Studio 64 Spring Concert Series – Don Alder

Studio 64 Spring Concert Series – Don Alder Saturday February 11, 2017, 8pm.

Don Alder is an acoustic guitar player who performs in a style I describe as “”two fisted percussive”. The great Canadian acoustic guitarist Don Ross would probably describe it  as “Heavy Wood”. It is  a funky, take no prisoners style of music that owes much to rock and roll sensibilities albeit with more highly developed guitar technique and musicality. The style has developed over the past thirty years and has virtually stood conventional guitar technique on it head. Rather than restricting the left hand to fretting the notes and the right hand to strumming or picking there is a new role for the right hand for fretting and tapping the fret board for the desired notes and adding percussive effects by tapping the body of the guitar. The first time I came across this approach was in the playing of Stanley Jordan in the mid -1980s.   Stanley was a jazz guitarist who played electric guitar  by using both hands to tap the frets to get the required musical notes. It was a style more akin to a keyboard instrument than a guitar. He tuned his guitar in fourths (E A D G C F) and developed an harmonic approach based on that tuning. Although there were some percussive elements in his playing the whole thing was more pianistic than percussive.

The percussive elements in acoustic guitar playing have been around for a long time. In Flamenco guitar playing guitar  body slaps and taps have been an integral  part of that style of music for many, many years. Percussive guitar playing is nothing new for flamenco guitarists.  Modern acoustic guitarists such as Don Ross, Tommy Emmanuel and Don Alder have developed a percussive language that takes it to a whole new level. It is best explained by Tommy Emmanuel in a TED TALK (click on the link at the bottom of this blog). Essentially the acoustic guitarist now tries to  emulates a drum kit by tapping on various parts of the guitar body to create the sound of the snare and bass drums. To this he will add bass runs on the strings to emulate a regular bass and, of course he adds the melody on top to create a full band effect. To expand melodic possibilities modern acoustic guitarists have taken to tapping the fret board  (a la Stanley Jordan) to sound specific notes and create melodic runs that would be difficult or nigh on impossible to obtain using conventional techniques. They have expanded the role of artificial harmonics in their musical landscape to create ringing bell like cascades of notes.  (The production of artificial harmonics is a technique of touching the guitar string in a specific way, generally with the right hand,  to produce notes that are an octave or more above the usual fretted note – the overall effect is a series of bell like sounds that adds interest to the music).

Don Alder is originally from Williams Lake and is a master of this style of acoustic guitar playing. As near as I can tell Don, like Tommy Emmanuel, is a self taught musician who has arrived at his style of playing though diligent exploration, experimentation and practice.  Tommy Emmanuel tends to favor the reinterpretation of popular well known songs and tunes. Don, on the other hand plays mostly original compositions that have evolved out of his personal experiences, memories and musical explorations. On Saturday night at Stage 64 he took us on a tour of these memories and experiences with such evocative tunes as The Wall (based on his experiences with Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion tour), Dancing With the Spin Doctors (reflections on the recent elections in the USA), Not a Planet  ( Pluto’s decline in status), Wok the Dog (where upon Don learned that the Wok is not a Chinese invention or even a Chinese word), Going Rogue, Haunting Me, Armed and Dangerous (an excursion into the rhythmic realms of 6/8 time), Sophrosyme (a tribute to his grand mother), and Arrows will Fly. These  last two compositions  he played on the Brunner  Baritone Guitar. This is a lovely mellow instrument and on Arrows will Fly there were some lovely pizzicato effects . Another very lyrical piece was Marshall’s Lanai  (memories of a friend).

Don’s instrument of choice is a Yamaha AC-3R. The instrument he plays is a stock model straight off the shelf with an additional magnetic pickup in the sound hole. He also plays a Brunner travel guitar. This Swiss made instrument is fairly unique in that it has a detachable neck that allows the instrument to be folded down to fit in a small suitcase suitable for overhead storage in air lines. He has it set up in a baritone tuning.  Like his fellow Canadian guitarist Don Ross, Don seems to favor glue-on acrylic nails but unlike the other Don he does not use a thumb pick.

As always this Studio 64 concert was a stunning success. More so because of the Yamaha FG800 guitar  given away as a door prize. The lucky winner was Sonya Parker (I am sorry to tell you John your wife has nor intention of passing the guitar on to you).


The Studio 64 organizing committee would like to thank Nancy of the Burrito Grill for feeding Don, thanks also go to Keith and Kate Nicholas for providing Don’s accommodation  and Ray of Ray’s Music for providing the sound and organizing the guitar give-away door prize.

Here is that Ted Talk Bonus link

And if you have never heard Stanley Jordan then here is a treat for you –


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