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Mar 11, 2009

Seven- and eight-string guitar virtuoso Charlie Hunter has a style that has to be heard—and seen—to be believed.

By Charlie Hunter

It’s safe to say that nobody plays the guitar like Charlie Hunter.
This is partly because Hunter is one of the most inventive and skillful players in modern jazz. It is also because he plays a guitar with a few extra strings.
Hunter’s name has become synonymous with the custom-made seven- and eight-string electric guitars he’s been playing for nearly 20 years, which effectively allow him to play both the bass and guitar parts simultaneously.
“The original concept of playing the guitar with extra strings was—I had been a street musician for many years, and a lot of that has to do with being able to make a lot of things happen,” Hunter explains. “I wanted to have that lower range—to really make it dance more.”
Watching Hunter’s hands deftly “dance” around his instrument—plucking a bass line on the top three strings while playing rhythm and soloing on the treble strings—is an experience that’s sure to impress even the most jaded jazz fans.
“[The guitar] is such a world instrument, and everyone makes it their own thing. I don’t feel like I’m any different in that,” he humbly states.
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Hunter spent a few years in the late 1980s busking in Paris and Zurich. Looking back on that experience, he states, “I didn’t think there was any better on-the-job training. I was playing 12 hours a day with these great musicians who were from all over the world and who taught me so much. I think it has really informed who I am in terms of the way that I play music.”
It was shortly after returning to the U.S. that Hunter got his first seven-string guitar. A few years later, he added an eighth string.
Hunter’s self-titled debut album was released in 1993. Sixteen years later, he has 14 releases under his belt.
He has recorded as both as a bandleader and as a member of groups like Groundthunder, which features legendary drummer Bobby Previte. He also has worked with noted drummers Mike Clarke and Stanton Moore, as well as with singers Norah Jones and Mos Def, to name just a few.
Hunter’s latest effort, Baboon Strength, which was released independently, features Tony Mason on drums and Erik Deutsch on keyboards. The album captures some of Hunter’s most inspired playing and songwriting.
Like much of his work, the tracks are beat-heavy and very much focused on the grooves that drive the sound.
“For me, it all begins and ends on the drums,” he explains. “It’s always the rhythm and the groove and that soul thing that kind of gets me.”
Fully aware of the strain of 20 years of touring, Hunter insists that he still “loves playing every night.” As a working artist who relies on ticket and record sales to support his family, he has first-hand knowledge of the music industry’s recent downturn.
“I am probably like everyone else now: I work a lot more and make a lot less. But that’s O.K. I feel like I have good company in that respect.”
Industry-wide recession aside, Hunter remains a favorite among both jazz fans and fellow musicians. But that doesn’t mean that he’s settling.
“It always makes me happy that there is another thing on the horizon that I can try to achieve…Because the instrument is so demanding technically, it has taken me a lot longer to get to a spot where I really feel like I am doing something of my own. I’m almost 42, and I feel like I’m just starting to come into my own style musically…That feels good.”


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What an intriguing implementation visual, auditory, new stuff that catcnes my eclectic interests. Bravo. Well done My profile: 64, (pre baby-boomer acutally) white guy, college educated, polyglot (japanese, thai, korean, russian), musician for 50 years, software developer for 30 years, aggresive progressive. I’m in.

Michael Canfield
May 15, 2009