Follow Tim: FaceBookTwitterMySpaceYouTubeReverbNation


Tim  Sparks






Promo photos

Press Kit (pdf)


Buy books and individual transcriptions

Free transcriptions

Roots, Rags & Blues DVD instruction video






Awards & Activities


Little Princess

Sidewalk Blues

At the Rebbe's Table



One String Leads to Another

Guitar Bazaar

The Nutcracker

In the Spotlight
The multi-cultural guitar of Tim Sparks
Originally from an article in Akustik Gitarre
German text by Andreas Schulz
Translated and edited by Steve Elliott

"When you play guitar, you follow a single path that goes round the whole world. All musical cultures have stringed instruments."
    Tim Sparks is something of a musical globetrotter. He returns from his travels with a bag full of musical souvenirs, which he then turns into highly imaginative guitar instrumentals. His latest journeys have found him delving into Jewish music.
    Sparks' early CD's built his reputation as one of the world's leading fingerstylists, afraid of nothing and conqueror of new territories for the acoustic guitar. His first solo CD, "The Nutcracker Suite", included an extraordinary adaptation of that famous orchestral piece for classical guitar and Sparks promptly won the 1993 National Fingerpicking championship. The other piece on the CD, "The Balkan Dreams Suite" displays his affinity for the music of the Middle East.
    Sparks consolidated his love for this music in his next CD, "Guitar Bazaar", a work which carried the subtitle, "Multi cultural ideas for guitar." The basis for these pieces were a collection of Hungarian folk songs originally arranged by Bela Bartok. Tim Sparks complemented this material with Celtic, Oriental, Jazz and Blues figures. His third album, "One String Leads To Another" saw Sparks returning to his North Carolina roots, although his ethno, multi-cultural approach is not entirely forgotten. The mood of this recording is decidedly eclectic and moves between country-tinged, bluesy offerings and Balkan dance music. This apparent mish-mash is always held together by Sparks' dazzling virtuosity and far-ranging musical imagination.


Japanese Acoustic Guitar Magazine

Acoustic Guitar article

Tim Sparks
World Champion

Vibrations Magazine

La guitare de Tim Sparks est un creuset multiethnique où devisent, en toute convivialité, traditions du monde entier.
    A New York, la diversité de l'offre culturelle impose parfois à l'amateur de musiques de choisir un concert parmi la pléthore qui se donne le même soir. Il n'y avait pas lieu de s'infliger un tel dilemme lors de la venue en décembre dernier de Tim Sparks au Center for Jewish History. Etabli dans le Minnesota, ce musicien trop rare fit à cette occasion la preuve que l'isolement n'est en rien symptomatique d'une misanthropie que l'on dit commune à tant de créateurs retirés du monde. Du monde, la guitare de Tim Sparks au contraire a appris à articuler tous les langages pour en proposer aujourd'hui une traduction universelle d'une parfaite lisibilité.


About a Goy
City Pages
November 2002

Tim Sparks isn't a Folgers kind of a guy--a fact that fills me with a certain amount of dread. He's a globetrotter, a guitar-wielding adventurer, an inveterate hippie. I'm the kind of guy who doesn't like coffee but has trouble saying no to people he's just met. As I watch him prepare some brew and search for the Lee Press-Ons he uses to replace his picking hand's battered nails, I begin to suspect he's also a fan of the sort of thick, exotic coffee that will require a lot of sugar. Not the cheap, bland stuff I can stomach. Tim Sparks offers to make enough coffee for both of us. This isn't going well.


Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine, May/June 2000

by Bruce Muckala
NOTE: This includes additional material that did not appear in the Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine interview.

Guitarist Tim Sparks had a banner year in 1999 with the release of two exceptional solo guitar albums. Neshamah, released in August on John Zorn's Tzadik Records, and One String Leads To Another, on Peter Finger's cutting-edge guitar label, Acoustic Music Records, show Sparks at his eclectic best. Both projects, recorded within a span of six months, display the technique, and world view of music that have earned Tim an international reputation as one the most innovative guitarists working today.
    When John Zorn contacted Sparks to propose the Neshamah project, after hearing cuts from Tim's second CD, Guitar Bazaar, he knew he was speaking to a singular artist who would be able to deliver a unique solo guitar record of traditional Jewish music. With a worldwide reputation as a performing artist and musical innovator himself, the mission of Zorn's Radical Jewish Culture series is to present new conceptions of Jewish music by commissioning some of today's most inventive composer/performers. What Zorn got from Sparks was a collection of soulful, ethno-jazz interpretations of Jewish melodies from around the globe. From Yemen to Krakow, to the Balkans and Tin Pan Alley, the music follows a thread through space and time.
    Sparks, a past member of Rio Nido and Jewish folk group Voices of the Sepharad, sounds truly world class on this solo guitar showcase illustrating Jewish music's influence around the globe. But unlike the bouncy dance pieces we associate with Jewish weddings and Klezmer concerts, Sparks reduces these complex classics to their harmonic essence, allowing the depth and melodic beauty to be felt in new ways through his gently dazzling fingerstyle technique.
    One String Leads to Another is the album that guitar enthusiasts have been waiting for from Sparks. After nearly a decade of performing and recording ethnic music from the Balkans to Brazil, (with some choice classical cuts thrown in including Tchiakovsky's entire Nutcracker Suite), Sparks has finally come home, musically speaking. While One String Leads to Another is infused with the many dimensions of Sparks' indefatigable music excursions, you'll hear it rendered in snatches along with the blues and bluegrass of his childhood in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Sparks is currently at work on a follow-up CD for Tzadik Records. He will be returning to Europe in the spring. This interview took place in the kitchen of his farmhouse, located on a lake near Frazee, Minnesota.


24 Hours Magazine
April, 2000
by Doug Spencer

Tim Sparks

I'd never even heard OF Tim Sparks. Bill Frisell has long been one of my favorite guitarists. On this album's wrapper Bill declares: "totally beautiful and inspiring music. Tim Sparks is incredible, a complete original". Once I had heard this quietly phenomenal album I was in total agreement with Bill, amazed that someone so good could be so "invisible", and eager to discover more. I now know that Leo Kottke says "I'm Tim Sparks' biggest fan". Like Leo, I particularly admire the way Sparks uses his prodigious technique only to truly musical ends. If Tim responds to my email, "The Planet" will be more than slightly pleased to present his other recordings to Australian listeners (Lucky Oceans is your genial host, presenting "The Planet" on Radio National each weekday afternoon from 2.15 to 4. It's repeated much later each day, from 11.15 pm. Our website fully details everything played: }


Fingerstyle Grows Up
Excerpt from Acoustic Guitar
10th Anniversary Collector's Edition
by Teja Gerken

Tim Sparks has created an instantly recognizable style without relying on unorthodox techniques or weird tunings. Merging his classical and jazz backgrounds and effortless chops with a keen interest in Eastern European music, he stormed onto the fingerstyle scene with his debut CD, The Nutcracker Suite, which featured his arrangement of Tchaikovsky's classic as well as a collection of Balkan folk songs. Spark's '95 release, Guitar Bazaar, is a masterpiece of acoustic world music.

An Interview With Tim Sparks
Acoustic Guitar Review
The newsletter of The Acoustic Guitar Workshop - home of acoustic blues tuition online.

An Interview with Tim Sparks
by Steve Elliot

Right, now then, every once in a while a guitarist comes along who steps from the ruck and shines out with an intense light that dazzles, delights and leaves an indelible mark on anyone who hears them. Blind Blake, Robert Johnson, Django Reinhardt and Jimi Hendrix (among others of course) were in that mold. I believe that on acoustic guitar at least, Tim Sparks is of that rare breed. He certainly lit my fire. Not only is he an exquisite guitarist, with a sure and pure touch whether playing with muscular intensity or delicate finesse, but he is also an extremely clever arranger.
    Anyone who attempts to arrange The Nutcracker Suite for acoustic guitar must be either a nut or a genius! Sparks is the latter. And there seems to be virtually no guitar style that he hasn't brought his considerable talent to bear upon. Jazz, Blues, Rock, Classical, Tim Sparks can do them all. In recent years he has focused much of his attention on the music of the Balkans and Middle East. His latest album "Neshamah" pays eloquent homage to the quixotic beauty of Jewish music. Being a bit of a flibberdi-gibbet, I rarely listen to an album all the way through, but Neshamah had me pinned in my seat from the first note to the last. You can listen to a Real Audio track from this album, and one from his other just as tasty recent album,"One String Leads To Another" on our site at
    In short, Tim Sparks transmits something very special through his fingertips.


String Being
Minneapolis Star Tribune

Globe-trotting Minnesota guitarist Tim Sparks releases two divergent solo CDs
by John Bream

Published Friday, November 19, 1999
Sparks' acoustic guitar fits in any setting 'round the world

What was acoustic guitar ace TimSparks doing the other night on KQRS Radio, bastion of classic rock? After DJ Mei Young called him a "super bad-ass guitar player," he told a story about how, on a recent tour in Amsterdam, he'd mistakenly eaten a drug-laced "space cake" (he'd asked for spice cake), inspiring a tune called "The Amsterdam Cakewalk." That tale brought yuks all around the KQ studio during the weekly local-music program "Homegrown." Then, without missing a beat, the Minnesota guitarist plucked a quiet but mesmerizing instrumental.
    Sparks manages to make his guitar fit in just about any setting. He recently recorded an album of traditional Jewish music in a video-editing studio in Detroit Lakes, Minn. Then he went to Germany to record an album of twangy blues songs written in Mexico. And last month he went to Japan to perform tunes from both CDs.


Franco Morone and Tim Sparks
Minneapolis Star Tribune

Marshall McLuhan predicted a global village some decades back, and Italian acoustic guitar ace Franco Morone is a fine example of his theory. Morone plays traditional Irish tunes on finger-style guitar on his delectable new CD, "The South Wind," issued by the respected German label Acoustic Music Records.
    Morone's debut appearance at the renovated Cedar Cultural Centre was set up by his costar for the evening, Tim Sparks - a hometown frets hero whose brilliant "Guitar Bazaar" CD culled music from all over the planet, turning heads especially with the odd-metered songs of Bulgaria and Macedonia. When these two six-string wizards get together, listeners will be able to take a sonic world tour without leaving their chairs.
- Tom Surowicz/ Minneapolis writer

Copyright 1997 Star Tribune.

Mandala at the Dakota Bar & Grill
Minneapolis Star Tribune
February 23, 1996
by Tom Surowicz, Twin Cities freelance writer

Gary Berg - tenor saxophone
Dave Graf - trombone
Dave King - drums
Terrence Hughes - piano, synthesizer
Mary Ann O'Dougherty - vocals, percussion
Tim O'Keefe - percussion, harmonica
Tim Sparks - guitar
Cully Swansen - bass

Background: O'Dougherty ran a jazz nightclub in Recife, Brazil, for four years starting in 1980. The house band was called Mandala, and when she returned to her native Minnesota, O'Dougherty kept the name and the Brazilian music alive. Since 1985 she has led a local version of Mandala, with myriad personnel changes.
    Core members of the current unit are Hughes, Sparks and Swansen. Jazz pianist Hughes released his own CD, "East of the Sun, " a couple of years ago. Sparks is a National Fingerpicking Champion who has been heard with Rio Nido and a host of world-music groups. Up-and-coming bebopper Swansen also works with the Brad Bellows Sextet and Eddie Berger.
    Berg and Graf, a frequent Jack McDuff sideman, are two of the Twin Cities' busiest jazz players. O'Keefe was a charter member of Cats Under the Stars, and he plays in Robayat and other world-beat groups. King also drums for rockers Rhea Valentine.

Concept: "We want to reflect the way Brazilians do Brazilian music - their style, their moods," O'Dougherty said. "We are very interested in the original Brazilian arrangements. So the charts you hear on our new album are taken right off the recordings from Brazil, going back go the 1940s. . . . And our repertoire - the choice of songs - is also very important to me.
    "Mandala does a couple of tunes that are well-known in America, of course, by {Antonio Carlos} Jobim and Ary Barroso. But my intention was to expose a number of songs that are extremely well-known in Brazil, yet virtually unheard up here."

Recordings: Mandala's debut album, "Aquarela do Brasil" ("Watercolor of Brazil") was issued this month by Deep Blue/Igmod Records.

Review: This combo faithfully presents timeless material by some of Brazil's most fabled samba and bossa nova composers, with a band book stretching back to the late 1930s and including plenty of contemporary tunes, too. These songs have lots of crossover appeal for jazz fans, but Mandala never sounds like a bunch of jazz players glibly using the Brazilian fare as a springboard for solos. Berg and Graf get their swingin' bop licks in, but Mandala's chief concern is to showcase South American music in an authentic tropical fashion.
    In early incarnations of the band, O'Dougherty's phrasing sometimes seemed more studied than natural. But these days, the St. Paul elementary-school music teacher could pass for a native of Bahia. Her vocals on the "Watercolor of Brazil" CD sound warm and effortless.

Copyright 1996 Star Tribune.

Have Guitar, Will Travel
Tim Sparks, formerly of Rio Nido, lets his fingers do the walking `round the wide world of music

Minneapolis Star Tribune
April 16, 1995
by Jon Bream

Tim Sparks won the national guitar finger-picking championship in 1993 in Winfield, Kan., but he didn't make any announcements back home in Minneapolis or send out any press releases. He merely added the information to his resume.
    Guitar ace Leo Kottke asked Sparks to give him lessons about harmony a few years ago, but Sparks didn't put that choice assignment on his resume. Sparks, best known for his work in the 1980s Twin Cities vintage jazz group Rio Nido, maintains a resume primarily so he can apply for grants to continue his various guitar explorations: such projects as transcribing Tchaikowksy's "Nutcracker Suite" for guitar or immersing himself in the fado folk-guitar culture in Portugal.
    Sparks' resume ought to bill him as Minnesota's most adventurous, unassuming, underappreciated guitarist.
    Listen to Kottke, who resides in Guitar Player magazine's Hall of Fame as well as in Wayzata: "His stuff is very difficult to play, but it doesn't sound difficult. I think that's real musicianship. He's really one of the best musicians I know."
    Dean Magraw, probably the Twin Cities' most in-demand jazz guitarist, will share the Guthrie Theater stage Saturday with Sparks and two European guitarists. Like Sparks, Magraw is fascinated by the music of other cultures. And he knows how hard it is to make a living as a guitarist.
    "Given all the economic and artistic pressures we face when the Muzaky-type artists are commercially successful, those who take risks are often ignored," Magraw said. "The people who have the most to say are not the ones working. Tim tries to stay true to the music and true to his heart and true to his own feelings."
    In a roundabout way, Magraw has explained why we haven't heard much from Sparks since Rio Nido broke up in 1987. Sparks, 40, has been woodshedding, studying the music of other cultures by traveling abroad and by playing around the Twin Cities in Persian, Brazilian, Greek, French, Jewish and other ethnic bands.



For bookings:






Roots, Rags & Blues

Tour Dates



Printed Music