Interview: Guthrie Govan Talks About The New Aristocrats Album

Guthrie on style, technique, tone and pretty much everything else   21-Jun-13

There must have been some that happened to nurture the emergence of yourself and all the other talented fusion guitarists around at the moment, or do you think it was a coincidence?

"I'm not even sure if I would claim to be a 'fusion guitarist' per se... I just play guitar, really, and I swear allegiance to no particular style: if anything, blues/rock probably forms the real "core" of what I do...

"I think I know what you mean, though, and I suspect that the correct answer would "YouTube". If the bulk of your guitar activity is in the field of Complicated Instrumental Music, the chances of developing any kind of following in your local area are slim at best, because - let's face it - most 'normal' people really have no interest in such specialised pursuits!

"The advent of things like YouTube meant that the community of players like that could suddenly - and effortlessly - start to span the whole globe. I suppose that's been beneficial in two ways - not only does the internet provide a kind of marketplace for musicians, it also serves as an inspiration for the younger players, not to mention an accurate reference point in terms of just how good it's possible to get.

"I remember reading about Shawn Lane more that twenty years ago, but having absolutely no idea how I would ever be able to find an actual recording of the guy, so for a while I had to be content with imagining what this mythical player might sound like. A situation like that probably sounds laughable to today's aspiring players, who have grown up with the Internet, but... it really was like that for a while!"


In terms of your own style and your influences, you've probably been asked every question there is to be asked, but it's interesting the way you always sound like 'Guthrie' on a record even if you're playing totally different styles. For recording 'Culture Clash', did you attempt anything you hadn't really tried before, or attempt incorporating new techniques or musical styles?

"The biggest departure from my comfort zone was probably Bryan's tune Louisville Stomp. That particular tune has a kind of demented "Brian Setzer" vibe to it, so I thought it might be fun to hire a big hollow-body Gretsch for the occasion.

"I'd never played that kind of guitar before, so the Louisville Stomp recording session was definitely something of a learning curve: in addition to getting comfortable with a Bigsby trem, I also felt a weird urge to hit the strings as hard as possible - seems like those guitars really reward the more violent picking approaches.

"Big, fat Gretsch guitars are fun: I really should spend more time with one."


On a completely different note - a lot of people are saying you're the best electric guitarist in the world at the moment, if lots of people are saying it, then it must be true, right... right?!

"Well, I pay people to say that stuff!

"Jesting aside, though, I've never really subscribed to the idea that a "best guitarist in the world" exists - or even needs to exist. If someone wants to be the best at something, it makes far more sense to take up running or something like that, where it's easy to measure performance as a simple statistic. Music should be all about expressing yourself, though, and we all have different things to say on the instrument, so... how can you really compare? I'm just trying to be the best me I can be, corny though that may sound."

It's corny, but it makes sense! People keep such a keen eye on what gear you're using, your recent change of guitar sent a few guitar forums into overdrive, have you made any other updates to your rig recently?

"I try to use whatever rig will work best in any given musical context, and the requirements can vary wildly from one gig to the next. For the Aristocrats gigs, I'm still using a single-channel Suhr Badger 30 head, in conjunction with a rudimentary pedalboard which has been specifically designed to fit inside my suitcase.

"For the Steven Wilson shows, I'm using a prototype 100W Victory head with various channel-switching options, along with a proper "grown up" pedalboard which was built by Daniel Steinhardt at The Gig Rig - I need a lot more flexibility on the SW gig, in terms of accessing a variety of tones instantaneously."


And you made a TC Electronic TonePrint, did that process bring out the inner geek in you, and would you like to make another one?

"If anything, my Corona Chorus TonePrint was intended to appease my inner idiot, rather than my inner geek: I did administer a few subtle tweaks to some of the sonic parameters, to be sure, but mostly I was just trying to come up with a version of the pedal in which all the sounds which I found most appealing and useful could be accessed as effortlessly as possible.

"In the case of each knob on the pedal, I tried to make it so that the optimum settings were represented by easy-to-memorise positions like "12 o'clock" or "all the way up", and that seemed to entail limiting things like the maximum modulation speed, so it would go as far as "fast Leslie" and no further.

"Doing TonePrints is fun, and I'd definitely like to work on some more: in fact the TC guys and I have been trying to schedule another session for ages, but it's been hard to set a date in stone, with all the touring craziness that's been going on my calendar lately. We'll make it happen one of these days, I'm sure!"


Guthrie, I'd like to ask so many more questions, but I know you're a busy man, so finally, here's our standard final question on SonicState. If you could only use one guitar, one amp and one pedal as your rig for the rest of your life, what would that rig be?

"I acknowledge that this is your "standard final question" but - at the risk of being No Fun At All - I really don't know how to answer it properly. I suppose the pedal would have to be a volume pedal - I've become increasingly dependent on one over the last few years - and the guitar would probably be something very similar to my current Charvel prototype (this is still a "work in progress" at present but it's getting very, very close to doing everything I was looking for).

"Amp-wise... well, if I could use just one amp for the rest of my life, I'd actually be quite relieved - the reality is that I often have no alternative but to use unpleasant rental amps in many parts of the world, so your hypothetical "one amp" criterion is actually more of an ideal than a restriction, in some ways!"

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