Elliott Randall on HeartStrings


Elliott Randall's latest CD, HeartStrings [Private Collection], is his first entirely solo album. It features 17 songs that focus as much on emotion as technique, beautifully executed on both electric and acoustic guitars. Randall envisions them as "paintings, drawings, and sketches hanging on the audio wall, each with colors, rhythms, and textures unique unto themselves." 

What led to your deciding to record a one-man guitar album?

It’s been in the back of my head for a number of years. Often, artistic projects dictate their own timeframe, and this one was destined to happen this year.

Did you have a concept in mind when you began, or did the songs just come together spontaneously?

The concept was simply to let it flow, though I did have a few preconceived ideas. I knew that I wanted it to be a combination of acoustic and electric, and to be a relaxing experience for the listener—and I had the confidence that I would know which musical creations fit and which didn’t. I overwrote, giving myself the option to choose the most appropriate material from the collection of compositions. The process was quite spontaneous. I just made a loose schedule, recorded at least once a week over a period of two-and-a-half months, and then we mixed over three days. I gave myself a few weeks between the recording and mixing to gain more of an objective overview. It’s not that different a process from choosing which paintings to present in an exhibit.

The songs are all originals. Were you tempted to record solo arrangements of classics or favorites at any point?

I’m always tempted to record solo arrangements of classics and favorites—but those will be for upcoming projects. I felt the need for this CD to be pure me in terms of the compositions.

You list four guitars in the liner notes. Describe each guitar, and why it was chosen.

I used a 1973 Martin D-28, which is my favourite acoustic because it feels and sounds like a Steinway of guitars. I’ve played that lovely instrument for many years.

Another was the 1963 Fender Strat that I’ve been playing since 1965. I know it better than any of my other guitars, and it feels almost like a natural extension of my fingers, heart, and brain.

I also used the PRS Custom 24, which I’ve been playing since around 1990. It has a beautiful neck and action, 24 frets, and an excellent vibrato handle, which I use rarely and subtly, but there are those times. It has lots of beautiful tonal variations.

And finally, the newcomer: a custom-built BJ & Byrne Apollo. This guitar has some close ties to a Les Paul, though it is a lot lighter. It has a somewhat similar shape, and sports two Gibson-style humbucker pickups made by Bare Knuckles here in the U.K. that are hot and sweet at the same time. Since recording the CD, I’ve mounted a Stetsbar vibrato handle on it, which I absolutely love.

You opt for a clean, warm, jazzy tone on many of the pieces. Have you ever wanted to grab a fatback jazz guitar and try your hand at some standards?

Sure! With the great fortune of having had Sal Salvador as my last “official” guitar teacher, there is a very special place in my heart for jazzy stylings replete with big fat jazz guitar sounds. I’ll be doing one of those compilations too. For the record, though—no pun intended—I don’t consider myself to be a true “jazz” player or “bebop-a-tician.”

As for tone, a good deal of the electric tone was the result of running a Whirlwind Director D.I. box straight into my digital interface. I’ve been using the Director for over 20 years, and it produces a really beautiful, natural sound that renders an amplifier unnecessary in certain instances. Many of the songs on the CD were perfect candidates for letting the character of the particular guitar speak for itself, without the need of further tonal enhancement from an amplifier.

Other pieces on the record were perfect for nice clean guitar amplification, and I used a 20-year-old Marshall ValveState 80 for those. Unfortunately, that particular model has been discontinued. As the saying goes, “They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

It sounds like most of the playing was done with a pick, including the acoustic stuff. Is that right, or was there also some fingerstyle playing?

Yes, it would be fair to say that the majority of the pieces involved picking. Having said that, my style actually incorporates using my fingers along with the use of the pick.

There’s what sounds like some old school phasing on some of the tunes. Is that a Uni-Vibe?

That was actually a Leslie rotating speaker.

You produced and in some cases also engineered in addition to being the artist. Describe the advantages and disadvantages of working that way.

 Oooh, that’s opening up Pandora’s Box. I often equate self-production to doing a root canal or heart surgery on oneself. I reckon that I’ve been doing it for so long now that I’m able to be fairly objective about my results—plus, I always make it a point to have several pairs of really trusted ears around me as I make my decisions. As far as advantages and disadvantages go, it’s pretty straightforward. If I have an idea at two o’clock in the morning, I can just record myself at will, in a studio that I’ve become most comfortable working in. But it’s also really nice to be “an artiste totally in the hands of a producer.” Get the right person, and the entire experience becomes a dream, because there’s someone else tending to the oft-annoying minutiae. I think it’s fair to say that I enjoy both situations equally.

Was the recording straightforward, or did you employ any unusual techniques?

I often try to employ unusual techniques, but I have no set recipe book, and they are strictly on a case-by-case basis, as an appropriate opportunity might arise. I’m happy to discuss any sounds achieved on the CD for those who are curious.

Anything you’d like to add?

Sure—follow your dream.