Yesterday morning I spoke to John Carlini on the phone. At the suggestion of Rolly Brown, I had emailed John to inquire about taking guitar lessons. I got a reply on Monday saying to call on a weekday morning to talk it over.
I was a little bit surprised to find that I was nervous. I’m not generally intimidated by people, but I suppose I had thought about this long enough for the realization to settle in that I was speaking to a man who had worked with not just one, but several of the musicians I had most respected in my life. All of the discomfort was completely in my own head, of course. John couldn’t possibly have been more pleasant, down-to-earth, and normal.
He asked how long I had been playing, what kinds of music I was interested in, all the questions a teacher might ask a prospective student. Nothing out of the ordinary, and all pretty matter-of-fact. I would guess the entire conversation lasted 15 or 20 minutes, and despite my nervousness and inability to articulate much in the way of a specific goal I’m aiming to achieve with these lessons, when I hung up I found myself with directions to his home and an appointment to begin bi-weekly lessons on June 17.
That gives me two weeks. I’ve got to get some serious practice time in between now and then. I haven’t played in months, and I am sure the rust has settled in nice and thick at this point. All the talk and speculation is over now. I gotta get to work.
Shortly before 10:00 this morning I posted a message to FLATPICK-L, an email list of acoustic guitar enthusiasts, in which I mentioned that I had been kicking around a notion to take some classical guitar lessons.
As mentioned in the “By Way Of Introduction…“ page elsewhere in this blog, I’ve been playing guitar for a long time without ever having more than the most rudimentary instruction. I’ve arrived at a point where I’m curious to apply some good solid theory to what it is I’ve been doing all these years. And more importantly, I’d like to know the fretboard better than I do. Less importantly, but still of some interest, I think it would be nice to know how to read music for guitar. Not just tablature, but actual notes on the staff.
I’ve never played classical music, but I got it into my head that classical lessons would be a way to learn these things. And surely whatever I learned that was pertinent would transfer to whatever music I wanted to play at any given time.
Anyway, before 3:30 rolled around this afternoon, National Fingerpicking Champion Rolly Brown had read my post and responded to me with a suggestion. Given that I live in Maplewood, NJ, Rolly’s speculation was that I must be within relatively close proximity to John Carlini, who would likely take me on as a student.
“John is an excellent guy to study with for sightreading and fingerboard skills, and also understands bluegrass,” Rolly wrote.
John, whose musical resumé is wide and deep, is well-known in the acoustic guitar community, especially in bluegrass and folk music circles, as the former musical director for the David Grisman Quintet, and also for River Suite For Two Guitars, an album of guitar duets he recorded with legendary bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice. Additionally, John writes a regular column for Flatpicking Guitar Magazine, the only guitar magazine I have ever subscribed to. I had no idea that he lives near me, nor that he gave private lessons.
Bless my wife’s heart. One evening this week I turned and said to her that I’ve decided to search for my dream guitar. I told her right up front that this was going to take a lot of time and effort, and that it will very likely end up costing us a bundle. Her only response was, “OK.”
I don’t really even know what the phrase “dream guitar” means to me, truth be told, but I guess defining it will be part of the process.
Musically speaking, I’m not much of a gear guy. I currently own four guitars: an Alvarez, which was the first “real” guitar I ever owned and which is covered in the signatures of various musicians I have met and or played with in my life; a Yamaha classical guitar given to me buy an aunt who had used it for lessons she took years ago; a Martin Alternative X that I often use for recording because it has onboard electronics that facilitate the process; and a Martin D-28.
I suppose the reason I haven’t yearned for guitars the way many players do is because my main instrument for the past 27 years has been the D-28. I bought it new in 1981, knowing even then that, barring anything unexpected or catastrophic, I would never need another acoustic guitar. Indeed, there are some people who think of a D-28 as the Holy Grail of acoustic guitars. These instruments are almost ubiquitous in bluegrass, which is the music I know best and have played the most over the years. By far, the most highly-coveted Martins are those built in the “pre-war” years, but even though mine falls well outside that category it is a fine guitar and I have loved it since the day I brought it home.
Nevertheless, I’ve decided to hit the streets in search of something more. I want to explore the higher-end, small-shop builders, and maybe even some individual luthiers. Along the way, I’m going to need to learn about all sorts of things like tonewoods and other materials, different building techniques and how they compare, and ultimately, exactly what it is I’m looking for.
Here we go….