When six strings aren't enough

  • Local guitarist Nate Lopez will perform Feb. 1 in Petaluma as half of the Lopez Duo, and on Feb. 7 in Santa Rosa as a solo act. (2010 file photo)

While other guitarists satisfy themselves playing instruments with just six strings, Santa Rosa musician Nate Lopez wanted more.

Lopez started playing piano at age 4, and guitar 10 years later, but when he studied classical guitar and Indian music at Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, he began to look beyond conventional guitar playing.

“I really liked the idea of being able to play a melody and harmony and a bass line all at the same time,” the 34-year-old guitarist said.

His quest eventually led him to discover the work of Bay Area jazz musician Charlie Hunter, who rose to prominence in the 1990s playing seven-string and eight-string guitars.

“I saw him playing an eight-string guitar. That's what I mostly play now,” Lopez said. “This instrument really allows me to hold down a good solid groove, while being able to get those fancy licks at the same time, so it's really a lot of fun for me.”

Lopez plays eight-string electric guitar and seven-string acoustic guitar at wine bars, restaurants and other venues around Sonoma County. He often plays as part of a duo, using any one of several drummers, including Geoffrey Whyte and Sean England.

Along the way, Lopez has picked up some loyal local fans. One of them is Santa Rosa realtor Timothy Brown.

“I'm a struggling guitarist from way back,” Brown said. “I encountered this guy Nate Lopez playing this wild instrument I'd never seen before, and I was kind of amazed. So now I keep up with where's he playing.”

The Lopez Duo plays Feb. 1 at the Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, and Lopez plays solo Feb. 8 at the Station 1870 wine bar in Santa Rosa. His repertoire includes music by the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Marley, Maroon 5 and more.

Lopez said his global Internet searches have turned up only a few guitarists playing the same kind of instruments he does, including one in Germany and another in Australia.

Now that he's committed himself to play seven-string and eight-string guitars, will Lopez go back to more conventional instruments? Probably not.

“A six-string guitar sounds almost like a ukulele to me now,” he said.

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