pickups in at all—I would never put anything
in them—they’re so perfect just the way they
are. And so I sit in front of a good microphone, usually a condenser mic, but that’s on
rare occasions. When I record in the studio, I
use two mics on my guitar and I play acoustically. Sometimes, when I use a Maton on the
track, I’ll take a line out and I’ll go into my
AER amplifier, which is a beautiful German
amplifier. I mic the amp up as well, and I take
a line out of the amp so I have two mics and
two signals coming from the amp. I put the
reverb that I want to use on the track on the
amp signals, and I leave the microphones dry,
right up in front of the mix. Therein lies the
way of getting the depth and the clarity, and
the real, beautiful tone of the guitar… in a
natural way, while still having control of the
reverb you want.
What microphones do you prefer
in the studio?
I like Neumann KLM 184s. They’re about
the best mic for the acoustic guitar. But
I’ve played through some microphones that
just knocked my socks off: Telefunken 251s,
Neumann U87s, U47s, 149s—the German
microphones are by far the best. But, you
know, it’s different for everybody. I like an
AKG414 as well. I like a big diaphragm
microphone, but the KLM184s are very small
microphones—and yet they have such character. It’s really beautiful, you know. But I
can get a sound with a Shure Brothers [sic]
SM57 if I have to.
Do you play with a thumbpick?
I do. I play with a thumbpick and with a
straight pick, and without any pick at all. My
nails don’t sound any good… so I don’t use
them to play. I found an alternative way, and
it’s kind of developed over my life. I constantly switch from thumbpicking to straight pick
playing, and I do it with a thumbpick. I can
flatpick with a thumbpick. I have to improvise
my way of doing things, because I don’t have
the luxury of having a second guitar player
who can play rhythm for me while I solo and
change to a pick. I want to flatpick a solo, but
I want to thumbpick the verses and sing it, so
I just have to do it all with a thumbpick.
Which thumbpick do you use?
A real thick type… I have some Dunlop
picks, the heavy ones. Dunlop mediums are
good, too. I don’t like a thumb pick that’s
real thin, or that’s really flexible. I like it to
be stiff like a piece of iron.
What strings do you use?
I vary them. I use Martins, GHS, Everly
strings, D’Addario. I vary them, I don’t stick
with the same strings. The only strings I don’t
use are coated strings. I don’t like coated
strings. I use Phosphor bronze and 80/20.
On my little main guitar, the one that I’m
using mostly, that one has .012 to .054, and
the other two guitars that I carry on the road
have .013 to .056 on them.
What about open tunings?
I use a tuning that I got from Chet, and I’ve
been writing a lot of songs in that tuning.
It’s the E string down to D, and the A string
down to G, and everything else stays the
same. When you strum it open, it’s like a G6
with a D bass, a very interesting tuning…. On
my big guitar that I play the aboriginal song
on, that’s just big strings tuned down… just
normal guitar tuning, but when you play it
open, the E is a C♯. It’s down two tones.
And you use some sort of echo unit?
On stage, I use a digital delay, an Alesis
MidiVerb II. It’s old technology from the ‘80s,
and it’s wonderful—real simple. I’m getting
the feedback, and the sustain and the sounds
of other instruments, I’m getting it all using
way too much EQ on my guitar. I’m overdriving everything. I’m also getting very close to
my amp and causing the feeback… and then
I’m using all that to create those sounds. I’m
taking an acoustic instrument into an area
where it’s not really designed to go. But it
can go there if you push it.
It’s a very organic way of doing it. I’m not
using loops or digital sounds. I’m not using
other sounds. I’m just using a delay and making the whole guitar vibrate in my hands.
I saw you playing it with your hand and
with a drum brush…
Oh, that was my song “Mombasa,” where I
was playing a percussion solo.
Is your guitar all beat up because you keep
doing that to it?
I don’t really care what it looks like as long as
it does the job for me. I can play music on it,
and I can beat out rhythms on it, turn it from
a guitar to a drum in a second. The guitar is
just a wooden box, isn’t it?
How long have you played that
It was brand new in April of 2003. It’s had
a hard life.
There’s a beauty in what you do as an
instrumentalist—that there’s nothing lost in
the translation of the language. Everyone
can understand what you do.
That’s right, exactly. I’ve played in places where
they’ve never seen a white man play the guitar.
I took battery-powered amplifiers to the Rift
Valley in Kenya and played for the Maasai, out
there under the stars—and they loved it. As
soon as I played, they danced. That’s why I