway, but I like the challenge of forcing my hand to do stuff up there. I’ve been practicing it steadily for the past couple of years. I have to really stretch and use my fingertips almost like an upright bassist playing the upper reaches of a fretless fingerboard.
How did you track That Way?
I went over to a friend’s home studio, he threw up a mic, and I took a few passes at each song. We’d choose the best take, and maybe make a few edits, but that was it. I keep it simple. I don’t want to listen back a hundred times and dissect a performance, or add a bunch of stuff.
What’s the key to pulling off lead breaks that go way high up the neck without any other harmonic support—such as on “Give Up the Goat” from That Way?
It’s the sheer desire to make it happen. After a while, you learn to make the guitar do what you want it to do. The way Joe Pass thought about playing solo guitar was that you don’t have to come up with crazy techniques to play all the parts of a song simultaneously. He felt you could be musical over the course of three or four bars—playing some bass, some chords, and some melody—as the song moves along. It’s also fun to completely let go and play a lead break in the upper register without worrying about anything else at all.
You cut several 12-string tracks on That Way. What’s your preference in a 12-string guitar?
I play a 12-string Martin D-28. I like to use the 12-string for a deeper voice on solo gigs. I’ll tune the whole guitar a step down from standard tuning, and then I like to drop down the bottom string another step for an even lower register. I love that among the top three strings, only the third string is coupled with an octave up. The top two strings provide a natural chorus, while the next four provide a natural octave effect, and weird things can sometimes happen out of the blue. I was messing around recently, and when I went for a false harmonic, I accidently hit one on that octave G string. It was totally out of key, but it worked in a super-cool way. I love little surprises like that.
You seem attracted to dreadnoughts.
I find the dreadnought works for pretty much any style. A good dreadnought is super responsive over a tremendous dynamic range. It sounds great when you play soft, and when you bang a chord super hard, the dreadnought’s tone doesn’t fall apart—it hits right back. I like the dreadnoughts versatility, as well, as I play a lot of musical styles that are not commonly associated with the steel-string dreadnought, including jazz, flamenco, and classical. But perhaps it’s comfortable for me because the first acoustic guitars I saw were the dreadnoughts played by Crosby, Stills & Nash. And Neil Young has such a touch that he can play a simple D chord on a dreadnought and somehow make it sound like a full band.
Do you ever play nylon-string guitars?
I play a little nylon Yamaha that I’ve had for years, but it messes with my steel-string technique if I play it too much. My fingers go soft.
What’s the coolest aspect about performing solo-acoustic music?
The thing I dig most about playing solo is simply using one guitar all by itself. In my mind, I’m an entire rock band, laying down a bit of bass, some rhythm guitar, delivering the melody, and playing lead. I already get to rock out with TR3 and the Dave Matthews Band—as well as do the duo with Dave—but playing solo is part of my soul. It’s the landscape of my spirit, and it makes me feel whole.