Guitar Player, January 1991

Leo Kottke:  Acoustic Pioneer Shifts Gears

By Mark Hanson

Page 2

      But despite his fans' deep-running loyalties, there's some consternation over his newest release, That's What.  And for Kottke, it has hit home.  "My wife hates this record," he says.  "It's the first one she hasn't liked.  And my manager hates it, too.  He calls it 'A Shout Toward Stanley Clarke.'  The record label likes it, which is just as much of a shock to me as my wife not liking it.  She tells me to turn it off."

      The reference to bass virtuoso Clarke is readily understandable on listening to the first cut, "Little Snoozer."  The tune is an up-tempo, exceedingly low-pitched fingerpicking gem recorded with an electric 6-string bass guitar, tuned one octave lower than a standard 6-string guitar.  For the listener who expects the familiar Kottke 6- or 12-string tone, the initial effect is startling, not unlike listening to a fast-paced guitar tune played at half-speed.  

      "I fell in love with Charvel's demo model of an old Danelectro 6-string electric bass at the last California NAMM show, so I bought their prototype.  I've always tried to get that really low-pitched sound from the guitar by using heavy strings and tuning them way below standard pitch.  But the 6-string bass was  the first guitar that really made it for me.  I use it for two cuts on That's What."

      Kottke's electric guitar experiments on That's What don't end there.  He adds chordal overdubs to "Little Snoozer" with a Charvel solidbody.  For lovers of Kottke's acoustic music who have seldom or never heard their hero play an electric, that can be unsettling.  

      "I had planned to record the whole album with my Gibson L-5," Kottke says.  "It's an old one that I've had for about 15 years, but I really just got into it.  It was built right after Gibson's Lloyd Loar era in the late '20s.  I used the L-5 on the cut 'Jesus Maria,' with both the pickup and a mike.  I fell in love with the instrument's recorded sound, but I took it to a shop to change the nut, and the guitar died.  I figured it had dried out, so I humidified it, took it to the studio, and moved the bridge around trying to get the sound back, but I never did.  That's why I ended up with a lot of electric guitar on the record.  On a couple of cuts I used a kind of heavy-metal Charvel 6-string.  We ended up miking the speakers in the studio.  The L-5 eventually came back, though.  It needed to be humidified some more.  But it's only on that one tune."

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