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5 Minute Lesson: Julian Lage Teaches You How to Get Great Acoustic Guitar Tone

Julian Lage is widely celebrated for his seemingly limitless technique on both the acoustic and electric guitar, as well as his sheer inventiveness as an improviser and composer. But the beauty of his steel-string tone—especially apparent on 2015’s  World’s Fair  and his most recent Blue Note album,  Speak to Me —seems to attract less attention.

Lage gives a hint as to how he achieves that sound in this five-minute lesson that he filmed exclusively for AG, a sort of follow-up to this article. In the video, Lage demonstrates an exercise he learned from Debi Adams, a pianist and specialist in the Alexander technique of body awareness and movement. 

The idea is to start with a “reset chord”—any voicing you find resonant on your instrument, like the open D5 (shown below) that Lage demonstrates using his signature-model Collings OM1A JL—and loosen any tension in your body. Play the chord in a steady rhythm, focusing on how it resonates in your hands, picking arm, chest, and leg and adding each point of contact one by one. In other words, just as a guitar’s body is a resonant cavity, so is yours, and being attuned to this can result in deeper and more nuanced tone. 

“I think this is a wonderful way to recalibrate with the instrument, let us calm down our nervous system, get a bigger sound, and most importantly, just enjoy the beauty of an acoustic guitar,” Lage says.

To learn more about Julian Lage, and for transcriptions of his work, see the April 2018 and  July/August 2023 issues of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Adam Perlmutter Adam Perlmutter holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a master’s degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory. He is the editor of Acoustic Guitar.

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