Enter The Hunter

June 13, 2023 5 min read

Enter The Hunter

In early May, Petr Cancura (a monster saxophone player who was in the Carleton University music program a couple of years before I arrived) posted the first single, “Darlin’” from a new project he played in called The Mod Cons. 

One of the comments from a mutual friend of Petr and I asked: “Petr, is the guitar player also playing bass?”

Yes. Yes, he is!

The guitar player is Charlie Hunter, one of the most unique and funkiest players on the scene.

Surrounded by music

Born in Greenwich Village in 1968, Hunter grew up in Berkley, California with his mother. It was through her that he got his first taste of music, starting with her collection of old blues records, as well as her work as a repairwoman at Subway Guitar. He started playing guitar at age 13, and at 14 he was taking lessons with Joe Satriani (who was teaching at Subway Guitar at the time). Through all of this, he was listening to a very eclectic mix of music, from the Dead Kennedys to John Coltrane, to Lightning Hopkins.

His first recorded work was with Michael Frantti and his new rap group, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprasy, playing on their first album, 1992’s ​​Hiphoprisy is the Greatest Luxury. From there, he has worked on several projects bearing his name, the supergroup T.J. Kirk, and as a sideman on several artists’ albums (a standout being his work on D’Angelo’s 2000 album Voodoo - Hunter is credited on both bass and guitar on songs such as “Spanish Joint”).

Getting that style

Beyond the early fingerstyle blues records in his mother’s collection, Hunter has usually cited three other major influences that led to his style.

The first is jazz guitarist Joe Pass, who was a master of comping chords and melodies on guitar with a moving bass line underneath. You can hear that all come together in this performance of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” on the show Oscar Peterson and Friends.

Another influence is Tuck Andress from the jazz duo Tuck and Patti. Like Pass, Andress has a way of weaving both bass lines, chords and melodies together. His playing could also be described as more “groovy” compared to Pass’s straight-ahead approach to jazz.

Larry Young’s work also had an impact on his style, though Young was an organist. It was his use of bass notes in the left hand, and comping and melodies in the right hand that impacted him stylistically. You can almost say that Hunter’s sound and style are very reminiscent of an organ player covering multiple parts at the same time. This is also evident in how Hunter uses a rotary pedal on the guitar side of his unique instruments.

Hunter makes full use of his fingers on this right hand to get a sound that is “groovalicious” (as he put it in a 2011 clinic). He will primarily use his thumb for bass lines, and his other fingers for chords and melodies. However, this is not a hard and fast rule, as the thumb will jump down and give the melodies a better pocket or a finger may hit a bass note if needed. For him, it’s all about groove, both in the bass, the chords and the melody.

The tools of the trade

In the beginning, Hunter used custom 7-string and 8-string instruments made by Novax Guitars, which had several features not common to the average guitar. The top strings were bass strings, with the bottom ones for the guitar. The electronics were also unique in that there were separate pickups for both sides of the instrument, which could also be routed to different amplifiers. Finally, and probably one of the most unique aspects that wasn’t seen much before Hunter came on the scene, the frets were fanned, giving the bass notes a longer scale length for improved tone and intonation. 

Notice in the clip above how Hunter almost sounds like an organ thanks to his technique on the instrument and his approach to effects.

These days, Hunter is using both 6-string and 7-string models from Hybrid Guitars (which he helped co-design). These instruments, like the Novax guitars, allow both guitar and bass sounds to be routed separately, albeit now from a single pickup. They also incorporate the fanned-fret design from his earlier instruments.

The tuning he uses is unique as well. For example, on the 7-string models, the bass strings are tuned to G, C and F (in fourths like a standard bass, only three semitones higher than standard), and the guitar side is tuned to C, F, Bb and D (same intervals as the middle four strings on the guitar, also three semitones higher). For mere mortals, this may seem confusing, but chords are relatively easy on those strings if you’ve got your CAGED chords down.

The Hunter’s Well-Trained Aim

To listen to Hunter play, as the average listener would, you would not think for a second just one guy was covering both guitar and bass. The bass lines are ridiculously groovy and in the pocket. The guitar lines and comping are just tasty. He sounds more like two musicians who are just ridiculously in a simpatico relationship.

To see him play, to watch all of this come together, also baffles the mind. Both sets of fingers dance with mind-boggling precision, as he plays bass with his thumb, all while comping and soloing with the other fingers on his right hand. His left hand is also awe-inspiring, staying in perfect sync with what the right is doing. 

The other great aspect of his playing is that it’s completely sincere. To hear that one player is technically covering two parts in a way the common guitarist doesn’t could easily be dismissed as a gimmick. Fortunately, Hunter’s playing is far from that, keeping things appropriate and creative. In any context, both parts that he plays are always appropriate, never going over the top.

You owe it to yourself to check out Hunter’s extensive catalogue of music. Just make sure to have some Advil on hand; you may get a sore neck from extensive head-bopping to the groove!


By Kevin Daoust - instagram.com/kevindaoust.gtr

Kevin Daoust is a guitarist, guitar educator and writer based in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada. When not tracking guitars for artists around the world, or writing music-related articles around the internet, he can be seen on stage with Accordion-Funk legends Hey, Wow, the acoustic duo Chanté et Kev, as well as a hired gun guitarist around Quebec and Ontario. He holds a Bachelor of Music in Guitar Performance from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

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