Personalities | Adrian Legg | Defying Categorization | Guitar Heroes

Fingerstyle master Adrian Legg (b. 1948) defies categorization. But though his music combines British folk, Celtic, rock, classical, blues, jazz and country sounds, Legg’s warm, soulful playing is the thread that unites the styles.

Born in Hackney, London, England, Legg took the first steps of his musical journey playing the oboe as a lad. As many teenage boys are wont to do, however, he eventually became interested in the guitar. His father, who was a choirmaster, organist and Anglican priest, provided young Adrian with a firm grounding in the European harmonic tradition. Indeed, Legg has cited those ancient and modern hymns as being among his biggest musical influences. These were especially evident on his introspective 2004 album, Inheritance.

As a fingerstylist, Legg has few peers. But as an innovative and inventive guitarist, he stands alone at the genre’s acme. Aside from being a master of such traditional fingerstyle techniques as Travis picking and banjo rolls, Legg has introduced entirely new techniques to the vernacular. His use of banjo tuners with carefully placed stops to enable mid-phrase pitch modulations is downright revolutionary. And while capo use is common in fingerstyle guitar, Legg’s employment of custom-made partial capos, slotted capos and half capos is as singular as it is mesmerizing. Finally, his pitch modulation via string bending on chord voicings – borrowed from country music’s pedal-steel guitarists – gives his phrases a vocal quality often lacking in even the most notable fingerstylists.

Over the course of his career, Legg has been as involved in music technology nearly as much as he has on the fretboard itself. Legg’s intense passion for music-making tools was first demonstrated in the form of his 1981 book, Customizing Your Electric Guitar, and is still evident in his use of looping devices and synth pads to fill out his live solo performances. But perhaps it is no more evident than in his custom electric guitar, which features a two-piece swamp ash body with a cavity hollowed out and then vented on the treble side cutaway, a Graph-Tech piezo pickup and a specially made Waffair Theene DiMarzio magnetic pickup, Bill Keith banjo tuners with fixed stops and, perhaps most interesting, an overall scale and shape designed to fit inside the overhead compartments of commercial airliners.

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