Walking down the hall at the Utah Arts Alliance, Terence Hansen, backlit by fluorescent lighting, resembles a hirsute Dr. Octopus. The dangling straps and dual necks of the two guitars he totes—one acoustic, one a tricked-out electric—are like superfluous appendages. I offer to lighten his load, but he refuses.
Hansen insists on carrying both guitars. These are one-of-a-kind instruments. His manager, Jos van Oost, helped get them custom-made through Heeres Custom Guitars, based in The Hague in the Netherlands. Their necks aren't parallel, like typical double-necks—they cross. Hansen had the idea years ago while performing at the open mic night he curated for Mo's American Diner. "I used to play two guitars at the same time," he says. "I'd hold one guitar normally and I had the other on a stand." He played the instruments by tapping the strings.
Tapping is a technique commonly (and erroneously) attributed to Eddie Van Halen, but some say dates as early as 1932, or even to the 19th century, if you count Paganini bouncing bows off violin strings. Many other guitarists toyed with the technique before EVH, but he popularized it with the now-classic solo piece, "Eruption." Hansen can shred, and plays rock and metal, but his discography shows his interests aren't so narrow. Angry Fly (1993) is "prog-shred instrumental," and Progressive Insight (1997) is two hours of mediation music. Void of Course (2005) is acoustic and electric shred, adding vocals; Songs for Two Guitars (2006) is poppy, and Dueling Guitars veers into singer-songwriter territory.
His latest, Some of My Ghosts (TerenceHansen.com, 2015), is the recording debut of the cross-necked guitars, and another stylistic shift. Although you can hear the influence of prog-rock trio King's X in the vocal harmonies and complex rhythms, stylistically, Ghosts is more soft rock, jazz and new age. Sometimes it's hard to tell when you're hearing a guitar, since Hansen uses guitar synthesizers integrated into the electric crossed-neck.
One of the most striking songs on Ghosts is "Riddle." It starts with him hammering power chords on the lower neck of his acoustic with his left hand, and tapping a melody on the upper neck with his right. Bass adds dimension, and dry, unprocessed drums give the song an understated urgency. When his airy, multi-tracked vocals come in, the song breathes. Hypnotic and comforting, it's like a metaphor for life—the vocals and stringed instruments representing consciousness and emotion, juxtaposed with the drums, signifying the external, uncontrollable ticking of time.
It's so perfect, it must be meticulously planned. Hansen swears otherwise: "I made it up, improvising at a gig. It was very natural."
That's the mark of a great musician: making music that seems effortless and uncontrived, but mysteriously complex. When he performs, it's like he's pulling triple duty, playing two instruments and singing. But it's also as simple as playing the piano; the left and right hands just do their jobs. Then again, it's challenging enough to avoid playing unintentional notes with two hands; playing a stringed instrument cleanly with one hand requires a master's disciplined precision.
Two days before this interview, Guitar World recognized Hansen's wizardry, and the uniqueness of the crossed-neck, posting a 52-second Facebook clip of him performing part of the unreleased track, "Ein Lasht Beer." The video, in which he plays flurries of notes with his eyes shut, is racking up the views and social shares. Naturally, he's stoked. "It's very exciting because I grew up reading Guitar World," he says. "My hope is that it will expand my audience so they can hear me play some tasteful things."