Jason Verlinde has his fingers in a lot of musical pies – if he’s not actively working on getting the current quarterly issue of Fretboard Journal out the door, he’s probably interviewing a person of great guitar-world interest for the Fretboard Journal podcast, planning a 3-day summit featuring visitors from around the world, or practicing his… musical saw? Now that we’ve piqued your interest, let’s learn a little more.
You’re the Publisher of Fretboard Journal, which is a very different type of digest than your typical guitar magazine. In a time when much of the industry has shifted or is shifting to all-digital, has remaining in print posed fewer challenges for the publication due to its unique format and subscription scenario?
I firmly believe that the magazines and publications that are going to endure and that you’re going to see for the next 20 years are going to be keepsakes, like the Fretboard Journal. Maybe they have a unique slant or they’re highly targeted to a niche. If you go to a newsstand right now, you’ll see a lot of these magazines; they tend to be between $10 and $20 an issue, and they’re the kinds of things that you just don’t ever want to throw away.
Now, I started the magazine in 2005, and media and social media was a totally different thing. And even back then, I thought “this is the magazine of the future.” So I do actually feel like even though a lot of everybody’s focus is on digital, many others are at a place where they do want to unplug; they want to put on the vinyl record again – they don’t want to just listen to Spotify – and they want a cool magazine that doesn’t embarrass them when they put it on their coffee table. So I still love this format and I still feel great about it. I think the brands that support us understand that, and realize that their stories continue to get told year after year after year, as people refer back to these issues.
Tell us about the 2023 Fretboard Summit.
It’s this crazy idea that I hatched years ago to kind of bring the pages of the magazine to life.It’s not quite a guitar maker show, at least the way that most people think of them, and it’s not quite a party. It’s sort of this three day festival of guitar culture and great musicians and great players, and it’s probably the only opportunity where you can not only meet the people that are behind the Fretboard Journal magazine, but also the people that we celebrate in its pages. It features a wide array of incredible musicians, like Bill Frisell and Tommy Emmanuel and Bryan Sutton and Jake Eddy, who are all going to be performing and teaching.
We also have a bunch of great workshops and 50 luthiers coming from around the world to show off their wares. Some bigger brands, like Henriksen and Collings and Martin, also want to be a part of the event. So it’s this open-to-the-public kind of insider-ish gathering that’s a lot of fun! It can be educational if you want it to be. It can also just be a great guitar hang with like minded collectors.
It’s taking place in August in Chicago at this incredible institution called the Old Town School of Folk Music, that’s been around for decades, and is the perfect facility for something like this. There are dozens of classrooms. There are multiple stages. There’s a bar. Restaurants right around the corner. And my goal is really to just make an annual gathering where like-minded guitarists can hang out and geek out together!
What instruments are you personally involved with playing, and do you perform at all?
20+ years ago, I actually did some shows as a musical saw player, believe it or not. One claim to fame I have is that I actually opened for and played one song with my friends in the band Death Cab for Cutie, who went on to greatness… without the saw! We played at the Crocodile Cafe. But I’ve always been kind of a mediocre guitarist, and I’m proud of that. I’m like a lot of our readers; I just love guitars and guitar culture, but I don’t need to play out. I don’t need to write a song. I’m just a guy who loves guitars.
My guitar collection, compared to a lot of our readers’, is pretty modest. But I have an old Gibson L00 from the ‘30s that I absolutely adore. I’ve got a few electrics, I’ve got some Harmony archtops that are funky and fun. I’ve got a couple of nice dreadnought acoustics. I have a very small, but cultivated collection, and then I see a lot of great guitars through the magazine as well on the podcast that we do.
You’ve been primarily a music writer in the past; what are your thoughts on writing about the tools that make the music rather than the final product itself?
I think writing about music in general is incredibly difficult. There are some famous quotes; “It’s like dancing about architecture,” that have been tossed around – whereas talking about the tools, the actual things that go into the music, is a concrete thing. We can talk to the craftspeople behind the instruments. We can talk to the players about how they’re utilizing the tools. It’s just a different dimension to talking about music. And frankly, as somebody who’s interviewed a lot of bands and a lot of artists over the years, it’s just a great icebreaker. We can all geek out on the same things. Whereas trying to talk to somebody about how they wrote a great song can be much more nebulous, much more personal, and hard to pinpoint. We can all geek out over gear together.
Are you involved with the FJ podcast series, and has that served as a funnel for discovery and interest about the Journal?
I am, and I’m pretty sure we were the first guitar magazine to get into the podcast space – we’re talking almost 15 years ago now. And it was really just a way to stay connected, between these quarterly issues of the magazine, with our readers and to kind of help share some stories. At the end of the day, I just love it. I want them to be memorable stories and great ones that may inspire people. But, you know, a podcast; a music magazine; a great documentary; they all kind of serve the same thing, which is to tell a story.
We produce a half dozen podcasts now. I host the Fretboard Journal podcast, which comes out every week, and interviews players as well as builders and collectors. We also have a show called Luthier On Luthier that is hosted by Michael Bashkin, a well known guitar maker from Colorado. He interviews people once a month and gets really geeky with peers about how they’re building and what they’re up to. We have a kooky show called The Truth About Vintage Amps, which is basically like Car Talk for tube amplifiers, because tube amps, like old cars, tend to need some servicing, and there are a lot of questions floating around. We’ve got a great amp tech named Skip Simmons that I’ve known forever, who sort of gives an unfiltered, unvarnished take on what folks should do when they have problems with the tube amps. And we have other shows! It’s a really fun medium that we are fully behind, and it’s just a great way to tell guitar culture stories on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to people around the world, who can listen for free. It’s a huge part of my life now.
Outside of music and instruments, what’s your favorite hobby or pastime?
I’m a dad. I have a house in the foothills of Duvall, outside of Seattle, that needs an increasing amount of work. I love skiing and being outside, and that’s a big part of my life. And then, you know, the magazine and guitars are the other half of my life. So those are my things.
Where would you like to take Fretboard Journal next – any grand designs, or mostly honing and perfecting the current recipe?
You know, we do a lot already! I want our team to gradually expand to have more voices and be even more inclusive in terms of the stories we tell and the content that’s found in the magazine.
I think the Fretboard Summit’s going to turn into the ultimate annual get together. We’re on year two in Chicago, and it’s sounding great.
I think we’re probably tapped out on podcasts… Although, I say that, and I think we have two more podcasts joining our Fretboard Journal podcast family! And I want to explore video a little bit more; doing documentaries.
And then the other thing that I’m kind of excited about is that we actually had great success with our Fretboard Journal book launch earlier this year, and we’re probably going to do one or two other books in the near term.