Canadian guitarist Don Ross is a legend in the acoustic fingerstyle world.  With decades of experience, he employs modern techniques, altered tunings, and a strong melodic sense to write memorable songs.  Aaron Sefchick and Joe McMurray have a fun and informative conversation with Don about a wide range of topics including his musical journey, his guitars, acoustic guitar pickups, traveling with guitars, songwriting, recording, his most memorable shows (good and bad), and much more.
In part 1 of 2, Don tells Aaron and Joe about his musical upbringing in Canada and his early influences.  He talks about how his love of R&B music led him to write some songs around strong bass lines.  He also talks about how altered tunings can be used to solve compositional problems and expand the range of the guitar.
Don talks about his Beneteau guitars, and how he maintains them on tour.  Check out Fret Buzz’s interview with Marc Beneteau (Episodes 47 and 48)! Don sheds light on several different pickup systems for acoustic guitar amplification, including products from K&K and LR Baggs.  Joe asks Don how he safely travels with his guitars.
Find out more about Don Ross at https://donrossonline.com/ or check out his music on any music platform.
Welcome to Fret Buzz The Podcast. My name is Joe McMurray, and I am Aaron Sefchick.
Today we have a very special guest. One of my favorite acoustic guitarist, Mr.
Don Ross. He’s the two-time winner of the International Fingerstyle Guitar
competition and he’s written a lot of incredible music and he’s calling in
from northeastern Canada. Welcome Don. Howdy doody! How’s it going? Good morning,
how are you sir? I’m good, I’m good. Yeah, I mean I guess it’s North East to
you guys but it’s it’s kind of South East for us but whatever, doesn’t matter.
I’m on the Atlantic coast. Yeah. I’ll have make it up to Canada at some point. It’s
on my bucket list. It seems so close but that I’ve put it off. It’s great. I mean, I
travel for a living basically and every time I come home, I can go, you know.
It’s just a great place to live. I mean, I have favorite places around the world
for sure that have their cachet you know in different ways that Canada doesn’t
but overall I think it’s it’s my favorite place to be for sure. I just
happened to be somebody who was born here that’s lucky. Yeah,
what what are some of your favorite places in the world outside of Canada I
always say Italy first it’s it’s just awesome I was there again six weeks ago
or so and actually I’ve gotten there several times in the last year which is
fine by me I play a lot of northern Italy so I play around Milano and I play
in Vilonia and I play and powder my place like that and then I have a stop
that I make right on the Swiss border north of Milano and so it’s a gorgeous
place the people are so sweet and of course that you can’t beat the wine you
know it’s my my one bad habit is red wine so
with you yeah I never did anything else just red wine that’s it
well we’re out so Italy any other it was my favorite place to go I spend a lot of
time in Germany and there’s just a lot of work there
and I’ve really grown very fond of the place I have tons of tons of my best
friends are in Germany so you know just gotten to know them so well over the
years I started touring there in 1995 so and I go there at least once a year
sometimes I go there are several times a year I go so often that I actually speak
German now so yeah I and I grew up in Quebec so I could speak French so being
multilingual was the best thing about you know the the best thing about my
travel experience is that my can be understood almost everywhere I go except
like Japan and China and places like that then I have to just you know hope
everybody speaks a little bit of English yeah Germany seems to be a good place I
know a couple weeks ago we talked to Adam Rafferty and he’s based in Austria
and he goes over everything over there quite often mm-hmm yeah well he’s he’s
so handy to Germany and Germany’s like it’s a country of close to 100 million
people enrolled jammed into this little postage stamp you know by North American
can you no comparison it’s just such a small country so you can rent a car and
drive you know for a couple of weeks and just hit all these towns and come home
with a pocketful of change and do very well and it’s it’s the kind of place to
where I find German tours you go over and you work a lot you sort of do a
whole lot of gigs for kind of medium money as opposed to in Canada I tend to
do far fewer for bigger amounts of money at a time so you know I guess I’ve all
kind of works out somehow there’s just something about working that muscle that
much you know and you know when I’d go and do these tours that are really
intense from playing every night my playing just gets so good I mean it’s
like after a while I everything I think of I can do all of a sudden whereas when
the gigs are more farther apart I found myself okay dawn you have to practice
you have to practice really whenever I go even a week without a gig when I get
back up it takes a little bit to get it back I love when I I’ll try to pack you
know three four shows into a you know three
four-day window on a weekend and it it is every show just gets easier and
easier mm-hmm if you had if you space them close enough like every few days
you don’t I quit practicing all of my show
repertoire oh yeah I mean at this point seriously I play so much between
teaching and playing live and recording and and continuing to write
I don’t really sit down and practice anymore and like I used to when I was a
kid and I had limitless hours free time then that’s basically all I did was hang
out with a couple of buds and play guitar I just that was my life now
there’s a bit more responsibility involved but I still play a lot of
guitar which is great that is wonderful hey don’t ever want to stop playing the
guitar no what’s the point
well your practice when you were a kid were you playing acoustic guitar when
you were a kid or were you into rock and roll or anything else I was into
everything access to an electric guitar wasn’t really something that I had what
I did was my older brother and I we both kind of jumped on this guitar that my
sister brought home from boarding school my sister’s 10 years older than me and
so she was studying at a Catholic private school and we were living in
Montreal and she was going to school in rural Ontario not far from where we live
in Quebec and so when I went to visit it all seemed very exotic you know going to
a different province and not as many french-speaking people it was all kind
of weird anyway and then one year she I guess the year she graduated or
something the nuns got this big bequest from
somebody’s will to invest specifically in new instruments for the school
orchestra so my sister played guitar and clarinet and the school orchestra and
you know it was the late 60s early 70s I was a big Beatle fan
there were aside from the clarinet solo and when I’m 64 everything else is
pretty much good you know with the Beatles and I really
wanted to learn their tunes so my older brother and I my sister got got to take
these two instruments home she gets to take a very forthright clarinet and
about a fifth-rate guitar it was a I remember it was a Stella
it was probably made in 1348 or something you know action about this
high off the fingerboard yeah it was it was really hard to play but but I
developed the left hand of God as a result right parsing down on this thing
and so my older brother was really my first guitar teacher because what he
would do is he would he was already in high school when I was still in probably
middle school or something or primary school and I was still in primary school
and so he would go and learn all these cool things from his friends and hidden
he was in a band for a while and he’d played both guitar and bass and he would
show me well this could this Court is called a minor and here’s a hard one
this is B 7th and blah blah blah so I learned kind of all my basic chords from
him he showed me how to play vibrato and tremolo and how to bend a string and all
these cool things but but I was learning on this really awful guitar and then he
eventually he had a summer job and so he bought himself an electric bass and he
became a bass player in a band which I thought was really awesome because I I
really I was a huge R&B; fan growing up another of my brothers musical love’s
rubbed off on me so I was listening to you know like really heavy-duty soul
music and R&B; and Motown and all that kind of stuff
and I for me it was all about the bass lines and those you know I was turned
into a huge Bootsy Collins fan and Jamison Jamison and all those dudes you
know the guy from slightly well um I can’t remember his name now Larry
alright anyway great great bass players Lenny Larry Graham Graham thank you yeah
yeah so the very first thing I ever learned on the guitar I taught my swell
other than the lessons my brother gave me he came home when one day with the
single for thank you for letting me be myself again by sliding the family stone
and of course you know it’s best to bars long in history right so I said I put
this thing on and I heard that poem don’t don’t don’t
and of course part of it was a baseline part of it was just a civil guitar
punctuation chord thing and but I I remember sitting there for hours with
the single listening to that riff over and over again and I eventually figured
out how to play it I figured out how to play like a 9th chord and on the guitar
which I mean I didn’t even know what it was I just knew that those are the notes
so I was starting to pick things up from by ear really early so even though I
wasn’t really playing electric guitars listening to a lot of electric music and
and I just stuck with the acoustic because I liked the fact that I could
entertain myself really easily wherever I went I could bring the guitar with me
I could sit under a tree in the park and play and that I noticed members of the
opposite sex thought it was really nice to listen to me play a guitar so having
a portable instrument was very important and you know eventually I did play
electric guitar in a few bands I wouldn’t say I ever became a great lead
guitar player but I would play lead guitar in a lot of these bands but
because I was because I got so grabbed I gravitated so strongly at such a young
age towards playing fingerstyle I didn’t know it was called finger style but I
was just playing with my thumb and fingers instead of with a flat pick from
somewhat at such a young age I never really focused on single note soloing
and learning all the blues riffs and stuff like that I was more into just
trying to play as many notes as possible on the instrument at once kind of thing
so many things you connected a lot of dots there yeah I’ve I’ve been studying
James Jamerson recently just because I have a fascination I just love that like
early Motown music like early Stevie Wonder early Marvin Gaye before he got
so-so I don’t know 80s sounding but uh you a
lot of your tunes like Dracula and friends and like a million Brazilian
civilians they are based around the bass line with just the that same guitar
punctuation that you were just talking about yeah I found increasingly
especially in the last 20 years or so a lot of my teens would grow very
organically out of a bass riff and so I’d come up with a really cool
underlying pattern for the bass line and then I’d very often
starting with especially with this piece called Lucy Watusi which I wrote in the
late 80s I guess I started experimenting with the idea of kind of a walking funk
bass line kind of thing and then in the spaces between the notes I would work in
what were essentially like horn shots on the trebles of a guitar and so there was
kind of a question-and-answer going on between the bass and horns bass in my
mind you know and so that became a question and answer between the basis
and travels in the guitar and that’s still like you say Dracula and Friends
is another example both versions of that song are both written with that in mind
again a baseline with call-and-response thing going on it’s wonderful I think
that I’ve I recently got a book on James Jamerson and that was had all these
transcriptions of his bass lines and then I realized that that was a little
difficult because I’m not a bass player and so I got like the bass method books
and I’ve been working my way through them and I think it is because of phears
songs I started listening I started listening to you fairly late in the game
but I don’t know if it’s been a year now or somebody brought you to my attention
and I was like I think I told you in an email I pulled up Klim bin was the first
song that came up right and I think I was listening my jaw kind of dropped I
was just like I couldn’t believe that was coming out of one instrument I mean
I believed I believed it but I listened to it like five times on repeat and then
went and got my wife it’s like you’ve got to hear this and then and it’s been
I’ve been listening to your music and learning it ever since
yeah yeah thank you well that’s a that’s a cool tune in that um
there were a whole lot of parameters that kind of set for myself and I wrote
it first of all I was trying to come up with a tuning
that allowed me to expand the range of the instrument so I’ve been I had been
experimenting a lot with a seven string guitar and with baritone guitar and
stuff like that but then I thought well what’s kind of the coolest sounding wide
range tuning I can come up with where the strings are still at a fairly
reasonable tension so because you know you could tune your bottom string all
the way down to an a if you want and kind of achieve what I did in terms of
range on that song but what I did instead is that you in the bottom string
down to a B and I tuned the first string the high string up a whole tone to F
sharp which is dangerous of course if the string is more than a week old or
whatever you’ve got if you’ve got a new string on there that it takes an F sharp
okay at least for a while and so I came up with this tuning this bizarre tuning
I guess goes to be F sharp C sharp F sharp B F sharp and it’s all full of
fourths and fifths you know all these big relationships and dervalloc
relationships between the strings and there’s one major second in there but
everything else is a fourth and a fifth and so yeah you’re tuning it almost
almost like a six string cello you know it’s a lot of fifths going on
and it adds a fifth to the range of the instrument open and so instead of just
going to octaves e to e you’re going to octaves and a fifth from a low B to a
high F sharp and I love the sound of I just thought wow this is like I’m
playing a guitar and a half you know in this thing and then then I realized with
that tuning because it was an ad nine tuning playing major chords and minor
chords was a snap you know with with different two different bar positions of
the neck and and then I came up with this this crazy idea to use it’s really
complicated and to explain what I did in terms of music theory but essentially it
was a modal shift the the first part of the piece is in B major and the second
parts in D major and so B major is five sharps and G major is two sharps and
then but you can think of D major as B minor as well right it’s as relative
minor so the B major in B minor are to two modes of the same tonic right so
it’s kind of like your ear goes right to it even though it feels like a
transition and that’s what’s so cool that piece is just binary it just has
two sections that kind of go back and forth but because of the key changes it
always feels like it’s going somewhere new hire a new hire all the time and
that’s what people say they love about it it’s just it feels fresh all the time
and that that to me that that really turns my crank you know I love stuff
like that yeah it also the stops that you the mutes that you do in the main
melody mm-hmm something about that when it comes back
in even though it’s just that quick moment where you need the strings it how
do you get that then yes yeah that part I love that yeah thanks it was fun to
write I think I wrote it in like two hours which is really unusual it’s not
how sometimes I slave over a teen for months before it feels finished but that
Tina was kind of like no there it is awesome pulled that one out of the air
doesn’t happen often no take it so with the the tuning that
high e-string do an f-sharp I’ve broken multiple strings doing the hell I’m
keeping the Ernie Ball Company in business right yeah I went I think I had
a gig one night and I was this was a few weeks you and I tuned it up pop the
string I was like ah and to drive out to the Music Store blast and yeah any the
guy was telling me maybe if I used a thinner string it would stretch with a
better without breaking yeah you know I could use a 12 or an 11 or something but
then you sacrificed the tone especially when you it tuned back down a regular
pitch but Andy Makena any Makena I did the record together but ten years ago
and we did a version of that tune on the album as a duet mm-hmm and so he played
my part that I would normally play played the original part and I came up
with a second part capo to the second fret and standard tuning playing in a
positions so it would sound the same key and but because of the tuning because it
was such a pain in the backside to get in tune
I think what we always did was we started the second set with it
so we were both kind of regular string changers anyway because like new
sounding tune strings and so his strings are always still pretty fresh after the
first set and during the break was part of our rituals that would retune for
clim BIM because we’d always start the second step with it so that way it was
it was gonna break it was gonna break during the break in the did between the
sets and then we’d always have loads of strings backstage in case something
happened but that was kind of a way of solving it or playing at the very
beginning of a show would also solve the problem but that’s that’s what I’ve done
in the past is of if somebody requests it before I show I say to myself okay
mental note play at first either you know the beginning of one of the sets
just that going through one show you feel like your strings have taken enough
of a beating that you can’t tune up well you know that for me what I do is I tour
usually at least with two guitarists in house with three and they’re all
different ones a regular pitch guitar and these are all Beneteau guitars I
know you’ve had mark on the show before but I’m working with mark for 22 years
now anyway I have a regular pitch guitar that he made me in 2017 that’s my
current so the regular pitch touring instrument that’s the one I take
everywhere and then I also very often bring the baritone with me which is he
made in 2008 and then most recently I’ve been starting to tour with my harp
guitar which I guess he made in 2016 or so I didn’t start touring with it until
about two years ago because that’s get my chops back I learned how to play the
harp guitar when I was a kid and then never actually officially owned one like
I borrowed one from a friend of mine who ran a guitar store in Toronto when I was
living in Toronto and I saw Michael Hedges play back in the 80s and I
thought wait a second Drago has one of those in his window at
the at the right at the guitar store I thought wouldn’t it be cool to learn
some of those Michael Hedges tunes so I went over and I said hey Drago does
anybody play that harp guitar in the window and he says no it’s just
window dressing is just to get people in the door I said could I could I rent it
and he said yeah go ahead borrow it Don it’s funny you know he trusted me so I
rented it for three and a half years and I eventually gave it back but but then I
I didn’t I didn’t have one in my hands even from that point until about
twenty-five years later I was in India on tour and I met a heart guitar builder
who I just found out it’s just passed away but he made the Dyer heart guitar
he made copies of it so I I borrowed his for a few hours and and my chops were
still there and I thought okay I gotta get mark to make me one and he deigned
to make me one it was kind of amazing so so I bring the three instruments and
so I have to have so many strings with me it’s insane so I always pack about 15
sets of strings before I go on tour and the baritone and the harp I don’t have
to tune I don’t have to restring as often
the baritone maybe I’ll restring every second or third gig the regular pitch
it’s it’s sometimes every show it depends on how hot and humid it was the
night before you know if the strings are totally toast but it’s at least every
second gig just so that I don’t run into huge problems with with breaking strings
also the the bottom strings because I tuned down to C and B quite often if
they’re if they’re not pretty fresh they tend to just sound like you know they
don’t don’t sound like much understandable they have a deaden get
that dollar sound and you kind of want it to cut to cut through yeah and I’m a
big fan of like fresh uncoated strings I like that sound I mean some people hate
new strings and I get it I understand why they don’t like the sound of them
whatever you know but and some people like the coated strings which I could
never get used to it just didn’t turn my crank and and I I just like that sound
of that that crispy new string sound so I’m happy – I don’t mind changing my
strings so it’s not not a big pain it’s kind of a relaxing thing to do I
like to do it while I’m watching TV here you know I thrown a podcasting music ya
know if you like yours yeah yeah you have become an avid putter
as a listener I should start my own podcast because I have should I know I
should that would be great but I haven’t done that yet I will yeah oh it’s on the
checklist yeah yeah we can give you some helpful helpful tips and hints they
somehow tuesd yeah we you mentioned Marc Bennett oh I can’t remember the episode
number I’m terrible at that but it was a while ago and for all of our listeners
out there if you haven’t heard of Marc Bennett oh he’s a guitar builder out of
Canada and he builds some incredible acoustic guitars he sure does yeah I I
had the opportunity to play one of them before the episode to prepare myself to
understand what I was you know so that I knew what I was talking about when I
spoke with with Marc was that I wanted Dustin’s guitars yes yeah awesome yeah
it was a baritone or so not a baritone a the jumbo yeah with I think walnut back
in sides and I I’ve still got my my tailor sitting here at to this day I’ve
never quite recovered that’s the thing you know like it once you put like I
just had this interesting conversation on Facebook yesterday and today wasn’t
an argument it was an interesting discussion was going on there’s a
guitarist named Richard Smith who live from Nashville and he he just said a
posted he said I’m convinced you don’t have to pay more
than $400 for an electric bass for string guitar and III I took his point
you know and I I understand my studio bass was a $400
made in Mexico Fender Jazz fretless guitar and it sounds great it records
beautifully is nothing wrong with it I wouldn’t I don’t know if I would take it
on tour I don’t know if it’s built for it but it’s a great studio instrument
but you know I made the point that I got to play bass on my wife’s album that she
made for this German label and they had as on-base
sitting there and the guy who makes guitars for Michael Mann ring and I was
kind of lusting over it saying boy that would be nice to play and sure enough
bruxism maybe we can play some based on the standards like yeah so I picked up
this instrument it was a fretless is on and it had really nice electronics but
also the had this set of bonus pickup in it I was like a transducer and I swear
it sounded like a really easy to control upright bass through that thing so I
used this set of combo of the more rustic sound and the electric sound on
her album that along with a phat Scioli grand piano but I also got to play him
instruments are astoundingly great sounding and I said I made the point I
said well the zahn bass retails for $4,000 is it worth it yeah it is you
know because that was handmade by somebody in his own studio somewhere he
put every little bit of that together he probably made five bucks an hour to do
it even at four thousand dollars and the thing is a work of art that sounds
incredible and I mean with Marx guitars mark has always tried to keep his price
as low as he possibly can and still make a living because he wants real players
to play them he wants you know actual full-time musicians to play them and
most of us don’t have a lot of money so where as I understand the the lure for a
lot of instrument builders to say well I’m gonna focus on the dentist’s and the
doctors and the lawyers who do music on weekends part-time with their buddies
over a beer and they want the Brazilian rosewood and they want all the inlay and
they want all the bling all these set of value-added things that turn it into a
twenty-five thousand dollar guitar and that nights a way to make a more
middle-class living as a luthier I get it totally but mark has somehow bridged
the gap between building instruments that are both incredibly well-made and
also relatively affordable and compared to a whole lot of other
custom luthiers out there I mean I think he just raised his price to like seven
grand or 75 hundred which with considering what you get is is a bargain
it really is because you can pay three or four thousand and again I’m not
slagging anybody about three or four thousand dollars for a tailor that is
perfectly fine it’s a perfectly usable functional okay sounding factory
instrument made with good materials and there’s nothing wrong with it except
that it doesn’t sound like a Bennett oh
and there you go that’s kind of it I mean I’m spoiled rotten no I mean at
my heart guitar that he made for me I got invited to the heart guitar
gathering there is such a thing I was called the Star Wars convention for harp
guitars but I got invited to the one near New York City a couple of years ago
and this feling Greg miner or Glenn miner I always get his first name wrong
anyway he’s like the world authority on the heart guitar and he heard mark say
says tell mark I’ve seen them all I’ve heard them all of played them all and
he’s made the best one you know so I mean the guy makes incredible
instruments and they’re really not that expensive you know but that’s what blows
my mind about them yeah I felt like when I played it my tailored first of all
seemed very dull but the the responsiveness of the Benneteau when I
really dug in it had this incredible growl to it and when I it just seemed
like you could play lightly and the sound was just still you had you had so
much volume control you had so much it was a clear beautiful acoustic sound
really yeah there’s a dynamic element to the the instrument it’s really hard to
describe until you actually play it and a lot of people will say well that’s
smoke and mirrors that’s you know Don’s getting paid by Mark to say that isn’t
know it’s my honest opinion I wouldn’t play marks guitars if I didn’t like them
right and you know because the guitar as I played before we’re Louden guitars
made in Ireland and there are fantastic instruments there’s lovely for
again for like a factory instrument they’re just their top drawer and I
played a Loudon for the first 20 years of my career all the time but there were
a whole lot of behind-the-scenes problems at the at the company for a
while and I just found it too difficult to communicate with them and then I just
mark and I started talking and I thought wow wouldn’t it be nice to work out a
deal with a luthier to where we could support each other and it’s just me
dealing with just him wouldn’t that be great
no no corporate structure to have to deal with and that’s how it’s been for
22 years you know we just did we chat and he says what do you need and I said
well can we try this with these woods and I don’t know how to make a guitar so
I I just tell them look I like I know I like the sound of this with that and and
you know what I like in terms of body size and neck width and stuff like that
so yeah go for it you know it’s interesting over the past couple of
episodes with any one of the number of finger Pickers that we’ve had you know
in terms of Beneteau or Cole Clark or matin or larvae it’s kind of interesting
to hear all of you guys talk about the different characteristics between each
one of these instruments and how they’re they you know they bring a certain a
character to what what you guys have and also what you end up finding too is that
you you you you find the link between yourself and a builder’s instruments and
sometimes they they speak to you in a way that they couldn’t possibly speak to
you you know if it was any other kind of guitar so that that’s what I felt like
I’ve had this conversation where people say who say oh yeah mile ereve oh yeah
my maiden oh yeah my callings or whatever it is and they’ve obviously
made a very strong connection with that instrument and it does what they need it
to do and it’s an extension of who they are and that’s the nice thing when you
when you can find that that combination of what you do and what somebody else
can provide you in terms of an instrument that’s magic you know yeah we
just had like I said we had a conversation with Matt Thomas
and he had used Mayton guitars for he said over a decade I’m just kind of
emulating what Tommy was doing and then just kind of got to a point where he was
kind of looking for his own sound and kind of looking for something that was
going on in his head and trying to recreate that with different mics within
the within the cavity of the guitar especially with a harp guitar because it
you know it extends up further so getting all those resonances and making
sure that it comes true because what he was talking about you know within the
bedroom or within a studio environment you kind of get this this closeness with
the guitar it sounds different you you feel a little bit more won with it
versus going out on a stage and the PA and the room because it’s so large you
kind of lose a lot of that intimacy it was kind of interesting how he was
talking about the different combinations of mics and how to change the sound of
how acoustic guitar has changed really over the past couple of decades
oh yeah it’s night and day I mean when I started touring all pickups sounded
equally horrific aliy bad so it was kind of amazing we all just got used to
accepting well that’s one because the guitar sounds like plugged in and and
very often people were just settling for something that was loud you know they
figured what loud is good you know and I still see it happening to a certain
extent where I’m surprised for example and again I hope people don’t get
insulted by this but I’m surprised when I see people like rely on a magnetic
pickup in their guitar and kind of nothing else I at a at a guitar
gathering on two or three years ago and one by one people were going up at the
open stage and playing and I couldn’t believe how many of them were using I
mean good magnetic pickups you know but still kind of relying on that sound and
they all sounded the same and I thought they all sound the same and none of them
sounds like an acoustic guitar they all sound like cheap electrics kind of
I mean that that that kind of pickup in league with other sources yeah
absolutely makes all kinds of sense you know kids you can boost bottom and with
it you can drive effects with it only kind of stuff but relying on it
especially that horrible sound of a magnetic pickup on a B string well it’s
just a whole I said sound like what is that why do people think that’s okay so
so that sound to me is kind of like that the 2010s version of the the bad so tech
emini pickup sound that everybody was using in 80’s 90’s thank goodness you
know like in the last 15-20 years companies like k and k and stuff like
that have come along just like revolutionized way you can get plugged
in up a stage so you with the magnetic pickups are you referring to the under
saddle yet so know what the ones in the sound hole like okay like i use a sound
hole magnetic pickup in my in my baritone guitar only as one of the
sources i have three sources in there so two of them are the K and K so k and K
makes a thing called the quantum Trinity and so it’s a combination of a piezo
transducer trio of pickups that are on the bridge plate not not under the
saddle but they had their on the bridge plate so they sound much more acoustic
than you would normally get from a transducer and then a condenser mic in
the sound hole and pointed very carefully between the second and third
strings and that combination alone sounds amazing through their preamp you
know that their proprietary preamp and so look a little tiny one no I used the
big one the quantum blender I mean it’s still not that big people complain about
the size but it’s you know oops crash it’s only no yeah big it’s like I don’t
know eight inches long and four inches wide or something it’s just a small
thing I look three of those around with me on the two on the road and I don’t
mind but anyway so that through the quantum blender just sounds terrific and
then you know much more acoustic sounding than anything I’ve ever heard
then in the baritone I also use an old I have an old them
I think it’s called an m1 it’s a lr bags magnetic pickup and it was the one that
was said of touted as having a bit of a microphonic kind of quality to it and
it’s true it’s actually a pretty nice sound that you get out of that thing
just on its own because it sort of has this microphone built into it somehow I
don’t know how they do it anyway but what I do with the magnetic is I run it
through my mixer with all the EQ all the high-end ehue rolled right off so that I
don’t and I i’ve also sunk the pole pieces under the plain string so that
you don’t get that all B string sound because the B string is the first string
on a baritone and then so I just use it really to boost the bottom end and I get
this kind of larger-than-life bottom end hum that’s not honky you know it’s just
it’s just this lovely sound it’s a very present like Paul McCartney’s bass you
know it’s come up there you know and then and then I use the the K and Kade
blended signal to make the very acoustic sound that I want so and then I end up
with this lovely huge sound out of the baritone I find on my on my regular
pitch guitar I don’t really need magnetic I know a lot of people like
using them because they these them as their effect driver and I get it so I
actually just ordered the K NK Trinity I’m should he should get it into the
shop today or tomorrow and lucky you that’s great because I’ve had the just
the under saddle piezo pickups that came on this Taylor and yeah I thought I
played a show I think last weekend and I was on stage and it was just miserable I
couldn’t get I it was wacky and I was like I practiced all week I mean I’ve
been practicing this stuff you know thousands of hours and I can’t get it to
sound good on stage welcome to the eighties I was just good just I just
I’ve been researching all week on this stuff and rereading my notes from past
guests and I I called dust and furlough that one of her past guests and yeah I’d
ordered the Trinity so I’m good good yeah put all the pros use now like Andy
that I use at Jimmy Walston Yazoo brick Miller uses it Callum Graham everybody
I’d like and we all we all use it not because it’s cool we use it because
we’ve heard the other ones and then you hear this and you go well why don’t I
want that you know yeah if you’re playing all the time I mean a lot of
people balk at the price yeah I mean $100 under the saddle pickup is cheaper
than a $700 system that has a proprietary preamp and all kind of stuff
absolutely but you know it’s like anything else you get what you pay for
usually I mean it’s not a smoke and mirrors thing it’s a quality thing it
really sounds like more than seven times better than $100 if you’re gonna spend
hundreds of hours working on something like hundreds of dollars to make it
sound as good as it sounds in your bedroom is worth it to me well also you
know there’s a logic to it as well I always tell people spend a little less
in your guitar and more on gear you know because a lot of people who save and
save and save and save and save and they buy the ultimate guitar that they’ve
always wanted okay that’s that’s nice but you know are you gonna play live yes
yes I’m gonna play live and then they then they don’t want to pay anything for
pickups and so they just think that that’s kind of unnecessary frilly
nonsense and it’s just not you know I mean if you’re gonna play live you’re
gonna be a even semi-pro you know if you’re just gonna do it occasionally but
especially if you’re gonna be touring you need gear that sounds good that’s
gonna take a beating and all that kind of stuff and so most most musicians I
know unless they have really special endorsement deals with guitar
manufacturers or whatever or luthiers where they they promise they’ll always
play their instruments on stage most players don’t bring their best guitar on
the road you know they might have a ten thousand dollar guitar sitting at home
but they might bring their two thousand dollar touring guitar on stage with them
and they put really good pickups in it and then they get a you know a killer
sound on stage with an okay guitar you know and you can do that I have I have a
deal with a builder in Germany who builds carbon fiber instruments
and I the only reason I ever wasn’t even interested was because I mean all the
carbon-fiber guitars I’d ever heard before this one sounded like they were
made of plastic but I was in Hamburg at the guitar festival and people were
saying you gotta meet this guy he makes this incredible carbon-fiber guitar
alright whatever so I said I’ve reluctantly excuse me
reluctantly let myself get dragged over and first of all the guitars were
stunning to look at it thought well it almost looks like a green field guitar
made out of carbon fibre and then then sure enough I picked it up and it
sounded incredible acoustically and then so he made me one and I put a can K in
it and I tore that sometimes and people are always saying that guitar sounds
amazing what kind of black wood is that but it’s so it’s pretty fascinating how
good that technology has gotten with a few you know very very anal-retentive
luthiers out there who make their own carbon fiber and also the fact that you
can put you know acoustically it sounds really good it doesn’t sound like as
good as a good wooden guitar but it sounds really good but with a good
pickup system and that you really can’t tell the difference it sounds that good
and you can it it doesn’t the wood I guess if you’re using a carbon fiber
carbon fiber instrument it doesn’t go through the the changes that happen with
the weather like it doesn’t there’s a kind of rattle yeah there’s a canoe
paddle you don’t have to adjust the action you don’t have to worry about it
getting hot or cold correct you know the action probably is adjustable and you
know depending on how you want it in terms of string height and stuff like
that but no that’s it’s impervious to all the changes in humidity and stuff
like that I’m really lucky in that I live right on the ocean and we’ve got
high humidity twelve months of the year and it doesn’t get that cold here so it
even in the winter even on the coldest winter day it’s still pretty humid here
and then throughout the summer it’s always high humidity so my guitars are
fine they’re doing fine you don’t have to do anything to worry about it but
when I used to live in Ontario and Quebec
yeah I mean that the winter everything just cool you know so you have to be so
careful about humidification and stuff but with a carbon-fiber guitar yeah you
can you can practically shoot a gun at it and that’s fine that’s crazy be great
for taking that backing track exactly that’s what a lot of people do with them
there’s a another little guitar that this company in China well it’s an
American guy who runs his company out of China they’re called journey guitars and
they sent me one it’s made of carbon fiber and it’s kind of unbelievable it
folds up into this tiny little whoops this tiny little bag that can fit in the
overhead no problem all right probably even fit under the seat that’s crazy
anyway and the neck is detachable from the guitar and everything else and then
when you want to play just put the neck back on and amazingly it’s usually still
in tune yeah and so that’s a that’s a travel carbon-fiber guitar which is kind
of remarkable and they you know they sound pretty darn good acoustically they
don’t sound like a big full body wooden guitar but for a travel instrument or
like a backpacking instrument amazing and it has a pretty good pickup in it
you put them you plug it in it sounds pretty okay okay so I’ve got a question
with traveling I’m playing for a wedding ceremony in Vail Colorado next weekend
and I’ve I’ve been too scared I’ve never traveled by plane with my good guitar
and so I’m planning on not I’m gonna borrow somebody’s instrument and plug in
a sound hole pickup cuz I don’t really know what else to do but how does it
work traveling with an acoustic guitar nowadays uh-huh well flying you’re
talking to somebody you’re talking to somebody’s taking thousands of airplanes
in his life and with a lot of different guitars I have had a few bad experiences
and that’s so that’s par for the course it’s a it’s a it’s a percentage game
right so you just never know who’s gonna handle your instrument you don’t know
what the airline’s policies are very often now in the States there’s all
kinds of legislation now that says that they’re supposed to let you bring your
guitar into the cabin with you whether or not
in practice that actually happens is always a crapshoot and it’s the same in
Canada like Air Canada has a policy since about 2015 where they say that
they’ll let you bring an instrument into the cabin provided there’s room so they
always look there’s always a proviso in there that you know they can back out if
they want so what I’ve decided to do and this works now all the time I’ve had no
issues I have for my guitar that has to get to the gig my regular pitch Beneteau
I bought myself one of those gator hardshell gig bag cases I think it’s
called a is it called the GL I think it’s called a GL and they make them in
various sizes for various instruments to make a mandolin when they make a banjo
one they make an electric guitar version they make all these different acoustic
guitar size versions so I got a jumbo one there 150 bucks and it’s the best
the best investment you’ll make to protect your instrument on the road so
the it’s made out of really hard foam and the it’s just it really is just as
protective as a hardshell case I don’t say they can stand on it can throw it
down the stairs the guitars okay so and it weighs next to nothing so sometimes
when they see me coming onto an airplane especially if I’m if I get an upgrade to
business class or something they’ll very often say oh yes mr. Ross will put that
the closet for you or you know but it also fits in the overhead in most
airplanes but the only one I found it doesn’t fit into is the 767 but kind of
everything else it works and as long as like an Airbus or one of the larger
Boeing planes or something if it’s a little regional jet then you know you’re
toast you can’t get it on there it’s just not going to happen so then what I
do and this is the important part is that that guitar even if it’s the only
get home traveling with I always get a gate checked so a lot of people don’t
know that that’s an option so what gate checking involves is you
go to check-in at the you know you talk to a human being you don’t just go to
the machine and you say hi I want to get checked my guitar and so what they do is
they put a special tag on it that has your routing on it if you’re gonna
connect or if your whatever your final destination is and then within North
America anyway this is always the case they say okay fine great take that to
the to the gate when you when you go to your plane so you go to gate 26 or
whatever and you explain to them this is gate checked and they say great leave it
at the end of the jetway and then what happens as you walk down to the plane
you put it down there with all the strollers and you know other stuff that
people have left there and then a human being comes and takes it by hand and
puts it in a special part of the hold and then when you arrive you you just
come up the door of the airplane you wait at the end of the jetway the same
place you dropped it off and then a human a different human being it comes
up with your guitar in his or her hand and says here you go have a good day and
then I always check it anyway to make sure that they didn’t you know decide to
use it for target practice but I’ve never had a problem doing that at all
and then my other two guitars I put in really good cases and I checked them in
and I make sure they’re well padded and my heart guitar goes in a big forty
pound keyboard case but mark actually custom padded it inside so that the
guitar you take it just so he goes just and there’s nut it can’t budge I keep
doing that I talk with my hands I’m a Quebec er sorry it can’t budge so it’s
it’s kind of amazing that is really helpful I mean I’m just terrified
because I I brought a sitar back from India a few years ago
and the airline’s cracked the gourd of it yeah that’s the worst getting your
Gordon cracked I mean it was wrapped in like bubble wrap wrapped in a soft case
into a hard case and had the fragile written all over it man I still heard it
I will say I will say I’ve had guitars damaged four times I’ve counted
finally I figured four times in 30 years of touring so okay almost every ten
years something bad happens to one of my guitars and it’s too bad when it happens
poor mark you know he said he says he says yeah Donnie says I live to do
repairs on your guitars but he’s had to fix he had to fix one of my baritones
years ago one of the airline’s punched a big hole in the lower about how they did
it and then of course the worst thing was in 2016 I think I was coming back
from Germany I just had one guitar with me in a in a carbon fiber case and I
normally get checked it or brought it on the plane with me and for whatever
reason United Airlines and Munich would not let me carried on and I said but
this is my I mean oh no no no no we don’t have room today I’m like really
and they said no it’s okay just put it in special handling you know we’ll treat
it like a Ming boss or whatever all my Ming Baz when I got home was just torn
to shreds it was just it looked like they the case was fine so my only guess
is that they must have dropped the guitar from the top of Mount Everest or
the top of some big pile of luggage and it fell on it slower about and it
doesn’t matter what kind of case it’s in you know gravity cannot be denied and so
there were four big cracks along the grain on the front and one across the
grain like against against the grain yeah it really got cursed mashed so I
talked to the airline Air Canada was the ticketing airline I die the last little
puzzle jumper flight I took was to Toronto through Chicago and I explained
to the guy and he said well he’s just yep they can file a claim and I but the
big thing is if anything ever happens to your instrument I figured it out put it
on Twitter Twitter’s Twitter really works for that and you tagged the
airline and the TSA and wherever else that’s what I did I tagged United Air
Canada and the TSA and the Canadian version of the TSA and
they all got back to me in minutes literally people and Air Canada finally
they were getting such a Twitter storm about it apparently got shared 10,000
times within minutes or something because that kind of thing really bugs
people online sure enough they wrote me and they said get an estimate and we’ll
pay for the repair and that was extraordinary because normally they have
a limitation you know like 1,500 bucks or something mythical that Mark said
cost about $3,000 gonna have to rebuild the guitar-based
that’s wonderful dan I made it made it right yeah they did
so I mean I’ve been a faithful customer to the M over the years but they’ve
screwed up a few times and they tried to do something.
And that is where we’re gonna end it for this week. Join us, as usual, next Thursday
for part two with fingerstyle guitarist Don Ross. Make sure, if you haven’t
already, to hit that subscribe button, head on over to YouTube and check out
the Fret Buzz The Podcast YouTube channel and subscribe there as well. And
that brings us to the end of another episode of Fret Buzz The Podcast. Join us
next Thursday for part two with fingerstyle guitarist Don Ross on
Fret Buzz The Podcast!

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