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QRD #42 - Guitarist Series
about this issue
Guitarist Interviews with:
Ashkelon Sain
Zac Keiller
Eric Muhs
Patrick Vega
Russ Stedman
Bret Hart
Rick Ray
John William Gordon
Evan Peta
Evgeny Zheyda
Dave Halverson
Charles Rice Goff III
Calvin Johnson
Kim Chee
John G Sosnowski
Michael Walton
Annelies Monseré
Eric Quach
Robert Poss
Sarah June
Ted Johnson
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Guitarist Interview with Bret Hart 
July 2010

Name: Bret Harold Hart
Bands: I have been working solo & collaboratively for several years. Our defunct ‘avant-Appalachian’ band, BARBWIRE HEARTS re-convenes now & again, & my Massachusetts band, HIPBONE, plans to record again eventually.
Websites: Lulu Store - Edge Surfing Podomatic - Soundclick - Facebook - Aural Innovations Interview
Listen to "Punch Zone"

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

Bret – It was a Sears Silvertone acoustic, the neck of which bowed within a year of purchase (1971). I learned rudiments on it, generally just fooling around, until 1974 when my friend David Chace taught me how to fingerpick. I got serious quickly & upgraded to a nice Epiphone dreadnaught in 1977.

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

Bret – I connect whatever instrument I have chosen to a string of moveable FX that tend to include echo, distortion, wah-wah, looping, reverberation, & pitch-shifting. I have a lot of vintage stuff in the ‘arc’ - MXR, E-H – along with much newer digital things to expand the palette. I like to run through a direct box, when playing acoustically. Electric instruments I send through either a Fender ‘Acoustisonic’, splitting the stereo signal between its 2 channels, or for small rooms, a 5W Epiphone ‘Valve Junior’ tube amp. I also have a 60W four-channel PA that sometimes functions as the guitar amp.

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

Bret – The sequencing of FX in the chain. Improper pedal-arrangement can badly attenuate the signal or flatten an otherwise very cool timbre. Oh yes, & working cordage & lots of batteries.

QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why? 

Bret – The 5W Epiphone ‘Valve Junior’ tube amp I have is wonderful. It has an on/off switch & a volume control, that’s it. I generates remarkable volume, is clean & as quiet as the incoming signal, & when I turn it up to 11, the tube gets really hot & produces a fuzziness that sounds very 1950s. I traded a 60W solid state (noisy) Crate amp for it at a pawnshop & believe I came away with a deal.

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

Bret – Presently, I continue exploring the possibilities of the 12-string electric/acoustic guitar. We obtained one a year ago & I just love it – unplugged or tweaked. The double-dulcimer timbre & strangeness that happens when it is sent through an FX chain offer a bunch of unexpected fun.

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

Bret – Mine would be similar to the best electric guitar I ever owned, a Baldwin ‘Nu-Sonic’. Lightweight, the nicest whammy bar I’ve ever encountered, & wicked differentiation between the bridge & neck pickup tones. Loved it! The guitar was stolen at a gig in Massachusetts in 1994.

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

Bret – Something like the new Electro-Harmonix ‘Memory Man’, combined with looping & pitch shifting.

QRD – How many guitars do you own? 

Bret – I have one electric guitar, five acoustics, a homemade banjo-bass, & numerous other homemade stringed instruments that resemble most guitars.

QRD – How & where do you store your guitars? 

Bret – In our music room, with all the keyboards, percussion, & so forth.

QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?

Bret – Someone to carry them for me.

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

Bret – That it stays in tune & doesn’t look too dopey. Being cheap is a must.

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

Bret – Good guitarists should be given good guitars.

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

Bret – I play them until they break or something better arrives.

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

Bret – None.

QRD – Do you change your rig around often?

Bret – Continuously.

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

Bret – I choose tones in real-time, based upon the needs of the moment.

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

Bret – I think I’ve pretty much got all of the tools I need already.

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

Bret – Low string action, closed-back tuners that work, a trussed guitar neck to minimize warp.

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

Bret – None. All good.

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

Bret – I just love Roland/Boss FX & recording gear, Electro-Harmonix & MXR pedals, & Fender Telecaster guitars.

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

Bret – The idea that told me to pick up the guitar.

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

Bret – 1971.

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

Bret – Probably about ten years ago. Since, I have been adjusting to increasing arthritis in my hands, elbows, & shoulder. I don’t expect to ever stop playing guitar, but physical necessities make me approach the instrument with respect.

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

Bret – Yes.

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

Bret – Why not?

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

Bret – Both, & we like it that way.

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

Bret – Neil Young, Fred Frith, JJ Cale, Adrian Belew, David Torn. There are tens of others that I enjoy & admire greatly, but these guys are the ones that made me try to achieve more at some point on the continuum.

QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)? 

Bret – No. Whatever makes them happy.

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

Bret – Making my first modified electric instrument (The ‘Bend-Guitar’) was vicious. It had been a Hagstrom solid body 12-string electric. I took a bandsaw to it & cut it in half between the bridge pickup & bridge; then, reattached the halves with a huge gate hinge on the back. While playing, forearm pressure on the body & pulling back on the neck created IMMENSE string bends & immediate de/retuning into strange places. This instrument developed a wiring problem & was disassembled for parts in 1990.
See also: http://aural-innovations.com/issues/issue16/ho-mades.html

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

Bret – I practice being happy & at peace. This allows for everything else.

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

Bret – 3-5 hours weekly.

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

Bret – Medium nylon, with some flex & strength. I prefer to fingerpick, but use a plectrum when appropriate.

QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?

Bret – Extra-light, to permit more aggressive bending.

QRD – How often do you change strings? 

Bret – When they sound dull & dead. More often during humid months.

QRD – How often do you break strings? 

Bret – Seldom, these days. As a teen, all the time.

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

Bret – I am proud of both hands, as they each have so much to be mindful of. Because I fingerpick, the right hand is involved in all sorts of arachnid stuff. Because I simulate slide guitar & dip into a lot of extended technique with the left hand, there’s a lot of horizontal stuff going on over there. They’re both proficient at what they are asked to do.

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

Bret – Self, unless badly damaged or beyond my abilities.

QRD – What tunings do you use & why? 

Bret – In my college days, I tried all manner of open tunings. They have their uses, & make for some very chiming stuff. These days, I use standard & drop-D tunings a lot. Sometimes, I drop the high E-string down to a D as well, but keep my fingerings standard. Neat things happen.

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

Bret – I have composed using graphic notation (the CD, ‘494 Possible Polygons’). I wish I could write scores. For songs, I type-out lyrics & place chords changes above syllables where the changes are called for.

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

Bret – The right bout is below my nipple.

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

Bret – I took-on this challenge about 20 years ago & have broken free of the unconscious habits that used to stiffen my playing. Improvisation is cathartic & cleansing.

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

Bret – Any of them. Music is about ears, not instruments. Trying & failing miserably on an unfamiliar instrument is always a great reintroduction to one’s familiar instrument.

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

Bret – Hawaiian slack-key guitar. It’s beautiful & reeking with delicacy.

QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished? 

Bret – Copyrighting all of my guitar compositions.

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

Bret – A little loop of duct tape on the body of the guitar is a great way to keep picks nearby, right where I want them.

QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)? 

Bret – I have enjoyed the E-Bow for many years. They’re great! I also am so happy with the gains made in tuner technology during the last decade. Can you believe this? – I used to tune with a pitch pipe.

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

Bret – Finger-picking using the right ring finger & pinky - I just can’t train that little waifs to behave & do what needs to be done. My picking style is similar to the 3-finger banjo playing of Country music pioneer, Charlie Poole, who invented the style.

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

Bret – I truly owe my enthusiasm for guitar to David Chace, who told me I could do it, then showed me that he was right. I learned how to fret chords, fingerpick & strum along with songs I liked at the time. I believe that the ability to jam along with a song one likes is the key to continuing with guitar.

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

Bret – Rhythm matters, so I work hard to deliver a sense of what “good time” is while playing.  I teach from where the child (or adult) is. If they have a nascent strength, I build from that talent. If they have no talent, I help them find things that they can do well, then build on that.

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

Bret – They might need to lighten-up a little. I enjoy surprises in real-time. This took ages to get to. People are ‘wired’ to hear error. I have worked to love the unexpected & unlovable sound.

QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems? 

Bret – They’re cool. The knife-edge whammy on my old Baldwin was smooth & left the intonation intact. Bigsby’s are nice, as are the Floyd Rose systems. I also have a terrific admiration for players who use the Clarence White ‘B-Bender’ & ‘HipShot’ units with virtuosity. Brad Paisley, like Country Music or not, is an absolute genius with them, as is Albert Lee.

QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob? 

Bret – Continuously.

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

Bret – I have learned to be both at once. I started off as a rhythm player in the late 70’s, but then was thrust, rather uncomfortably I might add, into the role of soloist. I hadn’t a clue. I knew what my ears liked, but hadn’t the hands or dexterity to pull that kind of stuff off. Many years have given me a style that is suitable to many situations.

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

Bret – No, although I can enjoy any musician-visited-by-genius during the moments that is happening. Bad music often contains gems of instrumental virtuosity.

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

Bret – ‘The Log’ that Les Paul made, one of Hans Reichel’s beautiful self-crafted instruments, one of Eugene Chadbourne’s guitar-inventions.  (I own the first “Rake” of his. It’s part of a windchime in the back yard.)

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

Bret – I have no idea. I don’t know who’s out there any more. My heroes are, mostly & pleasantly, still living, so I still listen to them. When I was an independent music reviewer in the 80s & 90s, I learned that there’s such a thing as musical dilution from hearing too much. I may sound way out there about this, but too much choice is too much. When friends recommend something, I check it out.

QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work? 

Bret – Live, on a good night. Otherwise, I’d suggest anything that rings one’s bell at my lulu.com storefront.  Read the blurb & listen to your eyes.

QRD – Anything else? 

Bret – Thanks, Brian, for this opportunity to musically reflect. It’s been fun.