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  July 2008

Steve Oliver interview page 2

Smitty:  Talk a little bit about what you’ve done with them because you designed guitars with them and they have such a passion for what you do and they love great music, and I really appreciate that about Carvin.

SO:  Oh, absolutely.  You know, it’s funny, about four years ago I was at a NAMM show in Anaheim, California, where it’s called the National Association for Music Merchants, and I’ve always been into synth guitar.  I’ve been playing it for, gosh, 15-20 years, triggering keyboard sounds with the guitar, and I was always looking for a company that I wanted to design a new kind of nylon guitar and a steel string electric guitar and go in with a company and design a new guitar, you know, with my expertise because I’ve been doing this for so long in terms of the synth guitar world, so Carvin is actually based in San Diego, which isn’t too far from us where I live, so I went to the booth at the NAMM show and went up and talked to Bob Keeney, the head of A&R there and he’s the one that kinda brings artists into the fold to help Carvin get out there with other artists. 
steve oliver
Timothy B. Schmit of the Eagles is with Carvin and, I mean, Joe Walsh of the Eagles is with Carvin.  I mean, they have a lot of amazing artists on this roster at Carvin world, and so I went to Bob and I just said “Hey, I know you don’t have this in your line, but I would really like to create a nylon electric acoustic guitar that can trigger synths, and I know you don’t have that in your line.”  And he goes “You know what?  We’ve been talking about kinda getting into that world” and I’m like “You’re kidding,” so it was almost like they were thinking it while I was too, so it was like a great match.

After that I met with Mark Kiesel, who’s the CEO of Carvin and is also the guitar designer for Carvin, we just hooked up and brain stormed a bunch of ideas for these two guitars that I designed with them and he was asking me what I’m looking for and all the things that are easy to use so that every player can just play these guitars, and it took us, gosh, almost two and a half years of working on these guitars to get them to the point where they’re done now, both guitars. 

One of them’s called the NS1, which stands for Nylon Synth, which I named, actually.  I got to name it, which was really cool.  So the NS1 and then the other, the electric guitar, is called the SH575, and they’re both synths.  You can trigger synths and you can play electric, you can play acoustic guitar, and the whole idea was to have a guitar that could do everything and that was the basis of, for me as a player, because I like to have a guitar that you don’t have to change all the time.  A one-stop shop with a guitar.  You put it on, you play, and you can do all these things with one guitar.

Smitty:  Are these guitars featured anywhere on the Internet where people can see them?

SO:  Well, you know, it’s funny.  On the One Night Live DVD, everything that I’m playing is what Carvin is.  That’s the guitars I’m playing.  I’m playing the NS1 and I’m playing the SH575 exclusively on the video, on the new album, so yeah, and also you can go to my Web site,, and you could look on there and look for the NS1 video, and it’s on Carvin.  I made two videos with Carvin about getting it or if you want to check it out and you could really get into the making of and how it works and all that, and it was really fun doing those videos.

Smitty:  Yeah, when I first heard the NS1, I was in Atlanta at Mable House.

SO:  Ahh…

Smitty:  During your sound check, I knew right away there was a different guitar in your camp. They both are some of the most attractive guitars.

SO:  Wow. Yeah, I had just got it.  I may have been doing its first gig that day with it.

Smitty:  And, man, the sound was just resonatingly cool. 

SO:  Oh, thanks for saying that.  Yeah, Carvin and I really spent a lot of time on the sound and on the pickups and all the different things to make a guitar sound the way it can sound, and for everybody to play, not just me.  I mean, you can go to and check it out.  It’s a beautiful instrument, so I think they’re some of the best made guitars ever.

Smitty:  Yeah, well, let’s talk about the strings.  As a guitarist, how much of a role do the strings define an artist, would you say?

SO:  You know, it’s funny because every guitar player that I know, hardly any of them play the same type of gauge strings.  They all use their own, you know, whatever gauge.  Gauge is like a thickness of the string.

Smitty:  Right.

SO:  So I use real—because I play nylon guitar a lot, so I like that kinda thick string, so when I play the electric guitar, I use 10 gauge strings, which are real thick.  The smallest string, anyway, is 10 gauge.  And sometimes I use 11’s.  So I like using thick strings because it’s, I don’t know, just for me it’s like the sustain is really there and the bigger the string, it’s almost like the more sound you get for some strange reason, so that’s just my theory, and that’s the great thing about guitars.  Every guitar player has their own kind of design and why they use the type of strings they use.

Smitty:  Yeah, absolutely.  And I just think what you’ve done with Carvin and what Carvin has done with you, I mean, you guys have formed a fantastic relationship because this is just such a match in what you do in your live performances and studio with these great Carvin guitars.  I think they’re just fantastic.

SO:  Oh, thank you.  Yeah, we’re really excited about these instruments and having everybody play them.  In fact, I just got Chieli Minucci on board with Carvin.

Smitty:  Cool!

SO:  Yeah, so he’s now working with Carvin, and it’s funny because artists will come up to me after the show and ask questions, and also Jonathan Butler is now playing an NS1.

Smitty:  Oh, cool.

SO:  Because he came up to me after a show and saw me play and he was “So what are you doing?  What kind of guitar is this?  What are you playing?  What are you running through?”  And he was asking me questions and so I love being able to help out musicians and we’re always talking tech talk, you know, at shows and whenever we run into each other, and that’s part of the beauty of being an artist.  We all share, you know?  So I really love sharing the Carvin technology with everybody.

Smitty:  Yeah, well, along with that, every guitar has to have a great guitar player for the match to really jell and happen.

SO:  Sure, absolutely.

Smitty:  Yeah, and I’m a firm believer in you as a—and I’ve said this before:  you’re a world class performer and I think the whole world should see you at some point in their life because I think that you have such an uplifting spirit, not only as a person, but your music as well.

SO:  Oh, thank you.

Smitty:  Your music is just truly inspirational.

SO:  Well, it comes really from the fans and the people you play for because music, to me, is a very special—there’s nothing like it, you can’t put your finger on it why it makes you feel a certain way, and it’s very powerful and I believe in that wholeheartedly.

Smitty:  Yeah, and you mentioned Humberto earlier.  The duet show that you guys do together is just extraordinary! How did you meet Humberto?

SO:  I met Humberto actually through Will Donato, the sax player that I’ve worked with for years, and he’s recorded on, gosh, probably three of my albums, and Will is kind of like the “know musicians around where we live” and so we’re always looking and talking about different players and different people, and he knew I was looking for a percussionist and a drummer, and I knew I could trust Will so he called me out of the blue and just said “You gotta check this guy out,” so I did and I gave him a call, and I usually don’t call.  I mean, people will give me suggestions and sometimes I’ll go “Oh yeah” if I’m not looking or whatever, but for some reason I just felt the need to call him, and so I did and we hooked up. 

And what I loved about Humberto is he wasn’t touring, he wasn’t playing with anybody.  He was kinda playing locally and he was playing in churches and he was real busy doing that, and that really excited me because not only was I looking for somebody that we could just go in and start working together and kind of create this thing and then it turned out that’s exactly what he wanted to do, and he loves to rehearse and he loves to practice.  He practices every day just like I do too, and so it was like “Perfect!”  So we started this amazing kind of friendship and rehearsing together weekly and became such great friends and such passionate music lovers, and it just became such a great chemistry between the two of us.

Smitty:  Humberto’s featured very well on the DVD/CD. How did he grab the idea of doing this project?

SO:  Well, you know, it was funny.  He was, you know, because he’s never had this kind of opportunity before, so he was a little nervous about it at first, especially because he’s so prominently featured.  He’s emphatically featured in the whole project in the concert, in the footage, and so he really wanted—he did his homework.  He really wanted to do this right and plus we’re doing some innovative things and he just started doing these innovative-type things playing the drums and the percussion at the same time, and he had to practice a lot to feel good and comfortable about it. 

And he was very excited but he was a little skeptical at first.  What are you throwing at me here?”  (Both laugh.)  But he saw that I’m very open to “Hey, let’s just do this and see how it goes and see what happens,” and we started practicing and pretty soon it was just like, you know, I’m not the type of artist that is very finicky, I love to rehearse, I’m not real finicky, so I give him room to grow and I believe in that.  When you’re working with musicians, you gotta let them do their thing and not dictate to them what to play.

Smitty:  Absolutely.

SO:  Even though the music kinda gives them a borderline of what to do, they follow a format, but if they have something to bring to the table, I’m more up for that—and that’s what we did a lot with Humberto.  I let him bring a lot of stuff to the table and then we discussed it out.

Smitty:  Absolutely.  I think of so many things that we do daily, when it comes to music, I think musicians have to feel free.

SO:  Oh yeah.

Smitty:  If they’re gonna truly express themselves and bring out the best of their musicianship, they have to feel free, number one.

SO:  Yeah.

Smitty:  And I think what you just said about Humberto, giving him that room, the space and the openness to express himself and you two express yourselves together, is just incredible and it always shines in the music.

SO:  It really does and in the DVD it really showed that.  It shows that we’re having a good time because we’re smiling all the time, we’re laughing, because that’s how it is every time we play.  I mean, it just feels that good and hopefully that translates to the audience.  We’re hoping it would, but we’re feeling that, you know, playing together.  It’s like “Yeah, yeah!  This is great.”

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