Banjo, mandolin, ukulele, fiddle, dulcimer, and my favorite, the Bouzouki. Shoot,
if ya REALLY want to get in over your head, add sitar to the list. The point is:
Get outta your “normal” zone where stringed instruments are concerned;
when you do you will encounter a refreshing creativity like none other. Sure, a little experimentation with alternative
tunings can breathe a bit of freshness into your creative atmosphere … but it’s
not even close to the creative cyclone of a truly DIFFERENTinstrument … one that not only has a different tuning,
but also a different string arrangement, scale, and totally different
tone. Seriously, I mean it, if you think
you might be in a creative slump, go down to your local pawnshop and walk right
past all those Squire Strats to that lonely, dusty old banjo in the back and
take her home with you.
Ah, and let me now explain the OTHER benefit of playing an “alternative”
instrument: the “WOW” factor. You see, my
first “alt” string instrument was a fiddle I played for a while as a teenager
in my little country-rock band in the early 1980’s. The country group Alabama dominated the
charts back then and several of their big hits featured fiddle … the parts were
prominent, but in all actuality they were not all that difficult. And so I bought a cheap fiddle and learned to
play it a little, affixed a clip-on mic and vola’ … I became a fiddle player. Now, here’s the big deal: we were the ONLY local country-rock band that
could boast we had a fiddle in the band, and that meant two things: first, we got a lot more gigs, and second,
whenever I brought out the fiddle folks started whooping it up before I’d even
played a note! Was I good? No. Was I a hit? Hell yea!
Fast-forward about 25 years to the present.
I now have a little hobby band that plays every now and then, mostly at
air shows and car shows. We play a
smattering of “pop” hits from the 1940s all the way up to present hits. Nobody really pays us much attention … until …
I break out the mountain dulcimer. In a live
music scene awash in guitar-based rock, all I need to do is start into a little
Celtic feeling stuff on the dulcimer (loud-n-proud through the PA) and everyone
stops talking and turns around to pay attention. If only for a few minutes, I OWN that
audience. Then I kick into “Copperhead
Road” playing the entire first verse just me and the dulcimer before the band
kicks in. It may not be as dramatic as
the bagpipes, but it has the same effect! Now, some might say the dulcimer isn't a very "sexy" instrument; I dissagree.
And last, don’t get me started on the creativity the Bouzouki conjures. The first time you sit with a Celtic-tuned Bouzouki
on your lap be prepared for time to stop.
Hours later you will come to, aware that you have been under one heck of
a seductive spell. Check this out: