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thoughts on Nels Cline?


Silver Supporting Member
I'm totally enamored by this guy-- I just love that beat up Jazzmaster, and all the blippy, reverby, springy weird sounds me makes. For me, he's like the musician equivalent of ZVex effects. Totally weird and unique and I love that about him, but just not something for me.

I've tried to listen to his extended guitar solos and stuff and it just seems like someone who can't play. Let me rephrase that. Like someone who attacks the instrument from the standpoint of it being something that generates sound and noise. It's like his approach is so NOT schooled, that it's almost purely emotion and visceral response.

Normally that would sound like a dig or an insult, but it's actually quite a compliment. It's like I appreciate where he's coming from, but I don't quite "get" him. Similar to some of Miles Davis' more "out there stuff, or Sonic Youth. There's something about that aspect of making sound that's totally intriguing to me.

What are your thoughts on Nels and his playing style, guitar tone, etc.?


Silver Supporting Member
Sometimes "noise making" is more fun to do than to listen too. Jazz too. :D

I'm a Nels fan, but don't listen to much of the non Wilco stuff, tho I liked his work with Watt and with the Fibbers. He Is definitely inspiring in his talent and his creativity.

This guy don't like him tho ;)



Senior Member
I think he is absolutely brilliant, even when he gets out there, it stays very musical for me, and I am not generally a "out there" kind of guy.


I don't get him and I don't rate his playing very high, although I'm sure plenty of people disagree.


Gold Supporting Member
I'm a fan. His work in Wilco really fits each song well. It does make it hard to decide when to listen to some Wilco stuff, though. The softest, most beautiful ballad can degenerate into what's close to white noise. It's done in a brilliant way, but a song may be too soft to rock out to, and then can be too jarring to play at a romantic dinner or relaxing late at night.


Senior Member
Good guy. Smart guy. Versatile. Creative. Musical. Unique. Dedicated.
Although I don't share his attraction to the avant garde.


Premium Platinum Member
He's highly skilled and highly schooled in music. He also has a unique way of approaching the guitar and has for about the last 40-something years. I also don't share his attraction to the avant garde, but that's the way he is and has always been. You guys should hear him playing some Allman Bros or Humble Pie or Johnny Winter. He can play the crap out of straight ahead and Southern rock, but chooses not to.

Disclaimer: I've known him and his twin brother Alex, since we were 12. They're 58 now and I'm 57...


Now that is pretty impressive! Can't say a Wilco fan but every time PBS reruns the Austin City performance with Nels, it stops me in my tracks and puts a BIG smile upon my face.


I went to see The Nels Cline Singers knowing very little about Nels' actual sound and only having read a brief interview he granted to The Illinois Entertainer upon his joining Wilco. Aside from being intrigued by the picture painted of him by the exposure in the Entertainer piece, I am not particularly a fan of Wilco, but was curious to hear the amplifier he played, built by local luthier/electronics visionary, Tim Schroeder (I ended up ordering the amplifier days after the show). Through a very serendipitous series of events, I happened to find the amplifier on Tim's website, looked up Nels and discovered that his band was to be playing at my friend's club, Martyrs' in just under a week from that day.

Well, all I can say is that I was totally blown away, but not all at once and in the same way as when I saw Scott Henderson; with Scott, it was a similar timing thing of discovery and him coming to Martyrs' just then, but I had already heard Well To The Bone and had an idea of what I would hear. With The Nels Cline Singers, I was presented with a group of three master instrumentalists that put forth sounds that I although I could clearly see the men generating them, I had no idea how they were creating these walls of sonic waves with just three people and relatively simple instrumentation. It turned out that Scott Amendola was generating a great deal of electronics and looping at the drum station (along with being a killer drummer) and Devon Hoff was an absolute monster on the double bass (sadly, he has left the group).

Throughout the evening, I was marveling at the never ending sea of musical ideas ranging from silly to sublime and at times I was wondering if Nels was clueless or gifted as a guitarist. Seriously, a couple that had been obscuring my view for about a third of the show abruptly left and gave me opportunity to have a comfortable place to stand at a support beam, but also to see that Nels was in fact, quite masterful in his command of the guitar and his array of effects. This man was capable of playing as if he had only picked up the instrument for the first time in his life just that afternoon (sort of like the instructions given to John McLaughlin by Miles for the In A Silent Way sessions) and then spew out the most beautiful bebop lines at lightning speed at the next second. I was totally amazed, and have been a huge fan ever since that magical evening.

For the neophyte, I would highly recommend listening to The Nels Cline Singers', Instrumentals. I bought several albums that evening at the show, but that one is the first one that I opened and it seemed to replicate the variety and quality of the performances of that evening in 2008 at Martyrs' when I first heard Nels. To this day, this is still my favorite album, but I am not saying that the others are not good. However, for some reason, this one still resonates with me in a very big way.


Think Nels is a hack? Try playing the head to this track and you'll soon see how good the guy really is at being a guitar heavy hitter. This, by the way, is one of my favorite tracks from Instrumentals;

Here's Nels playing his Danelectro 12-string and Devon adding some very sweet bowed bass to make a very Mahavishnu inspired masterpiece

Just found this live vid of The Nels Cline Singers from last year with new bass player, Trevor Dunn, performing the first cut from Instrumentals, A Mug Like Mine. Originally a 9 min song, they expand it to twice its length and Trevor proves that he was a very wise pick to fill the bass slot. I sure hope they come back to Chicago.....BTW, notice the beautiful red Schroeder DB7 amplifier Nels is playing!

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klon free since 2009
Gold Supporting Member
I'm totally enamored by this guy--
me too.

i'm a pushover for players like nels. maybe he's not trailblazing like hendrix but certainly paving roads & building bridges without ever reconciling his instrument, or hedging conventionalism.

Plexi Memory

I'm not a devoted Nels Cline fan by any means, simply a casual Wilco listener. When I watched him rip this solo, however, I had to have a Jazzmaster.



Tweedy definitely was smart to pick up Cline and make him a regular member of his band. Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche both are some pretty high level musicians. It's added a bit of Television style guitar interplay to Wilco's sound.

Cool thing about Cline is that he plays to the group and the song. The guy does free jazz and all sorts of wild improvisational music but he was great live (and on record) the times I saw him live with the Geraldine Fibbers and with Mike Watt.


I'd like to know what planet he is from.

I heard that on some of his solo tours he doesn't even take an amp. He just uses whatever the venue has available or rents something from a local store.

I love his Wilco stuff but haven't digested much of his other recordings yet. I have the Nels Cline Singers stuff but nothing else.


Platinum Supporting Member
I only have a couple albums with his playing. Sky Blue Sky had some great playing and his solo album 'Coward" is quite interesting. My SO was baffled when I was listening to Coward - it's definitely not mainstream.

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