Lots of different harp guitar styles during Saturday morning’s segments at the 14th Harp Guitar Gathering. No sooner did we finish with four new features, than we moved on to a fifth, Canadian Don Ross.
Yes, that Don Ross! With many of the hottest fingerstyle players – McKee, Alder, Dufour, de Grassi and more recently Dupuis, Bellue, Graham, Bowman, et al – having long ago added a harp guitar to their repertoire, one might look at our superhero Don as being “late to the party.”
But Mr. Ross began dabbling with harp guitars when most of those guys were still in diapers. I don’t recall now his entire story – I believe he was playing the Hedges piece on a Dyer loaner way back, and I know he once almost commissioned one in India from my own aborted Dyer copy supplier, Arul (which Don mentioned as well).
And he now permanently owns one – and it’s a doozy: the first harp guitar commissioned from Don’s go-to guitarmaker, Marc Beneteau, who evidently described it as a major challenge. It sounded great plugged in (and I am not a fan of plugged-in acoustic instruments) and I wish we could’ve heard it played acoustically also. As Don packed up after his set, I was able to give all 12 strings a quick pluck and strum and just with it sitting in its case I could tell that Beneteau had knocked it out of the park, achieving some pretty stunning tonal results (and my constituents know I don’t give praise lightly). During the set, it also handled Don’s radical re-tuning of all strings remarkably well.
Don had created his first new harp guitar pieces specifically for his Gathering debut. The first was an original ballad written for his mother, the second a great arrangement of an obscure 1972 pop hit by the Stylistics – one of the endless Soul and Motown tunes that Don grew up on. It was a beautiful tune and class act all the way until he told us the title: “Betcha by Golly, Wow.” Don then proceeded to sing it (he’s a great singer too, but opted out of the authentic falsetto).
I didn’t know that Don was (as he described it) a complete music theory nerd. It explains his tuning of the subs in his own way. As I recall, for the Stylistics tune, the highest three were pitched above the low neck string (E or whatever it was), with the low three descending in such a way as to provide the same interval movement but with a key shift. All in a puzzle of moving 11th chords or some such cleverness.
He ended – not unsurprisingly – with Hedges’ “Because It’s There,” though he was embarrassed, imagining it to have been played a hundred times already that weekend (it hadn’t – he was the first and only).
Now I just hope the one and only Don Ross continues his harp guitar career; I can only imagine what might come out of that guy’s mind and fingers.
Time for the lunch break. First a mad dash to fight over this year’s souvenir T-shirts.
You know you have how the malls have to play background muzak for shoppers…
We provide a classier service. Lunch hour open mic, with Tony Barnard (that’s his new 21-string custom Sedgwick).
On to Pete Bradshaw and his Wingert.
John Riley, who once again drove most of his collection to the Gathering. His fascinating and funky Coulter.
One of two ultra-low-budget-but-souped-up Wishnevskys
And his Walton baritone
Fans and new friends, Nitzan Zippel and Avigail Shimshoni
Meanwhile inside, Randall and I were keen to compare our two new Beardsells. Main differences were cutaways, woods and body depth. We had SB play each for us, then compared them in our own laps.
On to an impromptu jam with three glorious-sounding modern harp guitars (SB with his Wingert).
We started to attract a crowd…before we realized we were in charge of getting the next session started! Quick, let’s get the P.A. and projector on for:
Next: Luthier Showcase!
Thanks for another great write-up, Gregg! It was great to see Don Ross playing harp guitar – hopefully he will write and arrange more music for the instrument. Clearly, the 6-string hasn’t been working out for him.
The Gathering was just last month but it feels like much longer ago to me…
Best to all.