The Current's Guitar Collection: Jose Gonzalez and Spanish classical guitars

Jose Gonzalez in The Current studio
Jose Gonzalez prefers Spanish acoustic guitars with nylon strings. (MPR photo)
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After José González played a live session in The Current's studio, he stopped to talk about the Spanish classical guitars he enjoys playing.

Talk about the guitar you were playing today.

Today I was playing the Alhambra. I've had a couple of different ones that are similar: Esteve, Alhambra … they're in the $1,500 range, so not too expensive. And I always use them with the Fishman pickup, which is part of my live sound.

But yeah, I use them and also use a couple of guitars from Córdoba guitars; I think one of them is made in Spain, but other than that, they're all serial-made. As long as it's got decent intonation, it's more about how you play them and the type of strings. I use Spanish classical nylon strings, and I like using old strings.

You leave them on for a long time?

Yeah, almost a year. I don't change the strings that often.

And you've always gravitated to the Spanish classical sound?

It's the sound I sort of grew up with.

Who were your influences growing up?

There were a couple — Silvio Rodriguez was one of them, and actually the Beatles — you know, playing "Blackbird" and "Dear Prudence" with only guitar.

Earlier I was playing bossa nova, like João Gilberto. Then I started playing classical guitar, and through that I sort of learned most of my stuff, and I guess there were mainly recordings by John Williams that I was listening to — maybe not a guitar hero, but I definitely learned a lot by playing Spanish classical guitar, mainly to those recordings.

Did you have someone in your family who was a mentor to you?

In my family, no one played any instruments — not properly, at least. My dad used to sing in an Argentinian folkloric band, but he didn't play guitar, so when I picked up the guitar, he was really happy to be able to sing again like he used to do in his teens.

But I'm the only one who plays instruments. My sister dances a bit of flamenco, which I had the opportunity to try out at one of her performances. But just pretending to play flamenco — it wasn't that well played.

You mentioned the Fishman pickup, which has a reputation for good reproduction of acoustic sound. Had you tried a few others?

Actually, I bought a guitar with the pickup already installed, and since then I've tried other ones, but I've never really been able to find something that sounds better. But I think their new stuff hasn't been able to make that sound better. This type of pickup, Fishman stopped making it, which is a bit bad for me, so I have three guitars with the same pickup just to make sure I'm covered.

When you play live with a PA, there's always this balance between feedback or bad sound, and to me, I've found the right combination where it's a bit nasal but with my sound engineer, he's able to bring down some frequencies and I'm able to play very loud.

Do you use a sound-hole cover?

Yeah — I use duct tape.

Really?

Yes. I've experimented a bit and have found that covering it half to two-thirds gives the best combination of bad sound and loudness.

If you use less tape, like only half, it still resonates too much, and if you use more, it just becomes boring and nasal.

How do you approach writing when you're at home?

I usually have one or two guitars laying around with different tunings, so I don't have to tune too much when I get the feeling. It's mostly at home that I write, and sometimes I've recorded in the studio, which is just a small room with a similar setup as the one at home.

And like most classical guitar players, you prefer using your fingernails.

I could mention that I use nail polish. It works really well when you're on tour, and I know that some other flamenco guitarists might use ping-pong balls that they cut up. But this works for me — it's a nail strengthener.

Do you have to be careful when you're carrying gear?

Yes, exactly. No basketball, no gear-carrying. And when I bowl, I use my left hand instead of my right. Even though I'm right handed, I use the left hand when I bowl so I won't hurt my nails.

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3 Photos

  • Jose Gonzalez adjusts microphone
    Jose Gonzalez adjusts the acoustic-guitar microphone in The Current's studio. (MPR photo)
  • Jose Gonzalez peforms in The Current studio
    Jose Gonzalez peforms in The Current studio (MPR photo)
  • Jose Gonzalez covers the sound hole with tape
    Jose Gonzalez has found his guitar sounds best through a pickup when he covers two-thirds of the sound hole with gaffer tape. (MPR photo/Luke Taylor)

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