To be labeled “The New Master of the Telecaster” is quite a distinction. But to have gained that distinction before the age of 23 puts Nashville-based guitarist Daniel Donato in a class all his own. He’s taking his Tele on the road with him, touring the country and performing at the Charleston Pour House on April 14.
For those unfamiliar, the Fender Telecaster was the world’s first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar, made famous by country legends and rock stars alike, from Waylon Jennings to Jimmy Page. And it’s still one of the most popular guitars worldwide, which only adds to the profundity that someone as young as Donato has gained such a “masterful” reputation.
Obviously, he had to put the work in. Starting at age 12, Donato regularly played 12 hours a day every day he wasn’t in school. “When I got into the instrument, it was just the perfect time for me to really dive into something,” says Donato. “Not really being good at skateboarding, not really having a lot of friends, it just worked out.”
Donato was a sponge for musical knowledge. He religiously listened to records, watched YouTube tutorials and instructional DVDs. And, “I lived right outside Nashville, so that didn’t hurt either.”
He was able to observe and emulate some of the world’s best honky tonk, blues and country guitarists virtually whenever he wanted. But learning specific licks and techniques can only take you so far. Donato had to find his own personal style.
“(That’s) the process of taking in information and turning it into inspiration,” says Donato. “Learning somebody else’s (licks) and artistically finding something that resonates with you, then taking that something and making it into your own. Really there can be a small, small thing inside those phrases, and those are the small things that can build into larger creations.”
Donato has been building those creations professionally for years now, serving as lead guitarist in various Nashville groups, including the venerated Don Kelley Band, since he was 14. But he’s only taken on the role of frontman in the past year and a half. He recorded his debut album, "Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country," in February 2017.
“The album is a collection of songs that I’ve been playing for most of my career,” says Donato. “They were all recorded live in a room, old Nashville-style, with some of the best players I could arrange. We did it all in one day and tried to just make it sound like a bar essentially.”
Every song on that album is a cover, but since then, Donato has been focused on songwriting and he has a new EP coming out this summer featuring all original material.
His current live show is the best of both worlds: a mix of old blues and country standards and fresh, original tunes.
“My show is an ever-changing thing,” says Donato. “I want it to expand artistically with original songs and more musical concepts as opposed to being just a really precise guitar event, which is, of course, what the show’s going to be anyway.”
Having learned so much from others as a child, Donato feels compelled to share his knowledge with anyone willing to learn. There is a diverse array of tutorials on his website (danieldonato.com), but his Instagram videos may be the most revolutionary.
“I came up with this concept of doing macro filming on the fretboard and editing it in a specific way that people use to edit animals catching their prey,” says Donato. “I thought it’d be really great if I could apply the same process to the guitar. So if you watch some of my videos on Instagram, it follows the hand in a very fast and precise way.”
So apart from being a guitar virtuoso, shredding unforgettable solos, Donato also is an innovative teacher. “I love being able to share knowledge, and the Internet is such an easy way to do that.”