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  1. #1

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    I've been going through a bit of a phase lately, playing my old classical repertoire on my steel string guitars (both electric and acoustic).

    It struck me that I haven't heard this done very much. The occasional piece by Michael Chapdelaine is an exception:


    Steel strings are much brighter, the string spacing is less conducive to contrapuntal playing, and it's harder on nails, but you'd think there would be more examples out there, wouldn't you? (I'm thinking specifically fingerstyle here, not with a pick.)

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  3. #2

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    John Renbourn used to play lute pieces on steel-string guitar quite often - this one is a duet with John James:


  4. #3

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    Lute music is neither Classical nor Guitar music, I‘m afraid…

    I sorely miss decent compositions for steelstring guitar that can stand with the best of Classical music. William Bay and Gilbert Isbin have some, recorded by our friend Rob. I‘ll try to post them tomorrow if Rob doesn’t beat me to it.


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  5. #4

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    No barriers here...though that last one is with a plectrum...

  6. #5

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    Absolutely stunning playing as always, Rob. Thanks for that... I've frequently got your Youtube playlist on so I know I've heard those before, but a timely reminder.

    But that only deepens the mystery as to why we don't hear classical on a steel string more often!

  7. #6

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    Thanks. I agree as to the mystery. I've created a series of books for plectrum playing of lute and Bach's music on steel strings, but fingerstyle is already well catered for with editions of tabbed-out versions of lute and classical music already.

  8. #7

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    Back in the day there was a steel-string lute-like instrument called an Orpharion. I have a CD by Paul O’Dette where he plays a few Dowland pieces on one. In fact it sounds quite similar to Rob’s tracks above. So there is a precedent for at least some of the repertoire being played on steel strings.

  9. #8

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    Close, Graham, it used brass strings. It is a very quiet instrument, and a b@gger to play in tune! But, yes, wire strings and lute repertoire go back a long way.

  10. #9

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    Ah, these guitarists ... they combine and complicate a lot.

  11. #10

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    And that’s a GOOD thing

  12. #11

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    Here is a German guitarist, Dominik Jung, who did a whole album of classical music on a steel-string guitar. The album isn't on SoundCloud. I've got it, and I can testify that he has quite a broad repertoire. A modern piece by Yuquijiro Yocoh:





    Here is take on Barrios' Julia Florida.



    BTW Rob enticed me to do the Villa-Lobos Prelude No. 3 with a pick on steel strings, too:

    Stream Heitor Villa-Lobos Prelude No 3 by Stephan Kupper | Listen online for free on SoundCloud
    Last edited by docsteve; 12-01-2021 at 08:59 AM. Reason: link corrected

  13. #12

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    It all sounds great, but watching it gives me the willies and makes my nails hurt

  14. #13

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    Very nice HVL Prelude, DocSteve!

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by docsteve
    Here is a German guitarist, Dominik Jung, who did a whole album of classical music on a steel-string guitar. The album isn't on SoundCloud. I've got it, and I can testify that he has quite a broad repertoire. A modern piece by Yuquijiro Yocoh:

    Here is take on Barrios' Julia Florida


    BTW Rob enticed me to do the Villa-Lobos Prelude No. 3 with a pick on steel strings, too:
    Thanks, docsteve -- and nice playing on the VL prelude!

    Jung's take on Julia Florida sounds amazing. Excellent example. (Though I do miss that big glissando up to the A...) I recall reading somewhere that Barrios played with steel strings, just due to sheer availability, on something akin to a parlour guitar. I guess that would make his pieces particularly suitable.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by BWV
    It all sounds great, but watching it gives me the willies and makes my nails hurt
    I played with nails way back when I was an actual classical guitarist, but lately I've been relearning with flesh only (largely inspired by Rob).

    Can't do anything about your willies though, I'm afraid.

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by docsteve
    Here is a German guitarist, Dominik Jung, who did a whole album of classical music on a steel-string guitar. The album isn't on SoundCloud. I've got it, and I can testify that he has quite a broad repertoire. A modern piece by Yuquijiro Yocoh:
    That doesn't sound like a guitar at all, and probably on purpose (does the evoked Japanse instrument use steel strings?)
    BTW, is that a Modified Dreadnought? It looks like one, and the name on the headstock looks like the inventor's name (that I never know how to spell). Michael Watts plays one, and has quite a few pieces that sound very classical


    He also has this


    To come back to the original question: I've asked it once on the Delcamp CG forum. The consensus was "we don't like the metallic sound of steel strings", which goes against everything the classical guitar does to sound as much as possible as a piano (which uses what again for strings? ). It's true that the 2 plain wire trebles can be a b*** to keep in check, and TBH, the opposite (non-classical on nylon strings) tends to work a lot better.
    That said, Thomastik make 2 different sets of steel strings for classical guitar, one where the trebles are nylon tape-wound and one where the B and G are stainless steel flatwound over a silk-and-steel core. They do appear to have a following but I have no idea what people use them for.
    (Sadly even they seem incapable to make a ditto high E, but given how the B sounds and feels I use them on an acoustic without hesitation.)

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jehu
    I recall reading somewhere that Barrios played with steel strings, just due to sheer availability, on something akin to a parlour guitar.
    Apparently he did from time to time, maybe even preferred it, but also caught a lot of flack from illustrious contemporaries for it. He probably played a romantic guitar (early 19th C), which is smaller than the typical parlor from what I understand. I used to have someone's recording in my SoundCloud library of an old 19th century guitar strung with low tension steel strings (and playing an Elisabeth Cotton blues ^^). Can't find it anymore...

  19. #18

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    Barrios played a Ramirez classical, and the company have recently brought out (or about to) a replica of that guitar for Barrios fans.

    My understanding - which might well be wrong - is that good gut first strings were hard to come by in Paraguay, and what he had would easily break. He therefore used a thin steel string which he fed through a bean of some sort to take the zing off. So, possibly more of a practical necessity than aesthetic choice? Perhaps, but I am not in possession of the full facts.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by RJVB
    Apparently he did from time to time, maybe even preferred it, but also caught a lot of flack from illustrious contemporaries for it. He probably played a romantic guitar (early 19th C), which is smaller than the typical parlor from what I understand. I used to have someone's recording in my SoundCloud library of an old 19th century guitar strung with low tension steel strings (and playing an Elisabeth Cotton blues ^^). Can't find it anymore...
    Yes, Segovia being the most illustrious amongst those contemporaries. Sometimes it's hard to take Segovia's criticisms seriously; despite his enormity as a player, I think his stylistic opinions have had bit too much weight on the orthodoxy of the field.

    Thanks for that Michael Watts clip -- I'm not familiar with him, but I dig his tone and style. I'll have to do some more listening!

  21. #20

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  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob MacKillop
    Barrios played a Ramirez classical, and the company have recently brought out (or about to) a replica of that guitar for Barrios fans.

    My understanding - which might well be wrong - is that good gut first strings were hard to come by in Paraguay, and what he had would easily break. He therefore used a thin steel string which he fed through a bean of some sort to take the zing off. So, possibly more of a practical necessity than aesthetic choice? Perhaps, but I am not in possession of the full facts.
    Very interesting! I'm sure the Barrios Reissue has a historically significant MSRP as well.

    I just drained some cannellinis, so my evening is sorted.

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by RJVB
    That doesn't sound like a guitar at all, and probably on purpose (does the evoked Japanse instrument use steel strings?)
    BTW, is that a Modified Dreadnought? It looks like one, and the name on the headstock looks like the inventor's name (that I never know how to spell).
    AFAIK the guitar is a restored (whatever that means) Harmony Sovereign H1260. Could well be that the Japanese piece was arranged specifically for steel-string guitar. But I only know Dominik from a German forum. I've never met him in person and couldn't ask him.

    Even if it's been arranged for steelstring as opposed to nylon string guitar, I think it's a great piece of music. Most steelstring-guitar music is written by sub-par composers (aka fingerstyle guitarists )

  24. #23

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    Contacted Dominik Jung over the weekend, this is what he has to say:

    Hi Stephan, thanks for the link! Interesting to read. Maybe you could link my YouTube video with the Barrios Vals op.8, No.4 there?

    For sure:



    Sakura is originally written for nylon strings. Yocoh was a respected composer and guitarist in Japan. John Williams recorded the Sakura variations, making them "world famous".


    The Harmony H1206 got a new top from Martin Mosberger. It is very lightly plyed and covered with Thomastik "Plectrum" 0.11s. By the way, it is for sale for quite few Euros . Kind regards, Dominik

    Having listened to John Williams' version, I actually think that the steel strings capture that Koto sound better - but I might just be a victim of my own cultural chichés.

  25. #24

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    I remembered what this piece (and the various "crossover" threads) reminded me of