Just when you thought summer in the Hamptons couldn’t get any more perfect, Guild Hall in East Hampton has gone and found a way to make it happen. Summer 2018 will see the inaugural Guitar Masters festival, three days of immersion in the world of the guitar. Organized by Amagansett’s own guitar master G.E. Smith and running from July 5 to July 7, the Guitar Masters festival will feature performances, screenings, talks, and interactions with a who’s-who of the guitar world. And since it wouldn’t be the Hamptons without a few celebrities in the mix, some living legends of the guitar will be on hand—among them Andy Summers of the Police and Israeli superstar David Broza. What more could the guitar aficionado ask for?
“I call them guitar nerds, actually,” says Richard Thompson, the British guitar god who will be performing at the festival, on Friday, July 6 at 8 p.m., alongside his son Teddy. Thompson clearly considers “guitar nerd” to be a term of affection, as he quickly and happily consents to answer wonky questions about the complexities of his own playing technique. Thompson, who does play electric but is probably better known for his work playing the acoustic guitar, employs a very personal style on both of the instruments. In what has sometimes been called hybrid picking, his unusual right-hand technique involves using a standard flat pick to pluck or strum while at the same time using his other fingers to pluck individual strings. It gives his playing a distinctive, syncopated sound. But Thompson gravitated to the technique somewhat by accident.
“I never thought about it. I would be practicing with the flat pick in front of the TV and would want to switch to finger style, but I was too lazy to put the pick down!” The resulting sound became Thompson’s signature style, accompanying his original, British-inflected songs, starting from his early days with the seminal British folk-rock band Fairport Convention to his work with Richard and Linda Thompson, a band he founded with his then-wife Linda, and on to his current solo career. Listen for it on such Richard Thompson gems as “A Heart Needs a Home,” “Beeswing,” and on “Persuasion,” the beautiful ballad he co-wrote with Tim Finn of the band Crowded House.
“The guitar is fundamentally a limited instrument,” says Thompson, going on to draw a comparison to the piano, an instrument that, he points out, offers the player a much broader range of notes and the ability to reach those notes more quickly and with greater fluidity. But Thompson also points out that the guitar can offer greater rewards for inventive approaches to playing. “The great players are the ones who have discovered things that you can do with the guitar that you can’t do with anything else.”
Like Thompson, Andy Summers, who will be performing at the festival on Thursday, July 5, is one of those guitarists who discovered new ways to use the instrument. While Summers’s work with the Police was to some extent backgrounded by Stewart Copeland’s virtuosic drumming and by Sting’s, well, “Sting-ness,” Summers’s unique guitar tone and his use of jazz chords in a reggae-tinged context was fundamental to the sound of the band. It’s axiomatic that one of the reasons why very few cover bands play Police songs is that, to this day, other guitarists can’t figure out how to play like Andy Summers.
So, if nobody else can play like Richard Thompson and Andy Summers can, then you just have to bring the real thing. And, for Guitar Masters, Guild Hall is doing just that. Individual tickets can be had for the events in the festival, but all us “guitar nerds” better get the all-access pass!
All-access passes include VIP seating and access to the VIP Lounge, a launch party on June 9 with special performance by Doyle Bramhall II and entry to win a Fender G.E. Smith Telecaster Guitar. guildhall.org