JAW's Music

In the background of my life, in between all the other things I've written about on this site, the one thing that has stayed constant is playing the guitar. My Olde Man, God bless him, bought me a 3/4 Yamaha nylon string guitar for my 7th birthday and I've been playing ever since.

Sure you have the likes of Tommy Emmanuel who got his first guitar at 4 and was performing at 5 and is now the best guitarist in the universe, but, ahem, back in the land of mortals 7 is pretty young for your average guitarist.

Dad put me into classical tuition, I can still remember the teacher, youngish bloke with really long fingernails and a love for flamenco. There was about 6 of us in a class at a time, learning from the Aaron Shearer red book. I was okay, in fact, I was one of the better players in the class, but my heart wasn't really in it. I moved to primary school lessons and that went on and off for a few years, I was kind of a smart arse, still a pretty good player - but I didn't put any effort in.

Aria Pro II
Aria Pro II

By the time I'd moved onto a full size Yamaha Nylon people were overtaking me - they were practicing and putting effort in. Yep; natural talent only gets you so far. I pulled out, sulked for a few years and didn't pick the guitar up again until I was about 13. Funny thing was, I flicked open my Aaron Shearer red book and not only did all the tunes come straight back to me; they were so easy to play! I couldn't believe it - that was the rebirth of my interest in guitar. I guess by that stage I had bigger and stronger hands which helped make guitar playing easier.

I played classical guitar, mastering the red book, throughout the early 80's. I enjoyed playing, but I didn't play on a regular basis; maybe a few times per month. My tastes were starting to change as I grew and classical/flamenco styles didn't interest me so much; I began playing more strumming/folksy styles. Dad gave me a Beatles songbook; kept me going for years...

For my sixteenth birthday Mum bought me a shiny black Aria Pro II, from Singapore I recall. I started playing rock, then heavy metal, then thrash - the sort of stuff you "have to get through" when you are a teenager. It was at this stage in my life that I caused my sister to *hate* guitars forever. Playing lead guitar through a heavily distorted amp, loud, over and over, will do that to a person. Teenage years, eh, thank goodness we survived them eh?

I still have that guitar, for sentimental reasons, but it had gotten a bit worse for weather over the years so in the late 90's I took it in for a "service" at Lounge Guitars in Leederville, Perth WA. They did an excellent job, $AUD30 got me new strings, full buff, truss rod retension, action reset, intonation corrected (it was pretty bad) and the bridge tension readjusted to sit flat (it was way up in the air). Much better; although I don't play it much anymore.

In my early 20's I found Pink Floyd. That kept me going for more years. And years. My missus still groans why she hears me play Pink Floyd.

There was a brief interlude in a band at Uni that went nowhere, and then there was the period between the late 90's and the early 00's where all I played was my own creations.

Maton em225c

I reached a stage where I was mostly playing a hybrid classical/pop fingerstyle sound. It didn't really suit the nylon, and didn't really suit the electric, so I turned my attention to steel string acoustic. In 1997 I finally put the guy at Musgroves Perth out of his misery and bought the Maton EM225C electric acoustic that I would play at lunchtime once or twice a month. A really nice Australian instrument much of the wood used is native Australian. I like that.

Took me a while to become accustomed to the steel strings (being an old nylon man from way back), but it really helped get "the sound" I had been looking for.

It became my primary "creative inspiration" guitar in the phase of writing original music. I learnt how to multi-track on the PC, how to sequence drums - basically everything I needed to make full band sort of songs. I would detune or down-pitch the electric guitar to get a bass guitar sound but I was never really happy with the sound. So in 2001 I bought a bass guitar - for putting the right sound into my songs

Quite a number of original songs exist from the early 2000's era, mostly hard rock stuff because I was making amateur trail bike videos at the time. You can't really watch a trail bike tearing up the dunes to a classical backdrop...

I also grabbed a $100 microphone and got some people to do some singing for me. No, I can't sing. I Really, really can't sing. It doesn't matter though, my guitar playing ability makes up for it ;)

About 2002 I was enjoying guitar playing still but felt I had no direction. I was back to playing covers, but I was searching for the technically complex stuff. A mate put me onto Tommy Emmanuel "The Day the Fingerpickers Took Over The World" and once I heard Borsalino I knew I had to learn it. Unfortunately I didn't realise it was a thumbpick boom-chic piece so I learnt it all classical - but the one thing it forced me to do was find the ability to play a bass line and a treble.

Arsenal, early 2000's

I went and had a "lesson", first one in 20 odd years, at my local Mindarie music shop. A young fella there, Matt, had been heavy into Tommy Emmanuel a few years back. I showed him what I could do, he said "you don't need lessons, go away and learn some of this." That put me on the course I am on now, fingerpicking, sometimes with a thumbpick, sometimes au naturelle, and, well, never with a flatpick. After all these years I still can't hold the little buggers!

By 2006 I realised that I really enjoyed arranging and playing bass/treble "thumb independence" versions of famous/popular songs at the moment. Tommy Emmanuel pointed me down the right path, another fingerstyle artist Michael Chapdelaine opened up further directions and then a chap by the name of Naudo I discovered on youtube changed everything. His style is rooted in flamenco, but he has developed some techniques which make solo fingerstyle arrangements so "full" and compelling that I have been following his work and style ever since.

At first I stuck to steel string acoustic, but slowly I got tired of hearing that overly bright almost shrill sound. I've always been a fingernail player, not too much nail, just enough that you get some fingertip and nail each stroke. My nails are pretty strong so even though steel wears them down slowly, it is not as much as they are growing back. It was when I was playing through amps that the bright sound really started to annoy me I looked at playing mellow nylon again. I'd then come full circle, got out my old Yamaha nylon and stuck to that.

In 2006 I started putting videos on youtube. At first it was to show a guy a video of me playing a song and it was a convenient method of transferring the file. What I noticed however is that it forced me to learn the song from start to finish, and forced me to get over "performance anxiety" ie playing in front of a video camera. I had already decided that I needed to start doing public performances of my solo fingerstyle work in order to "reach the next level" - youtube was a stepping block.

By 2007 I was actually pretty popular on youtube, much to my surprise. The main reason is because I "add value" to the video by including the tab for what I am playing. So, other guitarists who like my stuff can grab the tab, watch me playing it, and give it a try for themselves. As with all internet popularity, once you reach a level of exposure it then feeds itself - your ranking in searches goes up, which gets more hits, which drives your rankings up again. Good fun, I do love a good statistic ;)

Yamaha CGX171CCA (CCA=cedar soundboard)

Early 2008 I decided I needed a nice nylon string guitar. Since they are mostly classical guitars, there is not a big demand for them, so the more expensive quality ones are hard to find. I played as many in as many shops as I could find, hardly any high end stuff though. What I found, which surprised me, was that the Yamaha shape still felt best. I played a CGX131 - thin body cutout nylon, and fell in love with it. However, on the spec sheet there was a CGX171 model which had a two way pickup (piezo + in body condenser mic), a truss rod (not normally used in nylon, but where fitted allows you to adjust the neck angle), top class selection of the woods and yet was exactly the same shape as the CGX131.

I rang several stores about then, none in Australia and none coming in. I decided to place an order, sight unseen, for one through Soundcentre Morley. Tony Agnello down there had a good relationship with Yamaha Australia from what I could see; I figured if anyone could get one, he could. Yamaha Worldwide doesn't really seem to care about Australia, it took nearly 6 months for them to ship one. Once it came in though, all smiles, I had in my hands the guitar to take me through the next phase of my guitar life experience.

The Yamaha did me well for around two years, but by late 2009 I realised that the narrow neck (46mm versus the normal classical 52mm) of what is basically a "cross-over" guitar - nylon string but shaped like a steel string - was no longer working for me. I needed more room on the fretboard. I played my old classical, and I realised, that is what I really needed. A classical guitar.

So on I went, searching again. I wanted a classical guitar, but with a similar pickup system as the Yamaha. Eventually I bought a fairly high end Esteve 1GR11, and had a two way pickup system fitted. Yeah, I was too frightened to cut it up myself, so I took it to a luthier. Now everybody seemed to love the Fishmann pickups at the time, but I loved the Yamaha system which was a rebadged B-Band. They did a two-way pickup called the A6T which rather than having a microphone has an "Acoustic Soundboard Transducer" in addition to the normal Under Saddle Transducer (UST). I mucked around for a long time to get the UST sound balanced - it was booming out on the G string. A bit of careful filing on the saddle sorted that out.

Seasons, changes.

Now there is one last important thing I must impart in you before I go. If you've been snooping around this site you'll probably know that I'm an electrical engineer, and, sadly, I play the guitar like an electrical engineer. That is, I program my fingers to play a song. I don't "feel" music - don't get me wrong I enjoy music, music brings out emotion and passion, but I don't "feel" music like say a blues or jazz guitarist "feels" music. Not helped by the fact I can't play scales and pretty much don't understand music theory. Like I said, engineer - 5th string A is a 110Hz standing wave, an octave up is 220Hz, divide that into 12 logarithmic portions to get your semitones. Okay, I can read treble clef (I'm not just a tab junkie) and I can "hear" a minor 7th, but I'm no musician.

"A programmable guitar playing machine."

Note that all my youtube stuff you can find here: au.youtube.com/jawmunji