Don Alder, Guitar Player Extraordinaire

DON ALDER GUITAR WORK SHOP at AM Music (Blast Beats) Cranbrook, Saturday June 22, 2013, 3pm.

Back in the days when men still wore neck ties finger style guitar players were a pretty rare breed. The earlier players of note were country players like Chet Atkins, Doc Watson and Merle Travis. Then came the folk boom of the early sixties with a focus on the roots music of old time blues players like Mississippi John Hurt and Elizabeth Cotten. That set in motion a whole process of development, innovation and adaption of guitar finger picking styles to all kinds of music. The musicians of note in that era include John Fahey, John Renbourn, Burt Jansch, Dave Van Ronk, Joseph Spence, Ry Cooder, Nic Jones  Don Alderand Stephan Grossman. The process that started with them still continues to move forward with the likes of Michael Hedges, Martin Simpson, Peter Finger, Alex Degrassi, Adrian Legg, Tony McManus, Tommy Emmanuel and, in Canada, Don Ross and Alex Houghton. And to that list we can now add Vancouver native Don Alder. Don was in town this weekend to do a concert at The Studio/Stage Door and, thanks to Yamaha Music and AM MUSIC, he was able to promote the A Series of Yamaha guitars and do a work shop for finger style guitarists. He kicked off the afternoon with a demonstration tune in a guitar tuning of his own invention (DADFCE) in which he brought into play a whole host of percussive techniques, artificial harmonics, vibrato and the like. He followed that with a hands on lesson designed to develop rhythmic independence of left and right hands. For this purpose he used the melody of the Beatles tune Day Tripper. The idea was to tap the melody  with one hand while tapping the basic four beat with the other hand. Also covered were the various types of vibrato (Side to Side, Up and Down, Neck Bend and Body Pressure and Release techniques) and the various percussive techniques that use the whole guitar (top, back, sides and neck).  Don uses glued on nails and there was a lot of discussion of the advantages, disadvantages and pitfalls associated with artificial nails, including a horror story of when his real nails started become detached from the underlying nail bed.  Throughout the afternoon the various playing techniques were demonstrated on his own personal Yamaha A Series Guitar and, to prove a point, he lifted a stock Yamaha guitar straight off the shelf in the shop and put it through the same paces. The Yamaha A Series features solid woods, state of the art electronics all at a price that in the 60’s would not have been believed. This is one of the “best bangs for the buck” in the current guitar world.

Don also demonstrated the Harp Guitar. To be honest the appeal of this instrument alludes me. It is an archaic instrument from the late 1800’s that is cumbersome and difficult to play. It was resurrected by the late Michael Hedges, had a brief flowering of Don Alder and the Harp Guitarinterest, faded out for a while but now seems to making a come back with new luthiers building modern instruments based on the classic design. The idea is to expand the range of the conventional acoustic guitar. This is the part that puzzles me. Modern Luthiers, particularly in the classical guitar realm have addressed this issue a number of times. The esteemed guitarist Narciso Ypes collaborated with the legendary luthier Jose Ramirez and in 1964 premiered a 10 string guitar that he used for many years. That instrument addressed a number of issues including the expansion of the range of the guitar. A Google search of 10 string, 9 string, 8 string and seven string guitars will turn up a lot hits. Rock and Roll guitarists have tried to address the range issue by employing double necked instruments that are essentially a bass guitar and a conventional guitar on the same body. It kinda works but in reality the player is only playing one instrument at a time and the ability to play accompanying bass lines is limited. The advantage of the double neck is that there is no need to physically switch instruments. The luthier Ralph Novak, in collaboration with guitarist Charlie Hunter ( Charlie Hunter – Recess  ) arrived at a more elegant solution to the problem with an 8-string  fan fret design. The interesting thing about Charlie Hunter and his Novax guitar is that he plays it finger style and is able to play moving bass lines while he improvises his jazz solos. A little searching on the internet will turn up a number of similar elegant designs that the Harp Guitar was initially intended to address.

Don Alder        Don Alder       Don Alder

The guitarists of Cranbrook would like to thank Don Alder for his instruction and insights into finger style guitar playing. Thanks should go to Yamaha guitars, AM Music (Allen Munro & Ricky D’Orazio) and Ferdy Belland for their support of this workshop.

Ferdy and Don          Staff of AM Music, Ferdy Belland and Don Alder.


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