FAIRFIELD — Misconceptions about his unique guitar aren’t something Jon Mendle deals with on a regular basis.
That’s because most people don’t know what an archguitar is, he said.
“I’m just happy to know they’ve heard of it,” Mendle said.
The archguitar surfaced about 30 years ago. It’s used to bridge the gap between guitar and lute playing. It tunes higher than a conventional guitar and has more bass notes.
Mendle returns for a homecoming show March 16 and 17 as a guest performer with the Solano Community Symphony. He attended David Weir and B. Gale Wilson elementary schools, Dover Middle School and Fairfield High School.
One of his first guitar teachers was Matt Grasso, who also grew up in the area.
“I’m excited to play with the symphony,” Mendle said. “I love playing in the Fairfield and Vacaville area.”
He started on electric guitar and switched to classical guitar since many of his favorite guitarists, such as the late Randy Rhoads, shared their love of classical music.
“There was a curiosity about why these people I admired were gravitating toward this (music),” Mendle said. “I started listening to the music and I got into the instruments.”
It was classical music that earned Mendle a Carnegie Hall debut when he was 19 and attending the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He was selected by audition to perform Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor,” a piece originally written for an organ.
“At the time, it was the biggest performance I’d done,” he said.
What could top Carnegie Hall? Mendle went on tour with Yo-Yo Ma in 2010.
A few years ago, Mendle released his first album of solo guitar music, “L’Infidele.” He had to adapt his modern-day instrument to get an 18th century sound. His 11-string guitar was important.
“It has five extra bass strings,” Mendle said. “That gives me extra low range.”
He took particular care to make sure the music sounded like a guitar piece, not a keyboard forced through a guitar.
“I only do pieces that can bring something to the guitar,” he said.
With the symphony, Mendle will perform “Concerto for Guitar in A Major, Opus 36,” by Mauro Giuliani, whom Mendle calls a “flashy guitar performer.”
The piece is “harmonically simple,” Mendle said. “The orchestra has interesting modulations when the guitar isn’t playing. In my part, there are a lot of licks, fast scales and techniques like running octaves.”
While he finds a passion in classical music, Mendle also has a strong attraction to other types of music – including playing with a Celtic group and studying north Indian music.
He’s currently in a metal band dubbed Hellfire. The sound is early 1980s Bay Area metal, something a lot of metal acts aren’t doing these days, he said.
“We take it back to what made the Bay Area a big center for metal (music),” Mendle said.
Mendle hopes to record another solo CD in the near future. He’s working with Garry Eister, who earned a Grammy nod for best classical compendium for his work with the musical ensemble Patch.
“I premiered a piece he wrote for me about a month-and-a-half ago,” Mendle said.
Mendle teaches at Pacific Union College in Angwin and gives private lessons. He lives in San Francisco.
The symphony’s program has the theme “World’s Greatest Composers” and will feature an overture, concerto and symphony.
Robert Schumann’s overture to his single opera, “Genoveva,” opens the concert. Mendle will perform after that and before Symphony No. 1 from Niels Gade.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.