a guitarist's occasional blog
November is here again, and it's time for many of us to begin getting some holiday music ready to go—possibly fueled by too much Halloween candy.
A couple years ago I worked up an outline of "Silent Night" in an uncommon tuning: DGDF#AD. This is the same tuning I used for my original composition "South Branch"
It turns out that this DGDF#AD tuning works nicely, and it allows you to easily leave open strings ringing in the same way a piano player might use a sustain pedal. I'll use anything in my music if I think it sounds good. Letting open strings sustain works beautifully on this one, and the use of unison strings sometimes create a harp-like effect.
Be sure to bring the melody out by playing it with a bit more volume and emphasis than the (usually lower) accompaniment notes. I tried to vary the location of the melody across different strings to take advantage of tonal colors, but you should consider exploring other places on the neck where the melody works. When I begin an arrangement like this, I like to try out different ways of playing the melody before I even worry about harmony and approaches to accompaniment.
This arrangement is simply meant as a guide. I don't play it note-for-note, and I'm still working on a longer arrangement that moves to a higher octave with a little more variation. Enjoy.
My good friend Walt stopped by the house today with a unique guitar that he wanted me to take a look at. Walt and I both suffer from GAS Type 1 (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome). In fact, it's how we met. Walt answered a Craigslist ad I had placed, we traded guitars, and we became friends!
I've mentioned that my GAS Type 2 (Guitar Accumulation Syndrome) is in remission. It's a good thing too, or I might have tried to shake loose this neat parlor guitar from him! Walt has a knack for finding these interesting instruments that are just a little off the beaten path.
Wes Peabody's instruments certainly are off the beaten path. According to Walt, Wes has made maybe forty or fifty instruments in his Gales Creek, Oregon workshop. Wes has shown his instruments at the Northwest Handmade Musical Instrument Exhibit at Marylhurst University. But type "Wes Peabody Guitars" into an internet search engine, and the pickings are slim. He makes them one-at-a-time, and he isn't a household name in the guitar industry. If this one is any indication, he makes excellent guitars.
While some of Peabody's instruments take on non-traditional shapes and designs, this parlor guitar is built to fairly common dimensions. It fits comfortably in a hard case meant for a Larrivee parlor guitar. The slotted headstock is somewhat uncommon on steel string guitars, but even Martin makes some steel string guitars with this feature. So, at first glance, there isn't anything unusual.
However, the woods that Wes chose for this instrument do set it apart from most factory instruments. The Port Orford Cedar used for the soundboard isn't common, though Breedlove and a few other makers have started using it. The neck is made from the usual mahogany, but the fingerboard is made from black locust - a wood you aren't going to find anywhere on any Martin, Taylor, Gibson, Guild, or Larrivee fingerboards. In fact, the bridge and bridge plate are also black locust.
According to Walt, one element you won't see when examining the guitar is that the sides of this guitar are a three-ply laminate with sapele used for the outside layers and a core of western red cedar. A lot of builders use laminate sides for strength. However, the back of the guitar is solid sapele. And while sapele has become a common replacement for mahogany on many factory guitars, the piece used by Wes on this guitar is simply amazing. The ribbon pattern is incredible! This is not a usual piece of striped sapele. Wow!
Wes built this guitar with thirteen frets to the body, unlike most modern acoustic guitars which have either twelve or fourteen frets. This is not an unheard of detail but it's also quite uncommon; See this Paul Chambers NLS-13 guitar based on a 1928 Gibson Nick Lucas Special. Santa Cruz Guitar Company also makes a thirteen fret model called the H-13.
The workmanship is very good, and the guitar has some design elements that make it clear that it was handmade - dark hardwood binding, an unusual heel cap, black and white diamond inlays on the fretboard, a wood rosette, and even the "Wildcat Mtn" lettering engraved on the headstock.
Playability is excellent; the 1 7/8" nut and 25" scale length make for a comfortable neck for fingerstyle guitar, which is where this guitar excels. Despite its small size, it doesn't sound boxy. It has a good, strong midrange response that works well for blues and ragtime tunes. I sang a bit of Jessie Winchester's "That's What Makes You Strong" with it, and the little guitar also does well for vocal accompaniment. I would love to have this around the house for playing on the couch! (Reminder to self: I already have enough guitars.)
If I was a guitar collector, I think chasing down these unique, luthier-made instruments would be the way to go. It just seems like it would be a lot more fun than trying to find the iconic vintage guitars that come at spectacularly high prices. There are people making beautiful, handmade instruments like this, and it is interesting to see the little differences and designs that come from local artists and craftsmen. This Wes Peabody parlor is a fine guitar, and it isn't a carbon copy of anything else that is out there. I can appreciate that.
My friend Walt is pretty good at digging these things up, and I really enjoy it when he brings them by to share.
Monday night I taught my Group Guitar II students to play the song "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz. The song is in the Key of B which isn't an easy key to play on the guitar. So I taught the song in G (easier to sing for most men!) and kept it simple. If you want to play in B, just slap a capo on the 4th fret.
I also taught the class how to play the opening lead guitar riff in both B and G, figuring they would want to play along with the recording. Then I showed them how to noodle on a major scale shape like the attached pdf. file. This is what I spent half my teenage years doing—noodling along with my favorite records using these shapes!
Your second finger fretting the sixth string begins the pattern, and that finger plays the note that names the scale. Start at the third fret (second position) and you are playing in G. Starting on the seventh fret (sixth position) you are playing in B. If you learn this pattern and the names of the notes all along your sixth string, you can noodle musically in any key!
Hint: Assign each finger to fret. You should not need to shift your hand to play these scales. In G you have:
Use the B Major scale and noodle along with this great Jason Mraz pop tune on Youtube. It's fun! I hope the 33,000 people who clicked "thumbs down" on his video are feeling better now.
Chuck Cheesman writes hopeful, loving, and sometimes funny songs for people of all ages.
All materials ©℗ Chuck Cheesman
Banner photo by Gina Dazzo