Jorma Kaukonen gives Dan Erlewine a fingerpicking lesson

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Issue 309 July 12, 2018

After Dan Erlewine put new tuners on Jorma Kaukonen's Martin M-30, Jorma returned the favor by giving an impromptu lesson in fingerpicking! He also shows how he strings up his Martin.

About the guitar in this video: This is Jorma's own signature M-30 model from Martin.

In this Trade Secrets video:
  • Martin M-30 Jorma Kaukonen model
  • Jorma shows how he strings his guitar
  • Jorma gives a fingerpicking lesson
  • Dan's surprise: one gold tuner to match one gold tooth

Video Transcription

[on-screen text reads: StewMac tools + ideas for guitarmaking. A Fingerpicking Lesson From Jorma Kaukonen]

Dan Erlewine: I got up early this morning to do an important job, putting a set of Waverly's on this beautiful Martin M-30 that belongs to Jorma Kaukonen. It's his own model. Not many guys get their own Martin model. Old timers like me know Jorma from Jefferson Airplane. He was famous in the sixties with that band. And then he and Jack Casaday kept together as a team in their Hot Tuna and they're still playing today. Jorma Kaukonen and I became friends 30 years ago when he moved to the area along with his wife Vanessa, and they opened the Fur Peace Ranch. Musicians from all over the world come and teach there and it's a great place to go. I'm going to wait till Jorma gets here and have him string his own guitar, because I'm curious how he puts the winds on. Everyone does it different and he doesn't go out of tune when he plays.

Jorma Kaukonen: Hey Dan.

Dan Erlewine: Hey man.

Jorma Kaukonen: I know you're helping me out with the tuners for this guitar. So I brought you a present. An advanced copy of my autobiography. Everything you didn't really need to know about me is right there. And I may- have described it to you. Look

Dan Erlewine: My man!

Jorma Kaukonen: ...have described it to you.

Dan Erlewine: You.

Jorma Kaukonen: That's me. I can't believe my friends let me go out dressed like that.

Dan Erlewine: God, I didn't know you were doing this.

Jorma Kaukonen: Well there you go.

Jorma shows how he strings his guitar

Dan Erlewine: Wow, this is going to be killer. I don't know about can do almost anything. At least not play the guitar like you. I was going to string it up, but I'm thinking, would you string it up yourself?

Jorma Kaukonen: Absolutely.

Dan Erlewine: A little video.

Jorma Kaukonen: Sure.

Dan Erlewine: I want to see how you wind them up.

Jorma Kaukonen: Okay. Strings are a funny thing. Everybody's got their preference and lots of people are making good strings. I've been doing stuff with Martin for a long time and I've gotten to like a lot of their strings. I've been using these Lifetime SP's and my gauges are 12 to 54. I guess they call it Light Gauge now.

Dan Erlewine: Yeah.

Jorma Kaukonen: So anyway, I never tucked my strings under, ever. I just never did. I put enough windings on it so it is just not going to slip. I just try to keep the winding so it's going to wind nice and smooth. I probably didn't need that much for a big fat string like this, but I like to change my strings every night. Because I like the strings to be bright. It's probably not necessary, especially with these new, whatever they do to these Lifetime strings. I'm not fond of coated strings, because they're just not as bright as I like for a string. Oh, look at this. Look at this. I see there's one-

Dan Erlewine: Ah-haha.

Jorma Kaukonen: Ah, there's one gold tuner there.

Dan Erlewine: That's my surprise.

Jorma Kaukonen: Ah, that is quite a surprise.

Dan Erlewine: That's the Jorma Kaukonen version now. You can sell them.

Jorma Kaukonen: Yeah, Jorma set. The other thing that was funny is when I started taking lessons in DC, Sophocles Papas, who was a contemporary of Segovia-

Dan Erlewine: I remember him.

Jorma Kaukonen: ...was repulsed by the music I wanted. I wanted to play Louvin Brothers and old timey stuff and he wanted me to play whatever. So see, he started me out playing "this old man, he plays one, he plays knick knack" and all that kind of stuff. And I realized I needed to know some stuff. But what he didn't tell me was the guitars needed to be tuned all the time, because I came from the piano when you wanted tune the piano, you call somebody, he comes and he tunes it. So, my guitar would sound crummier and crummier as the week would go by. And then finally he suggested that I actually tune my guitar periodically. All right, let's plug that tuner in and see what we got. Well, heck, let's-

Dan Erlewine: I'm wondering if this-

Jorma Kaukonen: Look at that. You see that?

Dan Erlewine: Wait a sec. You got a good ear, man.

Jorma Kaukonen: I got lucky.

Dan Erlewine: You don't need no stinking tuner.

Jorma Kaukonen: I got lucky.

Dan Erlewine: All those years in front of amps and he can still hear.

Jorma Kaukonen: My wife and daughter might disagree with you there.

Jorma gives a finger picking lesson

Dan Erlewine: What I was hoping to do here today is get Jorma to give us a little quick lesson. A finger picking lesson.

Jorma Kaukonen: Absolutely. What I was thinking about was talking a little bit about the intro I have for the Jimmy Rogers tune, "Waiting for a Train". And I always loved the song Waiting for a Train. I know everybody's done it, but it's a great song. So the version that I had has a trumpet player playing the little that I'll show you what I adapted and I researched it and that trumpet player was Louis Armstrong. So here's Jimmy Rogers up in New York, I think that's where he recorded. And the producer goes, hey Louis, what are you doing this morning? Nothing? Listen, we're cutting a couple tracks down there. It's really simple. Do you want to play an intro? And that's all. That's the only thing he just plays on the intro. So what I did is I tried to capture the essence of his intro.

Dan Erlewine: Killer.

Jorma Kaukonen: So Jimmy kicks the song off with the yodle, but I do it on the guitar. I have vowed out of deference to the sensibilities that people might hear me play or sing that I will never ever yodle in public. So the song is "Waiting for a Train", this is in the key of G. So Jimmy goes, and I've [inaudible 00:04:59]. So what we're doing here is we have a little double stop thing on strings one and three, at the seventh fret, and you can see that's part of a G chord. Whichever form you want to make G, flatted a whole step, and then go down. Now if you're doing a double stop thing at a diatonic scale, there will always only be two fingerings. In this case on whatever pair of strings you're doing and whatever note you start with, in this case we have the root, the G on the top.

So adjacent frets, same frets, same frets, adjacent frets, and now, wow, no cutaway. Look at that. How about that? Huh? Anyway, so yodle, exactly. And then Louis comes in. What I'm going to do here is a little double stop lick that is going to wind up in a partial of this C chord here. So I'm starting here, strings two and four at the third fret. G note, and then what I'm doing here is I'm doing partials of the G, G flat, F, E. We don't need all those notes, it's cluttering. So I'm going to do first string, third fret, third string, fourth fret, sixth string, third fret, and just grab those three strings. Then A major.

Quick sidebar on this A chord, a lot of ways to finger stuff. If it works for you, that's great. I do it this way because I, that's how I learned when I was learning to play. Third finger, second fret, second string. Second finger, second fret, strings three and four. Now this frees these two fingers and my thumb to do other stuff in other finger picking applications. And it gives me opportunity to go from this A, that A seven just by standing that second finger up. D major. And I like to get the third interval, the F sharp in the bottom. So in real time [Jorma is singing and playing the acoutic guitar].

Dan Erlewine: Killer. Thanks, Jorma.

Jorma Kaukonen: My pleasure.

Dan Erlewine: Good time.



Jorma Kaukonen

American blues, folk and rock guitarist

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