Paul Gilbert: Before you ever touched a guitar, do you remember what kind of sound you wanted to make?
I remember that epiphany exactly. It was the guitar solo in "I Saw Her Standing There". I just remember thinking, "This is my favorite part of the song and I don't know why."
I was born in '63, and I had three older brothers. My oldest brother was 12 years older than I am. So he was buying records, and he bought literally every Beatle release, every British invasion record. I grew up with all the Beatles, Kinks and Yardbirds stuff. But, I do remember that moment of that part of the song, and hearing the reverb drenched guitar was really just exciting to me for whatever molecular reason that connects, who knows? But, clearly it still does for all of us players, you know?
PG: So, you heard that, and what was the path to actually get a guitar in your hands?
The earliest memory I have is that my brothers had guitars around the house – just the usual family, Silvertone acoustic. But, I remember very early on – there's a picture of me playing it on stage with a country band in a steakhouse my father ran in Arizona where I was born. So, from the age of four or maybe five, I had a steady stream of plastic guitars with nylon strings. I remember, the first thing I ever learned was the single note line from "I'm Not You're Stepping Stone", [sings line]. It was before smoke on the water, right? So, that was kind of the thing. There was the one finger approach, but it caught early on.
Now, what about you, what is your first inkling?
PG: Well, I loved my parent's albums, because they had the Beatles albums, the Stones, and the Animals. My mom had some great pop stuff, like Carol King too. I also remember that my uncle was a great guitar player, but I didn't see him too often. He'd kind of visit once in a while, and kind of blow my mind and then leave. And, I remember I had melodies and riffs in my head. And, I would walk around and just hum them. I knew that they were meant for guitar. I really wanted to somehow get them out.
AT: What age would that have been, Paul?
PG: That was probably around 8. They were simple things. It was like, [sings riff].
AT: [Laughs] You just sang the riff from Three's Company!
PG: Yeah. Exactly [laughs]. But, they were just kind of like blues rock phrases. But, to me, it was music pouring out of my head. And, I thought, the whole trick is to figure out where the notes are on guitar, then I can somehow play them. I had a guitar, but I had no idea how to actually play it.
It's funny, because, for decades, I forgot that that was my original goal. I remembered it recently, and I realized it's still my goal – to somehow take the things in my head and find where they are on the guitar.
It's amazing how early that clicked for you. I remember back around that time – I say I started around the age of four or five because I was making melodies on the guitar at that point, but it was more like around the age of ten or eleven that I realized that. I was playing a D chord on my brother's guitar, and "Every Picture Tells a Story" was on the record player. I realized, "That's the same chord!" It never even dawned on me that I could actually learn these songs. Maybe it was growing up in Indiana that did that.
Anyway, long story short, there wasn't a lot of opportunity to see guitar players play. My brothers knew a few chords, and I stole those pretty easily and quickly. But, there was Hee Haw, and you know, Roy Clark was on there occasionally. He was such a great player. I remember thinking to myself, "I'll be he can play anything he hears in his head." So, I was aware, like you, that you have to hear it first, and you have to imagine it, then you have to figure out how to apply it to the guitar. It still seemed impossible, but I knew, at least, that this guy was doing it.
So, that was encouraging and inspiring, but beyond that there was the occasional – well, I guess maybe Ed Sullivan stopped in maybe 69 or 70 – but yeah, the occasional Midnight Special or whatever the late night shows that eventually came on.
PG: So, of course, when we were kids, we could experience great musicians through their albums or through a TV show. And, my uncle would visit every once in a while, and your brothers had guitars and would play a little bit. But, what was the first time you were actually in the same room with someone who was a real musician – whether it was a less or whether it was a concert? When did you breathe the same air as a musician?
That's a great question. Let me think. Oh, it was actually at school. There would be music assemblies at school. They'd have a local band come play, or they'd have somebody that was traveling come through town. There was one woman that came, she reminded of Mama Cass. I don't remember what her name was, but she was local, she had done some traveling and she had a decent backup band. They came and played some hits of the day, and that was pretty inspiring.
I do remember my brothers recognized that I was getting pretty passionate about guitar, and they had a friend named Bill Marx. They said, this guy's got a Gibson SG and Fender Twin Amp and he can really play, you know?
So, I went to his house, and he was the one who showed me the a-minor pentatonic scale. He was playing Jethro Tull, and that was another big, sky-has-parted moment. I thought, "Wow, these are the notes that I hear." Really, it wasn't long before I got KISS Alive, and that's where that kind of all lined up.
That was my perfect record. Ace was really the perfect amalgamation of all those British blues guys, he played it so well, and so eloquently – they were well-constructed solos. There were no tabs or music books at the time. It was all ear, you know? That's a big component of how you and I learned. We had to put the needle on the record, and learn.
So, really, despite seeing other musicians live, it was Bill Marx showing me that scale that was so exciting.
PG: Yeah, we're doing this Great Guitar Escape camp together, and that's one of the most exciting things about to me. The art of the electric guitar – of course, people do write books about it – but I think that so much of it is taught, and rightly so, from human being to human being.
For me, it was the same thing. Although, my uncle visited only briefly, watching what he could physically get out of my guitar, and what he could make it do was just so stunning to me, just to know that that was possible. He had fingers. I had fingers. And, just knowing that he could make that sound was hugely inspiring.
AT: Now, what was the path you went down moving forward? Did you seek out a teacher? Did you begin to learn on your own?
PG: Well, at first, I was doing exactly what you were; I was figuring out very simple melodies on one string. And, that was probably the most difficult and forcefully self-motivated time in my life as a musician, because I was my own teacher, and I just had no idea how to teach. But, I loved it. So, I just kept going.
Finally, I ended up finding a private teacher, and he showed me the pentatonic scale and a lot of the really basic things. He was a good educator in that he could explain things very clearly, but he wasn't the most inspiring player – especially after seeing my uncle, who was a much more forceful player. Then, I started joining bands.
What age was your first group?
PG: Oh, I was eleven. I had a little Fender Vibra Champ amp – you know, six watts. And, the entire band of three guitar players and a bass player would all plug into this single little amp [both laugh].
So, we practiced in the basement with the drummer, and I remember always asking the drummer to hit his drums harder, but he kept saying that he wasn't allowed because he'd get in trouble with his parents [both laugh].
I remember the reason I quit the band was because I couldn't find a way to explain to the drummer the drum intro to the Van Halen song "D.O.A."
[Laughing hard] So, you quit the band?
PG: It was so frustrating to me! It's a relatively simple intro, but it hits these syncopated accents, and it wasn't until I went to a musical school that I actually learned the terminology that musicians use to explain these things to one another. I thought, "That would have saved the band."
[Laughing] You might still be together today!
That's a great point though, because such a big part of what we do is the ability to communicate to other players in the band what your ideas are and articulate them, and it's not always easy, even with a lot of knowledge and information. That is really what education can bring though: the ability to better articulate these sounds and musical ideas in your head.
PG: That's true. And, it's funny that the most important thing my first teacher taught me was really how to learn. He would pull the record out, and say, "OK, we're going to listen to this song, and we're going to learn it. As long as you know a couple of chords, we can figure it out."
Yeah, I was lucky enough that I had to figure that out. I didn't really start taking lessons until I was about 16. I don't even really remember how it happened, but I learned the first bar chord, and then from there, that was rock and roll. From there you've got all the chords you need. You can play it from the A string or the E string, and that's all you need.
PG: So, when you began taking lessons, or even later in life, when you got any kind of an education, was there a time when you learned something, and you thought to yourself, "Ah, I'll never use this", but that later realized it was something valuable?
Well, let me say that the best advice my teacher ever gave me that just didn't take at the time was to just learn the arpeggios.
This guy's name was Ron Pritchard, and he was like the teacher in Evansville, Indiana. By the age of 16, I really knew that this was what I want to do, and I had been reading Guitar Player Magazine – reading about [Tommy] Tedesco, [Steve] Lukather and other studio players who could read, and play any style. I knew Ron could read, and he was a jazz player. I didn't really have any experience with jazz at the time, but I thought "Man, I love anything on the guitar, and I want to soak it up."
So, he'd teach me the single note reading exercises every week. But, by sixteen, I'd been gigging since eighth grade, pretty much, and I was a pretty good player. The fundamentals were there, but he saw that I had ability, so he gave me this chord book that he wrote – it was like a very watered down version of Chord Chemistry – but this one was digestible. He would write out the changes to a standard every week. So, I'd come back and have to comp all the changes for him.
Eventually, we got into knowing what notes to play over the chords. First, he told me to just start learning the arpeggios. And, that's that piece of advice that I thought, "Man, I wish I'd just grabbed onto that sooner," because chord tones is everything for me.
So, I studied with [Ron] until about the middle of college when I left to go to Miami. They're really known for their jazz department down there, so I was there for that third and fourth year [of college]. And, through all that experience and learning how jazzers voice through 2/5 licks and all that, even though I never became a great jazz player, it really informed how I think about all music.
As rock players, we're accustomed to, you know, of A minor, I've got it. I've got my pentatonic. I'm aware of all that, but I'm also very aware of any chord changes, and what those chords are, and what the chords tones and non-chord tones will feel like. That's why, in a lot of my playing, I've been a lot more comfortable with chord changes instead of "OK, we're in E. Go." You know? And you're brilliant at that, and there's a real art to that, so that's one thing I really want to work on. I'm coming to your guitar camp, Paul Gilbert, and I want to learn.
To go back though, for that part of my education, I really wish I had taken that piece of advice. I'm sure this goes for you too, but when I got going with my career – not just concerts, but bookings and interviews – practice time got really minimal. So much so, that I kind of lost track of it. But, in the last year or so, I've really gotten back into the mindset of being a student. And, I have to say, I haven't been this happy since having been a student.
What really inspired this, though, was that I learned, about a year and a half ago, that Pat Metheny was going to do a similar kind of camp. And, just thinking about it made me nervous. What if I went to Pat Metheny's camp? I'm a huge fan, and I really think he's just the pinnacle of developed melodic guitar playing. He's amazing. And, maybe at one point I might have been more confident to attend, but I wasn't. I was feeling like I wasn't anywhere near where I needed to be. So, just the thought of playing in front of Pat Metheny drove me to start practicing again. Just that nugget of that feeling made me think, there could be some players out there who feel exactly the same way about coming to play in front of Paul Gilbert. It's inspiring. I mean, I taught myself how to sweep pick two weeks ago!
PG: You just got back from a show supporting Chuck Berry. That's an amazing thing, and proof that you can play well into your eighties.
Sure. Seeing Chuck was amazing, and seeing Les Paul a few times towards the end of his life was really something. He was playing when he was ninety, and still playing really well. Seeing Chuck though – he's the same age as my father. My father is doing really well physically, but you know, the mind starts to go. And, I'd say Chuck is in a similar position. There were "Oh my God," connectedness moments that just had that groove and that style, but then there were moments where he'd wander a little bit. He's also pretty hard of hearing, so there were parts that were, let's say… bi-tonal. A little polychord going on.
Long story short: the chance to be in that guy's presence, and to feel that feel coming off of that old guitar – oh, that's a 345 or 355 – the one with the rotary switch.
PG: Yeah, the 355.
AT: It's that same guitar, man! And, he's got his son, who's about my age, backing him up. The band's following him. The lyrics are all there, and he's just got that thing. He was really one of the first rock musicians. He wasn't really a blues guy. A lot of the African Americans at that time were strictly blues, but this guy was pure rock and roll. No doubt about it. Certainly taking a cue from T-Bone Walker and some of these guys that came before him. The guitar playing was what really inspired a lot of people, but when you think about the song writing, it was really groundbreaking. They were almost like country songs put to that boogie patter, you know?
PG: It's amazing what Rhythm will do.
Oh my gosh, yeah. And, this is something I've heard you talk about too. You have to start with a strong sense of rhythm. You think about Eddie Van Halen, he's just one of the greatest rhythm guitar players ever.
I remember learning not only just chords first, but, well, one of my brothers was a drummer as well, so I always had broken drumsticks to play with. I'd sit there on my bed and beat the bed spread covers – I'd put my Beatles records on and just groove with it. I know you play drums as well, and I think that really helps us time wise and groove wise.
There've been a couple of generations of guitarists that just want to start flying before they're able to get a good walk going. So, that's always a good thing to support and instill on younger players how important that rhythm playing is.
PG: So, I've got a question about the Andy Timmons Ibanez guitar. When was that born?
The first one was made February 14 of 1994.
PG: You remember the date?
Well, it's Valentine's Day, so it's pretty easy [laughs].
PG: So, you fell in love?
Well, yeah, I really did! My relationship with Ibanez started in, I want to say, '91, right after the second Danger Danger record. They asked me, "What's your ultimate guitar? We want to build it for you." And, I had no idea.
PG: What an amazing sentence that is. I think every guitar player in the world dreams of having someone say, "What's your ultimate guitar? We want to build it for you."
I know! And, being a kid from very meager financial means, it was just whatever I could afford growing up from the pawn shop table. So, for someone to ask me that, I was just completely ignorant about what that might be.
I hadn't been able to play that many guitars and get a feel for it. So, they were happy to go down a path with me. They started sending me production guitars. They sent me a couple of USA Customs, and they were pretty cool. They looked great. But, through a really slow process of trial and error – I had this one neck that I really loved – Kramer put a Strat together for me – that was my previous endorsement, Kramer. They went out of business right about that time, so I was in a pretty handy position of Danger Danger having some videos that were doing pretty good on MTV, so companies wanted to work with [me] whether they like your band or not.
That was the best part about it. Chris Kelly, who was our Artist Relations guy back at the time – I went around to all the different companies, and it was just Ibanez man, you know? It was you and Joe and Steve, and it was the pinnacle of technical and rock guitar playing – Ibanez was the company. I thought, "It would be great if I could be associated with this company." Even though I was in this hair metal band, that's where I wanted to be. I considered myself a player, and not in that poser realm. It was a gig, and it was a certain amount of exposure, but I wanted to be in Mike Stern and Miles Davis' band [laughs].It wasn't my original career choice, but it came back full circle, and we had a lot of fun opening for some cool bands.
So, I met Chris Kelly, and I went to him a couple of times, and he heard my instrumental demo tape and really dug it. So, he said, "Look, we love you. We hate your band," [laughter] "but, let me see what I can do." And, that's a relationship that's still intact today even though Chris is no longer there.
Anyway, what finally made the difference was that I had this old neck – it was basically an old Strat – but it was just from an old parts guitar. And, I wanted a guitar that looked like Eric Johnson's, because he was my hero at the time. Ah Via Musicom, was on the record player all the time.
So, I sent them this old neck from this old Strat-y looking guitar, and that first prototype is the one I still play. We did a limited edition run in 1999 – I think they made 175 pieces that were mainly for the Japanese market.
Then, we did the AT300, which was more of a mahogany and rosewood version of that guitar, but then maybe four years ago, they decided to reissue that original AT100. I was thrilled about that, because I was always kind of bummed that it wasn't more available on a production basis.
I really wanted it to be my guitar. They gave me the option to make it more affordable if we do this or that, but I'm like, "Man, I really want it to be my guitar, so if I'm going to have a signature model, It's got to be exactly [what I want]." So, I stuck to my guns on that, the trade-off being that it made a kind of expensive guitar.
Later, they came to me and said, "Hey we've got this great new factory in Indonesia. We could do a guitar there, and maybe it would be more affordable." I was skeptical about it, but they said, "Let us make you a prototype." So, they made one, and while it took maybe five or six prototypes to get the original AT100 right, the first one out of Indonesia was spot on.
All they changed was the tuning gears and bridge, but the pickups, the neck, everything else was just fantastic. So, now they just release that. It's called the AT10P, which means it's part of the premium line.
Are there some Paul Gilbert Premium line guitars?
PG: I don't know. I think that –
I would think they would do that.
PG: Yeah, I think there must be, but I don't know if they put a "P" or anything. You know, the older ones were the PGM guitars, and those were made in various places. I didn't even pay attention to where, I just wanted to make sure the guitar was right. As long as it played good, I don't care where it's from.
Editors note: Paul Gilbert's FRM100 pre-dates the 2013 introduction of the Ibanez Premium Artist Signature Series.
AT: Well, I've told many people; I've got a collection of Strats, but still, my best one – I was in a cover band in Miami and 1983, and all I had was a Les Paul. And, if you didn't have a Strat in 1983, you weren't working.
So, all I could afford at the time was the Squier. The Squier was the first Japanese-made Fender guitar, and it's still to this day, my best Strat. So, for maybe $250 brand new – maybe $200, you know? Put EMGs in it because of Steve Lukather. I dug it out a few years ago, and I thought, "You know what? This is far better than any other Strat I've got." It just has a thing to it. So, you're right. It doesn't matter where it's made. All that matters is if those two pieces of wood sound good together, and can I keep it in tune. We'll, not that I've ever been in tune, but [Lennon imitation] if I were to be in tune…
PG: You get closer and closer.
AT: I'm gettin' closer! Gosh, doggies.
PG: So are you familiar with any of the other people that are playing at the Great Guitar Escape camp? Have you heard Mimi Fox?
AT: Yeah! I've heard Mimi Fox, and I can't wait to hang out with here too, because she's awesome. I think she's great, and then Scotty Johnson – you, I think it might be the same cat I went to school with in Miami. Is he East Coast? West Coast?
PG: Right now he teaches at Berklee in Boston. He lived in San Francisco for a while, and played with a band called the Blindside Blues Band. He's done some records and some touring with me – really well rounded guy.
It was funny, on one of my solo albums, I had written this sort of pseudo-jazz pop song, and there was no way that I could do acceptable guitar solos for it without sitting down and doing some overdubbing – I just wasn't educated to those kind of chord changes even though I'd written them. So, I just said, "Scotty, can you throw some stuff in there?", and he played the perfect, authentic bebop lines. It was awesome.
But, at the same time, if I want to do a fire breathing rock jam session with him, he's got that too. It's always cool to see how people have these different facets to their playing.
AT: Absolutely. So, let's talk about that for a second. I went on iTunes last night, knowing that we were going to talk, and I bought Vibrato (Gilbert's latest record). Man! You're shedding some changes, brother. There were a couple of augmenteds in there, and demolisheds, and you're playing the changes fantastically.
I was listening to [you] walking around today. The "In Jail" tune is fricking awesome – some very adult chords in the intro, by the way. I've been on this big, seventies funk and fusion trip lately, so this record will figure in to what I'm digging right now perfectly. It really sounds great. I love how you continue to push your own envelope, which is already so high.
That's one of the things that I love so much about what you do with the guitar. It's so cutting edge, but it's also so reverential to the past. You have such an affection for so much, and it just shines through. That said, it doesn't sound like you're trying to be somebody else. It's always you, in the way you sing and everything. It's just great. You're having fun. You're loving what you're doing.
PG: Ah, well thank you. You had talked about being re-inspired after playing for decades, and having the same excitement that you had when you were a kid – I feel exactly the same way.
AT: I totally hear that. You're growing, and you're learning, and you're still having fun.
PG: It's funny, when I look back over my guitar life, it hasn't always been like this. There have been times when I got really bored with what I was doing, and those were the times when I wasn't learning very much.
AT: [Laughs] I'm laughing because that's exactly where I'm at. You're happiest when you're learning, you know?
PG: Exactly. I did this camp last year, and you know, there's young kids, there's people our age and everything in between. And, one of the things that makes it so special is that being a musician is sort of a rebellious choice – especially if you choose it as a career, people are like, "What? What's your real job?" So, to get together with other musicians – it's really a relief to be around like-minded people who all understand that music is one of the most important things in life. It's something that will continue to grow and give you inspiration until your Chuck Berry's age [laughs].
It's one thing to say that, but it's another thing to be around people who just have that as an assumption. It really gives you fuel.
You know, music takes effort. It takes hours, and it takes effort. But, I think, if you're motivated and have that vision, those hours aren't work, they're pleasure. They're something you want to do more than anything else.
AT: Yes. It's the love of it. It can feel like work, but if you really love what you're doing, it's fun. That's what being in Miami did for me. I studied there for two years, but it was exactly like what you're saying. You're surrounding by like-minded people. You're surrounded, largely, by… badasses, and you can be very inspired or very intimidated. Luckily for me, it was just so inspiring. I was around great bebop players, guys who could read anything, and we could all learn from each other. So, anytime I'm in a position to do a camp like yours, it's inspiring. There's going to be a lot of students there, but we're going to be learning from them too.
It became obvious to me early on that, whether someone's been playing for two years or thirty, they're going to have something to offer. They're going to be doing things different, or have some ideas about how to go about things in a different way. If you just keep an open mind, you just keep learning from that. You're around people who have those same aspirations, and you just stay motivated. They all want to make better music, and they want to learn so they can keep doing it for the rest of their lives.
PG: Yeah, the first time I went to [Guitar Institute of Technology], which was really like my version of your Miami, was really the first time I'd heard a lot of different styles of music. I grew up, I loved my Beatles albums, and I got into hard rock and heavy metal, and that's really all I knew.
It's one thing for someone to say, "I want to turn you on to funk, so let me play you a James Brown tune." But, it's another thing to see a living, breathing guitar player that's sitting six feet away from you, and watch them pull it out of their instrument.
AT: Absolutely man.
PG: And, that's really what had a huge impact on me; to see people do that in funk, jazz, blues, classical, finger style and all of that. It wasn't something that I could just soak up and do myself. I would maybe learn one little sort of token piece, and then it would turn into a seed that I planted in myself. From there, I would just plant this thing and see where it goes. That was just so important.
AT: Yeah, totally. I've often said that about my time in Miami. I learned so much, I'll never be able to absorb it all, but it's there. I know it's there, and I continually draw back upon it. When I'm trying to move forward and I'm ready to teach myself, it's there. That's hugely valuable
PG: It's funny. Sometimes students will ask that question. They'll ask, "How long do you practice?" or "How long did it take you to get this phrase?" It's almost like they want guitar to be finished. You know, "I'm done."
So, I really wanted to turn them around. Maybe I'm reading the question wrong, but I never want it to be finished. I want it to go on forever. If you can find a way to make your playing or your practice like that, it just becomes way too much fun.
AT: Yes. We have the entire history of recorded music before us, and we've got guys – and I put you on this list – that continue to grow. As long as there's Tommy Emmanuels and other guys who play so frickin' great, how could you not be inspired to keep learning [laughs]. I'm a beginner.
On the subject of teaching: that was something I didn't really enjoy years ago. I'm not sure why. Maybe I found it to be very difficult. I might have been a kind of student/teacher relationship thing.
It was kind of post Danger Danger. That band fell apart, and I moved back to Texas. To supplement what I was doing gig-wise, I started teaching a little bit. I had a lot of guys coming that just wanted to hang out, it seemed like. Occasionally, I'd get that one student where I could really see the light bulb go off. Then, I'd think that I could really give this person some information. But, I didn't keep doing it after a few months, and I just didn't enjoy the situation.
There's a good friend of mine here in McKinney that opened up a shop called The Guitar Sanctuary. They have some little teaching studios there, and he asked me, as a favor, if I'd come and do a one-off [lesson] with a friend.
So, I went and did the lesson, and I really enjoyed it. The guy was really inspired, and you could tell he was the sponge that we were when we were growing up. That kind of spilled into me teaching a little bit. Whenever I have a Wednesday open when I'm not on the road, I'll take four students for a few hours.
I'm at the point where I'm enjoying the one-off lessons and clinics where you can really get out some information. I also feel like I've gotten really comfortable with talking with students one-on-one, and seeing where they are, regardless of how advanced or early on they are in their learning. We'll find the one thing – the basics that I feel might help them find a lifetime of stuff to work on. Well, without frightening them too much [laughs]!
There was a roommate I had when I first moved back to Dallas; he was a big guitar fan. He would always say, "You gotta show me some stuff, man. What's the secret?" So, I'd hand him a CD, and I just say "Learn this," you know [laughs]?
There are a lot of people who are looking for that shortcut. Lots of, "When will I be there?" To that, I love your advice: you're not going to be there, and if you were, what fun would that be?
PG: Or maybe you will be there, but when you finally get there, there's still more. And, thank goodness there is, because you don't want it to end.
AT: Absolutely. That hunger, and that feeling of, "Man, I've got to get my s*** together," is essential.
PG: I think one of the most important moments as a teacher for me was when I started learning Japanese. It was the first time in my life when I tried to do something that I was bad at, and I didn't give up.
AT: Oh wow.
PG: There's lots of things that I'm bad at, but usually, I give them up right away.
AT: That's what sweeping was for me [laughs]!
PG: Yeah, fingerstyle guitar would probably be like that for me now – and sweep picking to some extent.
Anyway, it was the first time I knew what struggle felt like. And, when you teach, you'll see that some students get stuff right away while others struggle with it. [Learning Japanese] totally made me understand what that feels like, because, like I said, I usually just avoid the pain by giving up [laughs].
AT: [Laughs] Exactly. That's human nature, right there.
PG: When I learned Japanese, I thought, "I'm just going to keep trying." And, it really made me understand that there's different ways to learn. I also figured out what I wanted my teacher to do to make the process less painful and more efficient. I think my guitar teaching was really influenced by that.
A lot of it also has to do with being in the moment with the student. Before that, I would just pile up information, put it in a big carton, and wheel it over to the student. You know, "Here's a bunch of great stuff. Here's how you do it. Go do it."
Now, I'll say, "OK, let me hear you play," and I'll really listen to them. Then I'll look for what I can attach on to that. I'll think about where they are, and what the next logical step is.
And, really, I want instant gratification. I want something to work right away. I think that's been much more effective than saying, "OK, here's a bunch of complicated stuff."
AT: That's it. I do the same thing. I'll listen, and I want to be as positive and supporting as I can, because we've all been there.
PG: I've got recordings of myself at eleven to prove it [laughs].
AT: Ha! Well, I'm sure you were still pretty badass
But, this could be a really be an integral piece of their musical journey. I had one guy that brought in that stack of books, like you mentioned – all the scales and all the chords – but there just wasn't much happening. So, I said, "OK, here's the deal: I'm going to play this same chord progression [repeating], and I'm going to give you one string and one finger. Go."
Doing that, you take everything away. I give them five notes – find the A minor pentatonic on the G string – and they instantly start playing melodies. They can't help it. Sometimes, when you strip it down to that basic form, it's amazing what can happen. I think some people get so overwhelmed with that information that it keeps them from making music. So, this is a way for them to figure out how to make some music. That's exciting. It gets fun.
All the other stuff helps, but it seems like it's got to be in small doses. When somebody handed me that Ted Greene book in Miami, I glazed over and I didn't get anything from it. It's so overwhelming.
But now, if I go back and work with a little three chord thing I learned, I can instantly write a song. That's the good stuff. Not that the stacks of stuff isn't great, but you have a lifetime of stuff to work on. Just go slow.
PG: Yeah, you can't memorize the whole dictionary in a week. You just have to pick your three favorite words, and start building sentences.
AT: I want to say a quick thank you to you for taking some time to talk about and go public with your hearing issues. First and foremost, thank you for being so forward – I know some people can be so private about personal issues. Pete Townsend did it back in the eighties. I remember seeing him on MTV warning kids with their Walkmen about volume because he had tinnitus back then.
As you know, I've had tinnitus for many years, but it really ramped up at one point, along with hyperacusis. And, the combination of those two things prevented me from listening to any music for a while there. To say that was a depressing time in my life would be the understatement of all time.
I reached out to you because I knew you'd had some experience, and you'd respond with these very thoughtful emails. It meant a lot to me. I really appreciate the fact that you shared some insight and some wisdom. It helped me get through that time.
Like everything, you kind of have to figure out your own path with whatever your issues are, but sometimes it's nice to hear from somebody who's having similar stuff to deal with, and know that you're not alone. So, thank you. You were very kind, and I appreciate it.
PG: Oh, you're very welcome.
AT: I'm very lucky that I did this one re-habituation with white noise generators planted behind my ear. They generated a low-level white noise in the frequencies that had been diminished in my hearing spectrum. The thought there being that by listening to that for seven, eight hours a day, you'd kind of train your brain not to listen to the ringing.
I did it for months, and it, coupled with some lifestyle changes – I was taking prescription medications for a variety of things and mixing them with alcohol, not a good idea – I've gotten to a point where I couldn't be happier.
The biggest struggle was the hyperacusis. For those that don't know, it's the sensitivity to loud sounds. With that I had to basically seal my ears completely for a gig. I had to ask my bass player to barely be on, and ask the drummer to lightly tap [laughs].
I had two weeks booked in Japan, and that was rough. I got through it, but it was hard. So, I'm just happy you're out there being honest; telling people to wear hearing protection because you think it's never going to happen to you. You could talk to any guitar player our age, and almost guaranteed, they'd have similar problems – everybody from Eric Johnson to [Eric] Clapton to [Jeff] Beck. They've all dealt with these things.
But, when someone like you can say, "Hey, protect your ears," it's great. Especially around the drums. I think the drums have actually done more damage than the guitars, believe it or not; or the headphones. It's always shocking when you head back into the cutting room and listen to your headphone level from across the room [laughs].
PG: It's also the style of music. I think, in the nineties, there were some great pop-punk bands like Green Day; there was a band I discovered from England, called The Wildhearts. The style of recording also turned digital in the nineties, and to emulate analog recordings, people would compress everything. And, people would master the recordings so everything was loud all the time.
I remember, I had a mixing console with a VU meter on it that showed that output volume at the desk. I was just playing a Led Zeppelin CD – it was the song "Whole Lotta Love" – and my friend who was playing drums on the session said, "Man, I love this song because the middle section is the heaviest thing that has ever been recorded."
I happened to be watching the VU meter as it's playing, and through pretty much the whole song, it's just, kind of, sitting in the middle. Then at the end, during the guitar solo, there are this big bonks on the drums [imitates drum part], and the meter just spiked way up. It was so much louder than the rest of the song. That's why it has that effect.
Then, I put in a Green Day CD – which I loved – and the meter goes all the way up, and stays there for the entire song.
AT: [Laughs] Yay!
PG: Of course, I thought that was great, and that's what I want my record to do. But now, I'm starting to realize that, really as a useful arranging technique and a tool to save your hearing, when I write, I don't want everything to be loud all the time. If there's dynamics, it'll actually make the loud parts seem louder. It makes them more effective.
So, I attribute it to myself being a songwriter that could've been a little more artful [laughs].
AT: Well, that's a thing about different parts of your life, and age, and youth versus elder wisdom. Your tastes change, and there's nothing wrong with that.
When that first Green Day record came out and they were on Letterman, I was so excited because they were rushing their asses off, and I like that. I want a band to be human. When Nirvana came out, they took everything away from the Mutt Lange effect. Everyone was punching in syllables, but these guys got into a room and sounded good.
Have you seen Sound City?
PG: Oh, I haven't.
AT: You will love, love, love this movie. I mean, Dave Grohl is awesome no matter what, but he did such a phenomenal job with this documentary. Check it out when you get a chance. It's very inspiring. It's all about analog and that old Neve console.
PG: Speaking of "Have you seen?", I've got to ask if you've seen Adam Fulara? He's one of the other teachers at the camp.
AT: No, I haven't. What does he do?
PG: Well, you know the Stanley Jordan all-the-fingers-tapping-on-the-guitar technique? Well, he's from Poland, actually. I just found him on Youtube, and his playing is so ridiculously… impossible.
The first time I saw him, he was playing Bach piano pieces on a double-necked guitar – each neck had its own part. It was obviously very mentally and physically taxing because he was going beyond the rock face.
[Both laughing harder]
He was making a face that I really can't describe. And, in a way, his faces were so distracting that it started to take away from the music, but then I realized, he's really playing something extraordinary here.
That came out a couple of weeks ago, and I posted it on my website just to show the world. He saw that I posted his videos, so he contacted me and asked me to check out some of his new stuff.
In the new stuff, he's really grown musically. The first [videos] were full of fire and very athletic – and it's Bach, so it's beautiful – it's very much in your face. The new stuff had great dynamics and great vibrato even with a very unusual technique. Everything had a great sense of timing, and I realized, this is really a guy to look out for.
I had no idea where he was from. He was one of the first guys I contacted, so I want to see him in person. And, that's really my motivation for choosing everybody. You're somebody that I'd always love to jam with, to sit down and trade ideas with, and to get pure inspiration from.
To me, everybody that I was able to get for the camp is someone that I would love to be a student around. So, I'll probably be sneaking into the back of the classes.
AT: I'll be right there with you, buddy. It's going to be great. I appreciate the invitation, man. It's cool. I'm happy to be part of the festivities.
PG: I'm glad you'll be able to be a part of it.