Multi-talented Joseph Tollefsen on the Southern Guitar Fest, TEDx presentations and Cigar Box Guitars

Tollefsen ClassicalJoseph Tollefsen is 14. He lives in the Columbia, S.C area where he is home-schooled as a rising sophomore. He studies with Marina Alexandra. He recently received honorable mention in the senior youth competition at the Southern Guitar Festival. Joseph also gave a presentation at the festival on building Cigar Box Guitars. Here are some of his thoughts about these subjects, and his recent TEDx presentations:

Can you talk a little about the 2014 Southern Guitar Festival?

The festival was great! There was lots of cool stuff: a flamenco workshop, two concerts, plus my CBG workshop. It was good to be able to watch the older division competitors. There was a luthier from NC, Waddy Thomson, who donated a guitar for a prize and brought others to display. I got to talk to him about building guitars, which was very interesting. There were four masterclasses; I did one with Dr. Andrew Zohn, which was very helpful — he gave me good advice.

You started learning guitar on your own, and now you’ve been studying with Marina Alexandra for a little while. How does classical training inform your other playing (and vice versa)?

I think classical guitar has helped me a lot on acoustic and electric — it has improved my left hand especially. I also play finger style more often since playing the classical guitar. I think my playing of acoustic and electric sometimes affects how I play certain classical pieces musically.

How did the TEDx presentation come about? What was it like, and how did you prepare for it?

Well, actually I’ve done 4 TEDx events. The first was a TEDx youth. I got into it because Ms. Marina’s son, Kevin, is in charge of the Columbia TEDx youth, and she wanted me to give a talk/performance there. Someone from the adult TEDx saw it and asked me to play at that one, too. Then, a TEDx for the private school, Hammond, asked me to do something for them (it was their first one). And finally, I was invited back to the TEDx youth, to play with my family band. I enjoyed doing the TEDxs.

In the TEDx video you talk about playing music with family members. Can you talk about that a little?

I’ve played with family members for a while. I play acoustic guitar for my mother and sister singing on traditional American music. But lately I’ve been writing my own songs, and my dad has been playing drums and my sister has been playing keyboards. That is what we did at the last TEDx youth — it was our first time in public.

Tollefsen cbgHow did you start building cigar box guitars? Has your approach changed as you build more?

I wanted more guitars than the really cheap acoustic guitar that I had when I started. I didn’t know what CBG’s were until I found a book at the library with instructions. Since my first guitar, they have gotten better in different ways, and I have kind of developed my own way of building them. For example, I’ve changed the kinds of wood I use for the necks, and I’ve built the insides of the electric guitars differently.

You’ve built one classical guitar so far. How did it turn out? Will you make more? What will you do differently next time?

I built the classical [cigar box] guitar taking the neck off my first classical guitar which belonged to my grandfather. It was not in great shape. I used a very big cigar box, and planed down the top so it would be thinner and get better sound. Most people don’t make classical CBGs because they are very quiet and don’t sound great, but this one sounded pretty good. If I find the right kind of box I’d definitely like to make another one, and I am also interested in building a real classical guitar. If I build another classical CBG, I’d make the top even thinner — I think it would be louder.

What are your long and short term goals?

My goals are to improve at guitar, to build more CGBs and eventually to build a classical guitar. I also want to record a cd of original material. Here is one of my recent songs.

What is something unrelated to guitar that is unique or interesting about you?

I am learning to play bridge, which is a very interesting card game. Also, I have eight siblings, which is probably unusual.



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