Acoustic Tips from Four Guitar Stars

Check out Rob Ickes' resonator miking recipe and more!
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I have a Neumann KM 86 from the ’60s that I use a lot and that I really like. It was that and an Earthworks— we had QTC40s and QTC30s. We also had a room mic that was picking up everything. I like to mic above the cover plate—the metal part— right above my right hand—and that’s what we did on this record. Some of the country guys like to put the mic off the front edge of the instrument and I just never understood that. Sometimes, they get it to sound good, but I usually like to mic it from above.


I played drums in marching band and I liked trying to play the rudiments on ukulele, but it was really difficult to get the same kind of speed as I could on the drums. Traditionally, when you’re strumming, you tend to bend at the elbow and you’re using too much muscle. It’s not efficient. The way I would play the drums was all in the wrist, with one hand over and one hand playing under, with the palm facing upward. That’s the posture I tried out for my right hand on the ukulele so it was more of a twisting motion—like twisting a doorknob. By doing that I didn’t have to use my elbow or my biceps and triceps muscles to strum. I got a lot more speed and endurance with a lot less energy.

Strumming is about playing every note at the same time on the same beat, and it’s evocative of a sound that I feel is a bit redundant. There doesn’t seem much point to strumming when you can fingerpick. When I do strum, I typically do it with my thumb—either using a thumbpick, or by dragging my thumbnail across the stings really heavily.


Everything on Snakes & Arrows was written on acoustic. I used a Garrison G50 CE and a G50 12-string on the “The Larger Bowl.” I think I used a Gibson J-150 on the second half of the verse for a slightly different tonality. In the studio, it was primarily the J-150, the Garrison 6- and 12-strings, a Larrivée small body, and a Gibson J-55 that was in Nashville tuning.

I was playing a lot of acoustic guitar before we started the record. I went to see Tommy Emmanuel when he played here, and that was really inspiring. The way he caresses the notes is fantastic to watch. I went to see Stephen Bennett and he gave me a capo—a half capo for banjo. That was really inspiring, too. I ended up using that partial capo on “Bravest Face.” I had a meeting with David Gilmour when he was here. It was the first time I’d seen him play. I went back to say “hello,” and he was a very engaging, charming guy. We talked a lot about acoustic guitar and the power of the acoustic in terms of writing because it doesn’t lie. It tells you straight up whether an idea has merit.