|Guitar Player, August 1977|
Leo Kottke: His Techniques, Guitars, Slide, & Tricks of the Trade
by Gil Podolinsky
Do you have to give up some of the mellowness of the instrument?
Photo by Jon Sievert
Either that or be careful of what I'm doing. On the 12- string you have to play a little further back than you do on a 6- string because it's tuned a step down, in order to take advantage of the resonance you're getting and not to blow up your guitar. Also you want to be able to use a heavy enough gauge string so that you're not sounding like a harpsichord. I hate, really hate, that harpsichord sound on a 12-string.
Does the pickup hurt projection?
Onstage it helps, to some degree, losing a little resonance. The reason why the guitar sounds so beautiful and is so hard to record is its resonance. So, whether you're performing or recording, the more you have of the note proper and the less of the guitar's personality, the easier it is to recreate the personality coming out of the speaker. That's why I'm convinced you have to record the guitar in a dead room. The guitar sounds awful in a dead room. Although it sounds horrible to your ear, its a treat for the mike, you can bring it to the point where your ear has heard it all along. In a live room it sounds murkier, deader, boomier, so I'm committed to a dead room.
Do you still want to go back to recording in mono?
Yes, but people are sold on stereo. The best stereo is just to split you straight across both speakers, but that doesn't work well with pressing or especially on the radio. It sounds awful in mono, everything cancels. Stereo is always a compromise anyway. In a statement, when recording you should always go to whatever technique reproduces what you want to get. As I view recording today, the whole thing depends upon your use of echo and to what extent and how you use your limiters. There aren't that many engineers who really appreciate or can handle this. If it were up to me, we'd go back to mono. The stereo idea doesn't really do much for my recording needs. I don't need 24 tracks. I do a few overdubs, some vocals. You can separate the guitar just so far before it gets pointless. To achieve the stereo concept, they usually pan the guitar right in the middle, which leaves a lot on the ends. I always have the mix done at the same studio I record in so we use the same speakers throughout. When all is said and done, you work hard to achieve a stereo sound on the most expensive speakers only to have it played through dime-size, 50 cent mono car speakers. The whole thing would be easier to do in mono since that's where it ends up anyway.
What type of strings do you use?
No particular make, just a medium gauge with .013 top and .056 bottom. The other bottoms are .026, .036, .046. I prefer silk-and-steel strings on the right guitar line on my B-45 that was stolen. That combination was perfect.
How often do you change strings?
I change them when I think they are getting dead. I used to wait until they broke, but that became a problem if it happened during a performance. If I'm playing every night, I ll change the octaves, A and E every two and a half to three weeks. When they start to be cantankerous to tune, I change them all. I don't really like to do this because I hate new strings. They're harder to play because I can't really rip into them; they're too flexible. You actually get more tone if they're slightly dead. They sizzle too much when new. I don't clean them after I play. I had a problem for a while where the pads on my left hand would sweat. I always felt sorry for those people who had that problem, but luckily for me, that problem disappeared as quickly and mysteriously as it appeared.
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