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Lessons From The World's Premier Fingerstyle Guitarist
Laurence Juber
There's always something new to learn, the guitar and music in general offer more than one lifetime can explore. - Laurence Juber
by Matt Mrowicki
 [Chorus and Verse] November 2003 Feature: Laurence Juber
Laurence Juber

Considered one of the premier fingerstyle guitarists in the world, Laurence Juber's career has been one of relentless pursuit of the instrument he loves. His playing has not only allowed him to see the world and reach the height of his craft, but share the love of guitar with countless fans and other players around the world who have been influenced by his style and spirit.

Born in Stepney, East London, in England, Juber was affected by the pop scene forming around him in the early 1960s. He picked up his first guitar at age 11, and was playing his first professional gigs at 13, on his way to a career as an accomplished studio musician. He became a highly-demanded studio player, standing out in a music scene blessed with a range of talented that has defined music for the past thirty years.

He gained his greatest fame and a role on the world's music stage when Paul McCartney asked him to join Wings in 1978. Juber performed with the group for three years, until that band folded in 1981, and his playing can be heard on their popular singles "Goodnight Tonight" and "Coming Up."

Obviously a Beatles fan growing up, Juber has been fortunate enough to have performed with three of the Fab Four; with McCartney, who he still considers a friend, in Wings, with George Harrison on his song "Breath Away From Heaven," and with Harrison and Ringo Starr on the sessions for "Stop And Smell The Roses".

Moving to the United States and refocusing on his solo career, Juber established himself as a major studio player in the Los Angeles music scene, adding work for movie and television projects to a numerous list of album appearances. During this time, he also began composing his own work, which was also used on TV and in film.

His original work also made it on his first solo album, Solo Flight, which was released in 1990, and has led to the development of a highly successful solo career that is in full-swing to this day. Several albums later, Juber is touring the world, not only performing to an enthusiastic audience of fans, but sharing his love of performing through clinics and workshops, as well as instructional videos and books of tablature. He has worked with major instrument manufacturers, notably C.F. Martin & Co., to produce signature guitars that bear his high-standards for tone and playability.

Chorus and Verse spoke to Juber, known to his fans as "LJ," after his recent performance, produced by The Cryers of Freehold, New Jersey, at the Brookdale Performing Arts Center at the Brookdale Community College in Lincroft. We asked about several upcoming and current projects, including his latest CD, several DVDs and two new tablature books. We also spoke about his guitar, and got some lessons from the master himself.

Laurence Juber

Start off with your thoughts about your recent gig at the Brookdale Community College Performing Arts Center. What did you think about the venue, and the show itself? Do you enjoy being able to perform in a forum where the crowd is up close and personal, and held in such rapt attention at everything you’re doing?

It's an excellent venue. I really enjoy playing to 200-400 people, that kind of intimate setting is ideal for solo acoustic guitar.

The show at Brookdale, as well as a guitar workshop you put on the next day, were booked and produced by The Cryers. How did you enjoy working with Joe and Belle, and what qualities does a performer such as yourself look for when working with producers?

I always look for producers and promoters who know their audience and their market, plus understand the nature of my show. It helps that Joe is both a Beatles/Wings fan and a guitar aficionado; that hits on two of my core constituencies right away. Having a solid band available for an 'electric encore' is the 'icing on the cake'.

Speaking of the workshop, you clearly enjoy teaching and sharing your love of the guitar with other players. Even during the show, you often spoke about your tuning, your gear and other aspects of your playing. Were you always a natural instructor, or do you talk about such things just as an extension of your love for playing?

It's really evolved out of my love for the instrument. Since I've been performing and recording as a soloist, I have made myself available for clinics and workshops. I had a long relationship with Taylor Guitars, for most of the '90s, and now have a very productive collaboration with C.F. Martin & Co.

In truth, the education is as much for me as it is for the audience!

Let’s review your gear. What is your primary instrument, and how many guitars do you own? Are you a collector who’s always looking for new gear, or do you feel you have the right instrument for what you do, and don’t worry beyond that?

I've long been on a quest for the 'right' sound. As a studio player, that really encompasses the entire repertoire of the instrument, so I have many guitars that live in a trunk and get delivered to the studio when I need the particular sound of a'65 Rickenbacker 12-string, for example. There is a list on my website at: www.laurencejuber.com/gear.

The instruments I use for my solo work are another matter. After years of trying different makers, wood combinations and body sizes, I eventually settled on the Martin 'OM', the 'Orchestra Model'. My preference is for an Adirondack Spruce top with a Mahogany or Brazilian Rosewood body. The 25.4" scale seems to lend itself better to lowered tunings than the 24.9" scale of the '000' style which shares the same body size.

LJ in the studio with his Martin OM-18

I also have a cutaway, which is essential for my repertoire. In 2004, Martin are offering a limited-time OM28LJ edition in Indian Rosewood, which is a great-sounding guitar, as well as an edition of 50 in Brazilian Rosewood. The Mahogany OM18LJ, which sold out in 2002, was given an 'Editor's Pick' award by Guitar Player magazine. It's truly an honor to be associated with such a venerable company.

What are some of your favorite alternate tunings, and how have you, over the years, experimented with other tunings in your music? What advice do you give to players who want to expand their playing beyond standard E-B-G-D-A-E?

DADGAD is my other 'standard tuning'. I also use open G, open G minor and CGDGAD, which is DADGAD with the bottom two strings down a whole step.

I encourage players to experience the guitar through the music rather than simply the geometry of the fingerboard. A 'D' is always a 'D' whether it's the open 1st string as in DADGAD or the third fret of the 2nd string, as in standard tuning. The fun begins when you look for the patterns that are generated by the individual tunings. DADGAD, for example, offers two adjacent scale tones on adjacent strings, which immediately increases the options for voicings and fingerings within any one position.

There is a very strong percussive element to your playing, where you strike the strings or the guitar body itself. How did this aspect of your playing develop, and was that something you discovered on your own, or was it inspired by another player or style?

I've always tended to attack the guitar percussively; with a flatpick I tend to go into an aggressive mode. Flamenco players have their 'golpes' and the guitar has a cool 'drum-like' tone when you slap it. Percussion has become part of modern technique, as has two-hand tapping, all part of our repertoire of articulations. It's nothing original on my part, but they are valuable tools for dynamic arranging and performance and I'll use them when the music needs that texture.

Let’s talk about your current projects. Your most recent CD is Guitarist, 11 tracks of solo fingerstyle guitar released this past July. Is there a certain theme or mood that you drew upon when creating the music for this album? Do you treat each song as an entity unto itself, or do you work to create a flow for the entire record from track to track?

I tend to focus on the integrity of each tune. There needs to be a consistent focus - musical, technical, groove - that makes the piece unique. I'll know that it's ready, when I settle on the fingering and I develop an image or a story-line that fuels the performance.

I generally don't start recording until I have enough material for the CD and I try to keep a balance of different keys, grooves and styles.

If the album is cohesive, it's because there is a consistent compositional and artistic vision behind it. My wife Hope is a big part of the production process. She steers me away from the 'noodling' and keeps 'the big picture' in mind. We work hard to maintain a flow in the sequencing of the album that makes it a journey rather than a collection of tunes.

Laurence Juber

Guitarist was recorded in your home studio. What sort of set-up do you have at home, and do you find that working at home gives you the most freedom to experiment? Do you like being in the studio and rolling tape for hours and hours, or is your approach to sit down, record a track and move on to the next one?

I use a pair of Schoeps CMC5 mics through a Neve 1272 mic pre, a pair of tweaked Aphex Expressor and an Apogee 24 bit A to D converter. Some tracks have an Avalon EQ too. The recording medium is Digital Performer on a G4 Mac with a MOTU interface. There is no reverb on the album (except for 'Catch!') and Joe Gastwirt mastered it with only analog EQ - there's no digital processing.

I try to record as quickly as possible, two or three takes and then move on. If I run out of steam, I can always stop and have a cup of tea and go back later without worrying about the clock and the studio bill. Although, I'll confess, I prefer recording at Capitol because the vibe is so cool, I just have to watch the clock! Generally I'll go there for ensemble stuff, although I did Altered Reality there and that's a solo album.

When I'm writing, sometimes I'll leave the hard disk 'spinning' and go back and listen and pick out the good bits. These days I tend to keep the writing and recording as separate processes. I try to make the record as a performance.

Your most recent DVD release is as a part of The AIX All Stars " Surrounded By Christmas. Can you provide a little background on the concept of the DVD, and what songs you are performing?

I'll have to check the DVD - I don't remember what we did! I recorded a DVD for AIX called Guitar Noir which came out last Summer and which has been nominated by the Hi-Fi community for a 'Surround Sound' award. Mark Waldrepp, who owns the label, called me in July and said that he had a few hours to fill on a record date and could I put something together. I called pianist Jim Cox, who I do sessions with for shows like '7th Heaven', to see if he fancied getting involved. We agreed that it would be fun to have studio stalwarts John Ferraro on drums and Lee Sklar on bass, along with percussionist Steve Forman (who's on Guitar Noir, too.) A few days later, I called Jim back; "What are we going to play? It's summertime, let's make a Xmas album!" It's all public domain material except for Mel Torme's 'The Xmas Song'.

I'm playing acoustic and electric plus some jazz archtop and there's a Stratocaster-driven surf version of 'Hark The Herald Angels'. We did it all in four hours, including the rehearsal!

You have two new songbooks that are going to be released on Solid Air/Warner Brothers this coming winter. Has a release date been decided for these books? Do you handle all of the transcription for these books yourself, and how true are they to the way that you perform these pieces in concert?

The first of the books comes out in January 2004. I have done all the transcriptions myself. They are true to the recordings; live, I tend to improvise the solos.

To follow-up that question, when you perform do you feel that it’s important to perform a song “correctly“ each time, or do you like to leave room for improvisation? Have you found that your songs evolve over time, or do you generally perform a song the same way consistently once it’s been finished?

The majority of my compositions are set pieces. The performances have evolved; compare the version of "Solo Flight" on The Collection with one from my first album. Over the last 15 years I have developed my technique considerably. The feel is more important than the accuracy, so in performance some tunes may have some twists and turns that offer a fresh perspective.

How often do you practice the guitar each day? At this point in your career, with all of your accomplishments and reputation as a premiere player, do you feel you still have things to learn about the instrument, or do you feel that you’ve mastered it?

I try to play for two-three hours a day at least but it never feels like enough. It's tough to do any woodshedding on the road, but a two-hour concert with an hour warm up is normal. There's always something new to learn, the guitar and music in general offer more than one lifetime can explore.

I've been playing for 40 years, so I guess I've paid a few dues.

Laurence Juber

What upcoming projects can fans look forward from you in 2004? Are there any new areas that you’d like to explore both within your music as well as your career?

2003 has been very busy, from a production point of view, with the Guitarist CD, the 2 AIX DVDs, a instructional DVD from Solid Air/Warners publishing, a DVD for Taiwan and the two upcoming books.

I may be producing a new Al Stewart CD (the third in a series). I'm considering an offer of a duo album with well-respected guitar soloist plus I'm playing a lot more electric guitar. There are always projects that come up along the way. I'm still doing studio work here in LA and occasionally get offers to compose for TV and motion pictures.

I'm constantly writing and I'd like to do a DVD of all new material. I really like the format for its increased audio fidelity as well as the video capability. I'm also starting to play more concerts around the world, with trips to Japan, Germany and mainland China being planned.

[ Website: www.laurencejuber.com ]

Photo 1 ©2002 by Kenna Love
Photo 2 Credit Irene Young
Photo 3 Complements of Laurence Juber
Photo 4 Credit Paul Thompson
Photo 5 Credit Diane Da Silva

Matt Mrowicki
Matt Mrowicki [[email protected]], is an Internet entrepreneur and owner of Chorus and Verse. In 2002, he founded Impression Technologies LLC (www.imprtech.com) a digital design company offering website development, graphic design, online marketing, social media and technology consulting. He has been interviewed on topics ranging from how bands can best use their websites for promoting their music to current trends in social media. He has successfully launched over 100 websites and branding projects for clients and continues to develop new online opportunities and promote effective uses of technology and online media.
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