Jim Kimo West, well known as the versatile guitarist for “Weird Al” Yankovic, is also recognized as one of the world’s top “slack key” guitarists and brings his own unique musical perspective to this great acoustic guitar tradition.
West recently acquired a Telefunken ELA M 260 stereo set, which features two matched microphones and a custom dual power supply capable of powering both microphones.
“I’ve been doing all my own recording as long as I’ve played guitar,” says West. “And the instrument, the player and the microphones are equally important. I’ve always loved great mics and especially Telefunkens that I could never afford, but I would always drool over seeing them in the studios when I’d go in for sessions.”
West is a recent winner of the Hawaii Music Awards, a Na Hoku Hanohano (the Hawaiian “Grammy”) nominee, and a two-time winner of the LA Treasures Award for his contributions toward the perpetuation of ki ho’alu.
“I was at a Weird Al session a few years ago,” West continues, “and the engineer was using a pair of Telefunken M 260 mics on different instruments and I really thought they sounded great. I’ve always loved the idea of tubes in the chain somewhere, especially for acoustic guitar, because it adds a really nice harmonic richness.
“And then I saw that Telefunken was making these new small diameter condenser tube mics. I recently redid my studio with some new computers and new interfaces and gear, and I thought it was time to get a pair of new mics. These 260s were my first choice, and they are really spectacular sounding.”
In West’s slack key guitar career, he didn’t concentrate on learning the standard riffs and songs, but instead developed his own slack key vocabulary, which now defines his very unique approach to this great tradition.
“Acoustic guitar is a complex instrument and you have to be very careful of boominess, and sometimes it can just be too big sounding,” West explains. “So mic placement is really important. You want to make sure you stay away from the sound hole. There’s something about small diaphragm condenser mics that makes them really responsive. I like all the little nuances, and things really pop out with a small diameter condenser. With the shape of the 260 plus the tube there’s a richness there. These mics just sound really, really natural.”
“Kimo,” as he is called in Hawaii, has performed at most of the Slack Key guitar festivals in Hawaii and on the mainland. His playing has been featured in a number of films, TV spots, the Disney Channel and National Public radio and he has shared the stage with most of the living legends of ki hoa’lu slack key tradition.
West sums it up: “I’ve got a number of other mics that sound good, but they’ve got their own sort of hype to them, their own sort of boost at certain frequencies. I can see why people like that, but these 260s just sound really natural, with a lovely harmonic coloration.”