Leo Kottke, one of the steel-string’s indisputable masters, has astounded audiences for five decades with his polyphonic command of the instrument. Even his earliest work, like his 1969 debut studio album, 6- and 12-String Guitar (aka the Armadillo Album), displays uncommon technical and compositional brilliance.
Much of Kottke’s early work was based on hot fingerpicking, but an outtake from 6- and 12-String Guitar, most recently released on The Thousand Incarnations of the Rose: American Primitive Guitar & Banjo 1963–1974 (reviewed in AG’s June 2018 issue), shows the guitarist’s more contemplative side.
The notation here is a note-for-note transcription of “Ice Miner” as it appears on the new compilation. When Kottke recorded this piece in 1968, he used open-G tuning, with an interesting twist: the sixth string a full octave below the fifth string G. To get into this tuning, lower your first, fourth, and fifth strings down a whole step, and then drop your sixth string way down to G. If you’d like to play along with the recording, tune all six strings slightly sharp.
“Ice Miner” is based on gently rolling arpeggios in 6/8 time—that’s six eighth notes per bar—occasionally interrupted by a bar of 3/8 (three eighth notes in a measure). Get a feel for this meter by isolating the bass notes in bar 3 and picking them with your thumb. Play the notes evenly and don’t articulate the floppy sixth string too hard, so as not to distort its pitch—though it could be argued that the slightly out-of-tune string on the original recording adds to its charm.
In terms of the fretting fingers, the piece requires a bit of barring. For instance, the Cadd9 chord in measure 6 and elsewhere is best played with a full first-finger barre at fret 5 and the third finger on string 3, fret 7. Use that same grip, shifted up two frets, for the Dadd9 chords throughout.
Once you’ve learned “Ice Miner,” be sure to experiment on your own in this unusual tuning, with that haunting low G.
The text above originally appeared in Acoustic Guitar‘s August 2018 issue. For the complete article, including performance notes, and music notation and tab, head to the Acoustic Guitar Store and pick up a copy.
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.