Pete Seeger

The 12-String Guitar as Played by Leadbelly

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Having explained how to play the five-string banjo and the six-string guitar on previous instruction records, Pete Seeger here turns to the 12-string guitar, and not just the 12-string guitar, but the 12-string guitar as played by one of his primary influences, Leadbelly. With help from some of Leadbelly's recordings, which are heard in excerpts, Seeger demonstrates Leadbelly's techniques, including his tuning, which features slack strings, thus resulting in keys that are lower than they seem. Seeger discusses Leadbelly's rhythm and the specific fingers he uses on given strings. He acknowledges that neither he nor his listener may be able to play and sing exactly like Leadbelly, and suggests transpositions and alternate fingering. Then he shows the influence Leadbelly has had on him, notably in his song "Bells of Rhymney," which came about from his experimenting with Leadbelly-like tunings. He moves beyond the Leadbelly method, noting, for example, that Leadbelly did not use a capo on his 12-string guitar, but then showing what a capo on such a guitar sounds like and playing Elizabeth Cotten's "Freight Train" with one. After having dived in at the deep end, he doubles back only toward the end of the second of the two discs to explain in more basic form how to read the tablature included in the 30-page booklet that accompanies the album. He acknowledges that the tablature is only an approximation of the sound of Leadbelly's actual playing. As might be expected, this album is something of a master class for someone who is already a guitar player and wants to move on to a specialized form of playing, one that has been influential on generations of guitarists, starting with Seeger himself.

Track Listing

Title/Composer Performer Time
1 5:42
feat: Lead Belly
feat: Lead Belly
feat: Lead Belly
feat: Lead Belly
feat: Lead Belly
feat: Lead Belly
8 10:32
9 3:35
10 4:21
11 2:34
12 1:19
13 1:17
14 1:46
15 2:24
blue highlight denotes track pick