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I’ve been playing guitar off and on since the mid-1970s; more off than on, in recent decades. But I recently wanted to get back into playing. I first bought a classical guitar, with the desire to play music by John Dowland, Johann Sebastian Bach, and others. But I don’t have the technique for classical music, and learning this music was like playing an instrument from scratch. So I decided to first work on my steel-string acoustic playing, and get back into fingerpicking blues, which I used to play back in the day.
I still have the Yamaha I bought back in the late 70s, and, while it’s a good guitar for strumming, it’s not ideal for fingerpicking. I did some research, and found that “parlor guitars” are common these days. These are instruments with smaller bodies and wider necks, ideal for the type of music I want to play. They also have shorter scales, with the neck attached to the body at a lower fret (this one is at the 12th fret), meaning that the distance between frets at the top of the neck is a bit shorter.
I looked at what was available, read a lot of reviews, listened to some videos, and settled on the Washburn R320SWRK.
Guitar companies clearly need to work on their naming strategies. This axe does not have a name that flows trippingly on the tongue, but sounds like a Windows laptop. No matter, it’s a nice-looking instrument, and it plays great. It’s got a smaller sound than a full-sized body, of course, but it works well for what I want to do. I’m not planning to perform; I just want to play for my own enjoyment. Note that with fingerpicks (I don’t use them), this guitar is plenty loud. It cost £439 on Amazon; it’s currently $564 in the US. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) I know you should never buy an instrument without playing it, but I bought it from Amazon, and knew that if there was anything wrong with it, I could return it.
The body of this guitar is made of solid wood, and it has an attractive vintage finish, and I love the color and the mother of pearl inlays in the neck. It’s comfortable in my hand, and the wider neck is great for agile fingerpicking. It has a V-neck on the back, which took a couple of days to get used to. Washburn makes a couple of less expensive models, but they have laminate bodies, and I preferred spending a bit more for a guitar with solid wood.
The guitar came with phosphor bronze strings, which were tight and loud; I changed for Martin Silk & Steel strings, which I have always preferred. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) They give the guitar a slinky feel that works perfectly for the way I play.
For now, I’ve been playing some simple blues songs, and I got back into the feel of fingerpicking pretty quickly, even though it’s been decades since I played this music. I plan to spend some time every day practicing and expanding my repertoire. And I’ll get back into classical music as well, when I’ve gotten back my agility on the fretboard.
I finally tracked this down. I had the album this track was on – European Impressions – back in the 70s, and I loved what Coryell could do with an acoustic guitar. I managed to figure out bits of this piece, but not much. It’s a long suite with parts ranging from atonal solos to jazzy strumming. This is a video of him performing the piece live, sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. I saw him perform this solo acoustic stuff once, of all places at the Rasthaus in the Queens College student union (I think). It was an amazing concert. I’d love to get this album; it’s out of print, and I don’t have turntable, so if anyone has it, get in touch.
In any case, enjoy this 9+ minute example of true guitar artistry.
I’ve been playing guitar for the past 40 years, off and on (mostly off). I recently decided to get back into the instrument, so I bought a classical guitar and some sheet music. As such, I’ve been listening to a lot of guitar recordings.
If you’re a guitarist, or a fan of the classical guitar, there are two big box sets available by two of the greatest guitarists of recent years.
The first is Julian Bream’s Complete RCA Album Anthology. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) On 42 discs, this contains all of this great guitarists recordings. Bream played a lot of early music – Dowland, Bach, and other pre-classical music – and he played lute as well as guitar. There are a number of concerto recordings in this set – the obligatory Rodrigo, several times – a number of discs of Spanish music, and several Elizabethan and Jacobean discs. And there are some interesting DVDs with performances and master classes.
Since this box set is out of print, you’ll have to pay a high price. It was released just three years ago, but like many of these sets, it will likely never be reissued. I bought mine late last year, and paid that I would consider a pittance for it.
The second set is John Williams’ Complete Columbia Album Collection. There are 59 discs, with music from his landmark recordings of Bach’s lute works on guitar to pop music. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) Williams covered all bases, playing baroque music, Spanish music, and pop. But he also recorded a disc of music by Takemitsu, some recordings of folk songs, and was in a fusion group called Sky. The set also contains a DVD of The Seville Concert.
Each of these two sets has a lot of excellent music. If you play, or simply like the guitar, they’re both excellent sets to have in your library. Unfortunately, the Bream set may be hard to find at an affordable price.
If you’re a guitarist, or a fan of guitar music, feel free to add in the comments any discs or sets that you especially like.
This is one of my favorite pieces for guitar. I discovered this when I was a teenager, and it’s one of the pieces of music that opened my mind to modern music. I still have the score that I bought about 35 years ago.
It’s played here by Paul Galbraith, on his very strange 8-string guitar. I think he’s the only person who plays a guitar like this. I have to admit, having just bought a classical guitar to get back into playing after a long hiatus, I can see the interest in playing in this position. I played viola da gamba for a while, and this is the exact same position (as is the cello). The guitar has always seemed to me to be a great instrument that just isn’t designed ergonomically. If I could afford a guitar like this…