Knut Hem

SJ: I’ve been a fan of yours from the first time I heard you play but I don’t know much about your background and musical story. Where did you grow up and how did you get started playing music and when did the Weissenborn become part of your musical identity?

KH: First of all, thank you for liking my music👍. I grew up in a little town north of Oslo called Hønefoss, that means Chickenfalls in English😂😂, I’ve started out my musical career as a drummer and I still am. I’ve not played drums very often in the later years, but I still love it! 😀The first time I heard Weissenborn was in the early 80’s – David Lindley of course – but I didn’t know then it was a Weissenborn, it would take me almost 15 years before I found that out. In the late 80’s there was a country boom here in Norway and I suddenly heard Jerry Douglas on the radio, because he played on a Norwegian record with a Norwegian artist whose name is Øystein Sunde, I thought it sounded fantastic and then I just dived in to the world of bluegrass playing dobro, ditched the drums and got totally lost in learning myself this instrument at age of nearly 30 😀.. and then of course I rediscovered the Weissenborn. This is a very short version of the story, but nevertheless the truth of how I got into playing squareneck guitars😀

SJ: When I listen to you play, I keep thinking to myself the difference between ordinary and extraordinary isn’t necessarily playing anything super fancy, but playing with good musical expression and a great feel. Did your touch and vibrato come naturally to you or was it something you had to work toward developing over time?

KH: Well again thank you! I don’t believe I’ve have worked especially towards that, but I remember in my early days of playing a friend and brilliant guitarist said to me,”I see you move your hand and bar but I don’t hear any vibrato,” that kind of stuck in my head and probably have been an underlying reason to the way I’m playing today…I also think the Weissenborn is such a wonderful expressive instrument that the vibrato just comes naturally to me, I don’t really think about it, but I do think about getting the right tone and feel !!

SJ: Can you walk us through an example of how you came up with one of your tunes and your creative process in general? Wondering if you find the Weissenborn and D tuning (DADF#AD) to be better suited for coming up with solo tunes vs G tuning (GBDGBD) which is used for dobro?

KH: With the exception of solo numbers, most of my tunes start with fiddling on the piano, and finding nice chord progressions or mood, Sometimes I use a DAW with lots of different sounds. Lately I’ve switched over to an iPad Air. It’s very easy to use and you have thousands of sounds to play with. I’m currently using Korg Gadget to compose the music and Cubase 3 to record audio and mixing. I guess everything can be an inspiration, from an easy groove on a drum machine to nice dreamy ambient pads on a synth, or just plain piano, or sometimes a melody can evolve just by playing the Weissenborn on its own, but 90% of the time I start on the piano. D or C tuning, which I use most of the time, are far easier to make up solo numbers, at least for me. I haven’t really written many solo tunes for G tuning or dobro, just a couple…. but you can use the dobro tuning for coming up with more folk influenced music, like Norwegian folk music or Celtic tunes. These days I’m in the final stage of putting an electro-ambient blues record together. Everything is done on the iPad. I had an all solo Weissenborn record even mastered before Christmas and ready for release, but, I threw it in the bin! I think this was the third or fourth time I’ve done that….I’m happy at start of the process, but when I hear ten solo tunes in a row I get bored, so sorry to some fans out there who had wished for a solo Weissenborn record…maybe next time…but I’m happy with the ambient blues thing, I’ve been very fond of electronic music since the 70’s,and I have followed the development of the synthesizers and digitalization’s on how to record music on computers…I’ve been a sucker for new sounds and how to use them to make new music. So by combining electronic sounds and noise with Weissenborn and a cheap National type square neck, I hope to have made something nice sounding 😀😀

SJ: Can you give us and insights into your right-hand technique and/or tips on tone production in general?

KH: I’m totally self-taught back in the days without YouTube, so I have probably learned my right hand wrong, but it works for me, I had that Jerry Douglas video so I learned the rolls and the importance of them quite early, so I have just practiced and practiced.. and I also picked up a few tricks from the banjo player Terje Kinn, who I have played with for 25 years. I think the tone is something that comes with the years, you’re not born with that, and dynamics is probably the most important thing, especially with acoustic instruments, sometimes you have to beat the shit out of the guitar, and then be very gentle. Be sure to have a strong attack, at festivals and jams I’ve heard a lot of great players with fantastic speed and technique… but sadly many of them lack the attack and no attack means lesser tone in my opinion 😀👍

SJ: Are there any differences in how you approach using Weissenborn in a solo live performance vs playing with a band?

KH: Oh yes. I would say that when you play in a band you have to play with the other people of course, listen to what the others do and don’t play all over the place, know your spot, play fills behind the vocals if there are vocals, make the other musicians shine 😀😀and they will make you shine 😀😀👌Solo gigs you can do whatever you want 😀😀😀

SJ: Can you give us a rundown on your Weissenborn and gear? How did you go about finding a guitar that you were happy with and how much experimenting did you do to come up with pickups and gear to get a good live sound?

KH: Oh that is a constant changing thing, I’m always in search for the perfect live set up.. but these days I’m quite happy except there no gigs to play😂😂.. anyway.. I have a Fishman under saddle active pickup that runs into the splendid NUX Optima Air, which I have made my own IR, that goes into my old Fishman blender who has an effect loop for each channel, that means I can run the NUX in the effect loop for the under-saddle pickup, and the old trusty Sunrise blended in on the other channel for extra bassy tones, that sounds wonderful. For other effects like reverb and delays I’m currently testing it out on my iPad, the signal goes blended out of the Fishman blender into a small audio interface called Jogg from the Hotone company. It’s very small and sounds perfect, then on the iPad I have an app called Mixbox from Ik multimedia, which has almost endless possibilities for different effects… stereo out from the audio interface and to the PA, and the interface has headphone out for in ear and also a third output for my Bose Pro 1 for monitoring on stage. I’m experimenting all the time, sometimes I get fed up with all the gadgets and just run one line to the Bose, it depends also what kind of gig it is. Solo gigs tend to be more on the gadget side but band gigs are more straight forward. My Weissenborn is a Bear Creek from the middle of 90s, it’s the only Weissenborn I have, I had a cheap K&S guitar which I traded for the Bear Creek by paying some extra money to get it.. Studio is far more easy, just a good condenser mike will do, a Neuman or something … but the record I’m doing now as an experiment, Weissenborn and dobro’s are recorded just using the IR files from the NUX, I think it sounds very good, everything done on the iPad and the little Jogg interface 😀, it’s fun to limit yourself sometimes with the amount of gear you actually need for recording , it’s the quality of the songs, how you arrange them and of course the way you play them that really counts!!!

SJ: Any words of wisdom for aspiring Weissenborn guitarists?

KH: Don’t know if I have any wisdom at all😂😂😂 but on the serious side it must be to try and make your own style or sound. Of course when you start up with any instrument you will always try to copy your heroes, I tried to be both Jerry Douglas and David Lindley at the same time and failed totally😂😂 but especially Weissenborn is a fantastic expressive instrument that you can make so much different sounds and moods with, don’t get stuck in the same D tuning, try out more tunings, experiment with capos (I know my Weissenborn isn’t really happy in capos) and the old cliche one right note carry’s a long way… instead of speed picking😂😂 . It’s a wonderful instrument and I hope more people would start up playing it. It’s not only for Hawaiian music. You can do so much more when you come under the hood of it… and last but not least, learn from the masters!!! BTW I’m not a master of it, I just love to play it my way, and if anybody likes that I’m happy 😀😀😀

Jacob Raagaard

SJ: I’ve been a fan of your music from the first time I heard you play but I don’t really know much about your background and musical story. Where did you grow up, how did you get started playing music and when did the Weissenborn guitar become part of your musical identity?

JR: Thank you! I’m grateful that my music is appreciated. I grew up in a Danish town called Odder. It located in the central part of Jutland. There’s not too much to do in Odder, and I think that’s the reason why I spend so much time at home working on my guitar playing. I started playing the guitar when I was 11 years old. I took private guitar lessons at the local music school. My first teacher wasn’t terrible, but he didn’t inspire me much. In the beginning I wasn’t too passionate about playing, but when I was 13 years old another teacher, Christian Alvad, started teaching at the music school. He introduced me to the art of fingerstyle guitar, and I was pretty much hooked from the very first lesson. Alvad’s own compositions where beautiful and inspiring and he also introduced me to a big variety of fingerstyle artists, many of who are signed with the label, CandyRat Records. While researching different artist on YouTube, I came across a video of Thomas Oliver playing the song “The Moment” on his Weissenborn guitar. It sounded so unique and beautiful, and I just knew that I wanted to play like that myself! I bought my first Weissenborn in 2015, and started by learning to play the song that inspired me to play, “The Moment”. I soon realized that the there’s very limited material available for Weissenborn Guitars online, so I started writing my own music. After only have been covering other artists, it definitely seemed like a challenge to come up with my own material, but I did my best. I wrote my first song, “Sundown Slide” and posted a video of me playing it on YouTube. The response to the song was overwhelming, and I decided to continue exploring the possibilities of the instrument by writing more of my own songs. Playing with a steel bar felt very limiting in the beginning, but as I was progressing I realized how many possibilities there really is on a Weissenborn. I haven’t found the limit of possibilities yet, and I don’t believe there is one. When writing I’m not holding back on using different techniques on the instrument, many of which I don’t even know the name for.

SJ: When I listen to your original tunes I get the impression that you’re drawing from sources that are outside of Weissenborn world. Who are some of the artists on your musical Mt Rushmore and have they had any influence on your creativity?

JR: Definitely! Many different artist across a variety of different genres have inspired me to create the music that I play today. I almost don’t know where to start. I’d still say that most of the artist that have inspired me are fingerstyle guitar players. Some of my favorite players and songwriters are Andy Mckee, Erik Mongrain, Franco Morone and Michael Hedges. Not to forgot my teacher Christian Alvad, who I mentioned earlier. I could definitely mention more fingerstyle artist who has inspired my playing, but these are the first that comes to my mind, when I think about my absolute favorites. They have all influenced my creativity in their own way, and I’m stealing as many techniques, tunings and songwriting ideas as I can, while still focusing on having my own style. When mentioning musicians that have inspired my playing, I absolutely have to mention the most iconic band in music history. I think you all guessed it… Yes! The Beatles..! I had a few years of my childhood, I’d say from around the age of 11 to 13, where the only music I’d listen to was The Beatles. I guess it was some kind of weird obsession, but not like the obsession I imagine young teenage girls had over The Beatles in the 60s. My fascination was beyond the bowl cut. I was simply fascinated with the songwriting.

SJ: I can hear some of those influences in your tune and (sometimes) unorthodox approach to playing the Weissenborn. Would you be able to take apart a specific tune you’ve written and walk us through how you came up with the original idea and developed it into a tune?

JR: Absolutely! I can try to put into words the process of writing one of my newer tunes, “Oblivion”. I actually wrote the song during a time where I felt like the inspiration for writing new music was really low. I felt like I was a bit stuck in open D tuning, which is the main tuning I’ve always used the most on the Weissenborn. I decided that I wanted to experiment more with alternate tunings on the Weissenborn. Playing in alternate tunings is something I used to do a lot back when I played fingerstyle on the acoustic guitar. However finding a tuning that works for slide guitar can sometimes be a little more tricky, as you only have the steel bar to work with. After trying out a few different combinations I ended up discovering the tuning B F# C# F# G# B. I have never had a theoretical approach to playing, so I honestly have no idea why this tuning works so well for slide, but it really does, and it gave me a new boost of inspiration for writing new songs. Writing Oblivion wasn’t something I did on purpose. The songs more or less brought itself into existence, while I was trying to discover the possibilities of this new tuning. I’ve always felt that the best songs I write are those that just come out of nowhere when I’m not trying to play anything in particular. I’d say the first 60-70% of a new song comes to me very fast. Sometimes in a day or even just a few minutes. Finishing the songs has always been a longer process for me, since I feel like I’m getting more stuck by trying to force the music in a way that might not benefit the song. It’s really difficult to put in to words, the process behind songwriting, and I think that every artist have their own approach. Simply said, my approach to writing new music is by having no expectations of how I want the song to turn out in the end.

SJ: I’ll have to check out the BF#C#F#G#B tuning. How do you think about and/or approach live performances vs studio recording? I’m also curious, do you play Weissenborn guitar in a band context as well?

JR: Recording my own music has always been a challenge for me. I’m not quite sure what makes it so difficult, but I think that most musicians will agree that hitting the record button makes it much more difficult to play. At least for me it does. I’m sure it must be from the pressure of having to play without making mistakes. I’ve experimented with different approaches to recording, and I’ve realized that I usually get the best result when I do the recording in one take without the use of a metronome. Focusing to much on not making mistakes sometimes kills the vibe of the song. Sometimes I can get it in the very first take other times I’ll record it a million times before I’m satisfied. Maybe not a million, but it feels like it. Playing live is a little different since I know that I’ll have to keep playing, even if I mess up a part of the song. It’s been a long time since I’ve played a live performance, and it is something that I have a love-hate relationship with. Once I’m on the stage performing, it’s honestly a very peaceful experience, especially when performing in front of a great audience. As a solo artist I also feel very vulnerable on stage. Being the center of attention is usually something that I try to avoid. Even though the songs I write are all instrumental compositions, they all tell their own story, and they are reflections of my inner world. I’ve used the Weissenborn in band contexts a few times, but I’m not currently in a band. It’s something I definitely wish to explore more in the future!

SJ: The sonic quality on your videos is outstanding! Can you give us a rundown on the gear you use for studio recording?

JR: Thank you! I usually try to keep my setup as simple as possible, but I’ll always record with at least two outputs. A mic (RØDE NT2-A) pointing somewhere in between the 12th fret and the sound hole. I’ve really come to realize just how important the mic placement is when recording. When the recording is on point it really minimizes the work you have to do in your DAW after recording. You don’t have to do much more than add a little compression and reverb to the recording. For the second output I have a Seymour Duncan Mag Mic installed in my Weissenborn. I’ve always felt that most pickups in acoustic guitars sounds very artificial and flat, but the Mag Mic sounds incredibly nuanced and has a great low end! I create a stereo effect by panning the two signals slightly to opposite sides, right and left. For the album “Sundown Slide” I recorded all of the songs on my own, but the mixing and mastering was done by Antoine Dufour. He’s an incredible player and composer himself! He definitely added some magic to the songs that I wouldn’t have been capable of doing myself. All songs on the album was recorded on my Richard Wilson Style 3 Weissenborn made from Tasmanian Blackwood. It sounds absolutely incredible and the recordings don’t even do it justice. It’s in fact the only Wessenborn that I own right now, and it works just perfect for my style of playing! Love the rich overtones and incredible sustain..!

SJ: Do you have any tips for aspiring players on developing good technique and/or the creative process of writing new music for the instrument?

JR: I believe that developing good technique from the beginning is super important. It’s a lot easier to learn good technique early rather than later. Fixing bad habits/techniques can be a challenge! That being said, there are different techniques and ways of playing. There is not only one right way of playing. My own techniques has changed a lot through the years. Now I’m using the traditional steel guitar technique with the thumbpick and two fingers with picks. If anyone’s curious, here’s the bar and picks I use: The bar I’m using is the Dunlop Lap Dawg 926. Im using a Dunlop thumbpick that I file to a different shape. I don’t like the way they are shaped originally, and changing the shape will affect the tone and playability quite a lot! The fingerpicks I use are called ProPik F-tone. These picks have holes that expose the fingertips which makes it possible to play artificial harmonics. It’s a technique I use in most of my songs, and I could not do that with normal fingerpicks. Explaining the creative process of writing new music, can be a little complicated. The best tip I can give is to allow yourself to think completely outside of the box and not only limit yourself to a traditional way of playing the instrument.

SJ: I almost forgot to ask you about your work on lap steel and dobro! At a lap slider, how do think about and/or approach playing lap steel vs dobro vs Weissenborn? Different tunings? Different voices of each instrument?

JR: I pretty much have the same approach to writing and playing on Weissenborn and Dobro. All of the songs I wrote on the Weissenborn sound great on a Dobro as well, but it does give the songs a different vibe! I’m using the same tunings and techniques, but the dobro definitely has more punch, whereas the Weissenborn has a more mellow tone. My approach to playing the electric lap steel is a little different. I usually don’t play a lot of fingerstyle on the lap steel. Well technically I guess it’s still fingerstyle, but I’m using the term fingerstyle more as a genre. On the lap steel I will usually play with a volume pedal creating more ambient sounds like doing swells with the use of different effects like reverb, shimmer, delay etc. I also like playing old rock music on the lap steel. Sometimes when I hear a guitar solo played on a guitar I challenge myself to see if I can figure out a way of playing it on the lap steel. Usually there is a way to do it. It’s also an incredible way of improving your playing and understanding of the instrument!