Brad Barr: “I love cardboard guitars, man, and plastic instruments have a whole unique sound to them”

Brad Barr

As a solo musician and singer-songwriter, the work of Brad Barr differs significantly to his work with his sibling Andrew in The Barr Brothers, which specialises in folk and blues-rock. 

Brad’s second album, The Winter Mission, displays diverse tunes for solo guitar, all recorded live with no overdubs – surprisingly so when you hear the complex music. 

“My solo style is rooted in improvisation,” Brad tells us, “but I’m also always looking for a physical feeling from the guitar. The way that the hammer-ons and pull-offs line up has to be visceral. It’s not enough for it to sound nice, it also has to feel nice.”

Rocky Beginnings

Originally from Rhode Island, Brad’s musical journey began around the time he traded his drum kit for Andrew’s guitar, but it wasn’t plain sailing. 

“The guitar was this mysterious thing I couldn’t quite make work,” he says. “When I can’t do something, I really want to learn how to do it, so the challenge of that kept me going. That and MTV…

“Angus Young was my first guitar hero. He looked like he was having a really good time and I wanted to know how to get the guitar to do what he was doing [with it]. He carried me through a lot of my teenage years, as did Slash. I listen to his tone and how he plays and it’s really impressive.”

Musical Discoveries

As his own musical ability developed, Brad’s influences shifted and he moved towards more complex music. 

“I started listening to jam bands like The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers,” he says. “But when I hit about 18 it was guys like John McLaughlin, Wes Mongomery and Bill Frisell, so all the jazzers. I got heavily into those guitar players. 

“I had figured out all of Angus Young’s licks by then, and what I liked about the jam bands was they were taking rock ’n’ roll and blues and stretching it out and bringing different harmonies and melodic scales to the music. It was just a natural progression for me. I mean, these guys were drawing from John Coltrane.”

Sibling Strength

Brad is a fascinating guitarist whose music, both with The Barr Brothers and solo, feels like an expansion of all of the styles that have influenced him throughout the years. 

“For me, it’s more of a continuum,” he says. “I’m sure from the outside it looks like a drastic change, but, like lots of teenagers, I grew up playing rock ’n’ roll. I eventually realised that music holds far more than what’s on the surface and it’s a lifetime’s pursuit I decided I was going to take. 

“Having my brother helped, too. He is one of the biggest influences in my life because I have a partner to go through it all with and we hedge our bets together. If I was doing it alone, it would have been much more daunting.”

Brad Barr

(Image credit: )

Gear & More Gear

Brad’s guitars of past and present make an extensive list, including one long-overdue six-string. 

“After 35 years of listening to Angus Young, I finally got an SG,” he says. “It’s now my go-to guitar – it’s a Special, so it’s got two P-90s you can switch between. But the first really cool guitar I got was an Ibanez early 70s Studio thing that was shaped like a Les Paul. Then I got a 1954 Gibson ES-175 hollowbody and I played that for a good 14 years. 

“I had a mid-’60s Guild Starfire V, then a 1951 Gibson J-35, but all the while I was picking up Danelectros and Silvertones – I love cardboard guitars, man, and plastic instruments have a whole unique sound to them.”

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Glenn Kimpton is a freelance writer based in the west of England. His interest in English folk music came through players like Chris Wood and Martin Carthy, who also steered him towards alternate guitar tunings. From there, the solo acoustic instrumental genre, sometimes called American Primitive, became more important, with guitarists like Jack Rose, Glenn Jones and Robbie Basho eventually giving way to more contemporary players like William Tyler and Nick Jonah Davis. Most recently, Glenn has focused on a more improvised and experimental side to solo acoustic playing, both through his writing and his own music, with players like Bill Orcutt and Tashi Dorji being particularly significant.