Champion guitarist Hiroya Tsukamoto up next in Waynesville Music series



It’s no exaggeration to say Hiroya Tsukamoto is one of the best acoustic guitarists in the world. The U.S.-based, Japanese-born musician, performing a sold-out show courtesy of the Waynesville Music Guitar Series in Waynesville on Saturday, Sept. 23, took second place at the International Finger Style Guitar Championship at the Walnut Valley Acoustic Music Festival in 2018 and 2022.

Tsukamoto, who was born and raised in Kyoto, immigrated to the United States in 2000 on a guitar scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He now lives in New York and works as a solo guitarist and composer presenting a nimble fusion of folk, jazz and world music. Some songs and albums are unadorned acoustic instrumentals that highlight his emotive fingerpicking style, while others are layered offerings with Tsukamoto using loop pedals and other guitar effects.

“Things are finally picking up this year, so I’ve been traveling,” said Tsukamoto, who launched his fall tour Sept. 1 in Lewes, Delaware. “The last couple of years were kind of empty but I’m getting back to a little more normal travel now. People are coming back but at the same time, some people aren’t comfortable getting together and gathering. Some of my old friends don’t go out so it’s not easy to get a good turnout. It depends on the venue but in general it’s not easy.”



Songs and stories

Tsukamoto was part of the first Waynesville Music Guitar Series in April 2019 at Town Hall Theatre in Centerville. Series co-creator Alan Fark and Waynesville Music owner Steve Johnson are both excited to bring the musician back to the area for an intimate in-store performance.

“Hiroya is a super nice guy,” Fark said. “Having him play the series the first year was so fun. He’s a very hardworking guitarist.”

Having seen Tsukamoto perform in April 2019, Johnson understands why the guitarist is in high demand.

“Hiroya is a great guitarist and a really good storyteller,” Johnson said. “He tells stories about Japan (and the) experiences he went through. He has a really cool vibe. He’s really ethereal. His stories have a lot of spirituality associated with them.”

Watch Hiroya Tsukamoto perform “No Matter How Far” from his 2022 album, “Little River Canyon”:

One microphone, one guitar

Tsukamoto’s releases include “Solo” (2011), “Heartland” (2012), “Places” (2014) and “Window to the World” (2021). “Little River Canyon,” his ninth album and most recent release, was recorded by David Hammonds at Cook Sound Studios in Fort Payne, Alabama in March 2022.

“I’ve been to that studio several times prior to the recording,” he said. “David, one of the engineers there, asked to use my music for his film he was producing. This was like six years ago and he didn’t have a budget so he couldn’t pay me anything at the time. He knew I was coming to Alabama last year, so he called me up and said he still felt sorry he didn’t pay me for that film.

“David invited me to record,” Tsukamoto continued. “He said, ‘If you have time when you come to Alabama, you can use the recording studio as much as you can.’ That’s what happened. I knew he recorded one of my favorite guitar players, Norman Blake, who is a legendary acoustic guitar player. David said to me, ‘I can set it up for you the same as I did for Norman.’ That was fascinating to me.”

Unlike the previous album, there are no loop pedals or effects. The 10 songs were recorded in one brief session.

“My flight into Atlanta got delayed that morning, so I only had a couple of hours, but David set up everything before I arrived,” Tsukamoto said. “It was just me and him in the studio. It’s very simple acoustic music. I wanted to do something simple with just a good microphone and one acoustic guitar and that’s it. He pressed the button and I just kept recording. I was able to focus, so that was good.”



Exploring different avenues

Tsukamoto has released projects on independent labels, but he took matters into his own hands for his two most recent albums, “Window to the World” and “Little River Canyon.”

“I released the last few albums by myself,” he said. “With this one, I’ve been doing a little test. In the beginning, I decided to only do physical, basically so people who come to the show can buy it. It’s been good, I still sell some copies at shows, but CDs are disappearing. Maybe I should do more on streaming. I might change that, I don’t know.

“I want to do something different for the next one,” Tsukamoto added. “I still have to compose first. I usually do that when I’m on the road. I have kids so it’s hard to focus at home. I need it quiet. When I’m on the road I usually have free time in the morning where it’s quiet and I try to compose, practice or create. I’ve been working on some things but it’s always challenging to do something new.”

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Who: Waynesville Music Guitar Series presents Hiroya Tsukamoto

Where: Waynesville Music, 198 S. Main St., Waynesville

When: Saturday, Sept. 23 at 7 p.m.

Cost: This event has sold out.

More info: 513-897-0602

Artist info:

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