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Tim May's L.A. Scene

Two Guitars

Tim May's Bio

This month I'd like to address the subject of what roles guitar players take when there are two or more guitarists on a recording session. Perhaps the easiest way to make my points is to present a few different scenarios. As I've said before, each session is unique and has to be approached accordingly, so these are general rules of thumb. (No pun intended!)

Scenario 1
I walk into the studio and the music is being passed out. (Rarely do we see anything in advance). The copyist sees the guitar books, and "Tim" is written on one of the books. No-brainer! The composer in this case knows his players and has written specifically for each one. Obviously, I'll play that book. HOWEVER- For example, let's say a 5-string banjo part shows up in my book, and the other guitarist is a guy like Herb Pederson, who plays guitar but REALLY plays the "you-know-what" out of the banjo. Even though I double on banjo, I would trade parts with him unless he was already playing 5-string and there were two banjo parts. Forget ego. The desired end result is the composer or producer or whomever saying, "Boy, you guys sound great!"

Scenario 2
I show up at the date to do a show I've been doing for a while. I've either been the only guitarist and they're adding another, or I've been playing the first book of the two. Usually, the "new guy" will play the second book. If I had been routinely playing the second chair and the regular first-chair player was unavailable, USUALLY I would move to first and the "guest" would play the second chair.

It should be noted here that "First Guitar" doesn't necessarily mean the most important, most featured, most difficult or most ANYTHING. Oftentimes it's just a way of referring to or identifying the part. I remember doing a motion picture with the late Tommy Tedesco. Tom developed a reputation for his beautiful and lyrical nylon-string playing, and we were doing a long piece for two nylon acoustics with a big orchestra. At this time I was fairly new in the business, and Tom was already a legend- so naturally, he played the first-chair book. His part was a single-string, rather easy melody to which he brought his usual beautiful musical flare and style. The second part was an extremely complex accompaniment part, all written out with big chords and arpeggios-WAY more difficult than Tom's. I was very proud of my performance but of course, Tom was the featured player, so at the end- everybody made a big deal about the great solo guitar! However, the knowing nod I received from Tom made me feel great!

Scenario 3
I walk into the session, and it's a project I have not been involved in. I'm subbing for one of the players who usually play the gig, or the other player is the one who usually works for this particular writer or producer. Unless otherwise requested, I'll play the second book.

Scenario 4
This scenario applies to a newer player on the scene. If a relatively new player shows up and the other guitarist is a player who has been established for a long time, it's appropriate and respectful to defer to them to play the first book. The "veteran" will certainly appreciate the respect and, if he's smart, he will then give the first book to the "new guy" if it will make the guitar section sound the best it can. As a new player you shouldn't walk in like a "hot shot" and proceed to "show off your stuff." If you respect the established players, THEY will be the ones who recommend you and help you in your career to get the chance to show what you can do.

Scenario 5
There are no "first", "second" or "third " parts indicated, but rather just a chord chart or master rhythm part consisting of 3-4 staves with all or some of the parts (bass, drums, keyboard, guitars, etc.) Here, the idea is for all of the guitar players to play parts that are supportive and complimentary of one another. One may play a rhythm part, one a muted dead-string part, one a distorted power chord thing, etc.- or perhaps one acoustic and one electric, or a 6-string and a 12-string with a nylon-string. You get the idea.

The secret to a successful ensemble performance is to stay out of each other's way, and find a part that is complimentary to the overall musical picture. There is nothing worse than an individual player trying to show off by playing too much, leaving no room for anyone else, or playing the same type of part as another player. It's all about making the most supportive musical contribution, and not about your ego. You'll get your chance to shine!

'til next time,
Tim May

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