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QRD #41 - Guitarist Interview Series Part I - June 2010
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Guitarist Interviews with:
Jason LaFarge
Aidan Baker
Jamie Stewart
Brian John Mitchell
Martin Newman
Mat Sweet
Robin Crutchfield
Darren Hayman
Anna-Lynne Williams
Larry Marotta
Mike Cosper
Sibyll Kalff
Jamie Barnes
Nathan Amundson
Jenks Miller
Chris Olley
Don Campau
Colin Newman
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Guitarist Interview with Nathan Amundson of Rivulets
June 2010
Photo by Laurent Orseau
Name: Nathan Amundson
Bands: Rivulets.  Also collaborations with Annelies Monseré, Clara Hill, Roy Santiago, Vlor, Jessica Bailiff, Pale Horse And Rider, if thousands, Remora, Aidan Baker, & Mat Sweet.
Websites: www.rivulets.net
Listen to "Steamed Glass"
Listen to "Waited for You"

QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?

Nathan – A 1970s Takamine dreadnought my dad gave me.  I still have it.

QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?

Nathan – Acoustic or electric guitar into Vox AC15 amp.  My acoustics are all outfitted with LR Baggs pickup systems.

QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig – guitar, amplifier, or effects?

Nathan – Amplifier.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?

Nathan – Vox AC15.  It’s crystal clean, but small enough that it can be made to break up easily.  I like to keep it right on that edge between clean & breaking up.  It’s fun to play there.

QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?

Nathan – Probably the Martin.  It’s a D-series something or other, a 15.  It’s the easiest to play & sounds best for the quieter stuff.

QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?

Nathan – The D-15 with the Baggs system installed works great for me.  I would love a Gibson ES335, but that’s just because I’ve always wanted a Gibson ES335.

QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?

Nathan – The only pedal I use is the Boss TU-2 tuner.  I’ve always used the LR Baggs Para DI box though, so I guess that would be it.

QRD – How many guitars do you own?

Nathan – Er, there are a bunch of guitars here, but they’re not all mine.  I own 3 or 4.

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?

Nathan – Nope.

QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?

Nathan – It has to be easy to play.  It has to sound right for what I want it to do, & I have to like the way it looks.  I use different guitars for different things.

QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?

Nathan – Oh, I don’t know.  One of my favorite guitars was an old $20 Harmony I found at a Salvation Army in Red Wing, MN.  That one had a lot of songs left in it.

QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?

Nathan – I have LR Baggs pickup systems installed in all my acoustics.  Otherwise, if I don’t like it to begin with, I don’t get it.

QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?

Nathan – Briefly.  It only takes a moment to know if it’s going to work or not.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Nathan – No.

QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?

Nathan – I’m into trying new things, & I’ve gotten better at getting what I want over time, but my chain is pretty simple. The right guitar into the right amp, set a particular way, done. Still there’s a lot of wiggle room even in just that, so I do experiment & learn new things all the time.

QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?

Nathan – I’ve already foamed over the ES335.

QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?

Nathan – Do you like it?  Does it make you want to pick it up & play it?  Like, do you have a crush on it basically.  Can’t keep your hands off it.  That’s the one.

QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?

Nathan – I’ve never bought a guitar I didn’t like.  If I don’t love it, I don’t buy it.  Maybe that’s why I have so few instruments compared to most musicians I know.  My Martin has served me well.

QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?

Nathan – Obviously I’m partial to LR Baggs stuff. They’re not even paying me to say that.  But yeah, most pickup systems for acoustic guitars are abysmal.  Baggs gets it right.  It’s the sound of your acoustic guitar, louder.  Why is that so hard for everyone else to master?

QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?

Nathan – Something pick-y that moves up & down the fretboard a lot, like “Shadow of a Ghost.”

QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?

Nathan – 14.

QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?

Nathan – Oh I don’t know.  Hopefully I’m not there yet!

QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?

Nathan – Same reason as most people.  It’s portable & it speaks in a voice that everyone understands.

QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?

Nathan – I don’t care.  Not for me to say.

QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?

Nathan – Neither.  It’s a tool.

QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?

Nathan – Robert Smith & Simon Gallup.

QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly?

Nathan – What do you mean?  I’m gonna say yes.

QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?

Nathan – I’ve smashed a couple.

QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?

Nathan – I don’t practice.

QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?

Nathan – 0 hours.

QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?

Nathan – None.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Nathan – Mediums.  The sustain is better.  They’re more substantial.  Lights feel like toy strings to me.

QRD – How often do you change strings?

Nathan – It depends.  On tour, every couple weeks.  At home, never.

QRD – How often do you break strings?

Nathan – Never.

QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?

Nathan – My fretting hand.  I’m not into folk music so my strumming hand never learned to do much more than strum.  I can do some very simple picking patterns, but that’s about it.

QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?

Nathan – It’s rare.  I’ve had maybe 2 guitars set-up ever & both of those were by a tech.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why?

Nathan – Standard tuning dropped a half-step, & various bastardizations of DADGAD.

QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?

Nathan – I’ll write the names of the chords if I know them.  If not, I’ll draw a little chord chart.

QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?

Nathan – Waist length?

QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?

Nathan – Sloppiness.

QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?

Nathan – You know, I hated piano lessons as a kid, & I remember very little of it, but I do think it gave me a good foundation of understanding as to how things are put together.  But obsessively listening to - & playing along with - your favorite music can do that too, so who’s to say.

QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?

Nathan – Soloing.  I am physically incapable of soloing.

QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?

Nathan – Bash.

QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?

Nathan – Gurgle.

QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?

Nathan – No.

QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?

Nathan – I have nothing to teach anybody.

QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?

Nathan – Learn not to play.  Shut up & stop talking & listen.  Half or more of the shit that you’re about to do is completely unnecessary.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?

Nathan – They’re fine.  They’re fun to play with I guess.

QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?

Nathan – Mick Mars & Robert Johnson.

QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?

Nathan – No.

QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?

Nathan – None.  I fooled around with one of Nick Drake’s guitars once & that was nice.  But it’s kind of like fooling around with someone else’s woman.

QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?

Nathan – I really don’t pay attention to stuff like that.

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?

Nathan – The “You’ve Got Your Own” EP, on Acuarela.

QRD – Anything else?

Nathan – Thank you for caring to read this far.  Anyone can make music.  Be yourself.

Other QRD interviews with Rivulets:
Rivulets interview (July 2015)
Rivulets interview (February 2007)
Rivulets interview (July 2002)
Rivulets interview (December 2000)