Q&A July 2011, Part IV
8/3/2011 (updated 8/3/2011)

I was revisiting some old recordings and I came across a recording of 4 tracks that were labelled as above. The first is a real country bluesy version of Honky Tonk Blues, the second is an instrumental version of Further Along - both of which are excellent -  and the third is an absolutely stonking version of Move it On Over. The session appears to feature guitar, mandolin, country fiddle (I think you refer to him mid song as Eric?) and bass. The fourth track is a fantastic version of Banish Misfortune on guitar (you refer to the need for a "strange tuning") with a real "drone" in it.

I've not been able to find any reference anywhere to the session, can you remember it? Who are the other players? - an American voice says before Further Along that it's "dedicated to Clarence" and you say "the great Clarence White". Any more tracks recorded at the session? And have you thought about revisiting country music and playing? Thanks for all the fantastic music. - Dave Hughes, Birmingham UK

Sounds like the electric mandolin instruction tape I did with Niles Hokkanen back in the early 80s. His brother Eric played fiddle. Both fine musicians. I wonder if it's still available?

I noticed that often your electric tours or electric recording sessions follow a long acoustic tour, during which presumably you don't have the chance to practice on the old electric. How long do you need to get accustomed to the lighter string gauge and different technique before you feel ready to delight us all with your solos? Are there any exercises you perform to accelerate the switch from the Lowden to the Fender? Kind regards, Davide Sanna

It takes me about a week to reacquaint with the electric after an absence. I try not to go too long the other way - all electric and no acoustic - as you start to lose your acoustic callouses.

I was interested in your reply at what happens in those days when "circumstances" are far from ideal. But what about practice even if you're not actively touring, or writing material for an album - what does practice entail even when just keeping that mental and physical discipline of guitar playing?

Picking up the guitar every day, playing some patterns, playing some things for fun, exploring a few new ideas. Anything from 10 minutes to 8 hours!

I also caught the show you did with Suzanne Vega and Loudon Wainwright (Song Writers Circle for BBC4) and saw an electronic gizmo on the head of the guitar - I'm a beginner , but was told it's a tuner? How does it work?

This is a headstock tuner - my current one is called a Snark, and I love it dearly. It works on sensing the pitch from the vibration traveling up to the headstock of the guitar (can also be set to straight tuner mode). It's useful if I'm playing with other people especially. If I'm solo, I can keep in tune pretty well relative to myself, and it's not crucial if the pitch sags a little below 440 (except for the 2 people in the audience with perfect pitch).

Finally, I saw a wonderful young singer/songwriter and guitarist recently in Bristol called Sarah Jarosz - she is cut from the same cloth as Gillian Welch despite being a mere 20 years old, with a scary level of maturity in both in her guitar and vocal performance and her songwriting - I can really recommend! Keep on doing what yer doin'. - Chris Butler, Bristol UK

Do you imagine for an instant that I do not have my finger on the throbbing pulse of what's hip and happening? Sarah Jarosz is opening some shows for us in the US.