A Conversation with Charlie Hunter (continued)
PM: It's fascinating to see somebody breaking new ground. It's far beyond, say, somebody getting a Chapman stick and making up 12 tunes on it and cutting a record. It's not like that because it's like playing guitar and bass, and it's playing straight ahead jazz, or it's playing Stevie Wonder tunes, or Bob Marley tunes. And that's a horse of a different color. It's not just 12 tunes that you made up on this thing.
CH: Right. Well, my attitude has always been that it doesn't make a difference what you play. No matter what it is you're playing, make music happen on it. It's just to make the music happen, do whatever it takes to create that. I mean, if someone said, "You know what? We're taking the eight-string away from you. The only thing you get to play from now on is a one-string instrument," I'd be like, "Okay, fine. I'm going to make music happen on that."
PM: [laughs] So let's see, where did -- was Fat Dog involved with any of those early instruments?
CH: Yeah, my first: it was an old messed-up six-string Vega that I got from him.
PM: God, I love those Vegas.
CH: Yeah. One of his guys turned it into -- they turned it into a seven-string by changing the nut and the bridge. That's kind of when I first started that. Then it just went from there, when I got with Ralph Novak, who hooked me with essentially what I'm playing now, in a much earlier form. And he's still working on getting these things together for me, figuring out different scale lengths and things like that. The instruments have to evolve with me, because I'm always trying to evolve. For instance, the scale length I'm playing on right now, I've kind of outgrown it.
PM: How so? What does that mean?
CH: Well, I just need a little more scale length on the bottom, a little more bass scale length, because I've become more and more of a bass player.
PM: What does that mean, exactly, when you say, "I need more scale length on the bass"? How does that translate?
CH: Well, it's just for the tone. You know, it's nitpicky stuff. There are guys in Africa and the Caribbean who play instruments that are made out of cigar boxes that will blow your mind, so it's neither here nor there.
PM: That's a very interesting point, and one that you never hear all these tone crazy cats bring up. That's very funny.
CH: Yeah. And then they get all excited about, well, how does Ali Farka Toure get that sound. You know, he'll get that sound on whatever instrument you give him. I'm sorry to say, it doesn't have anything to do with -- oh, there will be slight variations on it, slight variations, but that's the sound that he's going to get. [laughs]
PM: I remember when Novax first hit the scene -- I was doing NAMM shows with Boogie where his first guitars appeared -- and thinking, "Wow, fanned frets! What can this be about?"
PM: Now, I never did really grasp the theory of it. Why is the fanned fret thing more -- how you say, is it more in tune, or what is it?
CH: It comes back to scale length. Like each string has its own individual scale length, so the lower you go, the deeper the sound, the longer the scale length gets. So for me, I have a pretty severe scale length. It starts at 25 and it goes down as low as 30. And I need that just for the tone. If I didn't have it, I would have this instrument that, on the low string, sounded like a rubber band, and on the high string sounded like a banjo.
PM: Wow. So when you first met Ralph Novak, how far along were you on your idea of needing a hybrid instrument because you had a hybrid idea of what you wanted to play?
CH: I was pretty far along, you know, I think I was.
PM: You already had a seven-string, or maybe even an eight-string by then?
CH: I had a seven-string.
PM: How low was your low string?
CH: A. That's as low as it went.
PM: And so when you got up with Ralph, did he first make you a seven-string, or did you guys go right to eight?
CH: Well, he first made me a seven-string, and then we went to eight after that. And then we kept messing around with the scale lengths.
PM: And that was all about tone. And were you using Bartolini pickups, right from the top, with him?
CH: That's what Ralph used, and they seemed to work real well. They sound real good. I've always used them. continue