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Author Topic: Big Joe Williams' way to '9-string' his guitar  (Read 11789 times)

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Offline Stefan Wirz

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Big Joe Williams' way to '9-string' his guitar
« on: March 03, 2006, 07:51:02 AM »
there has been a question about BJW's '9-stringing' at Stefan Grossman's forum that gave me the opportunity to dig a little deeper into this matter.
Here's what I found out (for those interested, I have put some more detailled pictures on my BJW discography):

E2 B2 G1 D2 A1 E1


Big Joe Williams playing his nine-string guitar
(source: front cover of 77 LA 12/19); photographer: Ray Flerlage


from D. Thomas Moon: The Verdict Of Big Joe Williams.- Blues Access No. 33 (Spring 1998), p. 20-28:
(start of quote)
He said that when he'd take a break, people'd be over there messin' with his guitar. He said, "That's what got me to start puttin' strings on my guitar." He said, "I put the seventh string on there" - being the double E - "and that messed up most of 'em for a while. But then one guy kept comin' 'round, and he got used to that extra string. I thought to myself, 'I gotta mess him up a little bit more.' I put the double B on it. I stumped him for a while, but he got used to that. I thought to myself, 'Well, I'm gonna really trick you this time. I'm gonna double the D string, the fourth string.' He couldn't handle it, and he never messed with my guitar again."
Now one thing to keep in mind is that some people think that Big Joe added an octave D on there, like a 12-string, but they were doubled. I used to fix Big Joe's guitars for him, and it was a unison string. When he'd play a 12-string, he'd use octaves in the traditional manner. But on his nine-strings, the strings were always unison. Very few people know this, but Big Joe had two nine-string tunings. He called one "Spanish tuning," which was an open G that he'd capo at the second fret to hit his key. Then he had another G variation. He called it "open G with a 10 chord bass." Sometimes he would call it the "10 card bass." What it was, he'd lower the bottom D when he'd tune the bottom string to a D. He'd drop it on down to a B and make bass runs on it. I think what he was doing was he was calling it a "10 chord bass" at first, and some people didn't understand what he was saying. He started calling it a "10 card bass." He adopted that designation for it too, 'cause they would be looking at it as 10 cards, as in a poker game. He'd go, "Yeah, that fits with what I got in mind too." He'd only tune it down like that once in a while. That's the story of the nine-string.
(end of quote)

any thoughts, any contradictions ?

Offline Cambio

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Re: Big Joe Williams' way to '9-string' his guitar
« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2006, 09:16:24 AM »
Very interesting.  Good detective work Stefan.  I was looking at a picture of Daddy Stovepipe the other day and noticed that he was playing an eight string guitar.  I read that he had originally learned to play on a 12 string.  The guitar that Daddy Stovepipe was pictured with was not a home made one, but it looked like a factory made Regal or Lyon and Healy.  I have never seen a guitar like this out there and it got the gears turning in my head.  Frank and I were discussing it and Frank wondered if Big Joe Williams had run across Daddy Stovepipe at one point and, in the ability to find his own eight (or nine) string guitar, made his one.
« Last Edit: March 03, 2006, 09:17:56 AM by Cambio »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Big Joe Williams' way to '9-string' his guitar
« Reply #2 on: March 03, 2006, 10:04:48 AM »
Here's one used to illustrate Bob Koester's chapter "Jazz In St Louis-1958" in the book Just Jazz 2 (eds Traill & Lascelles, London, Peter Davis 1958). On the odd times it has been reproduced the inserted photo of Speckled Red and friends has been "lost" as has the photographer's credit.

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Big Joe Williams' way to '9-string' his guitar
« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2006, 03:51:54 AM »
In the early seventies I lived in Germany for a few years. Big Joe was a regular visitor, playing on the Lippmann & Rau circuit in Europe, and picking up club gigs in between times. I have to say that I remember him as a grumpy and irascible old man (much as I am now)! He did, however, reluctantly demonstrate at close quarters his drop B tuning trick. He'd obviously done it so many times that he could unerringly find that note with one deft movement of the tuning peg. I learned the signature bass run from him, but never managed to nail the rest of his sound which depended so much on his heavy and rhythmic right hand. On the Daddy Stovepipe picture, which is amazing, I note he's playing the nine string guitar with the single  course bass strings and the doubled up treble ones. One exactly like it was for sale on ebay about a year ago and went for big bucks...

Offline Cambio

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Re: Big Joe Williams' way to '9-string' his guitar
« Reply #4 on: March 04, 2006, 05:24:36 AM »
I initially thought that there were nine string on Daddy Stovepipe's guitar and I imagined the configuration that you described, the top three as double courses and the bottom three as singles,  but upon further inspection, it looked like eight to me.  I know that there's been some speculation that Lonnie Johnson strung his guitar in a somewhat similiar manner, as well as BBQ Bob.  Anyway, I'm just dying to make a nine string, and I'll do it for medium bucks, if anyone out there is interested.
Todd
www.fraulini.com

I should add that the photo came from Old Hat's new compilation of medicine show music, "Good For What Ails You", and is courtesy of Bengt Olson.  This is an absolutely fantastic set of music with very informative liner notes.  If you don't have it, pick it up immediately so that your life will be complete.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Big Joe Williams' way to '9-string' his guitar
« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2006, 08:31:21 AM »
Here's one used to illustrate Bob Koester's chapter "Jazz In St Louis-1958" in the book Just Jazz 2 (eds Traill & Lascelles, London, Peter Davis 1958).
At the time of writing I knew I'd seen at least one other BJW photo from this "shoot". It can be seen on page 64 of Larry Cohen's mammoth 1993 book Nothing But The Blues. It's a indistinct shot of Big Joe with J D Short to his right.

Offline Stefan Wirz

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Re: Big Joe Williams' way to '9-string' his guitar
« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2006, 10:21:54 AM »
... and a few pages further in the same book (to be exact: p. 71) there's this 'upside-down' photo of BJW which led me to create my 'oddities'-page about flipped / false photos and other curiosities.

The stringing (E2 B2 G1 D2 A1 E1) can also be found by enlarging this photo !

« Last Edit: March 04, 2006, 10:29:19 AM by Stefan Wirz »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Big Joe Williams' way to '9-string' his guitar
« Reply #7 on: March 04, 2006, 01:53:32 PM »
Hi all,
It occurred to me while reading Big Joe's own account of how and why he came to modify his guitar into a nine-string--to discourage a noodler from picking it up and playing it--that it is difficult to see how adding unison strings could cause any particular confusion.  The left hand is exactly the same as a normally strung guitar.  Now if Joe also de-tuned the instrument before setting it down at the end of the set, then you've got some problems!
All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: Big Joe Williams' way to '9-string' his guitar
« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2014, 08:52:49 PM »
Hi all,
If you watch the beginning of this video of Big Joe filmed by the Seattle Folklore Society, he plays a run right at the end of the intro to the first tune that utilizes his sixth string tuned to a low B, as Prof. Scratchy mentioned earlier in this thread.  It's a great sound.  Here is the video:






All best,
Johnm

Offline frailer24

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Re: Big Joe Williams' way to '9-string' his guitar
« Reply #9 on: March 14, 2014, 11:54:15 PM »
Thank you, John, for confirming my suspicions!
That's all she wrote Mabel!

Offline harriet

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Re: Big Joe Williams' way to '9-string' his guitar
« Reply #10 on: March 15, 2014, 07:04:30 AM »
I think this a French film for that explanation around 10 minutes - little difficult to hear over the french translation but anyway:


Offline btasoundsradio

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Re: Big Joe Williams' way to '9-string' his guitar
« Reply #11 on: March 16, 2014, 09:43:09 AM »
Was it true he drilled holes in his guitar to add new strings to? Theres a Fahey story about that.
Charlie is the Father, Son is the Son, Willie is the Holy Ghost

Offline frankie

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Re: Big Joe Williams' way to '9-string' his guitar
« Reply #12 on: March 16, 2014, 10:11:22 AM »
Was it true he drilled holes in his guitar to add new strings to? Theres a Fahey story about that.

The short answer is "yes." It's hard to find, but check out pictures of his various guitars - they tell the story.

It seems like he tended to pick guitars that had a kind of pronounced peak at the top of the headstock. He would drill a center hole and then take another strip of 3 tuners and put the post for the center tuner through the new hole in the headstock. The other two tuning posts would kind of rest on the top of the headstock, no doubt with various levels of stability. Eventually, the contraption would probably implode in one way or another, but they sound and work pretty good up to that point. :) Perfect folk art!

Note: more elegant/permanent results can be achieved using banjo tuners, but it requires drilling two more additional holes.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Big Joe Williams' way to '9-string' his guitar
« Reply #13 on: March 16, 2014, 10:29:24 AM »
http://www.wirz.de/music/willjfrm.htm

Scroll to the foot of discography....

Offline frankie

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Re: Big Joe Williams' way to '9-string' his guitar
« Reply #14 on: March 16, 2014, 10:46:30 AM »
perfect - thanks for that, Alan. It seems like it's less common to see him with examples of three individual tuners like that 1980 picture with Hammie Nixon. More typical is the image and detail of the 1977 pic above that of the fancy Silvertone and the extra strip of three tuners perched at the top of the headstock. Same arrangement is used on the Harmony Sovereign that graces the cover of Nine String Guitar Blues on Delmark.

aside: what a wild stringing scenario! No idea if that's how he regularly strung his guitars (relationship of the added tuners to the added strings), but that would probably keep ME from messing with Joe's guitar. Not to mention that  he'd probably kick my ass!

 


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