Class Master

9 July 2012 | 11:17 am | Greg Phillips

"I was taught the WRONG way, and it was really hard! I just think that teachers can forget what it feels like to be a beginner."

You don't have to do  master classes, you  could just gig and record … why do you do them?

Well, they're almost like a gig. I always do some songs with a local bass player and drummer, and I really enjoy just traveling to different places and jamming with different musicians. But the big difference is that I can stop between songs, and instead of yelling, “Let's go #$$% CRAZY” into the microphone, I can just talk to the audience like they're musicians and get into the details of guitar playing. That's probably closer to my personality anyway, so I'm really comfortable with it. Musicians are the people who I can relate to the easiest, so it's great to get together with so many of them.

Who gave you good advice as a young guy that inspired you?

My uncle was, and still is, a great guitar player. When I was a kid, he told me to listen to lots of Hendrix. He also told me to put my hand on the bridge to stop the string noise, to use the volume control on my guitar to control feedback and to turn down when someone else is taking a solo, and maybe most importantly, he told me to practice ALL THE TIME.

On your Great Guitar Escape site, you say
“If guitar is taught the
right way, it can be surprisingly easy.” What
do you mean by that?

It comes from own experience. I was taught the WRONG way, and it was really hard! I just think that teachers can forget what it feels like to be a beginner – not only from a technique standpoint, but also about the desire to play MUSIC right away. My first lessons were all about reading notes. I think that's ridiculous. Music is SOUND. Why should a student begin with something visual? I think ears and fingers are the place to begin. Reading can be introduced later on, but I know that it really turned me off as a beginner. I wish someone had just shown me a couple chords and how to strum. That's fairly easy to do, and it sounds like music right away. That's what I think is the right way.

What's the single most important piece of advice you'd give to anyone wanting to play guitar professionally?

To make money playing the guitar… There's really so many different ways to do it. You can teach, you can play covers, you can do your own music, you can tour in someone else's band, you can be a studio musician, you can write songs for other artists, you can play on movie or TV soundtracks… There's not only one way to do it. In any case, the obvious thing is being able to play well and to make good musical choices. Looking good, getting along with people, and being able to sing are helpful too. If I had to pick one thing though, I would say to learn a TON of songs. Many rock and pop musicians don't read music very well, and so a good knowledge of songs really becomes a useful language. I'm always making references to songs by The Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, and so many more when I'm talking to musicians.

When you were working with Ibanez on your latest signature model guitar, the FRM100, what were the key factors that they just
had to get right for you?

The neck joint and the neck shape were the most important to me. I think that so much of the guitar's tone and sustain come from the neck and the neck joint, so I wanted to keep it on the big side, but still have it be very playable. I went through about three factory samples before it was perfect.

If you have added anything new lately, for what purpose did you do so?

I've been having a lot of fun with the Foxrox Octron. I just use the lower octave, although the high octave has some pretty screaming tones that I should use more someday. The Empress Compressor has more control than any pedal compressor that I've seen. And the Phase 90's in stereo is just awesome for that spacious stereo warble.

Why the taller, narrower frets?

It's the same purpose as a scalloped fingerboard. The tall frets allow you to get a good hold of the string for bending and vibrato. Since the scale length of the Fireman is 24 ¾”, the skinny frets give your fingers a little more room, which I notice especially when playing on the higher frets. And I think the intonation becomes a little more accurate.

There is a lot of information on the web about the pedals you use, but
could you please bring
us up to speed with what is in your board at this moment in time?

Lots of Velcro! That way I can keep experimenting. At this very moment, I have an Empress Effects Compressor, a Foxrox Octron, a Majik Box Fuzz Universe, a Lehle splitter… This goes into two separate MXR Phase 90s, and out to two Marshall amps. I set the MXRs at slightly different speeds for a really cool stereo effect. And the whole thing is powered by a Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2 Plus. I've been using a Korg Pitchclip Tuner a lot lately, so I haven't been using a pedal tuner in the studio. Although I'm sure I'll put one back for live because it's nice to have it mute as well.

How are you currently running your amps? what's the signal chain?

I'm in the studio making a new record right now, so I'm using the pedalboard that I was talking about into two Marshalls. I've got a 1987x head and a 2061x head. Each one goes into a THD Hot Plate and then into the 2 x 12s of a Vintage Modern combo.

How much of your effects come from your amp as compared to pedals?

Sometimes I'll put an Electro-Harmonix Cathedral reverb pedal in the loop of the amp, but mostly I just use the pedals before the input of the amp.

How different is the rig you use for masterclasses to what you'd use in a gig?

I usually ask for Marshall DSL heads when I travel because they're usually available and they always sound good. I'll switch out certain pedals depending on what songs are on my setlist. If the songs have cleaner sections, I'll bring a Detox EQ, and if I want some crazy dive-bomb sounds, I'll bring my Airplane Flanger.