Guitar Player, August 1977

Leo Kottke:  His Techniques, Guitars, Slide, & Tricks of the Trade

by Gil Podolinsky

Page 2

For up-tempo and ballad playing, Kottke's hand hangs naturally (photo by Gil Podolinsky).
For up-tempo and ballad playing, Kottke's hand hangs naturally (photo by Gil Podolinsky).
What made you decide to play the 12-string?

For me it's always been the 12-string ever since I heard one.  It was the only thing I ever wanted to play.  No, I take that back.  If I could play the lute that [German lutenist] Walter Gerwig plays, I might get into that, but you can't get carried away on the lute as you can on the guitar.

The 12-string is, in a sense, a new instrument.  There couldn't have been that many people playing it when you started, so how were you influenced?

You're right.  I was still in high school and had been playing for about five or six years when I heard Pete Seeger's  "Bells of Rhymney"  [World of Pete Seeger, Columbia, CG-31949].  That was my first introduction to the 12-string.  Thinking back on it now, it wasn't as great as I had thought at the time.  My favorite in terms of sound was Pete's "Banks of Marble"  off the Gazette LP [Vols. I and II, Folkways (43 W. 61st St. New York, NY 10023), 2501, 2502].  I also heard Fred Gerlach doing some Leadbelly which just wasn't up my alley.  Though I did try to learn these pieces, none of those mentioned influenced my playing.

Did you have a problem switching from 6- to 12-string?

No, I started from scratch.  I was mesmerized by the 12-string, for the 6-string had not been a very satisfying instrument for me.  Everything just started getting easier when I started playing the 12-string, I think that the instrument in general is easier to play because there are more notes there; more going on.  If you're sloppy on a 6-string, you won't be any less sloppy on a 12-string, but in terms of solo guitar, there's more sound to play with, it's more exciting.  To me it's like the difference between a piano and an organ.  As I say, everything I learned about the guitar on the 6-string made more sense on the 12-string.  Lucky thing for me that I started with a good instrument [Gibson B-45, 12-string].  Not doing that, I think, kills most people's interest.  If it hadn't been for that guitar, I would have stuck with the 6-string.

For syncopation, the wrist moves in and the thumb is at an angle (photo by Gil Podolinsky).
For syncopation, the wrist moves in and the thumb is at an angle (photo by Gil Podolinsky).

Did you practice scales or any particular exercises?

No, never have.  I avoided that assiduously.  I went through nine years of trombone lessons for that.  Formal music instruction is not what a beginning player wants to know or needs to know until he can play.  It kills the fun, so I'm glad I didn't do it.  I do intend to study when I have the time.

What's your main concern in your approach to the 12-string?

My whole thing is tone.  That's more than enough for me.  I can listen to a beginner and have my mind blown if he has good tone.  It's very hard to find a 12-string with tone, that's why many people don't play them.  They're hard to get into pitch and most of them sound horrible.  Almost all of them sound silly!

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