05 May 2011

another day, another danelectro

So yesterday morning I had a brainwave. I'd spent the last couple of days practising a short set for the support slot that evening. I'd thought up one at the weekend and decided, nah, scrap it. I was, in a word, Stuck. I bought a new guitar - a PRS SE custom semi-hollow - two months ago and I'm well happy with it, it's lovely and playable. But I felt I was neglecting the equally lovely twelve string electric I bought two years ago. It's a Danelectro DC-12 with a beautiful retro look and feel and I love playing it. Plus, I reflected, the twelve-string would more suit the sort of support set I was doing - a swift half hour of (hopefully) memorable tunes before the main act. I'd never used it live before… why not string it up and use it for the gig?

I'd spent the last couple of months staring at two sets of nickel-wound strings I'd had to order online especially for the twelve-string. Here in busker-town you can find a set of bronze-wound, acoustic "twelve-string strings" no problem. But nickelwound for electric? No way José. Fine if you want to be Leadbelly but not if you want to be Roger McGuinn. But praise the lord for the good people at strings.ie - I got two sets of nickelwound strings shipped practically overnight, with a voucher for a discount on my next order. They weren't cheap but they never are.

I love the sound of the twelve-string guitar. My uncle Batt had one that my mum bought for him. My dad got me a nice Eko Raider twelve-string for my 21st birthday, which was neither yesterday nor the day before. It's still going strong though it probably needs the frets done. I love the way you can get an enormous ringing sound playing simple chords with a lot of open strings. Simple arpeggios and legato figures turn into something else completely - that's the whole sound of the early Byrds right there, for instance. There's also plenty of scope for melody and lead playing if you put your mind to it. And I've always found it ideal for solo accompaniment - you're encouraged to keep your playing simple and concentrate on putting across The Song.

Anyway, I forgot about all this and left the strings in their padded envelope, on the little stand where I leave my rent money for the landlady every Saturday. And then just yesterday, feeling like I'd come up against a brick wall in terms of inspiration, I suddenly said to myself, "Stop bleeding procrastinating - string up the Danelectro and see how it feels; if it's good, it might be just the thing for the gig tonight." So in between sips of tea and reading the news online, I strung the bugger up.

The beauty and uniqueness of this type of instrument comes at a price. Twelve strings are a pain to tune and set up. For one thing, twice the amount of strings to thread, wind, and tighten. Higher tension. All those extra harmonics clanging around and confusing the ear. The Danelectro compounds the usual logistical difficulties by having the strings go two different ways into the bridge. Each pair of strings is on a separate saddle - one string is threaded in through the body, from the back, and the other string is threaded in via the bridge on the top. It's an ingenious arrangement once you get used to it and I guess it makes intonation easier. But (like all good things in life I suppose) it's worth taking the time to do things right.

So, all strung up, I rattled through a bunch of tunes again. They sounded much better this way. After months of six-string playing on guitars with smaller necks, the right hand had to work harder, but again that's part of the price you pay for admittance into the glorious, ringing, chiming, harmonically rich world of twelve-string-dom. It was a little psychological thing but it worked. I felt a lot better about the set now.

I don't usually drink before gigs, but I had a hot brandy and port in the local to clear the voice a bit, and called a taxi into town. Turned out that the sound engineer for the night was my pal and former housemate Diesel. The Tectonics soundchecked and I brought up my own bits - twelve-string, little Vox amp and a Headrush delay pedal just to thicken the sound a bit. Tuner and capo. Tried a couple of snatches of sounds and they sounded a bit rough, but eventually fell into place. I didn't really have time to do full numbers but they seemed okay. The doors open and people started coming in - fortunately a few familiar faces among them.

The night was fine. Wished more people could have been there - there was another gig on that night, and friends of the band were actually playing support. Most of the people who turned up on the night were family and friends, and a few stragglers just in to check out some new music. I don't think anyone was disappointed.

Marcus, Eoin and Seamus of the Tectonics brew up a fine power-pop sound, with the occasional touch of 80s-style 'white reggae'. Hard to describe unless you hear it for yourself. All three of them write and sing and there are some fantastic moments when their voices locked into very sweet harmonies. Eoin is a nimble but understated guitarist who makes great but economical use of effects; Marcus and Seamus (Sykes) are a rock-solid rhythm section having played together in various bands since the year dot - they're probably best known for their spell in The Big Geraniums.

I was pretty happy with my own set, I guess all the grief of preparation was worth it. Afterwards we popped into Massimo's for some late drinks. Pure joy seeing all those beautiful girls dancing; if nothing else that made the night worth it!

Thanks a million to the band for having me on as support - I'm definitely going to be doing this sort of thing more often. Gratuitous plug for Kelly's bar because it's a fine place and a more than decent music venue. As for the loudmouthed heckling arsewipe, I hope he dies roaring. Kudos also to my brother Kev (you know him, he's famous) and my pals Frank, Liam, Hugo and especially to the legendary man Diesel on sound. \m/

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