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.
Part 2 of 2 begins with a discussion about Don’s approaches to songwriting.  He expands on how he uses altered tunings to solve compositional problems and expand the range of the guitar.  He talks about following song structures, thematic development, and different grooves.
Don talks about his experiences as a recording engineer, working with ProTools, and his favorite microphones and pre-amps for recording acoustic guitars.  He tells the guys about recording his wife’s (Brooke Miller’s) album at his home studio and having that album mixed by world-renowned music producer and engineer, Frank Filipetti.
Joe and Aaron ask Don about his most memorable shows.  Then Don offers some advice about making money as a musician, songwriting, and originality.  He specifically gives praise to Petteri Sariola, a young fingerstyle guitarist from Finland.  Finally Don talks about his guitar camp that he is hosting at his home in Nova Scotia from October 11-14 (
Find out more about Don Ross at or check out his music on any music platform.
Welcome back to another episode of Fret BuzzThe Podcast. Hi. I’m Aaron Sefchick
and every week together with my co-host Joe McMurray we focus on how we
musicians and professionals approach our craft giving insight to help us all
become more informed and better musicians. This week we’re gonna dive
into part two with Don Ross all about Fingerstyle Guitar. As always, if you
enjoy Fret BuzzThe Podcast, hop on over to iTunes and give us a review and by
all means hop on over to YouTube and subscribe. We only need two more to hit a
hundred which would be awesome. In this episode we get into songwriting,
analog recording, touring, you know the good times and the bad times, originality
and what role that plays within music. Yeah, we get into a lot of cool stuff
with Don so by all means let’s jump into part two with Don Ross on Fret BuzzThe Podcast.
I’d love to talk to you about your songwriting approaches and how
those approaches have changed over the years. I know we’ve talked about your
starting with the baseline ideas and you were trying to have different
tuning for Klimbim but are there certain things that you do you sit down
and say I want to write a song today or does it do you feel do you get something
in your head and then you decide that you want to sit down and put this –
paper – into the instrument what comes first and is it different every time is
it melody first and then harmonizing that with chords well of course there’s
a lot of different experiences over the years but I would say to sort of be
nutshell – about it what I’ve done what’s happened most of the time in the
past is that all I’ll get a musical idea that starts swimming around in my head
very often I’m nowhere near a guitar at the time you know because I I kind of
probably a lot of musicians experience this but I I kind of almost always have
music going on in my head like it’s almost always there you know I get a
riff for a thing or just a song I heard in the radio five years ago that I can’t
have been able to shake it out of my head whatever it is there’s almost
always I’m like that that Peter Griffin and that family guy thing where he wants
his own theme music it’s kind of like I have my own theme music going on I’m
running on the bus anyway it’s a very funny scene anyway so what I find is
that very often I get these ideas on an or near the instruments so I think okay
you know make a strong mental note of that put that in the memory bank and try
to remember it when you got a guitar in your hand next kind of thing and then
very often I find that the idea I have kind of works but kind of doesn’t and
usually the kind of doesn’t part is that the range of the of the melody or
whatever is not really achievable in standard tuning or in another tuning
that I use so that’s when I start altering my tuning very often to make
something achievable on the instrument and that’s why now I use a crazy number
of tunings I have a tuning database on my on one page of my website and it’s
it’s hilarious you know people are always often saying hey you know I I
wrote my whole last album based on a bunch of tunings I saw on your website
and that’s great I think it’s awesome but so I have a lot of homemade tunings
for that reason to solve compositional problems I also tend to think like I
think like a songwriter when I write so when you think about song form like a
really well written song almost although really memorable songs you’ve ever heard
use a combination of verses choruses and maybe a bridge now the classic pop song
is that it’s those three elements you know so you have a strong verse and then
you have a really catchy chorus and then you go to some new place maybe
two-thirds of the way through the song so the the Beatles for example used to
refer to that as the middle eight because that’s an old songwriting term
because usually bridges were about eight bars long you know so not always but
usually so the the Beatles always refer to it as the middle eight even if it was
16 bars or twelve bars or eleven bars long or whatever it was
so that those elements if it’s so if you think
like a songwriter well how does a song go usually goes verse number 1 verse
number 2 chorus verse number 3 chorus bridge new place to go for a little
while comes back to the chorus and maybe there’s another verse and then maybe a
double chorus at the end there’s your song so that was very liberating to me
to sort of study song form in school and then realize that I had been using it
unconsciously and then I thought okay well that’s great that sort of confirms
my idea that really all you need is three strong elements three strong ideas
in your piece to make it memorable and so that’s what I tell my students all
the time whether we’re interested in composition that that kind of modular
way of thinking when you’re writing and repetition the right number of times
following a certain formula that that can it’s malleable of course but based
on a sort of an ABC kind of design then you end up with really memorable pieces
of music that the problem I found like when I started out writing a lot of
music especially in the 80s was that that was kind of during the the New Age
scare you know and there’s a lot of a lot of really really unmemorable music
being written for like solo piano solo guitar some of it was great but some of
it was kind of like just a lot of notes and it was just very often that the
pieces just kind of started and then just kept going and going and going and
what I realized what was missing was somatic development and and theme in
music is really mostly about repetition you know music needs repetition in order
for us to you know unless you’re doing something very experimental
you know like John Cage didn’t rely on repetition and neither did karl-heinz
Stockhausen but you know Steve Reich certainly does and you know Philip Glass
certainly does but repetition of that kind of form element that’s that’s what
makes it work like a song so yeah so that that for me is that’s how it
tends to work then in terms of what where I’m gonna go you know in terms of
brasstacks musically you know very often it’s based on a groove idea it might be
something that swings a little bit you know so for example especially since the
90s I’ve been writing a lot of tunes with kind of a hip-hop double-time swing
element like a sixteenth note swing deck good jacket getting that kind of rhythm
so if you think of Michael Michael Michael or afraid to dance or Dracula
and friends and any of those really funky ones they all use that that rhythm
which of course I grew up with as well Stevie Wonder used it all the time and
so and that to me made my music stick out a bit because it wasn’t just boom
Chicka Boom Chicka Boom Chicka Boom Chicka like a lot of finger style guitar
has tended to be that that’s very helpful I your songwriting approach is
definitely something that we’ve had we’ve had some past guests say that but
you put it nicely into words there no thanks
yeah is there a song that you’ve written where you were is that do you have a
favorite song you’ve written or is there anything that you wrote where you were
just like as soon as you wrote it you had this like bursting excitement
because you knew you were you had written something well I went through
this spasm of writing in late 90s that to this day some of those tunes really
stand out as among my favorite of my own tunes and certainly the tunes that I
wrote on like the phrase especially for this one album called passion session
which I rereleased basically I rerecorded the whole album as PS 15 a
few years ago mostly because the record label that I recorded that album for
went out of business thanks to the internet and so so a lot of people OTT
of people love those tunes didn’t really have any easy way to certainly no way to
get them on disc you know so so much shows it was nice to have that album
again and put it on vinyl and the whole thing but tunes like Clendon are on that
album and Michael Michael Michael and blue
a blue bear so little time no goodbyes it’s you know those are all tunes that
are still really special to me and I every time I play them I go wow you know
I I’m really proud of this tune so and that’s nice and I you know there’s a
there’s a danger I suppose that I or somebody else might say oh my best years
are behind me but no that’s just not true I still write new tunes that I like
just as much but there was just this I don’t know what it was it was something
in the air that that year that just really made me want to write a lot of
music plus it was my first record for Narada which was a u.s. label I could
before that I did only on Canadian labels with only Canadian distribution
and it was pre-internet so even though I had more of an international thing going
on I didn’t really have international releases so it was a big deal for me
that passion session was gonna get released in virtually every market you
could think of you know came out in Poland and Japan and Mexico and the
States and Canada and everywhere so it’s kind of like oh awesome well I’m gonna
just write all these killer tunes you know and it’s kind of fun every once in
a while you see things like acoustic guitar magazine or whatever will list
you know the top 16 records made between Normandy or whatever and then my albums
usually they’re in their list of top whatever records and I feel really happy
about that that that body of work you know ended up all on one record and then
kind of thing Wow yeah it’s like this little gem yeah absolutely I love that
one thank you and I love the variations that you you’re reimagining of those
tunes and PS 15 is you know it’s they’re obviously the same tunes but you can
tell you’ve played them thousands of times and you’ve messed with the rhythms
and added extra little flair and nuance yeah you bet I mean a big element of
what I do anyways in prophecy Tori so I probably think more like a jazz writer
than a lot of people would necessarily in this sort of world that I you know
whatever box I’m in since a lot of the tunes have elements
of improvisation in them that’s how the tunes get morphed and then very often
even the PS 15 versions the 15th anniversary album that I put out even
that very often was just what happened in front of the mics that one day you
know the tunes can take a on a different life on a different day in your studio
time have things evolved a lot recently where do you record and do you use the
same Beneteau guitars to record and then are there any things you remember from
the recording sessions that might be helpful to those of us who are trying to
record with our microphones at home yeah well that’s what I do I’ve been doing
that since some well I have the advantage of I did him I did a music
degree yeah we never got your full your full track stories yeah I did a music
degree at York University in Toronto I graduated back in the 80s and so it’s a
bachelor’s degree I never went and got my masters or doctorate I started got
talked out of them by my former profs they just said in dawnia should be
working get out there and work you know so I I decided back then I wasn’t going
to be an academic which I kind of regret now that I’m in my 50s would be kinda
nice to say well I could just be a professor somewhere but anyway I’ve sort
of done part-time professorships at universities over the years which has
been a blast because I love being an academia I really enjoy it I love being
around all these eager young minds too it’s awesome
anyway so I did a music degree and one of the courses I took was a two year
course in electronic music and at the time of course digital technology was
still very nascent so we had some digital effects we had digital delay and
we had digital reverb and that kind of thing but we didn’t really have any
digital recording devices because nothing was really any good yet
I mean digital was 8-bit at the time it didn’t sound good so I learned how to
engineer on tape and I was using an 8 channel
reel-to-reel tape recorder through a Sam craft board and the whole thing and and
I learned all the things you know how to choose microphones how to attenuate
properly how the EQ had a saturate tape how to compress this kind of thing and
and it really came in super handy because I eventually got signed to
record deals and my first deal was with a small independent label of a Toronto
that had distribution through MCA which is Universal now and it was cool because
we recorded at the labels own studio and they had this wild reel-to-reel digital
setup so it was a setup that didn’t last long
that there were two competing formats Sony had a format and Mitsubishi had a
format and so this studio used the Mitsubishi and that what it was it was
one inch tape reel-to-reel going 30 IPs just like analog tape except it was
basically was video tape and on the one inch you could fit 32 channels so where
I was recording a solo guitar music on the 32 channel machine which is kind of
ridiculous anyway we set up a lot of mics we ended up just using you know not
very many of them just because we had all these channels and then we we mixed
to a Mitsubishi to channel tape machine and I used quarter-inch video tape so it
looked just like a traditional tape recorder except it was all digital and
of course you could record a guest at the time it was like 16-bit 44k so CD
quality on tape was so it was kind of a wild thing that didn’t last long and
then so like I could use my analog experience to understand how that
technology worked and then eventually I started making records on 24 inch analog
tape again for a few records and then finally computers got so good and the
internet happened and my record label went out of business so then I thought
okay well I’m gonna make my own records now I’ll get geared up
so I at the time about my brand-new macintosh g4 computer tower and a you
know fools version you know negative five
whatever and got myself set up and and I started telling my friends hey I’ll make
your engineer your record for free if you don’t mind being my studio guinea
pig so I did I think two or three records for friends first I was using
the the free version of ProTools because they used to give away a version on a CD
and that you could record onto your computer using the sound in on your Mac
you could record one channel at a time but you could also mix in stereo you
could run outboard effect since that line I did all that I did I did
soundtracks for TV shows and radio shows and stuff with the free version of
ProTools then then I bought myself the g4 and got a full version of ProTools
and then I got signed to Narada and I did my first record for them in Germany
the passion session record that was done on a harddrive recorder not a computer
but a you know basically a dedicated hard drive recorder in Germany and then
I did a record called Huron Street which was recorded on the again this is just
when computers were just not quite doing it yet so they had their these dedicated
digital machines this was called the Gen X I think it was called and it was you
could record 24-bit and probably up to 96 kaor something really high resolution
on to a hard drive and because at that time everybody was panicking Napster had
happened and Narada my label was saying well we have no idea what people are
gonna buy next week even so what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna record things
super high res and kind of hope something like DVD audio takes off
eventually with the marketplace or or super audio CD or something so we’re
gonna record as high res possible and then you know then the record label just
said we can’t do this anymore and they they folded and I started recording more
and more stuff and then finally oh yeah right my third album I did for for
Narada was the first one I did at home as an album called robot monster and I
was really happy with how it sounded even now I thrown
I knew what I was doing by then so that’s 16 years ago so now you know I
have a very simple setup here I have a good interface made by a focus right
it’s called the claret for pre yeah there you go I felt like quite user I
use Pro Tools still I have the subscription now and and I have a late
model Mac laptop that I record on and I have a nice mic collection which I
haven’t added to in years but I I’ve got like a great big road condenser
microphone that I use is kind of my main studio microphone it’s good for vocals
it’s good for instruments anything I have these for for teens that I used
stereo pair on sometimes for recording guitars or if I’m recording drums or
whatever and you know I could I I didn’t album I recorded a record for my wife
when she was signed to Sony USA back in the 2000s and I have a I still have an
8-channel you know A to D converter preamp thing
that I can record drums with you know when one instrument per channel kind of
thing so I can go up to eighteen channels into my into my interface at
once so it’s it’s fantastic you can do amazing multitrack recording if you want
so my most recent record I did a bunch of different things I played all the
instruments on the album there’s some solo guitar Tunes there’s some harp
guitar Tunes there’s some vocal Tunes but I also played piano I played
electric guitar played my fretless bass and I also used some drum loops which
I’d never really done before but there’s a company called loop loft and they they
do they bring in people like Omar Hakim and it’s also Alberti and Nick Smith and
all these incredible players to come in and just groove away in the studio and
then they send you little stems by download you can buy from them and their
copyright free and so on my last record I had all more Hakim playing on one tune
you know it’s things will hold drummer and I had seller bill Albert II that’s
amazing Brazilian percussionist playing another
tune but you know they were somewhere else earlier than and I was in hellofax
louder than usual album no this is the a million Brazilian civilians okay
louder than usual is live off the floor with four jazz musicians basically okay
yes mm-hmm that’s which I’m really happy with I
love that album I I thought I thought that we were gonna get all kinds of
summer bookings this year didn’t work out but next summer so I really it’s
some of its really jazzy I really like it a lot of Latin he’s like well that’s
the thing like I’ve written like hundreds of tunes and some of them were
definitely written with collaboration in mind with a you know a small sort of
like chamber jazz kind of ensemble in mind and I got to record a few of them
that way like when I was signed to Sony or whatever when there was a budget and
then this time I just thought well I’ll take a little bit of time and money I’ll
just throw my friends together that I’ve been playing with off and on for years
but never in that particular combination and we all went into a studio in Toronto
and just recorded these tunes of mine that we’re kicking around waiting for a
really amazing group of musicians to play on them and those were literally
live off the live off the floor usually first takes of those tunes and I was you
know if we thought well let’s let’s tape a rehearsal but it ended up being an
album yeah I like it when that happens that’s awesome yeah they’re very organic
and you get that feel that you’re kind of looking for nice yeah and when the
players are so good that you just like you’re all in the same room just started
looking at each other you know you all you have to do is raise your eyebrows or
lift your head stock or whatever and everybody just does wait you know
intuitively you know oh there’s that spot they’re all gonna do something on
boink there it is Oh amazing you know yeah so yeah I love that I really enjoy
it I want to go back I need to pick your brain a little bit more about this
recording aspect I know Aaron loves this oh yeah yeah yeah you obviously have a
lot of experience with this which is great we I recently recorded
a couple fingerstyle tunes that I wrote and I’ve been experimenting with
multiple mics I don’t have a whole lot of equipment but I have this one
condenser mic and I’ve got I tried putting an sm57 and earn 58 in a
different spot but do you typically when you’re recording an acoustic guitar
about how far do you want to put your mic off the guitar do you want it over
the sound hole do you want it more kind of over where this the fingerboard meets
the sound hole or you just try a whole bunch of different things and mix them
together to find out to find the sound that you want do you have any go-to
matter with me I’m just gonna grab something that’s right behind me here on
a shelf hold on okay trying to try to figure this out with my secret weapons I
use this mic a lot now I told you about the the large condenser microphone that
I often use for kind of everything I rode my other a yeah the road it’s
called a K – is it a K – I think it’s K – or an NT k a camera which one it is
but they make two mics that are very similar but one of them has a changeable
pattern on it and the other one doesn’t anyway I’ve got the one with the
changeable pattern um but they also make this crazy thing and what it is it’s
it’s called an NT 4 huh and it’s a stereo microphone so you can see how
it’s 2 mics there – 2 and 1 kind of like certs
and it’s it’s got a left channel and right channel and there it’s it’s in an
XY pattern built-in so it’s kind of a no-brainer stereo microphone like you
don’t have to even know anything about you know mic setup or whatever and this
thing sounds incredible I think they retail for like $600 so
it’s basically 2 mics for 600 bucks and it takes this weird-looking cable
because it’s because two channels so the part that goes into the mic has like I
don’t know how many pins that is that’s 6 or something 1 2 3 5 it’s a 5 pin
connector but it looks like an XLR and you know
say shove it in there and then on the other end of the cable there’s two
regular XLR left right okay so okay that into your like I also use a really nice
a to D converter mic preamp called the it’s it’s made by
grace that’s a company makes preamps and this is an older one they don’t make
anymore but it still works great so I keep using it it’s called the Luna tech
v3 I’m sure you can get to use one for like a thousand bucks
they were two thousand new and I got mine in 2003 and so that way you can
bypass your built-in preamps if you want using this bit of connection it’s a
digital RCA connection and so my my my interface allows me to bypass the the
built-in preamps if I want to the preamps and the claret are really good
the so they they sound great too so I have a choice of preamps that I can use
but man this thing left right through my grace preamp sounds incredible and I
recorded most of the solo tunes off my last record my last solo album that with
this and then then would I do for something like the harp guitar is I have
this in front of the the regular guitar and I have a D 112 which is a microphone
that AKG makes and it’s made really for either upright basses
or kick drums and so it’s a real good bottom n mic so I use that on the bottom
end strings on the on the harp guitar and it just sounds like a million
dollars you know and that and I also use the transducers I run the transducers
from the guitars the camera system yeah through through a channel or two on my
on my rig and then that way I have the choice to use them to boost certain
frequencies if I want or to drive effects so when I record a solo guitar
tuner typically I’ve got this about six inches
away from the guitar kind of not right at the sound hole sort of behind it like
between the sound hole and the bridge so it doesn’t get to boo me and so that
and then that the transducer come in sometimes I go transducer and onboard
microphone on separate channels you know from the knk but sometimes I just use
the transducer and then I usually use the transducer like I would use a
magnetic onstage where I roll off all the high end and I just use it to juice
up the bottom end so like on PS 15 for example if you listen to tune like um
Michael Michael Michael that tune I recorded slightly
differently I had my big rode condenser in the middle and I had a pair of these
four for teens off to the side x wide so that I had a stereo pair and it’s Center
channel and so it’s a different way of recording and you have to mix really
carefully so you don’t get phase issues and then and then I also use the the
transducer and if you listen to low C on that thing like through it through a set
of headphones or through a good pair of speakers it just it’s like how they held
you get that much bottom in of an acoustic guitar it sounds incredible it
really does sound great Glenn Ben sounds like that as well the
low tuned pieces on that record that the bottom end is crazy and so that’s a
little secret as well use you transducer but don’t use it as your main signal
just use it as a way of colorizing or complimenting your microphone sounds I
mean you know I’m a big fan of just using mics on the crystal guitar that’s
the best sound I you know and they don’t have to be super expensive this is not a
super expensive microphone my regular Road big giant condenser was about a
thousand dollars you know and these for for teens are about a thousand dollars
each so you don’t have to clear out your bank account
I invested it slowly over years and I’m really happy with my mic collection
which it like I say I haven’t really changed in a long time that is exactly
what I needed there thank you extremely helpful and update on up here
that that will ping a few minutes ago but that was the my luthier Larry for a
while telling me that my knk system just arrived at the shop off my guitar
whenever I want yabba-dabba all your gear me so happy
yeah I’m really excited about what you’re just saying about using the
transducers to get the bottom end oh yeah I’ve had a hard time cuz I had this
last song I just I just used this one Mike and I spy had duplicated the tracks
and I’ve separated them into like just bass frequencies just low mids just high
mids just highs and I’ve been trying to get the bass to sound good and I’m like
so part of me doesn’t know if it’s the guitar I mean I realized that’s why they
make those fan fret guitars so you can get a better bass sound they get more
attention on the bottom strings yeah but yeah you know a guy like this really a
lot of it is trial and error and also really trusting your ears I mean there’s
been a bit of a problem with digital technology because everything is on a
screen and everything is numerical and everything is everybody’s always looking
at that you know at gauges and all that kind of stuff and they don’t just trust
their intuition enough and ultimately what you won’t really want to do like of
course I understand how that stuff works and I’m careful about it but in the end
when I listen to a take or a mix or whatever I usually turn my screen off
and I just I pretend it’s a tape machine that I’m not looking at and I just sit
between the speakers and listen to it and say what does it sound like use your
ears I had this really great experience maybe one of the happiest days of my
life when I was recording my wife’s name is Brooke Miller and she had a very
active music career for 20 years but she just she’s younger and and she came
along after Napster and I was just so hard to get going even though she she
got signed to Sony out of Manhattan and everything else you know we all had
stars in her eyes but we made this really cool record mostly at home with
my gear and at the time we lived in this big old Victorian house north of Toronto
so we had you know we’re recording in different rooms and stuff like that and
we recorded the band in a decommissioned Church you know in all these different
rooms it was just it was an amazing experience
but finally Sony said well do you want to mix the record and I say you know
what if there’s a budget I think somebody else should mix it I think it’s
just a fresh so instead of you I’ve been working on this record for two
years and you know I’ve kind of over listened to it and then they said great
sure so we ended up working with Frank Phillip Eddy who if you don’t know who
that is like he’s won Grammy Awards for like
engineering James Taylor records and sting records and those kinda stuff so I
heard we’re gonna work with Frank Phillip Eddy
right in Times Square in New York and I I was starting to you know lose my
you-know-what and I thought no I don’t know what’s gonna happen here I hope I
did a good job you know I just got really insecure feeling so I was
thrilled but at the same time I thought so sure enough we show up Frank’s lovely
but you know he’s busy so we’re sitting in my wife and I are sitting in the back
of the studio in the couch you know from day to day for a couple of days and he’s
just there with a stogie and making all these changes in here and they’re going
through the tunes if a couple of seconds at a time and you know got to be pretty
tedious so on the second day we went out for a nice long walk we came back and
Frank was still there you know listening to a few seconds at a time
and and we took our perch back in the back of the room again
and the guy who co-produced the record and hey nard Brook to get her her Sony
deal he’s sitting with us and he’s like our super experienced guy in the in the
biz you know so at one point Frank winner of all these Grammies turns
around with this big stogie sticking out his mouth he says where was this
recorded and I couldn’t tell by the way he said it what he meant and I just said
I said oh I recorded it at our place he says what were you using for equipment
I said Pro Tools going through an iBook you know it wasn’t he wasn’t even a high
end laptop it was just a cheap phone of the cheaper Macs and he goes you
recorded this at home on an iBook and I thought here we go here we go and he
says this is like the best sounding thing I’ve worked on in a few years I
said really and he goes yeah he says just shows you dawn just shows you good
mics good ears that’s all you need right and he turned right back to what he was
doing and I just I was I felt like like I was gonna explode with joy I couldn’t
believe and I you know and Peter was like looking at me like
and and rooks grabbing my arm and good so that that to me was the the best of
Education ever I just thought okay if if this dude says my recording is good then
I got it down and that was like 20 2006 you know that’s awesome but but it’s
true what he says like the mics just have to be good they don’t have to be
expensive and you have to trust your ears it’s so important like people are
afraid to trust their ears if something if that one of the best ways to trust
your ears is to a/b things right if there’s a record that you you love that
you just think oh my god that record sounds so good whatever kind of music it
is and then you can set it up so that you can a be back and forth between it
and what you’re working on and you’d say okay my record doesn’t sound anywhere as
good as that one you know what can I do you know is it making more brilliance in
the top end is it beating up the bottom end is it making it breathe a bit better
as it is a hue issue you know you can eventually figure it out just by a being
and and emulating the quality of a recording that you like not necessarily
trying to make it sound the same be your chest trying to emulate the quality like
the high quality that you’re hearing and saying I know I have the technology to
do that it’s just a matter of figuring out a way and then trusting these things
would stick up the side of your head yeah with all my students I know that I
mean you’re you’re absolutely right so many people especially now in today’s
world are kind of attached to the screen you know everybody’s got like a spectral
analyzer and they’ve got all these graphs and they can see exactly oh the
big and even a being you know you’ll see like okay this song has bass in this
region and these frequencies and they’ll come and start matching and with all my
students and they kind of look at me a little bit weird sometimes but with all
of my recording students what I’ll do is I’ll kind of take a piece of paper or
cloth and I’ll throw it over top of the monitor and I’ll just kind of look at me
like what are you doing like it’s mixing you need to use your ears ear holes
yeah it’s been done for decades and decades and decades
and there’s a reason for it you have to trust coming out of your monitors in the
environment in the room that you’re in and how you’re hearing it and then go
from there you betcha you got it but that’s that’s
so much of it as the people just not trusting them they’re the guts in their
ears it’s too bad I think I think it’s also you know it’s it’s part of the part
of what’s endemic even the didactic side of things that the pedagogical side of
things you know night when I do a transcription of one of my pieces I know
that 99% of the people who buy a copy of one of my tabs never look at the
standard notation which is just a shame I mean I’m a terrible sight reader most
guitarists are the guitar is a really difficult instrument to sight-read for
so I understand you’re not gonna use the standard notation necessary to learn
every note of the song but the standard notation tells you the rhythms you know
very if it’s been notated a problem it properly it’ll tell you whether to use
your thumb your for your fingers to to finger a note in your right hand
etc etc there’s all kinds of reasons to and even if you just want to say well if
you’re a good sight singer you know if you look at it and say well how does it
go oh goes low no no no no no that you can trace it you know the melody line
even if you’ve never heard it before but but people are just so visually oriented
especially now it’s gotten even worse it was always bad but now with tablature
it’s like you know even when I’m teaching somebody is face to face I very
often can’t say to them well it’s like the G on the high E string they won’t
necessarily know what I mean I’ll have to say well fret number three is too bad
she also knew it was a G yeah anyway yeah I’d like to jump over I love all
the recording studio stuff but uh an effort to fit everything in I’d like to
know what you’re like most memorable show has been in your career or you
could have a couple different ones but and why was it especially cool memorable
was a great great that’s a great question I you know
certainly I’ve played so many shows and certainly I’ve had a lot of fun and a
lot of them some of them is a terrible drag and it’s you know it’s par for the
course I guess yeah you should also tell us favorite Joe Dirt mom I’ll tell you
okay I’ll tell you that the crappy ones first because it’s always nice to end on
a good good note um I remember one time this is back before smoking started to
get so disallowed pretty much everywhere in the Western world so you know the
first many years I was touring if I played a club but we got used to just
smelling like smoke when you left and of course I haven’t smoked cigarettes since
I was 17 or something so I mean I went through a short I’m so cool with the
cigarettes take a second out of my mouth phase like a lot of us did but you know
so I had no interest in smoking or cigarettes just can’t stand it but I had
to put up with it for a long time when at the beginning of my career in the
club environment and so we I think we had already kind of outlawed smoking in
Canada and most public places but in a lot of Europe it was still okay they
eventually saw the light too but Brooke and I had this gig in shine foot in
Germany it was organized by there’s really well-meaning fellow but I get
don’t think he knew that venue very well anyway I think about seven people showed
up and they all smoked like chimneys and there was no ventilation no nothing and
so Brooke and I were depressed as hell to be halfway around the world
playing to seven people in shine foot which literally means big Ford anyway
because that was the place on the river centuries ago where they would bring the
pigs across because it was shallow anyway that’s where the name of the town
came from so here we were playing in pig Ford to seven people and getting our
lungs blown out with everybody else’s smoke and so at the end of that we kind
of looked at each other’s and why are we not plumbers or accountants there’s a
you know and I did another gig with her again in in
Japan on a Tuesday night our booking agent thought it would be good not to
have any in nights off which you know sometimes a night off on the road is not
unwelcome you know especially if the option is to play for 15 people in a
very small town in the faraway mountains of Japan where in you know people have
never heard music that sounds like yours they’ve had very little contact with the
West but it was a weird experience and another one where we both looked at each
other saying why are we doing this but those have been few and far between
fortunately I would say my most memorable experiences way back when I
first started I got to play with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and a bunch
of my teens got orchestrated by professional orchestrators and I was all
of 25 years old or something and at the end of it I I just thought that you know
life doesn’t get any better than this that was very exciting to have a 70
piece backup and that was crazy and since then I’ve gotten to play with
orchestras several times and every time it’s it’s it’s insane
it’s crazy played with a few Canadian orchestras and a bunch of one a bunch of
orchestras in Germany and it’s gone really well another time you have July
4th in the States will meet July 1st here in Canada is our set of equivalent
holiday it’s the national holiday and there was one year back in the 90s where
I got asked to play at the midday performance there’s sort of two big
performances on Parliament Hill in Ottawa the nation’s capital that day so
there’s a noontime show which features some you know speakers in a military
band and then a bunch of usually pop singers and stuff like that singing
whatever and so I got to play at that one one year to 60,000 people it was
bananas just looking out at the sea of heads you know and so that was cool and
I think maybe kind of the again I liked it for the combination of the setting
and the Sonics I played at a guitar festival in Italy and a town called san
benedetto pole which is near Bologna and I was told that the setting
was really special but then I got there it was it was a an ancient monastery and
that hadn’t been used as a monastery in a long time but all the buildings were
still there and there was a quadrangle in among all the buildings that was all
grass and that’s for the the outdoor show was going to be and and they set up
this big beautiful stage it was the show was gonna be free to the public and
you’re expecting you know between 500 and 1,000 people and and so I was pretty
thrilled to begin with and then a lot of shows in Italy have like the best sound
equipment you’ve ever heard there’s a couple of companies over there that are
renowned for live sound equipment so sure enough the guy who’s running the
the desk he says so Don we can do your son Jake now oh great so I get up there
I had a really nice rig and it was all stereo and beautiful sounding effects
and you know nice reverbs and nice choruses and stuff and I’m checking
everything that I have and then he gets on the the talkback my kind of monitor
is he and I’m in this gorgeous setting you know place is empty and he says some
done he says these sounds are very good um would you like to hear your son Jake
and I said well how would I do that he says I have made a digital recording of
your son Jack’s so sorry I went out into the middle of the field and amongst
these you know thousand year old buildings through this incredible PA
system that sounded like the best stereo you ever heard and I’m listening to
myself from that the stuff I played for minutes before coming and that I deem it
was being recorded and I was just thought this is incredible and then that
night the place was packed and you know people were holding candles and
knowledge I was just amazing and I thought okay I can die happy right now I
can die happy right now so those those are nice experiences those are the kinds
of things we just think okay this is why I do this and I’ll go to the grave
remembering this he’s wonderful yeah do you uh do you
have any advice for up-and-coming guitarists and interested in you know
the acoustic guitar finger style or any style of music anything that you see
people consistently doing wrong or that you think they should you know just some
piece of advice that would help them along the way well there are a few
things that I guess I always feel a little bit sad about maybe but I
understand it’s a lot of it is the the age we live in
we’re in this kind of sense the advent of the digital economy and the internet
and stuff like that I think that there has been a little less because people
are afraid to take chances because it’s so difficult to make money now as a
musician it’s just that’s just the truth I mean I used to make a much better
living in the 90s I’ll be very frank you know because I had record advances I
hadn’t I was signed to Sony I was doing you know I had a really nice company
behind me nice people even though people love to hate record companies all the
people I worked at her with record companies were amazing people and they
believed in my music and I was really flattered and it was great so back then
it was kind of like yeah I mean I could support a family of five and my wife my
late wife didn’t work and and we had kids at home and stuff and it was
awesome you know it was really in a lot of ways I think back to it and think I’m
lucky but in the digital economy it’s been very very difficult wait you know
it’s just so much pressure to give everything away for free and you could
do this for free and they do that for free and it’s all about exposures you
can give more things away for free and it’s just drives me nuts so I know that
there’s been kind of a shortcut attitude that a lot of people are taking
especially now that they have access to essentially broadcasting what they do to
an audience right away and for very cheap I get a little sad at the kind of
the the infatuation with just coming up with
another damn cover spawn you know it’s like it to me it’s like it’s really sad
that that originality and creativity seemed to be more than ever losing the
battle now it’s like I’m gonna put another cover of another u2 song up or
I’m gonna do another cover for another duck Guns and Roses song or so you know
some god-awful piece of junk and you just had to have to go well okay
I guess it’s a quick way to appeal to a large number of people who grew up
listening to that song I get it I get it but it’s to me it’s like it’s a bit of a
tragedy you know and I that’s why I really value players like pathetic Saudi
Allah out of Finland you know he there’s there’s somebody who’s doing something
that’s truly unique it sounds like him yeah he’s done a few cover tunes in the
past and stuff like that but his most recent record resolution and I’ve told
them this to him his face you know is it was by far and away my favorite record
of 2017 it’s one of my favorite albums I’ve ever heard and the combination of
the creativity the original writing the grooves the incredible guitar playing
and the the Sonics on that record oh my god I can’t believe the sounds he gets
such beautiful rich bottom end and very tasteful use of effects and everything
still sounds like an acoustic guitar and I think he’s a killer singer too yeah so
you know he to me as an example of somebody makes me feel more hopeful
right because he’s he’s really killing it and so I would tell people to look at
people like like him as and a few others as really good examples of how you can
you can play your own game you know you can write your own music you can forge
your own individuality isn’t it as a musician and that to me is more valuable
than somebody just playing the hits you know and I won’t
mention any more names because I don’t want to slag people but there’s a lot of
people who have gotten quite popular just playing the hits and I again I get
it because it it’s an easy way to make a living but there’s a side of me that
just goes man you know it gave me something new I I you know like Stevie
Wonder already did that song way better than you’ll ever play it you know or why
are you covering Beatles songs that’s like paraphrasing the Bible are you nuts
you know but that’s just me I guess I I like individuality it’s happening every
like you said it’s happening everywhere across the music field and across
honestly Hollywood as well I mean look at all of the movies that are being
remade and it’s it’s such a disappointment that so many people are
looking to the Past and to recreate the past which I get it I understand the
nostalgia no and like you said people who’ve grown up with that and it’s very
accessible cuz it’s you know we all know those tunes but there is something to
originality that like you said it’s fresh it’s and I think a lot of that is
needed right now where people aren’t afraid to put themselves out there and
try new things I think Peyman brother Dan I’m really what’s the that’s the
stuff that’s you know you there well I’ll tell you a funny little story which
I’ve told very few people but my first wife died quite young and her
grandparents were still alive when I was getting going so this is like my wife
who’s older she was older than me and her grandparents were still alive so
it’s kind of they were really old and I was staying with them in the town in the
Midwestern Canada they were living in and her grandfather was this you know
typical kind of Prairie gonna kind of guy he was a real left-wing Prairie kind
of guy but you know he was a ardent Socialist Workers you know a union kind
of guy but he was really old at this point is like almost 90 years old and
and some he’s sitting there with me and he says God says I got a question for
you I said sure shoot Gramps he says just wondering
uh do you know that guy’s Segovia listed I said oh you mean Andres Segovia he
goes yeah whatever where that guy I see you know um I said not personally he’s
been dead for a while but um I know who you mean
yes great great guitarist Mises yeah he says do you do any of his stuff and I
said well Gramps Segovia wasn’t really a composer he was an arranger so he
arranged like a lot of Scarlatti and all that kind of stuff for the solo guitar
which was you know at the time was completely nobody had ever done it
before it was an amazing thing nice thing okay okay well anyway this guy’s
to go will be a he says do you do any of his stuff I said I do a few box
transcriptions yes for fun I don’t do them on stage he says okay you can play
that stuff though I said yes Gramps I can he says well then why don’t you and
I I said well I said I’m a composer so I the stick that I have is that you go to
my shows gonna hear my tunes you know people come to and then he was saying it
saying yeah but couldn’t you make a lot more money just give him the people what
they want yeah and I thought okay man this is
really cool here’s a 90 year old man saying the same thing that people who
are in the 20s say you know like you could just yeah I could take an easier
way out if I want you know and then finally my wife’s grandmother just chips
and she says always got to do his own thing just leave him alone he’s got to
do his own thing yeah and he was saying yeah but you know
I probably make more on pension than he does now and I said I said but you know
I said Gramps I don’t think I was put on the world just to make money you know I
said just like you you know you fought for whatever you know rights and and
things that you had as a worker and stuff like that but he didn’t want to be
a banker you know he didn’t want to be a lawyer
you wanted to weld he was a welder I said so you got to do what you wanted
and you know okay mmm but it’s interesting you know there’s
always that pressure to I mean my dad has done it too he said why don’t you
write what you write to Celine Dion and say that you’ll put some music to
somewhere so I’m just like I could do that if I wanted to you
definitely gotta wanna sorry it’s always hard to get people to understand that
there’s a even though it’s hard there’s a huge amount of reward that comes from
just sort of eking out your own stuff I mean this is this is the other thing two
people say well you know playing a Beatles cover is a good idea because
everybody knows those tunes and then just think to myself yeah but I mean
aside from the very beginning of their career the Beatles weren’t playing
covers no you don’t pick up Rubber Soul to hear a cover of you know Johnny be
good you pick it up to hear all the cool songs that are on revolver or whether
you know a Rubber Soul you know the White Album is not an album
of covers so they had to create their own music then that’s how they took
their greatest reward you know by being creative yeah yeah other than that the
for a guitarist getting going these days I always tell people look make as many
videos as you possibly can I mean I don’t make anywhere near as many as I
should but make as many videos as you possibly can it’s the only way to get
any exposure put them on Facebook put them on Instagram put them on Twitter
put them on YouTube everywhere you can possibly spread yourself and you know it
would be nice if it was original music and cool stuff that you’re doing that’s
that’s that’s unusual and then build up a name for yourself that way that’s kind
of the way to do it now you’re not gonna get it on the radio there’s no MTV
anymore so just build your own fan base because you can you can do everything
yourself now and and then that can lead to gigs which can lead to making a
living back when I started it was more a matter of getting that recording deal
and hoping a recording deal led to gigs you know which let you make a living now
it’s kind of backwards now it’s like you got a you got to promote yourself
without a recording necessarily and just get out there and hustle and play a lot
of gate plays many gigs as you can I did a whole lot of crappy eggs to start my
career just to get my name out there and it worked out okay you know I’m I’m a
pretty busy guy now and I get to play in dozens of countries which is great when
you were starting out were you playing original music or were you playing
mixture of original and cover music back then when I was a teenager just doing it
you know as a very very very part-time thing when I was going to school I
didn’t really have a whole lot of music that I had written so I would do I would
sneak a few original instrumental tunes in the midst of you know covering
Jonathan Edwards tune or James Taylor song or whatever people want to hear in
order to and I mean I start haiku up in Montreal so it was a pretty cool place
to grow up because I looked 3 or 4 years older than I was
so and Montreal was always pretty loosey-goosey about liquor laws so I
could go play at licensed establishments when I was 15 and nobody ever asked me
I’d look at the party drinking age was 18 you know so I looked 18 so I could
get away with it and the more I did it the more I started sneaking more and
more of my you know I had more incentive to keep writing new music because now I
actually had gigs so I would sneak more and more of my own original material in
there but then when I finally made the decision to go full-time which wasn’t
until it was in my mid-20s I decided to just do it with 100% original music I
just figured I’ll let the audience find me you know I I’m not going to go
looking for an audience that’s already built in oh I know it’ll take some time
it’ll be an investment of time and effort and blood sweat and tears but
I’ll do it you know and so it was much more on my own terms and again like I
say that has its own rewards for sure well I should say it paid off yeah I
mean I’m not a rich guy but I’m having a heck of a fun life I really am yeah as
long as you love what you do that’s that’s honestly you bet totally matters
yeah absolutely well and do you have any final questions
I did have one small question I did read that you do a guitar camp yeah it’s like
a weekend of just come to my house and nerd out on above music and guitars for
yeah and I’m doing one this year for the first time in a few years I to do it
every year sometimes twice here when I lived in Ontario and you know it’s kind
of very very central location it was easy for people to get to the Toronto
Airport from anywhere in North America or people were coming from Europe and
Hawaii and everything else to get to go then when I moved here to the East Coast
and of course Canada’s East Coast is a lot further east than the American East
Coast so I’m an hour ahead of your time even though you’re on the eastern most
time Zone in the States so I tried it here on Prince Edward Island which is a
very beautiful island province not far from where I live and people did come
but it was it was a it was much it was a much harder job to do that and it was
very expensive because I you know I took over a hotel and bought every you know
all his food and everything I think didn’t make a whole lot of money at it
but it was still fun to do so this year I decided to revive it my wife and I
moved to this property that’s directly on the ocean and the house that’s
directly next to us is just as big as the one we’re in a fairly large house
these days it’s it’s a just as big as this one and it’s rented out most of the
time to holidaymakers and the people who own it show up every once in a while but
I worked it out with them that I could rent it for the the time that I wanted
to do my guitar weekend so I’m doing it on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend which
is in the middle of October so October 11th through 14th and I had all the
spots sold but I just had a cancellation so if this airs soon I do have one spot
available so you can check it it’s a Don Ross guitar weekend calm and it gets I
think that’s the URL anyway and it’s nice people just stay at my house or
they’ll stay next door like ten feet away and we’re right on the ocean and
there’s hiking trails and there’s you know in October it might be a little
cool to swim but it’s very beautiful looking around here the the fall colors
are amazing I’m right near Peggy’s Cove which is a very
doric lighthouse on the end of the peninsula here real tourist mecca there
that’s ten minutes away and and it’s nice basically it’s it’s a it’s a
pedagogical weekend I usually do it with a co-host this is this year I decided as
an experiment I just tried doing it myself and only having six people so
it’s very exclusive and what is what is your focus throughout the weekend it’s
some working on a fingerstyle technique composition technique learning my tunes
because people very often learn them up close and we do them as a group and also
I offer a lot of one-on-one instruction in Castilian there’s said several hours
in the day that set aside for just half hour lessons or whatever and people can
over the course of the weekend they get to half hour lessons and one-on-one and
we can talk about whatever they want to talk about but yeah it’s awesome and
there’s you know it’s gonna be nicely catered and it’s a really fun event I
used to love doing them when I lived in Ontario and the one in PEI was fun too
and you’re thinking about three so are you possibly planning on doing twice a
year is that something that you are considering maybe after this October
maybe doing another one in the spring or something like that yeah I’m definitely
thinking very strongly twice a year especially if I keep doing them on my
own then it’s just like even just the cost of having a co-host is very high so
I can only really accommodate a small number of people so the idea of keeping
it just me and a bunch of guests suits me just fine right now in the future I
might go back to the larger format with a co-host but I’d have to have a venue
for that which I I live remotely enough that that’s a bit of a hassle but anyway
you know I mean but where I am is only half an hour from me a little over half
an hour from the Halifax airports they keep an eye out for that yeah for sure
if you do open up another session will kind of broadcast that to our listeners
because I honestly that just sounds like a great time and and even in a small
group I know with me and past what is the idea of six people and you know
you were there with a mentor its hold man I don’t know that it gets much
better than that yeah and you’re you’ve been staying in the mentors house you
know that you know when I used to have it in Ontario
like I say we had this big rambling Victorian house and most of the people
stayed at my place but also the overflow would go to the neighbors houses and
stuff like that and that was what people took away most you know I think like I
got to hang out in this house with a bunch of like-minded people it’s not
nice no it was it was a it’s a really nice experience I like it well I get to
stay home one offside question that I was that I was kind of thinking about
are you from oh my first experience with real experience because I was into James
Taylor and Eric left and then when he came out with the statistic album would
look like that but it wasn’t in really until 1996 or 97 when I went to see Joe
Satriani on the g3 tour up in Boston that they had this this finger picker
come in and his name was Adrian Legg. Adrian Legg of course just amazing he
just blew me away doesn’t ya talk about unique it yeah was
he unique guy for you yeah just just his approach was just about a left-field and
I’m thinking about it so holy cow you know you’ve got all these like electric
guitar people in the audience and here’s this at time you know 60 some years old
the place was just silent you know thousands of people and there’s a 60
year old man up on stage and everybody’s just like like zoned in on it was great
it was wonderful I’ll never forget us experience oh yeah I’ll tell you
speaking of wonderful experiences when I lived in Toronto there was this place
that opened up unfortunately didn’t last long was in for two years it was called
the guitar bar there really was such a place and it was upstairs at this
well-known jazz place called top of the senator so there was there was a senator
restaurant on the main floor on their ground floor and then the first floor
above that was the top of the senator that was the jazz club and then above
that was the guitar bars how I used to jokingly refer to it as the top of the
top of the senator anyway when they first opened they brought in all these
really heavyweight players like Alex de Grassi herb Ellis Larry Coryell man the
list went on Joe Pass was still alive he came in an Adrienne leg played and I
played and anyway I can’t members lost but people were saying you know see
Adrienne leg so sure enough I went to the guitar bar and most people didn’t
know anything about him so that he maybe had 40 people there and yeah
I was just like holy moly that was why and you know really innovative with all
the retuning and crazy stuff he does and those middles of phrases and tunes and
stuff so yeah but we’re still Facebook buddies I’ve never heard I’m gonna have
to have to look after this Legg Adrienne like okay well Don it has been
wonderful getting to speak with you thanks so much
well great to get to know you guys and more power to you with this and good
luck with everything yeah we’re just trying to bring you know
real real deep discussions about music to people so that people can can learn
about it and fuel their own passions you know and maybe while they’re driving
around there instead of wasting their time listening to it’s something else
they Rush Limbaugh yeah they get something positive out of their time
exactly good we really appreciate you time so have a wonderful week yeah you
too have a great rest of your day and thanks to you guys yeah thank you really
do you guys get it all the best

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