FERNDALE — Tom Limbaugh has been playing guitar for decades, but while writing the music for his new album of pastoral acoustic vignettes, he suddenly felt like a kid again.
The 50-year-old Ferndale resident stumbled across an alternate guitar tuning that carried a unique and evocative sound: “big and bold and wobbly,” as he described it. Inspired by the new assortment of tones at his disposal, Limbaugh quickly composed a batch of 18 miniature acoustic pieces that he assembled into his latest release, “Flat Top Suite: A Rural American Soundtrack.”
“Playing in this alternate tuning kind of forced me to rethink the way I play guitar and the way I write music,” he explained. “It was kind of a way of cleansing the palate. It took me back to that young, enthusiastic time when I first started playing guitar and everything was brand new.”
Written and recorded over a three-week period in his home studio, “Flat Top Suite” is a throwback to simpler times, when life moved at a more languid pace and the overstimulation of the Internet Age was only a vision of the distant future. Limbaugh has always been a fan of classic American guitar music, but even he was surprised by the stripped-down, contemplative tone of his new pieces.
“It was all totally by accident — I certainly didn’t set out to create an entire album of acoustic songs,” he said. “I just collected a bunch of these short little miniatures that reminded me of soundtrack music and that seemed to fit this idea of rural America that I had in mind.”
To provide visual accompaniment for the songs, Limbaugh and his wife, Sandy Fuchs, shot video footage during their recent summer road trip across the state, where they used nothing but two-lane back roads to traverse the Michigan countryside. Along the way, they captured images of vast farmland, open fields, dusty streets, old barns and train tracks with a camera that was pointed out their car window. They also incorporated footage of trains in motion that was shot by their son in Grand Rapids.
Limbaugh later edited the material together to produce music videos for two of the pieces on “Flat Top Suite.” To complete his family-oriented approach to the project, Limbaugh used a painting that his father created called “Long May She Stand” as the cover of the album.
By day, Limbaugh works as a full-time guitar teacher, traveling across southeast Oakland County to each of his student’s homes for their weekly lesson. He is also a regular gigging musician, playing shows in his trio, American Guitar, and as a solo guitarist.
Fuchs, Limbaugh’s wife of 17 years, is proud of her husband’s unwavering commitment to playing and teaching the instrumental guitar music that he adores.
“I’ve always been so impressed with Tom’s dedication to his music and his students,” she said. “It’s pretty inspirational because he has always stuck to what he loves and what he’s passionate about, regardless of how popular it is. Whenever my kids and I hear him play guitar, our toes definitely start a-tappin’. We love it.”
“Flat Top Suite” represents just the latest step in Limbaugh’s lifelong pursuit of expressing himself musically on the guitar. While he doesn’t know what might lead him onto his next path of inspiration, he will continue to try to follow in the footsteps of his six-string heroes — Chet Atkins, Les Paul and Danny Gatton.
“Being able to sit down and play songs by myself is what has always drawn me to more traditional styles of music,” he said. “That type of music just lends itself better to playing complete arrangements for solo guitar. I love playing in my trio, but one of the great things about the guitar is that it gives you the freedom to be your own band.”
Tom Limbaugh’s new album, “Flat Top Suite: A Rural American Soundtrack,” is available for download on iTunes, and his self-produced music videos can be found on YouTube.