The internet is a funny thing… there are times when I absolutely despise what social media has become and other times where I’m genuinely moved by reconnecting with an old friend or family member I haven’t seen in years.
The latter happened recently when I was promoting my new book (The 7 Day Guitar Practice Routine) in some random guitar related Facebook groups. I came across a video of a guitarist just destroying a nylon string Córdoba Fusion. Just a random improv video… but the playing was really special and inspiring to me (and the other members of the group!)
Then I saw the name of the guitarist – ‘Bill Hall’.. whoa! Bill Hall from Canton, Oh (where I was born and raised). I hit him up and sure enough, it was the guy I knew when I was a young beginning guitarist.
The Backstory: Lessons with Dave Rudolph
There were so many great guitar players in Northeast Ohio in the late 80’s/early 90’s (I bet there still are). I was lucky enough to be surrounded with world class players in seemingly every live music venue from dive bars to big clubs.
I remember seeing Neil Zaza (International touring Guitarist and clinician) at the Akron Agora when I just started playing guitar at 16 …and being blown away. The DeMarco Brothers, Mike Szuter (current bassist with Paul Gilbert), Lou Kolowski (Ripper Owens, Winters Bane) and my absolute favorite Metal guitarist of all time Dan Page.
Aside from being phenomenal guitarists, the other thing they all had in common was taking lessons from Dave Rudolph. Dave was a legend in Northeast Ohio for making great guitarists out of seemingly anyone.
I started taking lessons from Dave in around late 1989 when I was 18. I had been self-taught on guitar to that point. Dave introduced me to a new world of techniques and got me my first guitar teaching job at Soundboard Music in Stow, Oh.
“Dave Rudolph set the course for my entire life and (25+ year) career as a Guitarist… and for that, I will forever be grateful.”
I remember when I first moved to the Orlando, FL area in 1999 and getting in my first touring band.. there just weren’t any players like ME here. It was open season. I could literally pick my gig and make a great living playing all over the state.
I used to tell people, I’m not special! I’d tell them about the amazing guitarists I grew up watching in Ohio like Bill Hall, Neil Zaza and of course Dave Rudolph.
Meeting Guitarist Bill Hall
One night in around ‘89-90, Dave Rudolph called me and said I just absolutely had to see one of his guitarist friends who’s band was playing live in Akron that night. That guitarist was none other than Bill Hall.
Bill immediately blew me away with his jaw-dropping technique, great feel and a warm Marshall tone. .. and he was about the same age as me! I was immediately inspired to get back to work and be the best guitarist I could.
Fast forward a few years later (Almost 30!) and he and I are still at it. I’ve run into Bill over the years a few times (virtually) on MySpace and most recently Facebook.
Bill is still blowing my mind on the guitar and inspiring me as much as he did back when I was 18. I wanted to catch up with this monster guitar player and see what he’s been up to, as well as pick his brain a bit on what keeps him going.
Craig: Hey Bill! So great to reconnect with you. What are you up to these days?
“Hi, Craig! It is great to reconnect with you also! I am glad to see you are doing so well with your playing, teaching and gigging! I have been doing pretty much the same thing. I play a lot around the area at wineries, restaurants and breweries.
I have a three-hour solo show that I put together with my nylon string guitars and my looper pedal. I do a lot of different kinds of music from originals to covers. It is a lot of fun and I get to do a ton of improvising…which is what I love most.
I teach at the Music Farm in Canton, Ohio. I also play out with the band Before the Shine quite a bit and I am doing some recording with them too.”
Craig: What’s the Canton/Akron/Cleveland music scene like nowadays? My Dad (who still lives in Canton) says they have done a lot downtown and it’s experiencing a bit of a renaissance right now.
“There are a lot of places to play now that the wineries and breweries have taken off in the area. It is nice because I can do an acoustic thing at these places and I get to play pretty much whatever I want. It is not so much the bar scene that I play anymore for me…but more these type of places, which I enjoy!”
“The Summer months are very busy for gigging, but the Winter months have been pretty good also.”
Craig: I’ve really enjoyed your YouTube videos. What are some things you do in your daily guitar practice routine to maintain your technique?
“Thank you! I just play and improvise over backing tracks mostly. I play at least a couple of hours a day…usually more than that, I just love to play, lol. The nice thing is because I improvise so much, new things just pop up in my playing all the time.”
Craig: I’m a big improv guy too. Its essentially all I do when I’m not playing Classical.
Are you a “Key Center” approach guy.. or do you target specific notes, chord tones etc. in your solos?
“I am both. I use key centers but I am also hitting certain chord tones and intervals on purpose. I have studied a lot of Jazz theory and I use it all the time…so even if a group of chords are all in one key, I am playing more off of each chord separately.”
Craig: I know we both share a love of Paco, John and Al.. what are some essential albums or listening you’d recommend to guitarists?
“Wow…I have so many. Off the top of my head, here you go…”
(Editors note: If you’d like to check out any of Bill’s picks, I’ve linked them to Amazon.com)
Bill’s Essential Album Picks
“Just some off the top of my head!”
Craig: Wow, you got a bunch of my all-time favorites in there too. We have really similar tastes! What are some essential things you think a beginner or intermediate guitarist should focus on?
“I think the most important thing is their timing and basic technique. I think having control of the time and learning to tap your foot to the quarter note while you play is one of the most important things to learn. Also…basic guitar technique like strumming, picking single notes and chords etc.”
“I also think learning songs and solos is really the best way to learn guitar when you are starting out. Learning the techniques used (by your favorite players) and then branch off from there.”
Craig: Tell me about your nylon string playing and the Córdoba Fusion. I play Classical Guitar, but what types of nylon strings work best for pick style technique?
I use a Cordoba Fusion and GK Studio model. I love them! I just use regular tension nylon strings…although I can’t tell a big difference between the medium and high tension nylons as far as picking goes.
Craig: What’s your looper setup?
“I use the Boss RC3″
Craig: Me too! Those things are great. Anything else you’d like to promote?
“I am working on several things now…some recordings, and I am planning on recording a whole show on video soon. I will keep you posted! Thanks so much, Craig! It has been great to catch up with you!”
Great to catch up with you too! I appreciate you doing this. I’ll be sure to update the article with links and info on everything Bill has going on when I get the 411. Check out Bill’s Youtube Channel in the meantime:
Craig Smith is a professional Guitarist, Teacher, and Writer living in Sanford, Florida. Craig has taught guitar lessons, performed 200+ gigs per year for nearly 30 years, and published 4 guitar instructional books. When he’s not gigging or writing, you may find him by the pool with his wife Celeste, 4 Chihuahuas, and a drink. 🎸