Frets, April 1982

Leo Kottke

by Mark Humphrey

Page 4

How do you string the J-45?  

I`m doing something really different for two reasons. Since I use the Bill Lawrence pickup in conjunction with a microphone, I have tried to find out what it ;is that makes those skinny- stringed Les Pauls sound so nice.  I have thought it was the amp or whatever, but principally it`s those strings.  So I put real skinny strings on the J-45 for the sake of the pickup.  They come through fatter and sweeter in the pickup than the set I just mentioned.  The other reason I use them now is because I slammed the joint of my index finger in a car door.  It's screwed up, so I'm trying to give it a break.  That set goes:  011", .013", .017" and the low E winds up being a .044".  It's the same Bill Lawrence set, only one up instead of one down.  It takes some doing to get used to that -- you fall off it, or play too hard and push it out of tune.  But once you get used to it, it's really kind of nice.  I have tried it on a couple of other guitars, and whether or not it's going to work depends on the guitar.  Those old Gibsons have such a nice fat sound anyhow, it works real well.  They cut through the microphone better, they cut through the pickup better, and I'm   really happy with it.  I think when my finger gets better I`m going to switch to a heavier set so that I have a wound G; I don't at the moment.

How often do you change your strings?  

I don't change them until they really sound pretty bad, which for me is weeks and weeks.  On the 12-string, I change the octave strings before I change the rest.  The octave I'm using on the A is a .022" and the octave on the E is a .030".  The .022" is the one that keeps going out; I could change that ever two days if I'm playing both nights.  Something that used to drive me nuts was a 'ping' on a certain string.  It was a harmonic that screeched, and I used to get that on the cutaway, but it doesn't happen with the Bill Lawrence strings.

Why do you prefer the Bill Lawrence pickup?

The pickup is a beauty -- I've tried all the transducers and all the different kind of magnetic pickups, and the Bill Lawrence is the best.  I'm using the pickup through an active direct box that I had built for me at Sound 80 [2709 25th, Minneapolis, MN 55405].  Then I take the thing that you plug into a microphone and plug it into the direct box.  In effect, you turn the whole system into a guitar amp.  Going in directly, you need help, and that of course is the microphone.  So I mix the mike and the pickup.  The mike provides the highs and the natural sound, and fills in the sort of stale flatness you get with just using a pickup directly.   I usually add some bottom to the direct, and maybe some highs to the mike.

Do you use any effects?

I put a phase [shifter] and a chorus [effect] on the direct line, but I don`t use them very often. Some nights, if I'm using a chorus, I'll use it the entire night if the direct isn't clear enough.  What the chorus does besides the sound is that it breaks down a little bit.  It gets it out of that whininess, that electricness.  You have to be careful, because if it sounds good to begin with and you use the chorus all the time, everybody's going to get sick to their stomachs, because it will be too much.  The microphone keeps the reality level up there, and won't allow the chorus to come out like an effect.  It depends on the room and the night how much I use it.

Is there any particular sitting position you prefer on stage?

I sit with my ankle on my left knee, and I prop the leg up a little bit on a rung.  I sit on a stool, because I feel like I'm just on the ground in a chair.  The audience doesn't just see two knees and a pair of eyeballs.

What sort of practice regimen do you have?

I really don't have one.  I sit down and play every day, sometimes just for a few minutes, and usually several times during the day.  When I'm on the road, I play after the show.  I'm all loosened up, and it's always a big drag for me to come back to a hotel room after playing.

How are you progressing on the book you're writing?  

I've finished the written part of it, and now I have to put together the tablature and notation, which I've been avoiding.  I can read the stuff, but when I try and figure out how I play something, I'm lost if I have to break it down.  Once of my favorite tunes is "Blue Dot" [My Feet are Smiling] and I can't figure out how I did that.  There is one section where I managed to do something sort of backwards, and I wish I knew how the hell I did it.  I have got quite a bit of tablature that people have sent me over the years.  A friend of mine, Bill Hood, has volunteered to read it for me.  He has picked out my stuff and he plays it right; he leaves in what other people don't bother to leave in -- what they think are incidentals or just noises.  They may be incidental, but they're real necessary.  He keeps some of those things that sound like afterthoughts.  So the book is in the works, but I don't know when I'll finish it.

A jazz guitarist has said that your music reminds him of banjo novelty tunes -- a lot of technical flash but without much substance.  How do you respond to that?

Well, I enjoy it.  I don't do it for flash or novelty.  I actually get off on the stuff.  When I was starting out, I didn't like to hear single notes.  I thought 'There are a lot of notes, so why play only one note at a time?'   I appreciate that [restrained] approach now, but the reason I couldn't stand it then was because I had been playing the trombone for nine years, and you only have one note at a time, and I knew there were more possible there.

Do you have any advice for an aspiring 'pop virtuoso,' as you once were called?

Just play all the time, if that's what you want to do.  For me, it just happened by playing all the time.  It is real hard right now for new people to get any work.  But I know there are people out there who want to hear new music, and who just haven't been given the opportunity.  I has to work, somehow, if you just get out somewhere and play as much as you can.  [The End]

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