Critically acclaimed guitarist Rafael Arden’s passion is to modernise the music of J.S. Bach through performing and recording on an electric guitar to make it more pleasing to the modern ear and thus bringing it to the modern audience and the modern guitarist.
Rafael’s career has led him to record with some of the greatest musicians in the world. Musicians who have worked with Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand, who have played on Broadway, on Hollywood film scores, for the BBC, as well as world renown conductors. He has also worked with Australian musicians working with Jon English, Ganggajang and others.
Rafael was accepted into the Conservatorium of Music at the age of nineteen where he studied with Carl Crossin founder of the Adelaide chamber singers. Carl introduced him to the polyphonic, contrapuntal music of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. After a year Rafael turned his attention to the Renaissance lute and became an accompanist for student exams, chamber music ensembles, and Master Classes with celebrated opera singer Guila Tiver.
At this time he was also Lutenist and Choir Master for an Early Music Elizabethan Madrigal Ensemble, with members of the State Opera Company, performing the music of John Dowland. He was also performing in a broken consort with world renowned recorder players, viola de gambe and viol players, playing Elizabethan music of the 1500s.
In his late 20s Rafael devoted his time to exploring the 13 course Baroque lute, and the music of Master Musician Silvius Weiss, and of course Johann Sebastian Bach!
Born in Adelaide, Australia, Rafael began playing the guitar at the age of eight, on the cusp of the 70s and 80s, when KISS were all the rage. When he was ten he won a competition impersonating Paul Stanley at his primary school concert! That’s when he realised rock ‘n’ roll was for him! He got himself an electric guitar and a home-made amplifier which he subsequently blew up and that’s when he became an addict!
Rafael grew up in showbusiness in the 80s rock scene and studied intensely the music of Van Halen, John Mclaughlin, Steve Vai, even John Denver! At 16 a full page article in the paper hailed him as the fastest guitarist ever! Possibly a slight exaggeration, however in the 80s, ego was not a dirty word and Raf did it all – permed hair, lycra tights, the works!
Whilst touring and teaching he appeared on television and radio, then began working as a session musician and soloist, at his first recital was invited to represent Australia at the Spanish Guitar Festival.
Rafael has recorded numerous albums and worked as a producer and songwriter on a variety of jazz, pop, Celtic, country, blues, and rock albums. He has studied music from the 10th to the 20th Century and is now devoting his time to the genius of J.S. Bach.
The gear I use…
Approaching Bach on the electric guitar proved to be far more challenging than I expected. After experimenting with various pedals such as reverb and an EQ, I found the best sound to be ‘au naturel’, that is, the guitar plugged straight into the Vox 10w amplifier, and allow the valves of the Vox, with its Celestion speaker, together with this beautiful Joe Pass Epiphone guitar and its Seymour Duncan pick ups, to do the talking. To get more of an acoustic sound, I learnt from a jazz guitarist to turn the volume knob down to five (or sometimes eight depending on what tone one preferred), as having the volume on full sounded too brittle for the the music of Bach.
10w Valve Amplifier
I went through three different amplifiers before stumbling across the Vox. I found the 10w to be very beneficial regarding warming the valves at a low volume, to give a nice, warm, rounded sound. The amp is very simple in nature just bass, treble, gain, volume, and a very tasteful reverb. The simplicity of the Vox resonated with me because of its purity in tone, which out of the three amps I tried, proved to be the the cleanest, deepest sound that is needed for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
I went through three different studios while recording this album, because for some reason they just kept falling apart. Technical problems were causing notes to cut out, certain channels wouldn’t work, etc. In the beginning, Reaper was just a desperate attempt to find a studio that simply worked without any hassle, and so far, touch wood its done a great job. It is very simple to use, and very musician friendly, unlike other studios which tend to be for the so called ‘tech heads’, who understand what all those knobs and buttons do! A musician just wants to press record and play and focus on playing and getting every note right, rather than concentration on the technical side of things. I like to leave it up to the guys who specialise in all of that, ie the mixers and masterers of the world. Such as the award winning Mike Stavrous and William the Masterer!
Looking for strings was a major effort when it came to playing the music of Bach. Standard guitar strings did not seem to work as the voices were sounding too thin and brittle and too sustained. in the Renaissance and the Baroque eras musicians used gut strings on their lutes and theorbos. The nature of gut strings is that the sound dies very quickly, so there was a lot less sustain than on the more modern guitar strings, not only on the acoustic guitar but particularly on the electric guitar. After many choices I found that the Jazz Swing strings, because they are flat wound, had the desired effect. The bass strings have a ‘thud thud’ sound which is very characteristic of the Baroque lute of the period and the upper strings sound as close as to gut strings as I could find. Even still, the top voices always sounded too thin, so I replaced the top E string with a .014 and the B string with a .016 string, this provided a flatter, rounder sound.