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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Music and its tools: Ralph Towner's Guild 12 strings guitar(s)

This TRULY changed my life!

Ralph's 12 strings changed me from a guitar player into a twelve strings guitar player;-)))

Beside I now own some nice vintage guitars, the Guild's have and always had a very special space in my heart...

This possibly also was for a younger Ralph, who, after his classical studies in Wien under Karl Scheit's guidance, he returned to NYC where he played for several musicians, singers and groups... maybe it was Tim Hardin's frequentations or the Fred Neil's Bleecker's Street folkie sounds or, who knows, Tim Buckley's... also a fond Guild F-512's user.

Towner had his first F-212, right in time - after Paul Winter Consort - to join Weather Report for "The Moor" on "I sing the Body Electric".

Shortly after followed at least two custom-made at Guild's workshop: a Florentine cutaway F-212 and an abalone-less fretboard F-512: the first mahoganny bodied and the second in Brazilian Rosewood, both with flat, classical-like 52 mm at nut fretboards as per Ralph's wishes, needing the same room he was used to while playing his classical guitar.

When I met mr. Towner first time, I remember I was slightly impressed by his so normal-sized hands, not surprising as he's about 1,75 tall; nonetheless the quite long scale and wide fretboard looked someway excessive for him... BUT, pals, how right he was...

I discovered by myself, after using two recent (for my standards) both from early '80s;-)) Guilds' - i.e. an F-112 and an F-512 with 42 mm wideness at nut.

Not bad guitars, BUT I always had the feeling of being imprecise in picking and fingering with my left hand... then I discovered the F-312 (1965), F-112 (1974) and F-212 (1964), ALL with that so wise 52 mm at nut.

... and my picking on 12 strings improved greatly.

... but back to Ralph's Guilds... the two custom-made guitars, possibly made by luthier Greco himself at Guild's custom workshop, have been with Towner for decades, standing infinite flights abuses and recordings and concerts and, sure, some refrettings and overhaulings.

On back cover of his old Solo Concerts on ECM, the minimalist stage well shows Towner's rig: the two twelve strings guitars, the classic, a Neumann USM-69 and a couple of KM-84... THE perfect recipe for a great, beautiful guitar sound and superb music and recording which I always cherished.

This twelve strings sound, often obtained with weird non-unison octave tunings, is so unique that only one note is enough to recognize it.

Ralph always used silk & steel medium strings to obtain that thick, NOT harpsichord-like sound.

... what can I say: this sound is part of my musical life, as a listener and as a musician, and no other guitar owns that character: unboomy, expressive in all registers and unique, as it is not nasal like Stella's or folkie like Gibson B45-12, but serves also the most adventurous improviser... no, not talking about myself;-))), but Ralph Towner and many, many other, last but not least Michael Gulezian who, also, remained faithfull for decades - he still does - to his F-212XL.

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