Article from Making Music, January 1989

Thanks to Duncan for sending me a copy of this article.

Issue 103 of Making Music
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Making Music 

Vaults

Nexus House

Swanley

Kent

BR8 8HY


It Types

Well, what else can you do with both hands at once?

Francis Dunnery has an Alternative.

Julian Colbeck has a notebook.

About a year ago now, It Bite's guitarist and front amn, Frank Dunnery, was sitting at home working out some ideas on his eight track. Running a little dry on ideas while putting down a solo, he stopped playing and set his trusty Strat down on his lap. And started idly tapping on the fretboard. As one does.

But two things single out this event from thousand of similar occurances: frank Dunnery happens to be extremely nimble fingered, and does a neat side line in drumming; secondly, his tape machine was left in record.

On playing the tape back, Frank, in one of those crazy 'Eureka' moments, realised he might have found a solution to a problem that had been bugging him for ages, namely that of finding a way of playing that's highly precise, clean and fast - something he'd only been able to achieve in the past by setting up repeats on DDL. He could see that his tapping stuff had some potential and since the band were Fender endorsees, he talked about it to Arbieters cheif repair man, Dave Farmilow. Why don't we make one, said Dave. A special tapboard guitar.

Frank in the meantime had an album to record, and though he left the design and building of the propsed instrument in Farmilows capable hands, did infact 'tap' using a regular guitar, on the lightening paced musical metal track, 'Rose-marie'. Towards the end of the song Frank pulls out a blisteringly fast tripplet-based solo of suspicious speed and precision that had young guitarist's writing in from all over to find out if the track had been recorded at half speed, was it a sequenced sample. . .?

Encouraged by the response to Rose-marie, frank kept badgering at Dave Farmilow to produce the dedicated Tapboard. And three days before we met at John henry's rehearsal studios where the band are routining their new album, the instrument finally arrived.

THE CARPENTERS

First impressions are that the Tapboard is something a couple of fifth form jokers knocked up in the school carpentry shop. Teo seemingly conventional fretboards have been glued together side by side, at the base of the instrument, a slice of clavinet pickup, smothering in what appears to be Blackpool rock, precariously spans the strings, some 24 machine heads sprout from the headstock (though not currently all in use), and completing the picture, if you follow the chrome shower hose that snakes from one end of the instrument to the other, you'll find, at the bottom end, an egg timer. "That's too see how fast I'm going" grins Frank. "8000 notes in the time it takes to boil an egg".

But lest you get the impression that frank's Tapboard is a joke, let me assure you that this pairing produces some of the most strartingly precise and original high speed work this side of Tony Levin + Chapman Stick, or (the unlikely eventuality of ) Yngwie Malmsteen + some taste.

Incredibly, behind this surreal jumple of accoutrements, is a good deal of serious thinking. The double fretboard allows Frank (or rather, will - he hasn't mastered it yet) to play runs up or down the scale with equal ease. For the time being, at any rate, the physical manoeuvre of a run tapped in an upward direction is not as simple to execute as one downward, in other words low E strings lie at both edges of the neck.

The frets themselves have all been hollowed out, which, coupled with a fearfully low action anyway, appears to have solved one of the major problemds Frank faced when tapping on a regular guitar - the irregularity of notes.

ON BALANCE

The other major improvment over a regular guitar is simply one of physical balance. Balance a guitar on your lap and it's prone to sliding off. The tapboard on the other hand sits fairly and squarely on your lap, though it's eventual resting place will undoubtedly be some form of stand.

There is another set of pickups aside from those swiped from a Clavinet, and a large multi-position knob switchees between various pick up configuratiosn. In time, he assured me, a feedback switch will be added, as will MIDI, although Frank has not been a particular fan of MIDI guitars to date.

For the moment the Tapboard sounds pretty much like a guitar. But pure sound isn't really the point. It's what the technique allows you to play that is important, if not revolutionary, with possibilitesaeons beyond those offered using Eddie Van Halen style tapping, a style/technique Frank sums up succinctly as 'Bollocks'. theres no personality in it.

"It's a very rhythmic instrument. And you can always see exactly what you're doing, you can work the patterns out. The things you do are totally diffferent from what you can do on a guitar. You can hit two notes together at either end of the fretboard, you can stagger notes, like you're playing a piano, and play 'impossible' scales.

The question is, does Frank just happen to have the knack of playing in this style, or could anyone do it? Answer came there none, as no-one else outside the band has been shown it. It Bite's keyboardist has managed to play a few things on it "but he's a clever assed bastard anyway" observes Frank pithly. Me? I sounded like a cat scrambling over it.


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