Preston Reed: tunings and musings from the innovator/composer

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The guitar innovator shared his techniques with Ed Sheeran and won’t be taking bookings at The White House anytime soon.

NEW YORK born Preston Reed is an innovator, composer and a hugely influential guitar player. His compositions on the acoustic guitar developed from a finger picking style to creating multi-voiced grooves and polyrhythmic percussion using the body and fretboard, finding new percussive and tonal colours from the acoustic instrument.

Preston talked to Limerick Post this week about his new tour, life in his home country with Trump as president and his fond memories of teaching his guitar techniques to chart topping singer/ songwriter Ed Sheeran.

To date, Reed has recorded 17 albums since his debut in 1979. His instructional video ‘The Guitar of Preston Reed: Expanding the Realm of Acoustic Playing’ from 1994 is an iconic guitar tuition film. Preston invented his own style through the 80s which has gone on the influence guitarists such as Andy McKee and Jon Gomm who played Limerick in 2013.

Andy McKee’s track ‘Drifting’ has notched up over three million views and is directly influenced by Reed’s recordings.

Preston Reed with students Ed Sheeran and Jocelyn Celaya in 2005

Another student of Preston is Ed Sheeran. Sheeran currently has two new songs at the top of the charts and announced recently that his third album will feature Limerick trad musician Niamh Dunne on a track called ‘Galway Girl’. Ed Sheeran will play to full houses this April in Dublin’s Three Arena.

Preston Reed moved from his native Minnesota to Scotland in 2001. The composer/guitarist taught a five-day summer workshop from his new hometown and one of his favourite students was a 13 year-old guitar player called Ed Sheeran.

“He was very hard working and very focused,” Preston recalls.

“Ed defiantly showed his intentionality of wanting to be a star but he also had the talent – it felt like he was going to be doing something, someday. He was very into gangster rap. That was the sort of thing that he was excited about at the time.”

At the end of the workshop Preston held a get-together for his students.

“I asked Ed if he could improvise some gangster rap over a couple of my tunes.

“I played a tune called ‘Ladies Night’ and and he just sort of rattled off this rap stuff and it was quite impressive and funny as well. He very much wanted to learn my approach and he picked it up very quickly.”

While there is always a contingent of guitarists at Preston’s, it shows he is keen to stress that as a music composer he is happy to have people hear his music just as what it is – music – music with colour and emotion and passion.

He tells Limerick Post:

“What I enjoy the most is playing for people who are not guitar players and hearing it as music and not just a reason to study the techniques.

“My philosophy of composition is to be open ended about using tradition methods as well as the new techniques.”

Preston’s recorded music was used in the Ken Burns baseball documentary ‘The Tenth Inning’, as well as in Josh Fox’s environmental protest films ‘Gasland’ and ‘Gasland 2’. The musician/composer is alway very grateful for the profile and exposure that appearing on a soundtrack brings but as we discuss this further, he says that there are limits to where he would allow his music feature.

“If I was contacted by Donald Trump I would have to say ‘no’!” he laughs.

The American native is not at all positive about what the next few years will bring to his homeland and the effect it will have on the artistic and cultural community.

“We are about to deal with a republican regime for the next four years at least and those guys are not known for being terribly sympathetic or helpful with regard to arts and culture. There is a lot of people bracing themselves for a rough road ahead.”

Preston Reed plays the Belltable on Friday 10; www.limetreetheatre.ie