Back to Music

"Black Loam" is the manifestation of several ideas and ideals. It's about "tapping" on an electric guitar; it's about musical potential, and it's about trying to grow and, in the process, transcend the notion of what the electric guitar can do and can be.

Tapping allows an extended scope and suggests many possibilities and avenues for performance and composition. You can use it as a form of self-accompaniment. This is immediately useful for gigs and as a vehicle for exploration. However, the scope and significance of playing pop tunes or jazz standards seems to me to be limiting. I view the tapped guitar as a new instrument in that the entire range of the thing is now available simultaneously. Even though you sacrifice some tonal weight, the instrument, when set up right and played with some vigor, can sound quite strong and beautiful . And that extended scope makes many things possible: superimposition, counterpoint, simultaneous soloing. Many things.

But the single-neck is a problem too. You cannot really separate the sound of the two hands.  That is, one part cannot have some distortion while the other remains clean. And you cannot play two distorted parts simultaneously without serious compromise. And  with six strings and ten fingers, the two hands are always in each other's way. Something will always be lost. My idea was really to separate the two hands. That's the genesis of the double-neck. Not to extend the sonic range of the instrument, but to allow each hand to really play the entire guitar unfettered.

Once I started using the thing and composing for it, I felt that I was in possession of a vehicle that was showing me a fertile, untrammelled new ground. Here was my "piano" with endless possibilities. Here was real extended scope. Here was fertile ground.

Black Loam is the first utterance from that ground. By now it's old. But I stand by it as a testament to the idea that beyond its contemporary horizon, the electric guitar has the potential for a rich literature.

The Guitar

More involved use of tapping on an electric guitar requires some thought about the instrument and amp. Here's my experience: The first big hurdle is string action. The action must be LOW or the notes cannot speak clearly, and you cannot develop any speed or fluency. In my experience, a playing action of about 1/32 of an inch allows for fast, articulate tapping, and still makes the guitar playable for all the normal styles including slide. The real issue here is neck stability. Once the thing is set up at that low action, any weather change can make the guitar unusable. I find that synthetic necks, and the Steinberger in particular, offer the best sound and response for this kind of thing. You're really asking the guitar to be a whole lot more instrument than it was designed to be. But instrumentalists throughout the ages have done this with pianos and violins, and all the orchestral instruments. So it can and should be done. The trick is to find the ones that can handle it. And the Steinberger does this stuff beautifully. I'm sure there are other brands as well, I just really swear by this one.

Because you're using the whole instrument and extremes of range simultaneously, clarity and intonation are critical. Again the Steinberger works really well here. I buy a Steinberger guitar and take it to my luthier Ron Ruggiero in Philadelphia.  He dresses the frets to accommodate the low action.  I make sure I can bend each note on the guitar a whole step without fretting out, and I'm on my way. The set-up will stay that way for YEARS. All I have to do is touch up the intonation when I change strings. I find that I stay with .010 to .046 string gauge. Lighter has too little tonal weight, heavier is a bit too stiff. And the instrument must be powerful both acoustically and electrically. There is an inherent weakness in the tone produced by tapping, and so other factors are more important in trying to make up for that weakness. Again the Steinberger with EMG's performs wonderfully. Personally, I think that tapping with the single coil EMG's offers the best tone, clarity and response. I think that the front and middle pickups on a Steinberger GL used together are magic for this approach. Also, the EMG SPC adds useful midrange when tapping.

The Amp

I've found that the amp is critical in helping to overcome the weakness of the tapped note. On a master volume amp like a Boogie, I tend to run the clean gain higher for tapping than I would normally.

Because it's programmable and stereo, and because the clean sounds are very rich and deep, the Mesa Triaxis preamp/2:90 poweramp combination is especially good for this stuff. Other amps that work well are the Mesa Mark II and III and IV, the Carr Slant 6, the Fender Dual Professional, the Trainwreck Express, and the Komet 60. These last two sound great, but offer less control over the gain for the amp. Then you just shift your focus to the guitar volume and how hard you hit the notes, and the thing sounds and feels great. It just requires a different perspective.

Back to Music