Yasmin Williams’ gateway drug to guitar was a video game. After defeating Guitar Hero II (on expert, no less), her parents encouraged the budding interest by giving Yasmin an electric.
“I guess they were impressed that I beat the game,” admits Williams. “They got me an electric first and so I learned Hendrix and Nirvana songs. I really wanted to be a metal-head shredder like Paul Gilbert and Steve Vai … that didn’t work out [laughs], so I switched to acoustic because I could the guitar across my lap and tap on the neck much like playing the harder, faster songs on Guitar Hero.”
In addition to playing the acoustic guitar (in traditional and non-traditional styles), Williams sprinkles in toe-tapping percussion (yes, she wears tap shoes that dance on a board that rest on her guitar’s case), cello-bow drones, metallic-hammer touches, and even dabbles in traditional African instruments like the kalimba and kora.
She’s joined the venerable instrumental label Spinster (women-ran label), shared the stage with fingerstyle icon Kaki King, and aims to continue expressing herself through the guitar with any means necessary.
She’s been playing for over 10 years and released two buoyant, joyful instrumental records—2018’s Unwind and 2021’s Urban Driftwood. Her most recent collection of songs was an empathetic and uplifting response to U.S.’s social unrest in 2020.
Just after putting out her latest album, the one-woman ensemble virtually welcomed PG’s Chris Kies into her D.C.-based rehearsal studio.
In this episode, the unconventionally great guitarist shows off her main instruments, illustrates how she expands the acoustic guitar’s possibilities (incorporating two-hand lap tapping, an Engle hammer, and a cello bow), and gets wild and weird with a pair of digital dreamers—a Strymon BigSky and Hologram Electronics Microcosm.