Coastal air off the Atlantic seeps in under Sandy Hook, slyly flirting with Navesink River dampness, the extended New York metro tang of NJ Turnpike combustion and chemical refineries. Onshore, offshore. Giants to the north, Eagles to the south. Manhattan commuters. Money.
Chris Buono will flit through this mist, reaching up with (funk you) Jersey Attitude™ to grab Big Apple brass and polish it against shore prog rhythms. Triumph Brewing Company, Red Bank, New Jersey is our venue, as he prepares to take onstage residency for the next several months.
Risk is real…
He’s coming in cold, struggling—rehabilitating—excruciating left arm pain via pinched nerves in his spine. This band is total raw bar, two hours of rehearsal and digital chord charts as guidance through an improv jazz wilderness marshland.
Chris debuting two new guitars I built for him: his custom multiscale fretless “Fragile” and “Green Monster” who is also holding my tremolo. Cody McCorry is playing another build so fresh the finish is still drying: “Orchid” bass. New and unfamiliar instruments for both of these masterful players. And a chance to capture their sounds live, in the wild.
We are in this together. Tonight is opening night.
With the recording, I am seeking to capture the village vanguard intimacy of Bill Evans. Snapshot this moment. Band banter. Audience chatter, barstools and glasses. 1961 turns 2022. Killick Hinds beautifully brings his touch to the mixing and mastering. Deeply grateful we had this opportunity to work together.
Chris Buono — music & guitar Anibal Rojas — synth sax Cody McCorry — bass Faye Fadem — drums
Killick Hinds — mixing & mastering Rick Toone — recording & production
“If I died right now I would want you to show the world ‘Raining Caterpillars’ and say this what I truly sounded like when I was dialed in. For that I’m indebted to you both.” (Chris Buono)
Chris Buono is battling pinched nerve spinal issues caused (in part) by years of tortured ergonomic playing posture. The resulting neuropathy brings on debilitating chronic pain and numbness extending from his left shoulder all the way down to his thumb.
First, design an instrument focused on posture correction to help relive discomfort, allowing Chris to continue to work as he heals. Second, to help prevent or at least greatly diminish future nerve inflammation issues. We want to keep Chris healthy so he can continue his career for decades to come.
Equally importantly, the guitar will simultaneously extend his formidable fretless technique into new territory.
Fretless guitar is extraordinarily difficult to master. A player must have the skilled intonation of a classical stringed instrument musician—violin, viola, cello—plus the added ability to precisely form chords.
The reward for mastery is supreme expressiveness.
Yesterday I was treated to a private test flight when we met in his studio to debut the new guitar. Running straight into a hot-rodded vintage Marshall, one of the first things he played was EVH’s Panama solo. Absolutely mesmerizing to watch.
Chris saw me walking through the open glass doors of Triumph Brewing Company in Red Bank, New Jersey.
“Green Monster…? Let’s do it.”
Chris had only played Green Monster for a few minutes, a month prior. Keep in mind he did not know I was coming. Did not know I would bring the guitar. And he was unfamiliar with this latest prototype of my new Pisces™ trem design. (patented & multiple patents pending)
No time for a soundcheck. Gig started in ten minutes. Jedi Master test pilot mindset.
“Pisces™ trem is like no other. I am constantly discovering new whammy phrasing.” (Chris Buono)
Saturday, I hosted Chris Buono and Adam J. Wilson for a focus group session. Our mission was to evaluate two current areas of research: multi-scale fretless design, and Pisces™ tremolo performance.
We tested both of Adam’s fretless Spearfish™ guitars plus Pisces™ prototype through an extensive array of tube and solid state amps plus modeling: Roland Jazz Chorus, Carr, Fender ’64 Deluxe, AxeFx II.
Not many people in the world play fretless guitar, let alone exceptionally well, nor do many people build fretless guitars, let alone exceptionally well. Today, I got to hang with both varieties. With all that’s going on in the world, this was a welcome respite. (Adam J. Wilson)
In addition to intensive discussion, I was treated to several hours of duets and solo improvisation. You are already well familiar with Chris Buono and his mastery of the instrument. Adam is similarly gifted, employing a fascinating two handed fretless tap technique. He makes fretless shredding look absolutely effortless…micro-tones, scales, harmonies: eight fingertips on the fingerboard is just so fast.
A meeting of like-minded fretless freaks is a rare thing. This was an immensely important day for me on many fronts and will surely change how I approach fretless guitar going forward. (Chris Buono)
I have some new ideas for how to improve fretless design. Fretless is a tiny niche market of players who are super skilled and super dedicated to the almost limitless possibilities of a life without speed bumps.
Imagine the virtuosity of a solo violinist yet with the added capability of harmony.
Glorious day of exploration and learning. Most importantly…it was so good to see old friends in person. Magic happens when we share a space and music together.
Absolutely wonderful email last evening. My clients tend to be deeply kind and thoughtful human beings. I am very fortunate to have the privilege of sharing this bond of music with them. Thank you, Carl.
Happy New Year! It has been 6 months since I picked up ‘Declaration’ Spearfish. I have held off on writing this letter, as every time I began writing, I realized that I was still learning more about the guitar’s character. The full impact of this guitar has finally hit me.
Craftsmanship: The word that comes to mind is precision. Although the artistry of your guitars is what drew me in, what blew me away was the precision. The care you put into the build, and the perfection you strived to attain are clearly evident in every part of the guitar. As a hip and knee replacement surgeon with some experience in design, I especially appreciate the design/stability of the unique neck/body interface. This thing feels like it should be a part of a high-end military aircraft!
Ergonomics: My 10-year-old’s first response when I let him play the guitar was “why does this feel so easy to play?” This also sums up my feelings. The unconventional shapes and materials in this guitar hide the quite substantial considerations to size, weight, balance, and texture. Simply put, the result is an instrument which doesn’t get in the way of playing music. I find myself playing for longer periods of time, with less fatigue. The choices you have made with respect to neck shape, materials, and body shape constitute an unquestionably discernible advance in the ease and comfort of playing.
Versatility: An unexpected surprise, which took me a very long time to fully appreciate, was the breadth of sounds that could be created with ‘Declaration’ Spearfish. I have found myself playing less with pedals, now focusing more on the guitar’s native controls. Whatever magic you injected into the electronics and wiring, I love it.
Art: The art is what drew me to your guitars. Not sure if you remember, but when I asked you to take this guitar to wherever your imagination leads you, I suggested the words: elegant, industrial, strong, depth, and striking. You nailed it. Declaration is a stunning work of art. It is the clear expression of imagination, emotion, and freedom that art inspires.
So, in case you cannot tell, I love this guitar. It is extremely special to me, and I am very grateful that you have created it for me. Thank you, and keep pushing the limits!
With the multi-scale Element™ aluminum neck I’m playing fretless now in ways I didn’t think I could…ways I didn’t even know were an option. With the multi-scale I am able to play more harmony. I can play fingerings that are simply impossible on parallel frets. (Chris Buono)
Last week me peeps dug down a txt thread rabbit-hole regarding the difference between guitar TONE vs. guitar SOUND. I had enough coffee in my circulatory system to posit a position guitar videos demonstrating sounds are useless for evaluating what an instrument actually sounds like.
The blowback was pretty intense.
I am happy to report however, that because I have a website — and can type using all ten fingers (instead of texting with thumbs) — some slight speed and bandwidth advantages accrue to me outlining the dissemination of my philosophical perspective.
So here it is:
TONE is the acoustic character of a guitar when played un-amplified, or played through a basic signal chain: clean (or overdriven amp) or direct. TONE is the acoustic responsiveness your ear uses to discern the differences between guitars, or types of guitars.
SOUND is the finalized combination of a guitar plus a signal chain when heard in the context of a song. SOUND is TONE plus the addition of effects, compression, EQ, mixing.
I like guitar videos where I can hear the TONE of the guitar. Once that baseline is established, it becomes easier to determine which guitar a player would choose for the gig or session. You have a clear idea of your basic building block which will affect all other results downstream in the music.
My fingers are raw after running through some of the paces amplified last night. I only went through the 5 positions on the humbucker side. It sounds so HUGE!!
I locked in a sick Wes Montgomery 335 tone using the tone knob and position 2 on the selector with the volume knob dialed back slightly. The versatility, clarity and dynamics are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
I found myself daydreaming for a few minutes not feeling this instrument either on my body or in my left hand. I literally woke up noodling and did not feel this instrument on me at all. Totally invisible, but not at all missing in any way, as it has just the exact amount of chunk to still be felt.
The neck feels absolutely perfect. The frets… Oh My… How did you get them SO SMOOTH?!?!? If I could translate the design specs of the perfect neck for me, this one is better! Its also the most gorgeous natural wood grain… Perfect!
Words cannot describe how striking this neck is to my eyes. It is so beyond birdseye which until today was my favorite look on a neck. This is just so many levels higher. The pictures and demo video did not at all capture how insanely patterned and beautiful this neck is.
I can’t call the Goshawk ‘American Girl’ a guitar at this point. You probably hear this all the time – its flawless!
I appreciate you Rick, I really do. Thank you.
‘American Beauty’ Goshawk™ is inspired by the classic Strat/Tele/Les Paul tones of the 1950’s. Lindy Fralin hand winds pickups using all of the original methods and materials in Richmond, Virginia. I wanted to bring his aesthetic into Goshawk™ to create a one guitar which allows you to leave your vintage closet queens home. Combined with 10-way switching and truly useful tone control, everything is at your fingertips. In a professional studio or stage setting where you desire that American sound, this is the guitar you will reach for night after night.
Even grained, light weight, and resonant — when I find Swamp Ash this lovely — it begs to be paired with highly figured roasted Flame Maple, with a minimalist organic clear finish. Expect snap, resonance, plus the exceptional string clarity and sustain characteristic to my builds.
Goshawk™ is hand built, luthier’s art. Details throughout: Hipshot locking tuners, luthier’s joint tilt-back headstock, bone nut, mother of pearl inlays, polished Dunlap stainless frets, custom neck mount plate, carbon fiber pickguard. Patented Intonation Cantilever™ solo bridges precision machined from stainless steel. Trademarked Advantage™ neck profile for hours of ergonomic comfort. Unrestricted upper fret access. Perfect curves and lines blend with your body as you play. (Rick Toone)
I love this video of Chris Buono improv-looping through the pickup selections on ‘American Girl’ Goshawk™ 6-string guitar. We used the simplest signal chain: Noble DI > Strymon Iridium (Deluxe) > Logic. His playing is superb and his switch selections shine through.
Perfect spring day in early May when Roopam Garg flew in to take ownership of his new Wingspan™ 8-string guitar. He’s been a good friend ever since Camping With Animals As Leaders (2013) when we met for the first time. That amazing experience with Tosin, Javier, and Evan Brewer first introduced Ken Kinter and me to Roopam and Gabriel Levi…friendships which have shaped all of our trajectories over this past decade.
His visit was also a first opportunity to establish new connections. I had a hunch Roopam and Chris Buono would generate musical sparks.
Wingspan sounds INCREDIBLE. I am currently still exploring all facets of this instrument. I have only scratched the surface so far. I am finding this instrument to be transformative of my perception and relationship with guitar. I see it as a symphonic tool of strings: strings representing the universe. (Roopam Garg)