Happy Traum

Woodstock's own folk music legend

12-String Guitar Revisited

I was recently inspired to start playing 12-string again, many years after the untimely demise of my Fyllde (the one I played on my 12-string instructional video), which kind of imploded on me. I have always loved the sound of the twelve, but it's a commitment to start up with it again. Just think - twice as many strings to go out of tune!

A couple of things changed my mind: The first was a visit to the Woodstock Luthier's Invitational in October, where I came across a wonderful 12-string made by one of our local guitar builders (with an international reputation), the renowned Joe Veillette. I played a set at this event and, on a whim, I borrowed one of Joe's shiny new mahogany guitars and, with Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, proceeded to work my way through some of my favorite Lead Belly songs. The audience seemed to like it, and I have to admit I got off a little on the power and resonance of this instrument.

My other inspiration is a biography I've been reading of the great Blind Willie McTell by the English author Michael Gray. "Hand Me Down My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell" immediately immersed me in the music of this great Georgia blues and ragtime fingerpicker, whose main instrument throughout his life was the 12-string guitar. Just listening to his "Statesboro Blues" (forget all the covers that have been done on this song in the past 40 years) was enough to hook me, all over again, on Blind Willie and the 12-string.

I don't know whether this fascination will hold, but I'll probably buy Joe's guitar and start getting a new repertoire together. Maybe before long I'll make a video so you can hear it.