Behind the Bridge:
Hendrix, Korea-Style

This is perfectly awesome:

Luna Lee is playing a gayageum, a Korean zither related to the Japanese koto, Vietnamesese dàn tranh, and the Chinese guzheng. She’e got other fun blues and rock covers posted on her YouTube page. Lee’s version of “Voodoo Chile” is the internet hit, but I dig her “Bold as Love” because the canned backing tracks are less intrusive, plus it’s my fave Hendrix song. 🙂

The drumstick as bridge.

The drumstick as bridge.

Like many guitarists exposed to Asian zither players, I find myself envying the movable bridges they have on each string. By positioning the bridge relatively close to the center of the string (and not, as on guitars, near one end), they can pluck notes or generate vibrato on either side of the bridge.

Lee and Thurston from Sonic Youth achieve related effect by placing drumsticks and screwdrivers between the neck and strings of their guitars near the 12th fret. (It’s not like those guys are Asian music scholars or anything, but another similarity is their use of tunings with closer-than-standard intervals between the strings.)

But no one took the notion further than the late Hans Reichel, whose beautiful, handmade instruments used center-positioned bridges to elicit eerie sonorities and startling portamento and glissando effects. This video is a nice showcase for Reichel’s radical re-imagining of the guitar. (Reichel also demonstrates his dachsophone — literally, “hedgehog-o-phone” — which, depending on your perspective, is one of the most expressive, amusing, or just plain irritating musical contraptions ever conceived.)

Anyone ever explored similar ground? (FWIW, I took a semester of koto back in the Triassic Era college. I sucked.)

12 comments to Behind the Bridge:
Hendrix, Korea-Style

  • smgear

    I’ve tinkered with it, but never really incorporated it into the music much. I seem to recall Kim whatshisname from Soundgarden doing a lot of behind-the-bridge work over the top of harmonics and what have you. I think he was using one of the old Dean SG knockoffs that had the longer throw behind the bridge.

    Two points.
    1. the koto clips took me back to when I lived in Asia and cranked ‘n crappy karaoke background tracks were ubiquitous. But then again, most of the ‘proper’ local music on the radio seemed to be accompanied by the same trenchant rhythm section. I suspect that they just had 3 ‘rhythm tracks’ that every new composition utilized.

    2. Hans brings up another point which perhaps could be covered separately sometime. I’ve studied enough theory to ‘understand’ and ‘appreciate’ a lot of the microtonal, semitonal, mean tone, 15 tone, alternate scale, whatever music, but I’m generally incapable of finding much enjoyment in it. Certainly musical theory is largely socialized as evidenced by different forms around the world, but perhaps my early-age suzuki indoctrination ruined me for most of the alternatives. Even a lot of the fusion stuff is beyond my comfort level. I’m all for creative scale and chord substitution, but I enjoy it positioned relative to a familiar anchor to let it drive whatever emotional effect it is aimed for before resolving. Hans, Jaco, and others are/were geniuses and I’m happy to have an academic/mathematical discussion of the music, but about 5 minutes of listening to it is my limit. I don’t want to disparage the exploration for others, but I just can’t dig it.

    • mwseniff

      I admit it took a lot of perseverance on my part to really begin toappreciate micro-tonal music and other exotic stuff but I really like a lot of it. That being said some microtonal music seems to be rather academic and dry more like a chemistry experiment than entertainment. But I have grown to feel it over the many years of slide and fretless gutiar playing. I hear a myriad of notes between the frets of a guitar at times and certain sets of them can work well together. However it is for me strictly for my own consumption when I play it. Of course you need to keep in mind that I wore out 4-5 copies of Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart before the CD was released and drove many room mates around the bend.

      • smgear

        Good points. Trout Mask Replica is a good example. I love that album. I think it works for me because it kinda straddles the midpoint of the spectrum between ‘familiar’ and ‘unfamiliar’. It stretches you a bit and then brings you back home. I’d put the Captain just one notch beyond TW (who is entirely in my wheelhouse). I’m definitely no snob about traditional intonation though. Like with your slide, I often play violin between the notes to take a solo in a new direction… but I always bring it home. Someday I’ll do a proper exploration of the other side of the spectrum, but at the moment I can’t devote the willpower it would take to mentally survive until I grasped it.

  • thomas4th

    I wonder if a bridge could be designed to easily adapt a guitar for similar techniques. Maybe roller saddles could be used to facilitate bending. I suppose the trouble would be the high action required to fit such a device. Wider string spacing would help, too. It’s probably too niche an item to justify much R&D, but I can’t help but think there’s a better solution than a screwdriver, although the screwdriver surely has “punk rock” appeal.

    Here’s an interesting resource on prepared guitar:

  • Flürk

    You might be interested in Yuri Landman’s work, he made a lot of instruments based on behind the bridge/”third bridge” playing.
    I recently modded a cheapo Les Paul copy with a longer string length and a new pickup behind the bridge, lots of new sounds and harmonics !
    (pictures here and here

    • joe

      Wicked! Do you have any recordings of the guitar you can share?

    • mwseniff

      There was a guy in DC in the late 70’s that had a homemade instrument that was essentially 2 guitars with a bridge in the middle and strings that ran the full length of the instrument. It had a fretted neck on both ends as well as pickups on both sides of the bridge. I believe he made his own strings from string material that had not had ball ends or been cut yet. It did not stay in tune very well so he would push on the strings on the opposite side of the bridge to intonate the notes. I saw him sit in with some bands but he had an avant garde band he played with as well, his name and the band name elude me (hey it was the 70’s and if you remember them too well you may not have actually been there). The instrument did not sound like a guitar sort of like a freaky koto the pickup on the unplayed side had some cool harmonic content. He ran it thru a fuzz, Maestro 3 button phaser and an Echoplex so he could make a racket at times. He stood up while playing it and used up a big chunk of stage when he played. I do know he was a big Hans Reichel fan (as am I).

  • mwseniff

    I have a nasty old 60’s Stella acoustic that lost it’s bridge somewhere along the way it has a trapeze style tail piece. I put a small teflon rod between the strings and neck and move it back and forth along the neck.The teflon makes it move a bit easier than the steel one but a threaded rod can sound kind of cool when you move it. I can also bend notes by tugging on the trapeze tail piece as well. I put a clip on contact mike on it and run it thru my rack mixer and FX. I’ve mainly used it when I play with The Dits and haven’t used it for a few years. The sounds are un-guitarlike to say the least. I recommend you only try this on a guitar you don’t care about as it puts a lot of stress and wear on the neck etc. I’ve always been amazed it held together as well as it did considering the abuse it gets. It’s really only useful for noise but it makes some noise for sure.

  • mwseniff

    A pal of my parents had a gayageum hanging on the wall of his house he brought back from Korea. I used to take it down an fool with it when I was there taking care of the dog kennel and 20+ Pembroke Welsh Corgis. He always said he would give it to me but he moved to New Mexico while I was living in DC so it never happened. It was in poor shape with aged strings but it was still pretty hip. I never really got close to producing anything sounding like western music but it was still a blast. I’ve considered buying one but the are pretty expensive for decent ones, you can get cheaper ones but they all seem to be wall hangers.

  • Digital Larry

    Years ag a friend visited Bolivia and brought me back a charango, y’know one of those things that looks like a 12-string guitar neck with an armadillo hanging off the end. It came with the equivalent of “Mel Bay shows you how to play the charango” and I had some fun with its re-entrant tuning and split middle course. Perhaps it prepared me in some unknown way for the ukulele which is what I do most of my twanging on these days.

    Somewhere along the line, the glue on the charango’s bridge gave way and so now it’s completely free. Were I an experimenter of the lutherial persuasion I might have taken this in some new direction. As fate would have it though, I think I threw it away.

  • Hans Reichel was a genius and some of his music is much more accessible than that in the video. Yuxo – his operetta for the Daxohone is one of the most wonderful CDs I have ever heard and in places is hysterically funny.

    As to the name Daxophone as far as I can remember the liner notes for Yuxo say the name is derived from – Dachs – which is German for badger.

    Reichel’s web site – – is a fun place to visit.

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