meet a true fingerstyle maven
“This is my voice. This is what I’ve been searching for my entire life. This sound.”
Muriel Anderson believes in synchronicity. How else to explain the fortuitous manner in which she happened upon her prized David Taylor steel string ladies parlour guitar, an instrument that was truly made for her. Muriel speaks of this “magical guitar”—and others she owns—with great fondness and reverence. While she may “flirt with another guitar” on occasion, it is nonetheless clear which ones have captured her heart. Her love resonates in their strings.
Muriel is one of the country’s true fingerstyle guitar mavens. We caught up with her during her national tour this year.
AL Are you travelling at the moment, or are you home?
MA “Travelling, in Florida. We’re in Port Charlotte at the moment. Visiting some friends today. One thing about touring the way I do is that I end up really making genuine friends everywhere I go. It’s very rarely that I stay in a hotel, because I have so many great friends all around the country that I enjoy spending time with. So it’s a wonderful feeling, like the world is kind of embracing that way. When I travel, I get to know the people of each place that I go to. It really makes it a special way to see the world and meet up with other musicians.
But that’s especially true travelling internationally. I like to learn a little bit of the language of every place that I go to. And you can really understand the fabric of the people much more when you experience them in their native language. So even learning just a little bit of the language really gives you an opening into the culture and the people that doing it as an outsider doesn’t.
After I’ve been in a country for awhile and I’ve been through the Pimsleur language courses in my car for a little while, I try to introduce a number of my songs in the language. By the last show in Italy, I introduced the whole show in Italian. So it was fun.”
AL How many guitars do you tour with?
MA “I’m touring with two guitars at the moment. Sometimes, if there’s a good guitar builder, I’ll flirt with another guitar. Last night, there was a guitar builder who came to the show and brought his instrument, so I played a couple of tunes on his guitar. But I’m touring now with a harp guitar; it’s a guitar with extra bass strings. And, this tour, I’m touring with my twenty-string harp guitar and also a flamenco guitar. So I have been playing a nylon string, either flamenco or classical. These last couple of years I’ve been touring using a flamenco guitar, but playing all types of music on it.”
AL Do you ever play steel?
MA “Yes, I record on steel string. My first good guitar was a steel string. I played in a bluegrass band for several years, when I was younger. I used to travel with a nylon string and a steel string. But, now that I’m travelling with a harp guitar, I find I can get the most variety of sound with a nylon string and a harp guitar.”
AL The harp guitar offers an extraordinary sound and it’s an amazingly beautiful instrument.
MA “Thank you. The nylon string you can really shape more. You can get more different types of tone, so there’s more variety of tone available from it. But I still love the beautiful, sparkly sound of the steel string, and my favorite guitar is still my David Taylor ladies parlour steel string guitar. That guitar stays at home. It doesn’t tour with me.”
AL How often do you get home?
MA “I have not been getting home very often lately. Part of it is from touring, and then also I’ve been spending much of the summer in Long Island. My boyfriend, who I’m now touring with, is a visual artist. He has a place up in Long Island. So that is a place that we go to, for me to be part of his life and also for creative inspiration.
I find that musicians and artists in general, they kind of have a lot of synchronicity happen in their life. I think that, once you’re tapped into that creative spirit and when you feel like you’re really on your path, it’s doing something, it’s helping other people and being creative at the same time. I think a lot of things just fall into our hands. And I’ve talked to a number of musicians and artists who have said the same thing. So there’s more than one reason to play guitar.
I’ll tell you a little story about the David Taylor guitar, since we’re on that subject. I was at a guitar festival, performing at the Newport Guitar Festival in Miami. I was on my way to buy a classical guitar by Paris Banchetti, and I passed by this booth and saw this guitar. I said that’s the most beautiful inlay I’ve ever seen on a guitar, this beautiful rose on the fingerboard. I asked the builder who was displaying his guitars if I could play it, not expecting that it would sound very good, because often the prettiest ones don’t. So I picked it up and I said “this is my voice. This is what I’ve been searching for my entire life, this sound.” And I had no intention to buy a steel string guitar, let alone a ladies parlour guitar. I told him, “Put a sold sign on this.” I didn’t bargain or anything. I said put a sold sign on this, I’m buying this guitar, but I don’t know how I’m going to get it home. I’m going home with three guitars now. I have my two touring instruments, plus the guitar that I was getting from Paris Banchetti. So David said to me, “Oh, I live in Tennessee. You may not remember, but I came to one of your guitar workshops once, and I was so inspired that I came home and drew up the design for this guitar. That rose on the fingerboard, that was a rose from my garden that reminded me of you.”
AL That guitar was meant to be with you.
MA “Yes, I had no idea that it was built for me until after I bought it. The story doesn’t end there. Right after that, I finished walking to the end of the hallway, and there, in a display of historic instruments, was my old ladies parlour guitar from 1900 that I bought from my first guitar teacher, and sold to somebody, who sold it to somebody, who sold it to somebody. And it was in the personal exhibit of the gentleman who was putting on the show. I walked up and I played that guitar once and I put it right back. I’m just happy to have my new ladies parlour guitar.”
AL Have you ever played the David Taylor on stage?
MA “Well, because it’s such a magical guitar, I record with it certainly. I ordered another one just like it, with a pickup installed. I have its twin now, so I’ve taken its twin out and played it on the road.”
AL Can you tell me a little bit about the harp guitar, and the flamenco you play on the road?
MA “I started writing and arranging tunes that really were calling for extra low resonating bass strings. I’d seen pictures of the harp guitar, and finally had Del Langejans build me one that was just an exact copy of those earlier instruments that were built right around the year 1900. The only problem was, when I was on the road, the instrument was too big and too heavy to carry with me. So when I was in Portland, Oregon, a man came up from the audience and said “I’m Mike Doolin and I’ll build you a travel harp guitar if you like.” The main purpose of this harp guitar was to fit in the overhead bin of an airplane. So it’s smaller and tuned up higher. And then I asked him if he could make it with nylon strings instead of the traditional steel, so it’d be easier on my fingernails for playing the flamenco and the classical guitar. Then I asked him, could you put on one extra bass string, it seems like I always want one more bass string. Then I asked him, can you put half step tuners on the bass strings so I can play in different keys, and it went on from there. What we ended up with was this instrument that had a more lute-like sound, and it’s a unique sound, different from other harp guitars. It really became my voice. I’ve been playing it more and more and really finding great expression in the expanded range, and a little bit different sound from this instrument.”
“I have two now that were build by Mike Doolin. I’ve since ordered the second one with extra treble strings. I also have the travel harp guitar that I travel with sometimes, also made in Florida, by Mike Brittain. Sometimes I’ll play a Holloway harp guitar. I’ve just ordered a Brunner folding harp guitar that comes apart and stores in a backpack for travel!”
AL Yes, that’s the one I saw on the Facebook video of “Why Worry.” Beautiful. How about the flamenco you play?
MA “I’ve been playing lately one that was designed for my friends Tierra Negra. And I also tour with a Camps flamenco, made in Spain, or my Banchetti classical.”
AL Is there a song that you think surprises audiences? Not just delights them, but surprises them, that they don’t see coming?
MA “Surprises them? Oh, I’ve got a bunch of them! Sometimes I’ll medley together two completely incompatible songs just for fun. You know, that have all different styles. I imitate the sound of an entire bluegrass band on the flamenco guitar. Then there’s one that I imitate the sound of an entire marching band, on the flamenco. Then after a set of instrumentals, I’ll sing one in French.”
AL Who are your acoustic heroes?
MA “Doc Watson was my first guitar hero. A country picker from North Carolina. Then, Chet Atkins became a huge influence. Tom Emmanuel, of course, brilliant guitarist. And many of my friends, I really respect and enjoy their music, including Tierra Negra, who I’ve recorded with and tour with.”
AL If you could see only one acoustic show this year, who would it be?
MA “I would love to hear the Paul Winter Consort. They were such a big inspiration when I was young. When I heard them playing together with melodies from animals like the Canadian mountain wolf, I couldn’t believe anything could be so beautiful.”