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 😀😀😀

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