Player Spotlight - John Paul White
By Strings Direct – 29 August, 2023
“Countrypolitan” or “The Nashville Sound” are terms used to describe the lush, orchestral approach to country music that took root in Nashville in the 60's. Strings and chorus sections embellished the music in to make it appeal to a more distinguishing audience of the time.
Let’s take a journey to Nashville, Tennessee and look into a truly revered and widely respected individual on the acoustic guitar scene.
We often immediately associate the guitar hero with an absolute rockstar image, outrageous presence and in-your-face charisma. But, to be a guitar hero that really stands out in a place like Nashville you have to have a certain trans-inspiring energy and finesse… introducing: Mr John Paul White - legend of the flat top that shimmers like bronze.
“His playing is subtle and eloquently sets the stage for his singing. The songs he writes pull you in and grab hold of your collar; whether they are about a lost love or something completely different he has a way of painting a beautiful picture with a palette only containing his 1950’s 000-18 and his incredibly dynamic voice.”
Credit - Ray R - https://acousticlife.tv/john-paul-white/
A Lifetime Of Influences With A Love Of Countrypolitan Music
We’re always set for discovery as human beings so looking at things from a slightly different perspective than you would usually can be somewhat intriguing. The obvious guitar heroes are not always the most intricate & skillful in some ways, the sheer flamboyance 'act' of the culture takes over.
John Paul White is almost the polar opposite of an atypical guitar hero, you instantly notice he is an artist attached to his acoustic guitar like a life support, you can't imagine him functioning without it, depending on it like a constant source of energy.
It's this level of commitment, vibe and pure intensity that conveys a different type of guitar hero.
A man of great mystery, very little is given away in regards to guitar influences or direct players of interest or any form of heroism.
John Paul White tends to take the focus away from his guitar playing and ability and put everything into his credibility and respect as a songwriter, collaborator and producer.
He’s spoken very openly in many interviews in reference to his guitar playing ability and tends to state that he has no idea what he's doing and simply finds his way around guitar to get what he requires from the instrument; he proclaims that he looks to the guitars themselves as a source of inspiration and noodling or “goofing off” as he says can lead to many places and open doors to new sounds and a voicing of a familiar progression conveyed from an alternative prospective.
John Paul White is an incurably profound character in both interviews and as an artist. l believe it’s this level of mystery that really emphasises his appeal as an unassuming six string icon.
“John Paul White: Sure. The countrypolitan movement happened in Nashville in the late ’50s, ’60s and it carried on up until the early ’70s. Chet Atkins was one of the main architects of that Nashville sound and he was taking a style of music that was much more raw and putting more of a pop spin on it. He was cleaning it up a little bit with strings and things like that - much more arranged with harmony vocals. It had more of a troubadour kind of vibe with people like Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne but also Patsy Cline. These were the things that my dad listened to more than the honky tonk stuff. He listened to a lot more of the sophisticated country music and so I definitely developed a deep love for it. My mom listened to lots of crooners like Dean Martin and Johnny Mathis so the two things fit hand in hand.”
John Paul White defining the countrypolitan movement.
Francesca Rose - https://atwoodmagazine.com/jpw-john-paul-white-feature-2019/
Old Wood & New Bronze
Such a mysterious character could only owe his prestigious place in the music industry to the magic and the soul of workmen's tools. To understand the type of guitar player John Paul White is you first need to understand his approach.
He is somewhat of an incredible guitarist and this can be truly appreciated with his iconic work as part of the Grammy award-winning duo The Civil Wars.
“What struck me originally about John’s playing style was his ability to fill just the right voids in the music, effectively weaving an intricate dance around Joy Williams’ and his own voice. You’ll rarely ever find John Paul White shredding – because the songs don’t need that kind of treatment.
It’s very difficult to be a guitarist in a band where for the most part you’re the only instrument – you’ve got to carry the weight and keep the song pinned down and grounded, and in John’s case, leaving plenty of room for the beautiful and sometimes haunting vocals.”
The Civil Wars had some incredible, intense and haunting songs with possibly some of the most emotionally transparent harmonies ever heard. Monumental multi-award winning success unfortunately ended suddenly on tour (in the UK of all places). Officially / unofficially the duo parted ways on non-speaking terms due to “Tensions”...
So we ask ourselves what does it take to create such a sophisticated and atmospheric acoustic guitar sound?
A mesmerising tone that encapsulates the entire frequency spectrum presenting itself as a perfect foundation for inviting vocals and layering tracks in the studio.
Let's take a brief overview of the guitar or some might say the voice of expression for John Paul White. The guitar that makes the hero is always the key point of fascination in this case we have no exception.
John covets a 1957 Martin 000–18 a truly exquisite sounding and looking guitar, it has its own presence and aura you could say that John Paul White and the Martin are almost a duo in their right.
The guitar was passed to John's family by a dear friend in ill-health, John recalls acquiring it as a child and initially not really showing the appreciation it truly deserves.
Unbelievably the guitar was left in a closet for many years until John was 16 and he took it out in an attempt to sell it! Teenage desire and lust for an Ibanez style guitar to fulfil the fashion at the time was the driving point to move the guitar on.
Luckily John was deterred by an honest friend of the family who was the owner of the local music shop. Talked into retaining the guitar and waiting to really appreciate it, in his later years John has now become inseparable from this guitar and it's almost become a part of his own anatomy and soul.
So now we understand that this incredible acoustic tone comes partly from this old 1950's Martin but with any guitar the other key to the tone is string choice.
A well-established acoustic guitarist John requires a strong reliable and truly articulate string to project true voice of the instrument. The key aspect of the string choice was more down to John having extremely acidic hands.
The unique selling point of elixir strings is the fact they are coated long-lasting and beautifully crafted to extremely high quality standards.
As a player John expresses that it’s the low string noise with the coated string, the performance, the lifespan along with the accuracy on acoustic instruments that they project. Above all else of course, the key element here is John says he just likes the sound of them and notices that his guitar sounds considerably better than many other peoples guitars in vague comparison.
In conclusion here we discover that when old wood meets new strings with a profound and soulful character as it’s guardian we have an era defining guitar hero of the more organic nature.