Sunday, October 24, 2010

Adrian Legg's Ergonomic Guitar

For those unaware of British finger style guitarist Adrian Legg, he is a remarkable solo player able to coax incredibly fantastic music from his guitars six strings, with the aid of a bevy of effects, however mostly due to this man's talent.

I will start by stating Adrian developed problems with his back that cause him pain while playing guitar in concert. To alleviate this problem he has gone to great lengths to have an ergonomic guitar created. He elicited this task to U.K. luthier Bill Puplett, The instruments unique design keeps him from having to bend over the guitars body while seated and keeps his back straight.


Klein & Ovation
Legg’s ergonomic instrument looks somewhat like the Klein guitar or Ovation Breadwinner; however it is more of an acoustic-electric style guitar, while the aforementioned are strictly electric instruments.

The guitars body is made of two-piece swamp ash, with a cavity hollowed out before joining and then vented on the treble side cutaway.

Legg states this flared soundhole helps with the out of phase coupling of the guitars sound chamber and opens out the high-end harmonics the instrument produces.

The neck is made of two-piece black walnut with an ebony fingerboard. The acoustic bridge is made of walnut. The pick-ups are Graph Techs with a specially made Waffair Theene Dimarzio.

The sweeping upper bout provides plenty of right hand support. The lower boat indentation helps support the guitar neck at the proper angle, since Legg always plays in a seated position. The chambered body provides some acoustic properties, but mainly reduces the instruments weight.

The headstock is non-unique, except for the Scruggs style banjo. Bill Keith at the Beacon Banjo Company in Woodstock, NY, USA makes these. They allow Legg to change tunings quickly between or during songs.

Ibanez prototype made for Legg
On the rear side of each tuner are two tiny thumb wheels that allow the tuner to be tuned and de-tuned to a fixed position. On the headstocks front side are six levers that pull the strings to a tighter or looser position.



Ibanez prototype headstock
Since Legg is essentially a one-man show, he travels light with one guitar and a few pieces of electronic gear. His Puplett guitar, which he calls, Bill, is small enough to travel in the overhead bin of a Boeing 777.

As his guitar is not an acoustic guitar, Legg states this eliminates sound problems that amplification can cause with acoustic instruments.

Legg playing is a mix an alternating-bass style with harmonics, banjo-peg retuning and single or double-string bending. Often he will play a piece entirely in arpeggios similar to a classical guitar style. He makes extensive use of altered tunings and capos. The Keith tuners make this style easier for him.


One of Legg’s favorite tunings is D-A-D-G-A-D. This is a tuning that is used extensively in Celtic music. Legg tells a story about playing at a Canadian folk festival.

John Renbourn, a British folk guitarist that was also at the festival said that Davey Graham, another British folk musician had traveled to Morocco and hung out with some of the local Oud players. The only way he could play music with them was to tune his guitar to DADGAD. Graham brought this tuning back to the U.K. and influenced a number of British and American folk musicians, including Paul Simon, Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch and Jimmy Page. This tuning has been popular ever since.

Legg’s current effects include a Roland VG-88 guitar synthesizer-controller coupled with a Roland GR-33 hex pickup and 2 Roland JV-1010 guitar synthesizer units. He prefers the JV-1010 sounds better than those within the VG-88. The VG-88 uses hex modeling instead of MIDI. This is important to Legg since MIDI converts the guitars sound to MIDI information to play the synth, while Hex models the guitars sound to create new sounds.

VG-88 with Hex Pickup

For travel Legg had a velcro-topped board built that could break down in 3 sections to enable a setup that could be easily carried in a small package.


Early on in Adrian Legg’s career he was known for his relationship with Ovation Guitars.

He extensively played a modified Ovation Adamas with a super-shallow body and extra light strings to assist in the steel guitar-like bends that are common in his songs.

This guitar was also equipped with a set of Keith banjo tuners to accomodate Legg’s unusual tunings and string bends. The guitars saddle was equipped with the Ovation transducer that ran through the on-board Ovation Optima preamp and then to a Fishman parametric direct input equalizer. The Fishman allowed the guitar to change to low impedance, thus filtering out feedback. During that time frame Legg employed a Zoom 9000 unit for reverb and chorus and to split his signal from mono to stereo.

The signals ran to a Trace Elliot TA-50 acoustic guitar amp (Ovation owned Trace Elliot at the time) for a stage monitor and then went to the house system.

Although Legg has stated in the past how much he appreciated the Ovation connection, his chronic back problems have since worsened with age. Therefore it is difficult for him to play the Adamas in concert. Hence he relies on the Puplett guitar.

Adrian Legg is not only an incredible guitarist, but an author of numerous guitar books and manuals. He has written columns for several guitar-based magazines. In the past he was a guitar/amp technician and designed passive circuits for Vox guitars and was involved in the design and prototype Trace Elliot Acoustic amplifiers.

He was also an instructor at the Guitar Institute of Technology and has shared his playing with students on DVD’s and videos.

9 comments:

mike said...

i can't even imagine what it would be like to hold and play that thing! very different. would love to plug it in and give it a go

Marc said...

...me too.

Thanks Mike for looking at my blog. Don't be a stranger.

Marc

Adam575 said...

Well....it's very comfortable to play and I'm in the process of building one myself...I have back problems and this IS the answer. What I found most interesting is you would think that he would have a super low action...quite the opposite actually, I would say med-high. I've been lucky enough to have Adrian as a friend and teacher for the last 5 years and if he's ever in your town go see a show. Very nice person and a genius when it comes to guitars, playing and electronics.

Marc said...

Thank you Adam for visiting my blog. I would very much enjoy seeing Adrian in concert. I love fingerstyle and chordal jazz guitar. I think I ran across reading about his string preferences in researching this article. I'll stick with .009's and a low action, thank you very much. Say hello to Mr. Legg and give him my best.

~Marc O'Hara~

Anonymous said...

Hi Marc,

You know each guitarist is different and what it all comes down to is what works for you. I myself play with .10-52's because for me I have a heavy attack on the strings and anything lighter just buzzes. This is a great page and I will tell Adrian "hello" for you the next time I see him. Take care.
-Adam

Adam575 said...

Marc,
are you on Facebook? If so look me up "Adam Andrews"
Take care,
Adam

Zachariah Love said...

For those in Southern California, Adrian will be performing at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica on Sunday, January 30th.

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