Yiannis Gougourelas | 2008 | Artist Interview | “Greek Bluegrass
TT – Yiannis, many congratulations on winning Beppe’s flatpicking contest! That must have been a great experience, would you like to share it with us?
YG- It has always been a great experience for me, a Greek guy who always wanted to find other people to play with. I’ve started out this flatpicking guitar thing all alone,by playing in my room mostly. I’m a ear trained type of guy.
I think it was somewhere in 2003 and i was already an Acoustic Guitar Magazine subscriber. It was there where i found out in it’s pages Beppe’s flatpicking workshop. I remember I was feeling so alone here because i had no other to share my music with and that I was searching for flatpicking seminars in Europe to be a participant..
So I found out Beppe Gambetta’s acoustic workshop in Slovenia. I knew Beppe that he was an innovator guitar player and that he was using alternative tunings too. But when i finally met me and jammed with him,he immediately became one of my guitar heros. He knows so much about flatpicking guitar, he’s a great guitar teacher and a great guy too. Btw,he even wrote a cook book! What a guy!
I’ve been there 4 times. Every year the seminar was more and more challenging.So many good guitar players from different countries, but this year was something special:
Master player Steve Kaufman was there as a teacher. Woa! During the weekly lessons at the seminar, the highlight is Friday’s Mask guitar contest, for the best guitarist. I won 2 times in 2004 and in 2008,3rd in 2003 and 2nd in 2006.It’s been a great experience for me.
TT- So do you practise differently for something like the mask contest as opposed to the open contests?
YG- Well, actually what i do-and always did- on my playing and practicing too, is to try and play slow.
When I’m trying to play a tune, I always focus on it’s melody, and then I’m trying to build up my own thing around it.
I’ve never tried to play a tune note for note.Always wanted to have my own thing. Now,regarding the guitar contests…the only ones that i participated was Beppe’s European Mask contest.
As far as I know there aren’t any “official”guitar contests here in Europe like in the US where there are so many players and things are so competitive between them. One of my goals is to participate to Winfield some day!
Steve Kaufman has told me that in his Kamp the winner gets a $3500 guitar as a 1st prize! This year’s winner won a Ken Miller guitar. Now,THAT’S a big serious reason to go there and win.
TT – How about warmups and the usefulness of altered tunings, Yiannis?
YG- Warmups….We all seem to forget to warm up first.I do! Just some 2 minute hand-wrist stretching and it feels a lot better. But again,no fast tunes in the beginning!
As for alternate tunings I don’t use them as much as i would, but i usually like to detune the A string down to G when i play a bluesy tune in G,it gives me a lot of ringing notes. That’s what i used on my “Nine Pound Hammer Blues”on my cd.
There’s a tuning I like to try sometimes,and I have to confess that i stole it from Beppe Gambetta (he’s a master on that) a slight variation of the well known DADGAD. Instead of the A you have another G so it goes DGDGAD.It’s a great tuning! I don’t know how,but no matter what i play it sounds good with that tuning.
TT – How was it, recording your first cd?
YG- As for my cd, at first i had in mind recording 2-3 tunes as samples of my work,but i ended up having 10 tunes together.I thought,why not making a good demo cd! I couldn’t find an upright bass player to help me out,so we used synth bass. There aren’t any mandolin players here either so I taught myself how to play the mandolin and I played a solo too on Bill Cheatum, trying to make the tune as “bluegrassy” as I could.
TT- Speaking of handmade guitars- what are you playing at the moment? I heard you just bought a 1939 D18?
YG- The guitar that I’m currently play is a later 1939 D-18 model with rear shifted braces.It’s a great sounding example although it has been professionally refinished some years ago by a top noted guitar finisher.I like it because it has a very focused airy kind of sound,with great mids.
During the Gambetta’s seminar this year,i had the rare opportunity to test out a close friend’s original ’40 D-18 and ’37 D-18.Now those were just different guitars.The ’37 wasn’t any better,just different.It needed a different approach on picking,with a lighter touch,while the ’40 sounded pretty much like mine,but you had to “dig in” more to get a great sound.
UMGF has caused me that G.A.S. disease!
I bought,traded,sold so many guitar during the 2+ years I’ve been a subscriber.
What i currently mostly play for bluegrass is:
1993 Larrivee D-50 rosewood custom.My trusty Larrivee.I just love it.Bought it new,and has a unique sound to me.
Mike Vanden Alpine/Braz.Simply a great guitar.English luthier Mike Vanden custom made it back in 1987.The most resonant guitar Ive ever played.
John Walker J-35 recreation.One of the best new guitars I’ve ever played.It sounds like a 40 year old guitar.Adirondack,hide glue construction.Gibson sound at it’s best.I love it.
The one I’m missing but had to let go is an Engelmann topped 1953 D-28 i used to have.
I also have some other fingerpicking smaller guitars here.
My “upcoming”pride and joy is a custom made Blazer&Henkes shaded top 1937 D-18 recreation.I’m patiently waiting 2 years now,and I’ll probably have to wait one more.I trust these guys 100%.I’m sure it’s going to be a great guitar!
TT- With your experience in D18s and D28s which do you prefer- or they work better in certain settings?
VG-Hmm, it depends on the band setting. I really consider myself a mahogany guy. A good sounding mahogany guitar gives me almost everything.It works great on a duo setting too.
I’ve had many good rosewood guitars that i finally sold to get mahogany guitars too.
Everything from scalloped braced,rear shifted,forward shifted or even straight braced seems to work for me. Btw, I *love*straight braced ’50s D-18s. They seem to “cut” very well in a band setting where some scalloped guitars tend to sound bassy.
One of my goals some day is to find a great sounding rosewood guitar someday. I know that Brazilian vintage Martins are skyrocketing…almost impossible to buy one now.
But there are many great luthiers out there who can reproduce that legendary sound.
I have something in mind, we’ll see. Speaking of mahogany guitar sounds, my two favorites are Tim Stafford’s pre war D-18 and David Grier’s sound with his ’55 D-18.Very opposite mahogany guitar sounds,but great.
TT- And do have a guitar for home use and one for the road?
IL- I always take 2 of my guitars with me.My trusty ’76 HD-28 and(now ex ’63 D-18). The ’39 D-18 mostly stays at home and i occasionally take it with on rehearsals. If there would be short distance gig i would take it.The Brazilian M.Vanden is great and loud for playing with a band. The J.Walker J-35 is great for playing it with another guitar player,as a duo.This guitar has tons of “character”.It’s my strummer when i’m home.
TT – What advice would you have for someone looking to take up flatpicking?
YG- For someone who wants to take up bluegrass guitar, I would suggest at first to get the “proper” guitar and i mean a good dreadnought guitar strung up with medium gauge strings and a heavy pick.
You have to be serious with your sound and the music you’re about to play. You just can’t have something in between. Imagine exactly the opposite,trying to play gypsy jazz guitar with a dreadnought strung with a set of mediums! No way!
Then you have to listen to a lot of that music! Steve Kaufman told me at the kamp that he forces his students to learn as many of flatpicking tunes they can learn. NEVER try to learn scales at first. The tunes themselves can teach you a lot,like scales,runs,etc.
One crucial detail: Try to pick slow.I think that everybody says that. By playing one tune slowly you’ll be able to play “clearer” and with more confidence in higher speeds.A metronome surely helps.
In the beginning speed is not the thing. You have to have a solid rhythm(it’s the most important for me),clean sound,timing.etc. Tim Stafford describes that as the most important 5 Ts for that music:
I think that says it all. Now,that’s a dvd i would recommend to every player out there.Very usefull.I’m Tim’s fan.
Beppe Dambetta http://www.beppegambetta.com/