8-String – February 5, 2003

    Three years ago, I was at the luthier Jeff Elliott's home, and he played for me a CD which changed my life.  It was Paul Galbraith playing Bach on an 8-string guitar.  I had heard of 8-string guitars with six standard strings and two extra bass strings, but this was different. Galbraith has six standard strings with a low A bass and a high A treble, something I had never previously considered.  My response at the time was muted -- of course he played beautifully and I enjoyed hearing him, but I didn't think about it much beyond that.

     About two weeks later, I had a delayed reaction:  I was going along, minding my own business, when suddenly a light bulb clicked on, and I thought, "Wait a minute!"  In that moment, I knew the 8-string was an instrument I had to explore.  As a guitar composer, I could envision how its expanded range would open up a wealth of possibilities I had never dreamed of.  I was greedy; I wanted more notes!

     During that time, I was working on my I Hope project, composing trio music for two guitars and cello.  However, I knew that once I Hope was completed, the 8-string would be my next frontier.  I would have liked to commission Jeff Elliott to build my 8-string, but he had a twelve-year waiting list, and that didn¹t quite mesh with my time frame. So Jeff granted me Big Favor #2: he loaned me an 8-string he built in 1984, one that was badly in need of refurbishing but certainly playable, and a perfect instrument to learn on while I searched for a luthier to build me my own.

     The learning curve was a bit steep at first.  After forty years of playing guitar and being used to the strings laid out in one way, the extra two strings were pretty discombobulating.  Nothing was where I expected it to be!  It was a challenge just to find the string I was looking for.  I remember my vindication when the Acoustic Guitar Summit had a concert near my house at the coast -- Mark, Doug, and Terry stayed over, and the next morning, I passed the 8-string around.  I felt like a cowboy handing over an unbroken colt to the young bucks and saying, "Here ya go, fellas.  See if you kin ride this," and laughing gleefully as each one got thrown off.

     In the meantime, I went on a search for a luthier to build me the perfect 8-string guitar.  I won't go into details of the search--much is covered in my column titled Luthiers.  But after a process of interviewing numerous  guitar makers and sampling many guitars, it became clear that Woodley White was the person I wanted to build my 8-string. Woodley is Jeff Elliott's protegee, but more important, his work reflects the personal integrity with which he lives his life.  After hours of playing his guitars, talking generally about his guitar making philosophy and specifically about my 8-string, I knew he would build me a wonderful instrument. 

     And he has.  In my life, I have owned a number of guitars that thrilled me like a new love (and maybe my memory fails me), but I cannot remember ever being as excited about a new guitar as I am about this 8-string.  It has a gorgeous sound--every note is a jewel.  I could not have anticipated the enormity, depth, and sheer volume a guitar could produce, all the while maintaining a crystal clarity and tonal balance.  The workmanship is impeccable, the materials are beautiful, and the sum total comes out to one magnificent instrument!

     I have been composing for the last year, first on the borrowed 8-string and now on my own.   I am in a process of exploring the instrument, finding out what it wants to say, learning how to bring out its unique voice.  For example, rather than playing in a linear fashion in which each note negates the previous note, I play in a more harp-like manner, using open strings and sustaining several notes simultaneously, maximizing the intrument's bigness and richness.  I am also finding my own voice on a new level.  I feel a freedom with the 8-string that I haven¹t felt on the guitar for years. Because there are so many guitar players, and because there is such a history of traditions, rules, and regulations associated with guitar, it becomes increasingly difficult to stake one¹s own territory.  The 8-string however,  is an open frontier with little set precedent.  Consequently, it feels like my instrument to do with as I please, with no one to compare to or answer to but myself.  It's liberating.

     I am slowly bringing the 8-string into performance.  I expect that the next year will be spent composing new repertoire  and learning to play my concoctions.  When it's ready, I will record my solo 8-string work and integrate it more completely into concerts.  Stay tuned.

February 5, 2003



Old School, by Paul Chasman and the "Great Gatleys"


Accompanied by Dan and Laurie Gatley on bass and vocals, Paul Chasman returns with 11 new original tunes that will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you think. With his trademark sparkling guitar at the forefront, Paul’s poetic lyrics contrast life and mortality; grief and celebration; and light that penetrates the dark.