David's quietly virtuosic guitar playing and well-crafted, literate songwriting reflect both a deep familiarity with classic American folk and blues music and an abiding love for mid-century jazz, Damon Runyon and P.G. Wodehouse.
For three decades, his books, articles, videos and workshops have provided aspiring and accomplished fingerstyle blues pickers with the clarity and tools they need to become confident and compelling improvising musicians.
Live Online Workshop: Changing Chords
7:30pm • Austin, TX
7-8:30pm • New World Deli • Austin, TX
7-8:30pm • New World Deli • Austin, TX
Rocky Mountain Guitar Camp
W/ John Knowles, Richard Smith, Jim Nichols, Pat Bergeson & Brooks Robertson
7-8:30pm • New World Deli • Austin, TX
"David Hamburger...revitalizes American roots music."
The New Yorker
David On Record
Beautiful Scar is David's most recent work, released in June of 2022. Pennsylvania Station Blues pairs the songwriter/guitarist with bassist Mark Epstein (Joe Bonamassa, Johnny Winter) and drummer Kyle Thompson, while Plays Blues, Ballads and a Pop Song finds David playing solo guitar instrumentals.
According to David Hamburger, “When my Pennsylvania Station Blues record came out, my friend Eric called me up and said, ‘What the hell, man, you didn't include “I Believe”?’” That would be Eric Bettencourt, fellow guitarist/songwriter, fellow New England transplant and sometimes bandmate. “He’s probably played that song on more gigs than I have – which is deeply flattering because he’s such a badass songwriter himself. I still like playing it too, but the bit about the book of Jonah, I may have finally worked my way through that."
Hamburger’s referring to a line from the first verse of the song, which goes:
I believe in the grit in the oyster
Not much else, but that for sure
Damon Runyon, Irish whiskey
Parenthood and seventh chords
I believe in the book of Jonah
Yes I do, and one thing more
I believe in lots of kissing
After, during and before
There’s a lot packed into that one verse – a philosophy of creativity, balancing art and raising kids, nods to a few of life’s more salient adult pleasures. So what’s the Old Testament riff doing in there? “For a long time, I felt like teaching was my personal Ninevah – the one place I kept winding up even when I was furiously stomping off in the opposite direction. But once I got clear on what I was here to do as an artist, the teaching part finally fell into place too.”
“I left the Northeast in 2000,” David recounts. “I grew up outside Boston and went to school in Connecticut; I moved to New York after graduation and did every musician hustle you can for more than ten years – sideman gigs in bars and coffeehouses, touring in a van; song demos and independent record sessions, jingles and low-budget TV scores, subbing in the pit for a Broadway show – everything except wedding gigs, because everyone I knew who did that hated it with a white-hot passion.” And teaching – private lessons, summer workshops, articles and interviews for Guitar Player and Acoustic Guitar, books for Alfred and Hal Leonard.
“I came to Texas to kind of leave all that behind. I thought if I went somewhere new, I could reinvent myself as a solo performer, and Austin had been on my short list of cool music towns for a while.” But after the occasional solo gig, a stint playing bluegrass, a couple of tours with Joan Baez and a few more book projects, David instead settled in for a decade-plus haul as a composer, writing music for advertising, documentaries and television. “At that point, I didn’t really care that I wasn’t performing live or playing my own songs in public,” he explains. “I was just happy that my job was to get up, go to the studio and make music, as opposed to explaining it all day.”
A rare night out while his kids were barely in elementary school changed all that. “I went to see one of my favorite local musicians, Scrappy Jud Newcomb. Afterwards, I told him how inspiring his set had been, we got to talking, and he invited me to come sit in at another gig he had coming up. Through that, I discovered this whole scene of songwriters who could really play, and guitar players who could really write. It was like nothing I’d known in New York, where it was sort of uncool for a songwriter to be too good at guitar, and sort of impossible to get your songs taken seriously once you got known as a capable player – that was my experience, anyway.”
With a renewed sense of possibility, David began gigging again, landing a residency at the short-lived listening room Strange Brew, a six-month trio gig that led to recording Pennsylvania Station Blues in just two and a half days. “Right up until we made that record, I was still experimenting, trying to figure it out: was I going to play electric, acoustic, a mix of the two? If I was playing with a rhythm section, could I still fingerpick? What about the arrangements we had of tunes by Willie Dixon, Hank Williams, Furry Lewis – could I get away with doing just my original material?” In the end, he determined, the more focused the better, and once the record was done, "that’s when I finally realized, this is it: I’m a fingerstyle guitarist who writes his own songs and can improvise on them.”
With that newfound clarity around performing, David also found his purpose as a teacher. “I used to have this Horace Silver quote up at my studio: ‘I like to be different,’” David explains. “There are enough people who can teach you how to play just like Robert Johnson, just like Gary Davis, just like John Lee Hooker. And more power to ‘em; it’s amazing music and a lot of people, that’s exactly what they want to learn. But when I realized I had something particular of my own going on, I thought, ‘right, I'll bet there are fingerpickers out there who want to learn how to improvise, because that’s what I wanted to know, and I couldn’t find anyone to show me.’”
Fretboard Confidential began in 2017 as a Youtube channel, soon added a weekly newsletter, and is now home to a thriving online master class dubbed the Fingerstyle Five. “Traditional blues songs have been around so long because they’re open to interpretation,” observes David. “Every version you check out sounds different. So why are we so hung up on learning the so-and-so version note for note, like it was classical music? I mean, I get it – I’ve done my share of learning and transcribing, and it’s one way to really understand the the techniques involved. But that’s just where it starts; if you want to be musical about this and bring something of yourself to the table, at some point you have to view each song as a framework, a point of departure for your own interpretation. The traditional material keeps you grounded; the skills set you free to create something new that still has meaning.”
David’s latest record, Beautiful Scar, takes this development one step further. “After my trio finished the residency and the record, I found myself with more opportunities to play solo than anything else. And I was especially interested in that anyway because I had started creating all these solo arrangements and lessons for Fretboard Confidential.” In 2018, the guitarist spent five days at Top Hat studio in Knoxville, this time making a completely solo record. “I thought, this is the ultimate challenge, right? No band, no overdubbing, really no way to edit things, even. Just play and sing the songs, take the solos on the fly, make it happen.” The collection of eleven original tunes finally came out in 2022; a short run of signed, numbered copies sold out in less than a week.
“After doing so many different things, it’s really something to feel so focused. And I love that while I'm teaching people how to play, I'm learning how to play better that way myself. When I go on the forum in my membership or answer comments on my channel, I feel like that 19th century composer who taught counterpoint at the conservatory by staying just a few pages ahead of his students in the textbook. Most of my favorite people are musicians anyway, whether they do it professionally or not, so I feel really lucky I get to spend so much time hanging out with all these guitar players and talking about the music we love so much.”