Buzz Turner Taps into Creativity

Frets reader Buzz Turner has been exploring the possibilities of solo steel-string playing since the ’60s. Hearing John Fahey was an epiphany and it led him to check out the blues players who had influenced the fingerstyle monster, including Tampa Red, Son House, and Robert Johnson. Turner has blended those techniques into a gorgeous stew of ringing open strings, deft right-hand work, and intriguing voicings, some of which are created through his use of a partial capo. His latest release, Finally Home [Aerial Music], features nothing but solo guitar because, as Turner jokes, “I don’t play well with others.”
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Talk about the opener, “No Mercy from the Bells.”

That was my Lowden F32 tuned C, G, C, G, G, D with a full capo at second fret. The unison Gs at the top let me do all kinds of tricks. I can leave those open notes resonating as I start the main lick. That’s one of the key parts of the record—I use a lot of open strings to keep things interesting.

Do you gauge the strings differently for the unisons?

I probably should but I don’t. It would make my life a little easier because when you slacken your second string all the way down to G it does flop around a bit, but you can live with it. Those strings can never be exactly in tune with each other so that provides a nice chorusing effect. I certainly didn’t invent this. I’m just following what people have done before me.

You use a partial capo on the tune “Here There and Back Again.” What do you like about that?

It gives me the ability to get sonorities that I couldn’t accomplish any other way. If I have a partial capo at the fifth fret and I leave my sixth string or my first string open—that would be darn near impossible in a live situation without totally re-stringing. In the case of that tune, the low string is down to C and it gives me a great drone with a terrific bottom end.

How many takes will you typically do to get a performance? Are any of these composite tracks?

A lot of these are composite tracks. My producer, Craig Boyce, wanted to do this in a Pro Tools, cut-and-paste way. I wanted to do about four takes and if we couldn’t get something good we’d move on. The biggest problem for me is I have long silk nails on my right hand and you could hear them tapping on the top of the guitar. I’d want to leave all that in. That’s how it sounds when I play. But after you hear it played back 15 times, those taps got a little annoying. So we’d grab that section from another take that didn’t have the taps.

How do you keep an acoustic record from sounding the same from start to finish?

One of the things I became acutely aware of in pre-production was that I don’t want to follow a DADGAD tune with a DADGAD tune, or have two medium tempo songs in a row. I tried to mix it up. I’ll have a mid-tempo minor-key tune followed by an up-tempo song in a totally different key signature. Another thing we did was to keep this record a little on the short side because the longer you go the more that sameness can creep in.

Is there a tune on this record that you feel really sums you up as a writer?

There are a couple of tunes that I really like, but they don’t sum me up. I still have a lot of stuff I want to write.