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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Music and its tools: Robbie Basho's twelve strings guitar

I remember I was seventeen years old when, shortly after having knew John Fahey and his "Volume 2" disc, I listened by chance to Robbie Basho.

It was his "The Falconer's Arm Vol.1"... and the world changed!

I promptly, yet with some difficulty, bought my first of many to come twelve strings guitars and began detuning it;-)

At the time no tablature, Web or simply other pals into same weirdness, so... endless afternoons trying&trying&trying to learn some licks and to obtain "that" sound I so much loved...

Later came full Robbie Basho's discography, meeting Maurizio Angeletti and his also mind-boggling, awesome twelve strings and more and more...

... but let's enter Robbie's mighty twelve strings guitar: in an old "Frets" magazine interview I still own, Robbie told the reviewer he purchased that Mexican made old guitar from a sailor in Atlantic City for $ 150 in early '60s.

It had the top changed after it get smashed after a gig by John Lundberg in Berkeley, with that unique apparently flawed, bicoloured spruce top.

The larger than life nut and as well long diapason, it allowed Robbie to reach C and B tunings easily.

The sound of this huge acoustic guitar was supremely various and unique to Basho himself... clangy sounding, yet never metallic and so rich in overtones and sustain.

Robbie played ALL his music composed for 12 strings on this wonder for all his life, with only an old Weymann six-strings as an additional companion... as he wrote several times, he wished and strongly pushed the (twelve) strings guitar to reach and gain and keep the status of American-born instrument - remember: Pete Seeger, Leadbelly, Jesse Fuller, Fred Gerlach, Leo Kottke, Basho - giving to the instrument a nobless similar to what A. Segovia did decades before with gut/nylon strung classical guitar.

VERY, VERY sadly, Robbie Basho died too young to complete and fulfill his dream, BUT what he left was a fruitful seed... William Ackermann, Alex de Grassi, Michael Hedges, Michael Gulezian - whom Robbie knew and appreciated - paid for loooong years a daily tribute to the older master... then came the others, the new breed: Steffen Junghans-Basho, Glenn Jones, James Blackshaw and many more.

... and his guitar, as lovingly seen, displayed and showed in several Robbie's albums, left on any acoustic twelve strings guitar lovers and players a deep, deeep impression: the Voice of America, a cleaner, smarter, more clever America - Basho's music was hinting to the voice of wind-moved grass in the plains, when "americans" were Native Americans, and Navaho Nation was a quiet force and nature was a God-like friend, not a waste deposit or something to squeeze to death.

I'd give a finger to know where this very guitar is, now and who - I hope and trust - collected it back in 1986, after Robbie's untimely death.