Out of this World Tone: Lessons on Gear and Technique from Chris Hadfield

Many guitarists might think they’re after a sound that’s out of this world. But only one has ever truly achieved this. As astronaut Chris Hadfield prepared for his excursions on the international space station and historic spacewalks, he insisted on not leaving earth without a guitar. So what intergalactic lessons does Chris have for those of us who might sign up for the next Mars mission on Kickstarter?

Pick Your Guitar Wisely

Perhaps you’ve played “desert island guitar gear,” where you have to make one choice to keep you musically engaged in exile. Hadfield literally did this. So what was his choice? As Hadfield captained the international space station, he did so with an acoustic built by Canadian icon luthiers, Larivée. The instrument is a ¾ size parlor model with spruce top, mahogany sides, and an ebony fingerboard. Not that it matters when you’re up there, but the guitar is incredibly light, coming in at just over 3.5 pounds.

So who chose the instrument? Well, not Hadfield, but a team of psychologists from Houston who offer support to astronauts in orbit. Turns out, music can keep you grounded! In a recent interview with Rare Earth, Hadfield calculated this instrument has been on the international space station for more than 50,000 rotations around the globe. Talk about a world tour.

Don’t Take Gravity for Granted

In one recent interview with CBC News, Hadfield commented on the challenge of playing guitar sans gravity. Us earthlings rely on gravity to either position the instrument on our lap or pull the instrument down using a strap. One of the biggest difficulties up there, however, is you and the guitar float. Hadfield noted how this not only posed problems for normal fretboard movements, it made for some unusually sloppy recordings.

As a producer down below received some recordings of his space tunes, Hadfield received a gentle criticism that his playing sounded a bit off. His response? “You come up here and play guitar! It’s all over the place!”

Muscle Memory Ain’t What It Is Down on Earth

In addition to the gravity pull, Hadfield realized how quickly the muscle mass and memory take a toll in the lower galaxy. While he was used to playing up and down the fretboard with ease and some speed, when your arm is effectively weightless yet wrangling a guitar that moves in all directions is a tad tricky. How might we approximate this challenge on earth? Hadfield advised, “put your guitar down, stand on your head, wait a few hours, pick up your guitar and play—upside down!”

Leave Your Tuner Behind Ever get to a gig and realize you’ve left an essential piece of gear behind? The best news about gigging on a space station is that, since there is no humidity, pressure, or gravity to contend with, your guitar will never go out of tune! So for all the challenges of going intergalactic from a players point of view, at least getting out of this world tone won’t require

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