Interview: Talking Story with Guitarist Trevor Gordon Hall

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Trevor Gordon Hall is rated one of the Top 30 Guitarists in the world under 30 years of age by Acoustic Guitar magazine, and he’s coming to the Big Island for three shows starting September 7.

In 2010, the Philadelphia-based guitarist collaborated with various builders to redesign an instrument called the kalimba (African finger piano). He designed a version that sits flat on the top of the guitar and spans 2 octaves of the piano. The instrument combination, which Hall calls the “Kalimbatar,” is opening up new possibilities for solo instrumental music. Compositions inspired by the pairing of the two instruments were first introduced in previous releases but fully realized in Hall’s Candyrat Records debut Entelechy.

Aside from being featured on NPR, NBC, PBS and countless international media outlets, Hall’s tour calendar has taken him to 14 countries and counting, performing at many historic places including Carnegie Hall in NYC, Union Chapel in London, Music History Museum in Bologna, Adolfo Mejia Theater in Colombia, and a brief performance on The Great Wall in China. He has also had the opportunity to share the stage with some of the most trusted and popular names in the music business, prompting high praise from John Mayer, Steve Miller, Graham Nash, Steve Hackett, Dar Williams, Will Ackerman, Pat Martino, Stanley Jordan, Phil Keaggy, Tommy Emmanuel, Andy McKee and more.

Tell us about your early musical influences. Was there a certain record or concert you heard as a kid that made you want to play guitar?

I grew up listening to a lot of the Windham Hill artists like [acoustic guitarists]Michael Hedges and Will Ackerman, and piano players like George Winston. My parents had a lot of that music playing in the house while growing up. My mom was a music lover, and she’d listen to everything from Bach to early folk music… not really any players in the family, so it was kind of weird when I came out with this unbelievable passion and obsession with music.

I was always taken back by Michael Hedges and listening to guitar player Phil Keaggy. When I was young I was into exploring the instrument. Before I even played guitar, I assumed that’s what you did. I was trying different tunings. I didn’t have any musicians in my neighborhood growing up, so I realized I’ll just have to figure out how to play different parts and try to be my own band. I’m an off-the-charts introvert, so, it really helped all those years to have the solitude of being alone with my instrument. I’m collaborating more now as I get older, but I really love doing the solo stuff. A lot of that was born from just listening to solo players when I was a kid.

Many guitarists have added special pedals and boxes to get unique sounds, but you’ve done something different by adding an African finger piano to the front of your guitar. What prompted that inspiration?

I initially saw someone playing music at an African art exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum, and I was completely taken back by the sound. When I was a kid I always loved wind chimes or hand bells, that really long ringing metal sound was always intriguing to me, and there it was in this handheld little box instrument and this guy was playing it well. I bought one, and it was small and very quiet. So, I put it on the top of my guitar and it resonated.

That set me on a journey to see what the possibilities were if I incorporate a kalimba and a guitar. A lot of kalimba music is rhythmic, and I wanted to explore and see if the kalimba could be played melodically. I approached the idea with Martin Guitar and they sent me to a bunch of other builders. I finished my most recent version with a great builder named Sheldon Schwartz.

We spent a couple of years building kalimbas and finding the right metal, wood shape, and then trying to incorporate that into the guitar. My idea was to have two octaves, like a wide range of a piano on the edge of my guitar so I could explore the sort of cross-talk between the steel strings and steel tines coming out of the same box. Now I put those through different effects, reverbs and delays together to see what happens.

Is it difficult to play? Does add much weight to the guitar?

It’s very heavy. I came up with a color-coding system so on the edges of the tines I can tell where I’m at, but it is very difficult to play, and it’s one of those things, like if you think too hard about it… I have to get it into the muscle memory because if I’m too conscious of what I’m doing, my brain gets confused. But if you watch great drummers or piano players or organ players, people who do something totally different with different limbs. It’s just a retraining the brain thing. Once it’s there, then I try to perform like I’m listening to it and enjoy the sound as it’s going.

For the gear heads out there, can you talk about your set-up, strings, and all the rest?

I play D’Addario strings, and they just came out with these nickel bronze strings. During all the practicing and work I’ve done all these years, I used to use heavy-gauge strings and that really started to show up in some tendonitis, and what’s great about the nickel bronze strings is that they give you the real deep sound of a medium, but they actually have the feel of light, and that really helps… a good compromise. I use a K&K Pure Mini [pickup]in my guitar, and I use a MiniFlex Mic2, and those are microphones in the guitar. There’s two different mics in two different directions. It’s funny how many electronics it takes to get you back to a really good live acoustic sound. I run all those into Radial Tonebone’s PZ-Pre 2-channel preamp.

Do you have any further modifications coming to your guitar in the future?

I think I will be doing another kalimba guitar version with Sheldon, but my very next guitar and my next solo record is actually just guitar without kalimba.

That guitar is going to be a really special a special build that we actually found some American Redwood for the top of the guitar that was part of a railroad bridge during the Gold Rush era in California. That record will be a little bit more stripped down and then the next project after that will have little more modifications, but it will mostly be fine tuning the kalimba idea. I don’t have any ideas right now of adding extra strings or sleigh bells or anything crazy to it. I try to follow where the inspiration leads, and if it feels like it’s getting too complex, or I’m getting lost in it. I just try to go with the simplest way forward. And I know it’s complex with all these extra keys, but I try to make that as least confusing as possible.

Have you considered collaborating with any musicians from Hawaii? Maybe a slack-key duet?

I would love to do that. This is going to be my first time to Hawaii, so, I am a completely open book. I would love to just take in as much inspiration as I can from the music and the history there. I’d totally be up for collaboration because I really enjoy being able to play with other musicians.

What are your plans for the rest of 2018?

After Hawaii, I come home for some shows around the States… Nashville and then I go back to Portugal, and then I go to Greece. This fall I’m prepping for new album material, and then a lot of tour dates. I have some new places that I haven’t been to, and I’m just really looking forward to soaking up all of that, and it all comes out in the music.


Trevor Gordon Hall’s Big Island Performances

September 7, Friday – Kona
Gertrude’s Jazz Bar (Dinner Reservations Recommended)
75-5699 Alii Dr. Kailua-Kona
Info: 808-896-4845 Venue: 808-327-5299 Tickets: $35. Adv.
Doors: 5:00 pm 2 Shows: 6:00 pm and 8:30 pm

September 8, Saturday – Kohala Coast
Hapuna Prince Hotel / Kamani Room
62-100 Kauna’oa Drive, Kohala Coast – Kamuela
Info: 808-896-4845 Tickets: $35. Gen. Adm; Adv. $48. Gold Circle
Doors: 6:30 pm Show: 7:00 pm
Guitar Workshop (1.5 hrs.) w/ Trevor Gordon Hall
Cost: $150. (Gold Circle concert ticket included)
1:30 pm. – 3 pm.
Note: must be booked in adv. at bluesbearhawaii.com

September 9, Sunday – Hilo
Kukuau Studio
43 D Kukuau St. Hilo
Info: 808-896-4845 Venue: 808-464-3388 Tickets: $30. Adv.
Doors: 6:00 pm – Show: 7:00 pm

Big Island Tickets Outlets
Gertrude’s Jazz Bar, Kona Music Exchange – Kailua-Kona; Kiernan’s Music – Old Town Kainaliu; Waimea General Store – Parker Square, Kamuela; Waipio Cook House, Top Stitch – Honoka’a; Kukuau Studio, Hilo Ukuleles & Guitars, Hilo Music Exchange – Hilo; Kea’au Natural Foods – Kea’au

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