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New JGT Series: Acoustic Flattops in Jazz, Pat Metheny

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Jazz Guitar Today contributor Marc Silver introduces a new series, Acoustic Flattops in Jazz. First up, Pat Metheny and eight guitars he has used over the years. Enjoy!

When it comes to using flattop acoustics in a jazz setting, there are few guitarists who embrace this concept more than Pat Metheny. Since the 1970s Metheny has regularly performed and recorded with traditional steel-string and nylon-string flattop guitars, as well as popularizing the once-obscure baritone acoustic through his two Grammy®-winning solo baritone guitar albums. He has also commissioned numerous experimental acoustic designs from master-luthier Linda Manzer, such as the 42-string Pikasso, fretless nylon string, Little Manzer, and several others.

In the following videos, I am barely scratching the surface of Metheny’s acoustic guitar recordings and performances. These are, however, excellent examples of how he uses (and even creates) acoustic guitars to find expression for his seemingly bottomless well of musical ideas.


1. Phase Dance – Live 1977

In the earliest days of The Pat Metheny Group, Pat didn’t have a guitar tech to bring his various instruments out to him on stage so he had to “improvise.” On this classic Metheny composition, he incorporates a heavy-duty guitar holder on stage to securely position his Guild acoustic for the melody while his Gibson ES-175 is slung behind his back, ready for a quick switch when it’s time to play his solo. In case you’re wondering how Pat gets those ultra-high highs when he plays the harmonics and unusual-sounding chords on the melody, it’s because his Guild acoustic is Nashville-tuned. That means the four bottom strings (E-A-D-G) are all tuned up an octave, like from a 12-string set but without the lower-octave strings. That’s why he plays the melody line only on the E and B strings and then switches to the 175 for his solo.

Played on a Guild D40CNT steel-string with a Bill Lawrence magnetic pickup.


2. Lonely Woman – Live 2004

Metheny’s original recorded version of this Horace Silver classic was on his 1984 album Rejoicing. This is also (according to Pat) the very first time he recorded with one of Linda Manzer’s guitars… the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between a master guitarist and master luthier.

Played on a Manzer “The Manzer” steel-string with Fishman piezo, AMT S15G mic internally mounted, and Shure VP-88 stereo mic on stand).


3. Always And Forever – Live 1992

It is my understanding that Pat’s first foray into playing nylon string on a recording was his soulful ballad If I Could from his Grammy®-winning First Circle album in 1984. He recorded that with an Ovation nylon string. As time went on, Pat switched to a Manzer Nylon String, but he brought out the Ovation again for this beautiful performance of his stirring ballad Always And Forever. This tune was originally recorded on his Grammy®-winning Secret Story album. This video version starts with a two-and-a-half-minute (probably) improvised intro that weaves in and out of deceptively simple harmonic and melodic pathways that eventually lead into the melody of this beautiful song.

Played on an Ovation 1763 deep-bowl nylon string with Ovation piezo pickup and preamp.


4. The Sound Of Water – Live 2007

In interviews, Metheny has recalled that he asked Linda Mazer to build him a guitar with as many strings as possible, and then he gave her a rough design on a napkin. Manzer built him a 3-neck, 42-string guitar that Pat stared at for two years trying to figure out what to do with it. This video shows one creative example of how he came to grips with it.

Played on a Manzer 42-string Pikasso Guitar – pickup system unknown.


5. That’s The Way I Always Heard It Should Be – Live 2011

This Carly Simon song is from Pat’s Grammy®-winning album What’s it All About. The album is unusual in that it features all cover tunes that influenced Metheny when he was growing up, rather than all original compositions. This is also his second solo baritone album. The first was One Quiet Night, which also won a Grammy®. Pat tunes his Manzer Baritone down a fifth (A-to-A) in half-Nashville tuning, which is standard tuning (down a fifth) but with the two middle strings up an octave (like on a 12-string). This odd combination gives you two bass strings, two high middle strings, and two regular upper strings. It also gives you the ability to play chord voicings and chord melodies that would otherwise be impossible without the displaced octaves of the high middle strings. It is a very effective tuning for chord melodies because of its orchestral nature. For the same reason, this tuning doesn’t work well for traditional single-line soloing.

Played on a Manzer Baritone steel-string with Fishman piezo, AMT S15G mic internally mounted, Shure VP-88 stereo mic on stand (pointed at sound hole), Electro-Voice RE-20 on stand (pointed at lower bout), and some other small-diaphragm condenser on stand (pointed between the other two).


6. Imaginary Day – Live 1998

Pat’s Manzer Fretless Nylon sounds great on this Metheny composition and I can only imagine what a challenge it must be to play a fretless guitar in tune across the entire fingerboard. This particular instrument seems to have had a more limited use in Pat’s arsenal of acoustics.

Played on a Manzer Fretless Nylon String – pickup system unknown.


7. A Map Of The World – In Her Family– Live

These tunes are from Pat’s album A Map Of The World from the movie of the same name. He composed the soundtrack to the 1999 film. Metheny’s deceptively simple (but beautiful) melodies and harmonies draw you in with deep emotion, played from what looks almost like a toy guitar because of its particularly diminutive size. It is tuned A-to-A (a fourth above standard tuning). As you will hear, it is definitely not a toy.

Played on a Manzer “Little Manzer” with Fishman piezo and AMT S15G mic internally mounted.


8. Medley – Live at Lugano Jazz Festival

Here is Pat playing his well-worn Manzer Nylon String. What makes this special is that this is a solo medley of several popular Metheny compositions. It’s like an encore at the end of one of his shows. Enjoy.

Played on a Linda Manzer Nylon String with Fishman piezo, AMT S15G mic internally mounted, and Shure VP-88 stereo mic on stand.


Marc Silver is a guitarist, composer, and author, best known for writing the classic instruction book Contemporary Guitar Improvisation (Utilizing the Entire Fingerboard), which has been teaching guitar players around the world how to improvise since 1978. Visit online at MarcSilverGuitarImprov.com

Flattop Acoustics in Jazz? Absolutely!

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