I've been on a Kondo-inspired tear recently, selling off my fancy guitars and some of my recording equipment. Maybe the purifying effects of this are only skin deep, but I feel like a veil is lifting. My trusty Collings is gone, replaced briefly by a small-bodied Martin, and now replaced (perhaps permanently) by a new-old-stock Guild F-30R, the same model of guitar that I owned and played on Post-Empire. I bought it for a pretty modest price from a guy in North Dakota, and he wasn't lying when he described it: it's a lovely guitar, in mint condition, and the top on it has a tighter grain than my last Guild, louder and more resonant. Both were made in a brief period of the company's history when they were based in New Hartford, Connecticut, about an hour and a half from where Blair and I live. Guild's continued financial trouble has been helpful for guitarists who know what to look for. The company's constant moves have meant that they've never been able to gain a foothold over Martin or Gibson, and the lack of a huge following has meant that there is less of a collector's market, so resale prices have never been inflated the way that they have with bigger-name makers. A lot of fingerstyle players keep an eye out for a good Guild from their Westerly, Rhode Island days, especially before the company hit hard times in the late 70's. Here in New York and throughout the Northeast you can still find these Guilds from the 60's and 70's at pawnshops and flea markets waiting to be used to their fullest potential. But what I like about these New Hartford F-30 guitars (aside from being in such good shape due to their recent vintage, and often being less expensive) is very specific. Their necks are shallow but wide, with a satin finish that makes them very quick. Due to their odd size (billed as an orchestra model size, but really quite a bit deeper, and larger in the lower bout) they have more tonal heft than a typical OM but less than a dreadnought. A good all-rounder, in other words, and not a precious guitar that I will be overly concerned with while traveling. I'm still getting to know this instrument, but I love the way that it plays and I can sense it pulling me back into some doorways that I left ajar after recording Post-Empire.
It's become interesting to me how, on some modest level, our instruments dictate our musical direction rather than the other way around. I wrote my now-complete new album Rosewood Almanac on a big bluegrass dreadnought, that Collings CW I mentioned before, the same guitar that I used for Gray Lodge Wisdom. I lucked into that guitar, and got a lot of use out of it--a Guitar Center in Tacoma, WA was selling it for much less that it was worth. At the end of the day, though, I think that I had gotten what I could out of it, and it was time to let it go to a bluegrass flatpicker, and to move on to a smaller guitar. On the electric side, I had recently bought a lightly used Epiphone Casino, and used it here and there on the new album, and now I'm ready to let that one go on to someone else too, once I install a new nut and make sure it intonates properly. If you can't tell, I'm a little overly fixated on finding the perfect instrument for a specific time and place. To replace the Casino, I've decided to slowly build a custom Telecaster Deluxe out of spare parts that I find here and there for a good price. I'm hoping that, once I have a single electric and a single acoustic that I am happy with, I won't feel like thinking about the physical limitations of my guitars for a long while--though maybe I'm kidding myself.
These are all largely material fixations, but I like having a new slate to work with after I've finished an album. This new record has been mastered, and I feel relieved and gratified. I needed to see those songs through--and I still do, to play them in public--but while I was in the thick of things I didn't realize what a weight trying to get them right had become. They were difficult songs to make come through correctly on record, and now I'm free to write a new collection of songs that are less encumbered (at least for now) by a sense of accrued significance. I'm also looking forward to trying some more experimentation with polyrhythms in the context of more or less "traditional" songwriting. I started to do this with several of the songs on Rosewood Almanac, but a lot of it didn't quite work and so I cut it out during the mixing process. In one place in particular, it did work--I left the string arrangement on "Vanishing Class" basically untouched. I'm looking forward to people hearing that song especially, although maybe its placid surface makes it unsuitable as a single. I'll try some similar stabs at folk-inflected classical minimalism while making the next record.
Let's see, what else has been going on...I wrote a piece about my time at Bennington College and about the music of one of the all-time-great bands Mountain Man for a series at Brooklyn Magazine--you can check that out here. I'm really happy with how it turned out and am pleased with the response. I'd like to do more writing like this, but I'm not sure what to write about, so if anyone reading this has any ideas for topics, I'm all ears. I also had a lot of fun mixing a record by my good friend Gabe's new project--it's an awesome album in a sort of early 1970's tradition and you should keep an ear out for it--I think it'll be released under his full name, Gabriel Birnbaum. His other band Wilder Maker's upcoming album is also colossally good.