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Audio Archaeology: Yuri Landman’s Hypercustom Guitars

on June 12, 2011, 8:00am

While it’s entirely possible that you’ve never heard of Netherlands-based avant-luthier Yuri Landman, it’s highly unlikely you’ll fail to recognize the bands he’s built eccentric, amazing new guitars for. Whether it’s hosting workshops on how to create instruments around Europe, explaining how to prepare a guitar, or building personalized instruments for high profile musicians, Landman keeps very busy, propagating the weirder side of one of rock music’s most prominent and traditional instruments.

Landman initially worked as an award-winning comic book artist and then played bass and guitar for indie rockers Zoppo. However, after five years of creating various electric string instrument prototypes of his own design, in 2006 Landman delivered his first instrument to a prominent client, Aaron Hemphill, guitarist of Liars, just before the band’s self-titled album. The Moodswinger, a twelve-string electric zither, is featured on that album’s “Leather Prowler”. The instrument’s pickups are located in the neck rather than the body, and a free-moving rod is inserted to act as a third bridge, creating eerie overtones and multiple mathematically complex scale options.

yurilandman Audio Archaeology: Yuri Landmans Hypercustom Guitars

His next client would seem almost too obvious: Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo. The Moonlander reportedly sounds, as Landman puts it, “almost like if you are playing in a cathedral.” The guitar features a second set of droning, sympathetic strings that vibrate in resonance with the main strings in two octaves of circles of fourths. Over the past three years, Landman has also produced unique instruments for the likes of Liam Finn, HEALTH, and Lightning Bolt.

One of the stranger instruments Landman has made (which is saying something) is The Bachelor, a design made for Half Japanese’s Jad Fair. As Fair isn’t all that interested in chords, Landman instead created a single-string instrument, in which the string is connected to a bicycle brake mechanism that can be used like an extreme tremolo bar while the string is strummed. The “guitar” also features a sort of amplified thumb piano, a technique that Landman has gone on to use on other instruments.

The Burner Harp Guitar was initially designed for Finn Andrews of The Veils, and is almost a crossover between the Moonlander and the Moodswinger. It features sympathetic droning strings, but also has a capo built onto those drone strings that can be used as a third bridge, making the secondary strings playable as a separate instrument. A bass version including thumb pianos was also created for bassist Pat Noecker of These Are Powers.

Landman has also designed a few drum guitars, played much in the same way a hammered dulcimer would be. Versions of the Desu Drum Guitar have been given to noisier bands like Lightning Bolt, HEALTH, and PRE, as well as indie folk darlings The Dodos. The instruments’ six strings comprise a single tone over three octaves. Sliding a drumstick over the strings produces overtones, while the instrument’s percussive tones are captured by pickups at either side of the strings.

While Landman is constantly creating new instrument prototypes, past workshops have included The Homeswinger (a no frills version of the Moodswinger), a Quick Steps electric kalimba, and a Caterpillar drum guitar which features two movable bridges. For now, it seems that these workshops are the only way to get your hands on one of these amazing, eccentric, gorgeous instruments, so keep your eyes peeled, and Landman might just find his way into your hometown.

Audio Archaeology is a presentation of Media Potluck and Consequence of Sound.

mediapotluck Audio Archaeology: Yuri Landmans Hypercustom Guitars