Laurence Juber Interview - part 2
By Bob Felten and Tami Michelle

Appeared in the AFG Sound Hole - Issue 16 (Spring 2003 - editor: Bob Felten)

Laurence Juber performing at an AFG Seminar / Showcase

Bob: Let's start with your Laurence Juber Signature Martin guitar. What changes did you make to a standard Martin to make it yours?

LJ: The concept was that I wanted an early thirties Martin with a cutaway, because they made no cutaways in that era. And I didn't want to go all the way vintage with the string spacing. I wanted an early thirties sounding guitar, because I've played a lot of OM – Orchestra Model Martin's from that era: both OM-28 and OM-18. I wanted to capture that kind of sound, but I wanted the string spacing to be 2 1/4” at the bridge. The vintage string spacing is actually a little wider, as is the neck. I wanted the string spacing to be a little bit wider than the normal, so it's 2 1/4”, and the neck at the 12th fret is 2 1/4”. What that gives me is lots of real estate at the top of the neck, but not as wide as it could be. If you really go to a vintage spec it gets even wider still. But I have small hands, and I figure a good compromise is 2 1/4” because it's not all the way to a virtual classical width. I had them put a gloss finish on the neck and a Brazilian Rosewood overlay on the headstock. But the most important thing was having an Adirondack Spruce top, because they didn't offer a guitar like this with an Adirondack Spruce top other than as a custom shop model. What I did was order it as a custom shop guitar, and I was so happy with the result that we ended up talking about doing a signature model. So it's pretty much a vintage Martin with a cutaway. I have a Collings that is the identical wood combination, which sounds completely different. Martins sound like Martins, and Collings sound like Collings. Every guitar has it's own particular character. It's a very light and nimble guitar, and a great stage guitar. It's very versatile and I'm very happy with it.

Bob: How does it sound different than if you were just to buy a Martin off the street?

LJ: If you were to just walk into a store and buy a Martin, 98% of the Martins out there have Sitka Spruce tops. Adirondack Spruce, or Red Spruce, which is what the majority of guitars used up until 1940 and beyond in some cases, is a different tree. It's a different kind of wood, and has more in common, for example, with German Spruce – European Spruce, where you just get a deeper bottom end. You get an octave more bottom end than you do with Sitka. There's nothing wrong with Sitka, but Adirondack is more dynamic – it has a different kind of quality to it. I find it has more projection. It has all the qualities you associate with guitars from the 1930's that make them desirable. A lot of those qualities I associate with Adirondack Spruce. Having said that, you've got to have it be in the right combination. Adirondack with mahogany or with Brazilian Rosewood is a powerful combination. I wouldn't particularly want to put Adirondack Spruce with Indian Rosewood. Now your average Martin that you're going to pick up in a store is going to be Sitka Spruce and Indian Rosewood. It's a perfect combination because Sitka doesn't have the bottom end whereas Indian Rosewood does. You don't necessarily get the projection, but they make very serviceable guitars that way. The majority of guitars are Sitka and Indian Rosewood. That's kind of the standard combination. I find Sitka with mahogany to be very effective but doesn't have quite the bottom end that you get from the Adirondack, and it doesn't have quite the headroom or the projection. It's a good sounding guitar, but personally I prefer the dynamic range and the tonal qualities of Adirondack Spruce or German Spruce. In the case of my (Kevin) Ryan it's Bosnian Spruce, another variety again. It's similar to Italian Spruce. A lot depends on the stiffness vs. the weight. If you have a stiff top that's light, it's going to be very responsive, and it's also going to have a lot of headroom to it. You could have a light top that's soft, like Englemann tops (or Cedar tops) where they can be very sweet if you pick them lightly, but they don't have a lot of headroom. With this Adirondack top I can really dig in, and it doesn't stop. It doesn't get to a point where it says “Help, help, I'm crunching.”

Tami: Do they compensate the second string out of the box?

LJ: Oh yeah, that's standard. They do a nice setup on this. I think it's a very good guitar. Certainly it's out there with the good stuff, but everybody's choices in a guitar are going to be different. This just happens to be a combination of woods and features that suit me, that you can't buy as a standard Martin. Otherwise I would have.

Tami: Is your wife, Hope, a musician?

LJ: No. But she has a good ear, so when she's producing, she's producing more from the point of view of what she finds satisfying in terms of the performance aspect of things. She is very performance oriented. She'll work with me, and we'll develop imagery, and stuff like that. The performance is not just about fingers. I like it when the fingers disappear and it's all about the sound, and it's about painting pictures. That's why I like the Rosewood on the Ryan. It's like a picture in itself. I just love the fact that it tells a story. (Juber knocks on the wood top with his knuckles). You can hear the sound of that, it's just got that ring to it.

Tami: So they cut the wood, and go tap tap tap?

LJ: Actually, I picked out that particular piece.

Tami: They cut it down the middle and open it up, right?

LJ: Yeah, they open it up, and then there's the different pieces on the sides, which have really nice swirls in them.

Tami: A work of art, like the L-5's.

LJ: Yeah, it's guitar art. Like the mahogany (taps on it), it's a different tone. It doesn't ring like the Brazilian, but it's got a certain amount of meat to it. Good guitar makers will tap the wood to hear the tone of the wood, and nowadays they measure the density and weight of it.

Tami: Are these made by computers like the Taylors?
LJ: No, these are made by hand. The Ryan is made by hand. Martin may do the necks on a C&C machine. I'm not sure. I know there are variations because the first one of these I got, which was a custom shop one – the head stock is slightly different - because they were pretty much done by hand.

Bob: What did you do before you joined Wings?

LJ: I was a studio musician in London. I played on all kinds of things. I played on “The Spy Who Loved Me,” the James Bond movie. I played on an album with Rosemary Clooney. I was a musician about town in London in the days when you could do four sessions a day, seven days a week. I was a very busy boy. I played on a lot of disco records in those days. I did some live playing, but not a lot. Most of the live playing I did, especially in college, was with a jazz big band, something called the National Youth Jazz Orchestra in London. We used to tour.

Tami: With a horn section?
LJ: The whole nine yards.

Tami: Playing standards?
LJ: Some standards. Some stuff that was specially written for the orchestra by English jazz composers, like John Dankworth for example, who's a very famous composer in England.

Tami: These would be comparable to Stan Kenton?

LJ: Those kinds of arrangements.

Tami: That outside?
LJ: Sometimes. It was great reading practice. At the time, I was a big fan of John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, and Return To Forever.

Tami: Gentle Giant?
LJ: I was not a huge Gentle Giant fan. They were actually bigger in America than they were in England. But yeah, the progressive end of the spectrum, whether that would be rock or jazz. A lot of Miles Davis, Coltrane and Weather Report. I was a huge Weather Report fan. That's why Peter Erskine was so cool, having him play (on my Different Times CD), because he played with Weather Report. I saw him twice with Jaco Pastorius with Weather Report.

Bob: What brought you to California?

LJ: When Wings broke up I moved to New York, and I met Hope in New York. She was from L.A. and I liked it out here better.

Bob: And it's possible to earn a living as a musician?

LJ: Oh yeah! I make my living as a studio player, as a concert performer, as a composer. You've got to be versatile, and you've got to know where to put your energy. You've heard the old joke, “What's the difference between a pizza and a jazz musician? A pizza can feed a family of four.” You can make a living as a musician. The fact is I've never really had much in the way of job security other than the period I was with Wings. And even then, I never really looked at that as being an entirely secure gig. I've never had that kind of job security as a studio musician in London. The weekend would roll around and I had no idea where I was working the next week, but by Sunday night I would have had a full date book. It's just the way it worked. A lot of advertising

Jingles - often that stuff would come up the night before. I don't do much of that now. I mostly do TV and movies. I played on “Men In Black II.” I'm doing composing and then going out and doing concerts. I don't do much in the way of clinics anymore. For a while I did clinics for Taylor guitars in the early days before they developed a big reputation. They were making 10 guitars a day, and we helped put them on the map.

Bob: Have you ever seen Paul McCartney since Wings broke up?

LJ: Oh yeah. I last saw him in May (2002) when he was playing in Anaheim. Nice Guy.

Bob: I haven't asked you any Wings questions, which is amazing for a major Beatles fan, but I was just going to ask you one. Are there any Wings stories you'd like to tell that haven't been told?

LJ: That bear repeating? Oh I don't know. My favorite moment of the whole experience was during a series of concerts – in fact the poster is right there – in London for Cambodian refugees: The Concert for the People of Kampuchea. Each day of the week we had a different headliner. One day was The Who, the next night it was Queen, and then Wings headlined the last night. We had Elvis Costello open the show, we had Dave Edmonds and Rockpile play and then Wings played. At the end of the evening we did Rockestra, which was this kind of rock orchestra that we had put together for the “Back to the Egg” album, the Wings album, where all these great musicians from different rock bands all played together. The guitar section was Pete Townsend and Dave Gilmore, we had Hank Marvin from the Shadows, and Denny Laine and myself from Wings. And we did this live, which was amazing with John Bonham from Led Zeppelin playing drums. We had three drummers, a horn section, and percussionists.

Tami: Background singers?

LJ: No background singers. The middle bottom picture there is actually the whole rock orchestra. It was a delight to do and we did “Let It Be”. Now on tour with Wings when we did “Let It Be”, I did the guitar solo. So when the guitar solo rolled around I realized that nobody else was going to step up and play it. There's this big rock orchestra so I just stepped forward and started playing this solo.

Tami: On the acoustic guitar?
LJ: No, electric guitar. And then I realized that Pete Townsend is leering over my shoulder. And I look over and there's Paul McCartney, and there's all these great musicians that I grew up admiring and wanting to play with, and it's like “Whoa, what am I doing here?” And I'm the one who's playing the lead guitar. That was a hell of a moment, because I realized that I kind of graduated. That is when I graduated from McCartney University.

Tami: But you were already good to start with.

LJ: Yeah, but you've got to be in context. You can be good without being good in any particular context.

Tami: Too versatile in a way?

LJ: Yeah, as a studio musician I always made my living being versatile, but one of the things that really attracted me to becoming a fingerstyle soloist was that there was an area where I could really develop my own voice. And once I'd done it everybody started saying “Why don't you play electric guitar anymore? We like the way you play electric.” So I'm doing that too now.

Tami: The thing I like about players like you and jazz players is that they don't use effects, no gimmicks.

LJ: I use effects on electric, but only for tone.

Tami: I bet you have a clean sound on electric?

LJ: I do, and even when it's dirty it's clean. Because you need the clarity to get what's going on. For me there's certainly no effects on acoustic, because it's “How big a sound can you get?”

Tami: Why would you want to destroy the sound?

LJ: Exactly. Why take a great big sound and make it small?

Tami: But some of these guys would.

LJ: Well, it's appropriate. Bob Fripp wouldn't be Bob Fripp without Fripp-a-tronics. And Les Paul wouldn't be Les Paul without using echoes and all that stuff. It has its place.

Tami: I like Joe Pass.

LJ: Yeah, I love Joe Pass........ I used to go see Joe Pass all the time, he and Barney Kessell I used to go see a lot. And Joe Pass, a lot of the time, played fingerstyle. He didn't use a pick. You know, I use effects where appropriate, but judiciously, dynamically.

Tami: I have a question about your work methods. If you were going to plan and make a CD, do you take say, 15 tunes, weed out the weak ones, lay them out on tape, objectively listen to, and then tweak each one?

LJ: I've certainly done it that way. That's a very viable way of working. I didn't do that with “Different Times.” With “Different Times” I basically had the tunes and we just went in and recorded them. With a few of my CD's we've done that, “Mosaic” was pretty much the same way. There are times when I'll do multiple takes and just weed through them. I'll find performances that I really like, and gradually refine the whole process.

Tami: You don't cut and paste?

LJ: Sometimes.

Tami: Do you punch in?

LJ: Rather than punch in, what I'd rather do is just edit between takes. The majority of the time I wouldn't use a click to record.

Tami: You don't use a click track? Why not?

LJ: I don't need it. There was no click track on “Different Times,” or on “LJ plays the Beatles.” The only one I used a click track on was “LJ” because I was going to be overdubbing stuff to it. If there's overdubs involved then I will use a click.

Tami: It's usually live, your own rhythm going?

LJ: Yeah, it's just the way it feels.

Tami: Do you edit much?

LJ: If it feels right, then the edits work, because if the feel is right then the tempo is right.

Tami: Is the editing done on your own time, or when you're in the studio with the clock ticking?

LJ: Generally on my own time, although it gets tough if you record analog. Then you've got to minimize your edits because doing digital editing in mastering is very expensive.

Tami: If you were going to pay to see a guitarist these days, who knocks your socks off as a player?

LJ: Who would I pay to see?

Tami: Well, who knocks your socks off?

LJ: I still want to see Ted Greene, I've never seen him.

Tami: He was at John Pisano's workshop in Van Nuys, Ca.

LJ: I know. I couldn't be there, I was out of town. Who would I pay to go see? That's a really tough question, because I just don't listen to a lot of guitar players. I'm really fortunate that I'm able to get myself out there, and usually I can get myself backstage or I'm on the bill with people that I really admire. Of the current crop of fingerstyle guitar players, Peppino D'Agostino and I do shows together. Andy York, I really like him. I just did a show with Pierre Bensusan in San Francisco. Ed Gerhardt I tour with, and he's a fabulous guitar player. So of the acoustic guitar players, Tommy Emmanuel – I've shared the stage with Tommy. These are great players, but I wouldn't necessarily pay to go see.

Tami: But you know what they do and you respect them.

LJ: Absolutely, that's my peer group.

Tami: Not bad.

LJ: No, not bad at all. I'm quite proud of the fact that I can actually hold my own on stage with Tommy, although I'm more likely to whip out a flat pick to keep up with him. And Phil Keaggy is another one. Phil sat here and we looked at each other over two microphones. But outside of that realm, I'd pay to see Clapton; I'd pay to see Jeff Beck. I'd pay to see Django Reinhart! When I was in college, all the time I would pay to go see Joe Pass, Barney Kessell, Jim Hall, Herb Ellis, all those guys.

Tami: Tommy Tedesco.

LJ: My favorite Tommy story - because I used to do some sessions with Tommy Tedesco - is I was in the airport in Chicago and I had just picked up from Washburn, a little parlour guitar. It was not an expensive one, but it was kind of fun, and I was sitting in the airport playing this guitar, my eyes were kind of half open, and all of a sudden this shadow falls in my field of vision. I looked up and there's Tommy Tedesco, and he was watching what I was doing. It was kind of cool, and out of context, because I had done some sessions with Tommy where I'd be playing guitar and he'd be playing guitar, and it's always a trip to play with studio musicians who have such history. Carol Kaye for example.

Tami: I'd love to meet her. She's such a neat lady.

LJ: Oh, she's great! She has such stories.

Tami: And she plays guitar too.

LJ: She does, yeah. She played guitar on a lot of records, as well as playing bass. So, it's tough to say who I'd go see, `cause I don't go see a lot of music these days. We go to a lot of live theater. I tend to stay away from music because of not wanting to get too overly influenced by what other guitar players are doing. I'd rather forge my own path with it.

Tami: A record producer, Nik Venet, who initially produced the Beach Boys – before he died we went to some of his workshops, and he used to say “I don't hang out with musicians, I hang out with artists.”

LJ: Yeah, exactly. People like Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt, great singer-songwriters and great performers – I always enjoy going to see them. I'd pay to go see Michael Hedges, but that's another one that'd you'd have to resurrect.

Tami: Do you ever mess around with 12-tone?

LJ: No, I'm a tonality kind of a guy. I mean, I like dissonance. If I'm composing a horror movie or something, I'll fool around with it.

Tami: No John Cage stuff for you.

LJ: No.

Tami: In the 1960's a friend of mine, Brian Hartzler, (guitar on Tim Buckley's “Goodbye and Hello” LP) was involved in the non-quartertone micro-tonality or Xenharmony Movement with Ivor Darreg and others. They re-fretted guitars and other instruments, in 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 21, 22, 24, 31, and 34 tone equal temperments. A “G chord” fingered on one of these re-fretted guitars didn't really sound like a G chord in a well-tempered scale. Ivor Darreg's Megalyra Family of instruments were very, very interesting. Some had over 70 strings.

LJ: It sounds like a Harry Parch instrument. For me it's enough of a challenge just to deal with six strings and the regular 22 frets, and as Arnold Schoenberg said “There's a lot of great music still to be written in C major.” And that was from the father of the 12-tone system.

Tami: I think, Laurence, coming from a European background, you're more hip to the classical harmonics and had more of a classical exposure when you were growing up, right?
LJ: I was exposed to a lot of stuff, but that's a European phenomenon. It's a different kind of an education, so I have this very broad background. The problem is it's kind of a blessing and a curse, because being versatile means that you can't be easily categorized.

Tami: Who wants to be pigeonholed?

LJ: Well, from a marketing point of view, is it blues? Is it Jazz?

Tami: It's fingerstyle.

LJ: Fingerstyle's not a genre of music. It's a way of playing guitar.

Tami: It's not a genre?

LJ: Well, it's kind of become a genre of music, but you can't walk into a record store and find a card that says “Fingerstyle Guitar.”

Tami: They should have one.

LJ: You'll find “New Age.” You'll find me in “New Age.” I don't have much in common with New Age except I did one album for Narada , which is known as a New Age label.

Tami: What are you found in, “Acoustic?”

LJ: In “New Age.” There's no Acoustic section. There's “Folk.” Fingerstyle is still not a style of music. I could play blues fingerstyle, and that would be blues. I could play jazz fingerstyle, and that would be jazz. The problem is I play blues, and jazz, and pop, and folk, all mixed up into one.

Bob: I think they would tend to put it all into “Folk.”

LJ: But it isn't really Folk. But I'd more readily get reviewed in “Folk Roots” than I would in “Guitar Player” magazine. If you look at the guitar magazines, a lot of what we fingerstylists do gets routinely ignored. In fact, even in “Fingerstyle Guitar” magazine we get ignored. So, even within fingerstyle as an approach to the guitar, there's a very wide variance in where the focus is. I don't come from the Chet tradition, I come from a European tradition.

Tami: And you don't come from strictly classical or strictly blues, or ...

LJ: I don't come from strictly anything. It's strictly music.

Tami: Exactly.

LJ: Strictly music.

Bob: Well, that's a great line to end an interview. You can see the little logo falling into place.

2003 - Association of Fingerstyle Guitarists