Guitar Player, August 1977
Leo Kottke: His Techniques, Guitars, Slide, & Tricks of the Trade
by Gil Podolinsky
Photo by Jon Sievert
How did you hit upon the solution to the boom problem?
That was the outcome of fooling around with towels. I used to cram a lot of towels in the Bozo. The best thing to do with a guitar, especially a 12-string, is to play the hell out it for a couple of years. If it doesn't sound good when you first get it, odds are it will after a couple of years of heavy play. Any time you have problems with the sound coming out of a guitar -- and you have a lot with a 12-string -- you can do a lot with just a piece of paper. You can tape it inside the hole: take a big piece of paper and tape it up in front of the bridge so that it flops down. That does strange things to your sound. It does not cut down on your volume or make you sound like a cigar box. It doesn't do any of the things you d expect. It definitely alters the standard wave form. If you cover different parts of the soundhole you get different sounds. One of the drawbacks of using a pickup is that it cuts down on some of your sound.
Did you tell Bozo what you're doing to his guitars?
Did that help solve the problem from his point of view, construction wise?
No, he just looked at me like I fried my brain. That's why I wanted the smaller bell. The difference is that if you're playing for yourself in a room, you need a big box. When you want to connect with an audience you need something more manageable, more along the classical principle. Now that I'm getting happy with my instruments in the studio, I know that between the Bozo and the Gibson I can find home base, and the Martin Conversion gets me the kind of slide I like to have.
How did you get into playing slide?
John Fahey got me into playing slide. Until I met John, slide was for blues playing, and I'm not into blues.
What was the first piece you learned on slide?
It was a Bukka White tune that John had recorded, called "Poor Boy " [on Fahey's
The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death
, Takoma (Box 5369, Santa Monica, CA 90405), 9015].
On which finger do you put the slide?
I put it on my pinkie because that tells where you're going to take it. The second finger distributes evenly between the pinkie and itself. The third finger doesn't really do anything but stabilize some more. The index finger I use to dampen behind. Most people miss it there. I find that the Bozo is great for slide, but I have no set rule limiting my slide to only one guitar. I got into slide quite a while after I started playing 12-string. I've been playing slide about ten years.
Do you dampen on a single string as well?
Yes, unless I want a little noise. I'll tilt the slide and damp behind it.
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