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Old 12-29-2021, 10:36 AM
cyclistbrian cyclistbrian is offline
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Default Questions for Steve DeRosa: coaxing the velvet

In several posts on acoustic archtops Steve DeRosa has mentioned a technique old timers called "coaxing the velvet out" with regards to pulling good tone out of a acoustic archtop.

I'm not sure what's meant by that. I'd like to find out more.
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Old 12-29-2021, 04:30 PM
Richard Mott Richard Mott is offline
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I’m sure that Steve will provide a full explanation! What I have taken from it, in my own archtop playing, is a very different technique than most flattop players use with a pick.

You don’t strike the string so much as “push through it”—it creates less “static” and string noise, but pulls out the mids. Same with developing a tremolo—you practice keeping a high speed at low volume, so you are in full control of the dynamics.

Done properly, both techniques allow the archtop to deliver a super-fast response, so useful in jazz playing, while rounding out the hard edges. Notes are more like “blips” that present quickly but get out of the way of each other. Chords are punchy, often four to the bar used to drive rhythm, rather than symphonies of overtones like with some flattop playing.

Of course these are all generalizations, and the very best archtop instruments—such as Monteleones, D’Aquistos, and exceptional early Gibson L-5s—excel at nearly any playing style.
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Old 12-29-2021, 07:59 PM
cyclistbrian cyclistbrian is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Mott View Post
I’m sure that Steve will provide a full explanation! What I have taken from it, in my own archtop playing, is a very different technique than most flattop players use with a pick.

You don’t strike the string so much as “push through it”—it creates less “static” and string noise, but pulls out the mids. Same with developing a tremolo—you practice keeping a high speed at low volume, so you are in full control of the dynamics.

Done properly, both techniques allow the archtop to deliver a super-fast response, so useful in jazz playing, while rounding out the hard edges. Notes are more like “blips” that present quickly but get out of the way of each other. Chords are punchy, often four to the bar used to drive rhythm, rather than symphonies of overtones like with some flattop playing.

Of course these are all generalizations, and the very best archtop instruments—such as Monteleones, D’Aquistos, and exceptional early Gibson L-5s—excel at nearly any playing style.
What you say makes sense and gives me some things to consider. Thank you.

I play a lot of fiddle tunes and swing rhythm. I've worked hard at my flattop tone. I'm finding a need to refine my approach for acoustic archtop as I work on "plectrum guitar" style material.
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Old 12-29-2021, 09:45 PM
Steve DeRosa Steve DeRosa is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Mott View Post
I’m sure that Steve will provide a full explanation...

You don’t strike the string so much as “push through it”— it creates less “static” and string noise, but pulls out the mids. Same with developing a tremolo—you practice keeping a high speed at low volume, so you are in full control of the dynamics.

Done properly, both techniques allow the archtop to deliver a super-fast response, so useful in jazz playing, while rounding out the hard edges. Notes are more like “blips” that present quickly but get out of the way of each other. Chords are punchy, often four to the bar used to drive rhythm, rather than symphonies of overtones like with some flattop playing...
No real need, Richard: you've pretty well condensed everything I was going to say, with one exception - watch both hands of a virtuoso orchestral-string player, try to feel what he/she is doing to draw out the tone, and apply the same approach to your archtop technique; I discovered Itzhak Perlman in the '70s, and after watching several of his performances (and hearing his singular tone - BTW it's not just his 300-year-old Stradivarius) everything I learned as a kid about how to get the best out of an archtop suddenly made sense...

Quote:
Originally Posted by cyclistbrian View Post
...I play a lot of fiddle tunes and swing rhythm. I've worked hard at my flattop tone. I'm finding a need to refine my approach for acoustic archtop as I work on "plectrum guitar" style material.
As far as suitable examples are concerned there's a bunch of stuff on YouTube, good and bad in a variety of styles, and if you search "archtop guitar" you'll find most of them. For the sake of convenience I'll post a few of my favorites:
  • While there's a tendency to single out Freddie Green as the be-all-end-all of acoustic archtop rhythm guitar - not without justification, mind you - there was a whole bunch of virtuoso players out there laying down lines every bit as tasty; here's Al Caiola on his '40s Epiphone Broadway anchoring the rhythm section (piano-bass-guitar - no drums) for these Johnny Mathis classics:



  • There was also a school of solo playing known as "classical archtop" that flourished between 1925-1940, and about which I've written in great depth and detail in several other posts here (search "classical archtop" in the AGF search engine, in the toolbar at the top of the page); virtually nonexistent by 1950, it's seen a recent revival with the resurgence of interest in archtop guitars - here's a couple of examples from prewar masters, as well as some current practitioners:




  • In the words of Monty Python, and now for something completely different - Grady Martin's fluid Tex-Mex soloing on Marty Robbins' "El Paso," performed on a 16" New York-era Epiphone archtop (possibly the same '53-54 Zenith Marty used in the 1965 live clip - the latter being a perfect example of why an archtop requires a totally different approach):




  • Finally, here's my favorite of the new-generation archtop players, fellow AGF'er Jonathan Stout (AKA campusfive) keeping the prewar tradition of Carl Kress/Dick McDonough, Tony Mottola, Al Hendrickson, Allen Reuss, et al. alive into the 21st century:


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Last edited by Steve DeRosa; 12-30-2021 at 09:50 AM.
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Old 12-30-2021, 03:22 PM
cyclistbrian cyclistbrian is offline
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Thanks for taking the time to respond. I've learned a lot here.
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Old 12-31-2021, 04:35 PM
Richard Mott Richard Mott is offline
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Steve, this is quite a trove of information and inspiration! The 15 videos really do cover the waterfront. What I take away from them is how precise an instrument a good archtop is. The players with the best sense of time will have that rewarded. The rest of us, and I include myself here, will have their limitations revealed pretty starkly, but at least that light will shine a way forward. Volpe, in particular, struck me as having terrific time sense. And the Marty Robbins videos were a minor revelation on how well a good archtop can sound in a non-jazz context. Speaking of other contexts, Homer Haynes (of Homer and Jethro) has a simply incredible right hand—effortless light touch, perfect timing. I’d paid essentially zero attention to folks like that until one day a light went on and I heard what he was doing. I read somewhere later that Chet Atkins called Homer the best rhythm guitarist he’d ever heard.

Last edited by Richard Mott; 12-31-2021 at 04:41 PM.
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