with C Joynes
Name: C Joynes
Bands: C Joynes
Websites: http://www.facebook.com/pages/C-Joynes/267434943288582, http://soundcloud.com/cwkjoynes1, http://www.myspace.com/cjoynes
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
C – The first guitar was a boxwood acoustic I found under my parents’ bed. I think they’d bought it when they’d lived on St Lucia in the late sixties, but I never saw them play it. I dug it out when I was 15 & strung it up with some nylon strings & plunked along with records in my bedroom. It took me a couple of years to learn how to tune it properly. It moved on to my brother, who put some steel strings on it & it bowed out like a banana. I think it got thrown out eventually. The first electric was a Columbus Les Paul copy that I bought off a guy with flu when I was 16 or 17. We turned up to look at it & he was in his dressing gown with a fever, so my mum went in for the kill & bargained him down to £40. It was a good solid guitar, really played well. With hindsight, if I’d been sensible I’d’ve hung on to it & hot-rodded it with some monster pickups & a fat old Bigsby. But it ended up with a snapped headstock after it fell over when being leaned against my 10-watt practice amp during an “I Am The Velvet Underground” session. After that, I took it down to a bar in town & swapped it with the owner for a skronky Arbiter made-in-Japan hybrid that hung on the wall above the bar. Still got that one.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
C – Mostly I play acoustic, so the live set-up’s usually: 1 mic for guitar, 1 chair for arse, 1 other chair for bits & bobs. The electric version goes: chairs, plus guitar-lead-amp. Anything else is just a distraction from the wood & the wire. It also means a whole other trip to the car. I jam econo.
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig - guitar, amplifier, or effects?
C – Guitar, right hand, left hand. The rest of it should pretty much look after itself.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
C – A Vox Valvetronix VT30. Amp-heads are going to laugh their arses off, but it’s my main amplifier because it’s loud enough already; because it’s got all the effects I want without having to buy more stuff that needs plugging in; because I got it off some dude on ebay for a song; & because it’s not the 10-watt practice with the blown speaker & the scratchy knobs.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
C – I’ve got three or four acoustic guitars & move from playing mostly one or another about every six months or so, depending on where I am & what’s going on with my hands & ears & head.
My main electric is a 1959 Harmony Stratotone H45, because it feels & plays like an acoustic: a solid round neck, strings high off the body, & a single gnarly old P90 that helps each string ring out clear as a bell. The single pick-up H45 was the first electric where I could use fingerpicks without going head-to-head with the scratchplate, that oh-so-slinky action & the all-in-the-fucking-way pickups that are standard features on most electrics. Plus it was a cash bargain.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
C – A 1959 Harmony Stratotone H45, ideally with a straight neck, &/or some solid old small-bodied acoustic. But by & large there’s something a bit lifeless about yer actual signature guitar: if it’s been custom-made to fit in your hand & play just-so, then where’s the battle? Where’s the struggle?
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
C – There’s the pedals on my bike, which’re pretty handy for getting to gigs. If I’m going further afield, there’s the pedals in my wife’s car.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
C – Erm, one classical, two six-string acoustics, one twelve-string acoustic, one dobro, & two electrics. That’s probably a few more than I actually need, but I will get around to doing something with that twelve-string sometime.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
C – In the spare room, mostly lined up in their cases with a couple hanging on the wall.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
C – Backpack-style carry straps. A sandwich compartment would be good, as would an LP-size pocket.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
C – Well, first off, is it an ugly guitar? I mean, there’s good ugly & bad ugly, but how a guitar looks is always the first thing that makes me notice it hanging up there on the wall or sitting in the window. Then, once it’s in your hands, is the neck straight & are there any cracks in the wood anywhere? When you start playing, there’s basic playability, especially with fingerpicking – the action, the space between strings, the width of the fingerboard & the width of the neck. That rules out a lot of guitars pretty quickly. After that, is the intonation ok? Does it stay in tune? Finally, there’s the actual sound of the thing, & that really difficult to measure if you’re just there in the shop or wherever. I can only really get to figure out if I like a guitar sound after playing it for a good long while. Acoustics have all got really variable tones, especially old ones, & if you’re used to one thing it’s difficult to figure out if you like something different. With electrics, there’s also that thing about, well, does it sound this way ‘cause I’m going through a swanky amp? Anxiety, it’s nothing but anxiety.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
C – That’s a tricky one. My favourite guitarists of all time, the ones I go back to time & time again, are the country-blues guitarists from the 30s & 40s & the West African guitarists from the 60s & 70s & they were playing on junk gear from mail-order catalogues. So it’s really about what you can do with what you have rather than what’s gone into your guitar. But that’s in no way meant as a diss to the skills & the craftsmanship of the folks who build instruments. I guess when it comes down to it, any guitarist should ask themselves in all honesty “Is the extra money I’m going to pay for this thing genuinely going to add an equivalent value to my playing & my sound?’ & if the answer’s yes & you can afford it, then go for it. I know I’ve got a preference for old & cheap gear, so generally I try to pay as little as possible. But aside from that, once things start getting above about four hundred quid, I just can’t hear the difference, particularly with electric guitars. It’s like dogs & bats can hear things that humans can’t. I’m missing some critical frequency that links one into the world of high-quality guitars.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
C – Stick with what you get, unless something’s utterly fucked. Upgrade & customize your playing instead. Jesus, I sound like a “keep-music-real” nazi.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
C – By & large I try & spend as little as possible on gear & when you’re looking at that junk shop score you can’t really hang around to test stuff out. But on those rare occasions I’m looking for something specific, I definitely want to try it out first, as long & loudly as possible.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
C – About once every 10 or 12 years. I’m reckless that way.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
C – I pretty much work with the limitations of what I’ve got & try to make the best of that. Folks can waste a lot of time chasing that illusive guitar sound, the one that will make everything perfect & ideal. In which case, they will probably spend most of their playing life dissatisfied. To my mind, it’s the things that annoy you about a guitar & its sound which force you to accommodate them into your playing & give it some character. There’s a little more wiggling-room with electrics, what with the knobs & so on, but even then I stick to two or three basic sounds: tremolo, delay, reverb, maybe a little grittier or cleaner depending. I want to concentrate on the wood & wire instead: knob-twiddling is a potentially endless process.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
C – I once played a top-end small-bodied Yahama something-or-other in a shop in Singapore & that was pretty nice. I also played a 1940s Martin in a little shop in Paris that Nick Jonah Davies dragged me to one time. I would’ve been happy with either of those. For electrics, I’ve got to admit I’m a bit kinky about old Burns guitars, Fender Jaguars, Gibson SGs, but they don’t really suit my playing style so I wouldn’t really know what to do with them. I really don’t know much about amps & pedals & such like, but it’d be nice to have a old valve amp with built-in tremolo, spring reverb, a line-out, & a couple of tone controls. Can you get tape echo units built-in on valve amps? In which case, one of those as well please. Pedal-wise, I like the idea of echo-effects looping around on bits of magnetic tape. I also read about this echo-effect unit from the 50s that worked by having a metal box with wires sloshing around in some kind of toxic chemical solution. That sounds pretty cool.
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
C – A tiny little notepad for writing down chords & drawing little chord shapes, stuck to the upper side, would be very useful. But really, a guitar which stays in tune & has half-decent action makes so much difference when you’re starting out.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
C – I don’t think I’ve ever bought something that I’ve really regretted. They’ve all kind of served their purpose pretty admirably. It’s the things I’ve missed out on that cause the real regret (the 1962 Burns Sonic for a tenner; the Brit valve amp with built-in tremolo that got lost somewhere...).
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
C – Pretty much any phaser type effect always seems to sound awful, regardless of context. “Flange”: what a terrible name for an effect. When I was at school that was a rude word.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
C – Usually it’s the tune I’m just trying to write or have just finished. Or if I’m just practicing I often start with a traditional tune, most likely something English.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
C – Around 15, I think.
QRD – At what age do you think you levelled up to your best guitar playing?
C – I was pretty nimble at a certain style of playing when I was around 23 or 24, but then it fell by the wayside. Then I started with the open tuning & the fingerpicking about 10 years ago. I used to get really transported by it around the time I’d been playing that way for a couple of years, but hopefully you build the range of tools for expression the longer you go on. Every 6 months or so something’ll get into my head that really makes me want to work at it harder.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
C – One seems to be able to do many many different musical things with it.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
C – No, because there are easier instruments to learn quickly. But yes, because it’s often the instrument that children actually want to play (when compared with, say, the violin, the tuba, the piano...)
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
C – It’s a constant process of negotiation. Sometimes you can take it on, sometimes you just got to roll with it. And occasionally it’s the pair of you in unity against the world.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
C – Off the top of my head: Sir Richard Bishop; Ali Farka Toure; wotsisname, that Fahey guy; Martin Carthy; Marc Ribot; Skip James; Derek Bailey; Mississippi Fred McDowell; R. Keenan Lawler; Violeta Parra. But really, the most important ones aren’t the guitarists, are they?
QRD – Do you think people anthropomorphizing their guitars is natural or silly (e.g. naming their guitar)?
C – Well, they do look a bit like your old fella.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
C – As I said, it was cracking the headstock on that Les Paul copy by leaning it carelessly against an amp. Weirdly, it didn’t bother me at all when it happened: it just seemed like a perfectly suitable outcome. Normally I’d be really angry about something like that.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
C – I spend quite a lot of time away from the guitar thinking about tunes & how they are structured, picturing in my head the shapes & the position on the fretboard. Maybe that counts as practice. I get stiff hands sometimes, so might warm up & exercise them to keep them nimble.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
C – Depending on what’s going on, probably play 5 or 6 hours a week – maybe more if I’m really into writing a new tune. The idea of having the freedom to play for 4 hours a day every day is a nice one, but I suspect it might start to seem like a bit of a chore fairly quickly. I find if you have things keeping you away from playing, then it keeps you eager to get back to it.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
C – I use Pro-Pick F-tone picks on my fingers & I’ve just started using these orange thumb picks that Nick Jonah Davies introduced me to. They are awesome – the acoustic guitarist’s version of the Orange amp. Totally changed things up a notch.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
C – I use sets of strings that start with 0.13 on the little skinny one & am planning to move it up a gauge the longer I go on. I’ve realised the heavier the gauge, the better they sound, particularly on electrics – light gauges on an electric sound horrible. But it’s also a case of how easy to play they are: if you’re doing all sorts of barring stuff up & down the neck, it can be a real struggle with heavier gauges.
QRD – How often do you change strings?
C – I’m pretty bad about that – probably every five or six months, but usually before I head out on a run of shows. I actually quite like the sound of old strings on an acoustic & I really dislike playing new strings on an electric.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
C – Not very often – certainly a lot less now than when I used a pick. They usually break when I’m re-tuning & I guess they just get worn out at the top. The G-string seems to go the most often & the skinny E-string as well.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
C – Probably my fretting hand, my left hand: as time has gone on, it seems to have got more dextrous & I’m even using my little finger these days which I never thought would happen. My right hand is like the engine for my playing, driving things along, but it gets cramped up sometimes & seizes up. Because of this, over the years the style of playing has gotten more intricate in terms of melody rather than in terms of rhythmic patterns.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
C – I can have a go at doing stuff myself, but I’m not very knowledgeable or confident about that practical side of things. I’m always worried I’m going to completely wreck something. So if stuff needs doing I’d rather send it to a tech.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
C – Open C, Open G, Open D, D modal, G modal are the most common ones. I like modal tunings in particular, because they’re quite ambiguous-sounding. Occasionally Standard or drop-D. It’d be good to use more: I keep on meaning to tinker with Hawaiian slack-key tunings, but I can’t remember much more than a handful of tunings at any one time.
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
C – I don’t write anything down: I just kind of memorise stuff by ear for the newer tunes, & rely on muscle-memory for the old ones...
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
C – I sit down to play, so it’s just there in my lap.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
C – Using the same old shapes & patterns time & time again as the basis for new tunes is one. Also, playing ahead of the beat too much, not sitting back & letting things swing.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
C – I reckon the mbira or thumb-piano: good for building up rhythmic dexterity, stamina & syncopation. Sounds great as well.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
C – I’ve tried & tried to get that Malian guitar style down, cos I love it so much, but I just can’t do it: there’s something undefinable about the tempo & rhythms that I just can’t get. Also, it’d be great to be able to play really good cranked-up fade-to-black solos, rather than just a collection of licks. But I don’t think that really happens for guitarists working without the help of others.
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
C – I would love to be able to improvise in an inventive & articulate way, moving between melody & free improv. I always wanted to be in a classic garage band like The Sonics. I’d also love to do a heavy amp-worshipping Sabbath-Om-Earth-Sleep riff monolith; the same style I play now but louder, slower, heavier. Maybe one day... If there are any takers out there, just get in touch...
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
C – It’s a thing called the backwards-stepover. It’s a fret version of what the Four Tops do with their feet when they all spin around on the spot without falling over, & at the moment it features in pretty much all of the new tunes I’m working on.
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
C – I do like a nice heavy glass slide. String-winders are quite satisfying. There’s this thing you can do with a bit of dowling rod for growing tomato plants. Folks seem to go for that quite a lot.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
C – Playing really hard & fast for a long long time. Or playing really slow without speeding up.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
C – I did not, but I’m sure it would’ve been useful in sorting out some basics. I’ve sat in on workshop sessions at festivals a couple of times & always got a few things to think about from that.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
C – There’s this thing you can do with a bit of dowling rod for growing tomato plants.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
C – Try & figure out how to play a whole bunch of other things on a guitar.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
C – If you mean that old-fashioned thing that’s occasionally built into amps, I think it’s hands down the greatest electric guitar effect ever. Nothing else comes close. But if you mean the whammy bar, I’m afraid I know nothing about them. I like the idea of them; I like the sound of them on those surf instrumentals & Ennio Morricone tunes, & those fat old Bigsbys look great, but I’ve never used one. I think you’ve got to be good at soloing to use ‘em, & I just can’t solo for toffee.
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
C – Maybe a couple of times in a set: not during tunes, but certainly between them. It partly depends on what sort of mood the amp seems to be in that night. Most of the time the tone knob is on full, but I might trim off a bit of treble occasionally.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
C – I’m sure there’s a joke about this somewhere. I don’t know. You take off your shoes jump on a rhythm player?
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
C – Nope.
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
C – There’s a handful of guitars played by others that I’d like to own, but mainly because of the guitar itself rather than the provenance. The first time I can recall hearing a Dobro was when I was about 16 or 17. It was one played by an Australian-Irish guitarist called Gypsy Dave Smith & I heard it on an album by Martin Stephenson & The Daintees called Gladsome, Humour & Blue. This guitar was a 1935 Dobro, & it had the most beautiful humming bell-like tone. If you can imagine a ‘humming bell’, it was like that. It was the instrument that made me want a resonator. I think Dave Smith lives in the Highlands of Scotland now, & plays festivals around there. Marc Ribot has this junky Teisco semi-acoustic with an f-hole body, a long Fender-style headstock & a single pick-up. It seems to be held together with wire & duct tape, & actually *looks* like how his guitar *sounds*, if that makes sense, & he manages to get it to switch from a clanking racket to tender sensitivity on the turn of a sixpence. I’d quite like that one please. Finally, Billy Bragg’s green sunburst Burns Steer: such a great look, such a great sound. But there was only 40 of them made apparently &, having tried out the re-issued versions, I know the set-up wouldn’t suit my playing (too many pickups; strings too close to the scratchplate).
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
C – I think “innovation” is over-rated as a concept: the obsession with producing a new or unique approach to the guitar or to playing technique is ultimately a cul-de-sac, either of speed & fret gymnastics, or of “dragging-the-guitar-behind-a-Monster-Truck.” Instead, people might be better off thinking about “consolidation” rather than “innovation”: taking the broad range of approaches to & uses of the guitar - conventional, experimental, traditional, avant-guard, local, global - & taking elements of each to form them into something expressive & coherent. Having said that, though, Agata from Melt-Banana & his pedal-board has taken the electric guitar pretty much as far as it can go while still being recognisably played as a guitar, rather than as a table-top noise-making device. And acoustically, Cam Deas’ “Quadtych” has set the bar pretty high for long-form lyrical & experimental guitar composition.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
C – Generally at home, when I’m neither performing in front of others nor recording for posterity. Otherwise there are a couple of albums that still sound okay.
QRD – Anything else?
C – When do I get paid?
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