By: Dr Matt Warnock
Paul Gilbert is a guitarist who wears many hats. During a long and successful career he’s worked as a solo-guitarist, is a long-time member of metal powerhouse Racer X and has enjoyed rock stardom as the guitarist for Mr. Big, where he became known the world over for his acoustic guitar work on the band’s smash hit “To be With You.” Being able to move between bands, genres and sonic situations has firmly cemented Gilbert as one of the top electric guitarists of his, or any, generation.
As a player, there are few guitarists who can match Gilbert’s technique, speed and versatility. Becoming known for his blazing guitar work with Racer X, Gilbert’s shredding has landed him in Guitar World’s “50 Fastest Guitarists of All Time” as well as being voted number four in GuitarOne’s “Top 10 Greatest Guitar Shredders of All Time.”
Sure, these honors do Gilbert’s shred ability justice. There’s no doubt that he can rip alongside the Malmsteen’s and Vai’s of the guitar world. But, he can also lay down a blues-drenched solo that rivals the best in the business, displaying a melodic understanding and ear for texture and contrast that sets him apart from the crowd.
These two abilities have allowed Gilbert to move between the shred world and the radio-friendly rock world with ease, making him one of the most recognizable voices in modern guitar.
Not only has Gilbert become known as one of the fastest and most interesting rock guitarists of the past thirty years, but he’s also a world-class guitar pedagogue. Countless guitarists have worked out their chops and developed their technique by watching and studying his instructional videos and attending his G.I.T, National Guitar Workshop and V.I.P. clinics.
With his third instrumental album, Fuzz Universe, being released in Japan, with follow up releases in the U.S. and the U.K., Gilbert seems to be drawing from an endless flow of inspiration and creativity in his work. Delving into the classical world, with a healthy dose of shred, the new album promises to be another Gilbert classic, alongside his previous two instrumental albums Get Out of My Yard, and Silence Followed by a Deafening Roar.
Paul Gilbert recently sat down with Guitar International to talk about Fuzz Universe, G3 and the guitars and gear he used on his latest record.
Matt Warnock: You’ve said that your experiences on the G3 tour back in 2007 helped inspire to you write and record “Fuzz Universe.” Was it playing with those guys every night that inspired you, or playing in an instrumental setting for the tour, or both?
Paul Gilbert: I was truly surprised by the audiences at G3. Every night we’d go onstage in a different city and there would be more guitar fans than I ever imagined possible. And they loved it when we played lots of solos. It really opened my eyes to the culture of guitar.
I grew up listening to music where guitar always shared the spotlight with the vocalist, the song, and band. G3 showed me that that mixture doesn’t have to be exact. You can focus on the guitar and the world doesn’t come to an end. In fact, it can be even more exciting for those of us who love the guitar.
Of course, having nightly jam sessions with Joe Satriani and John Petrucci was very inspiring as well. I loved every second of that tour.
Matt: After working with vocalist Freddie Nelson on your album United States, did you feel you needed to mix things up by recording an instrumental album or was this just how the music worked out for the new record?
Paul Gilbert: I’m still pretty new to instrumental music, so after doing Get Out of My Yard and Silence Followed by a Deafening Roar, I felt like I was just getting warmed up. Music is an endless universe, there’s always more to explore. Of course, working with Freddie was great. I hope we can do more together someday.
Matt: You’ve been quoted as saying that Fuzz Universe is “a giant step closer to the ultimate rock guitar sound and playing of my dreams.” Many of us who know your playing would think you’ve reached the pinnacle of performance, but as a player you feel that there’s always more to do, more goals to achieve. Do you feel that you’ll ever find that ultimate sound, or is it something that you’ll always search for?
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Paul Gilbert: You’ve got me on the therapist’s couch with this one. Let me think. There are very specific reasons why I’ll always be tweaking. First of all, every room sounds different. When I take this music out on tour, the acoustics of each venue will vary radically from day to day. This sends me straight to my pile of gear to tweak around until it feels and sounds right in the room.
Second, I LIKE tweaking. I asked my sister once, how she thought men were different from women in general, and not just the obvious difference in body parts. She immediately replied, “Men like to tinker.” I can’t argue. My DNA tells me I must keep tinkering with those tones.
Matt: What exactly is the “Fuzz Universe” and where can we find it?
Paul Gilbert: You don’t have to find it. If you like the sound of electric guitar, you live IN it. Fuzz is the word that I’ve always used for the sound of an overdriven guitar. I think most electric guitar players live in a Fuzz Universe.
Matt: Are you using your Ibanez Signature model on the record? Do you like to stick with one guitar in the studio to keep a consistent underlying sound, or do you like to experiment with multiple guitars when it comes time to record?
Paul Gilbert: I mostly used my Ibanez Fireman guitars on this record. There’s the new red one that’s on the cover. It’s nearly identical to my original Korina Fireman, but it’s red. I used the original Fireman a lot as well, and I’ve got a light blue Fireman customized with all the designs from a Japanese sake bottle. I used that for the Bach Partita.
Matt: What amps are you running through these days and do you have a different amp set up in the studio than you do on the road?
Paul Gilbert: I used a Marshall Vintage Modern, plugged into a THD Hot Plate, then into a Randall isolation speaker cabinet. The cabinet has a single 12” Celestion speaker inside. I used a Marshall 2061x and an old Fender Princeton Reverb for a couple of things, but ninety-percent of the record is the Marshall Vintage Modern. I use the Vintage Modern on the road too, so it feels like home.
Matt: I know you’ve got a lot of pedals that you like to use, both live and in studio, do you have a few favorites that you go to time and again that you could tell us about?
Paul Gilbert: I tried a couple new pedals from a company called Majik Box this time. I ended up using them so much that they’re going to put them together into one pedal and call it the Fuzz Universe. That’ll be a new signature pedal coming out soon.
I also used an MXR script Phase 90 for a lot of things. My Ibanez Airplane Flanger is always good for some crazy noises. And the wah wah! I used a wah wah on this album more than I ever have before. The model is a Cry Baby 535Q.
I also got some cool fuzz, octave sounds from an H.B.E. UFO pedal, and the H.B.E. CPR compressor came in handy for some of the cleaner parts. I used it on the Bach piece and the intro to “Will My Screen Door Stop Neptune”.
Matt: A lot of our readers have spent hours watching, and rewatching, your instructional videos in order to gain insight into how you approach the guitar. Is there any one exercise that you’ve got in your practice routine that you find is really helping your playing that you could share with us?
Paul Gilbert: My practice routine is mostly just learning songs. I try to learn songs like a starving man at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Every song I like, I just cram into my head. For example, Bach piano, violin, and cello pieces, are great for learning how to apply scales and arpeggios in a very musical way.
60′s and 70′s pop is great for learning chords and gaining an intuition for good melody writing. Blues is great for developing vibrato and developing a sense of “speaking” through your guitar. There is so much music out there. I just try to find what I like and play it. From Paganini to the The Partridge Family. I like it all.
I do struggle with Celine Dion, but if she did a cover version of “Loveshit” by The Wildhearts, I would forgive everything.
Matt: There’s a video of you on YouTube where you rip through six notes, one on each string, with lightening fast precision. I have to ask, was this something that you practiced at home, or did you just whip it off the top of your head in the clinic? If you did practice it, was this a technical exercise, or a neck-learning exercise, or both?
Paul Gilbert: I stole that lick from Greg Vorobiov. It was a long time ago, so my memory is a little fuzzy, but I think he was a friend of John Alderete. I was playing with John in Racer X, so Greg and I would jam sometimes, and as soon as he played that lick, I had to steal it. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened.
And yes, I had to practice it to make it sound right.
Matt: Now that you’ve released your third instrumental album, and you’ve worked with Mr. Big and Racer X in recent years, where do you see yourself moving in the future with your music? Can we expect more albums from these bands or are you going to be focusing on your solo work?
Paul Gilbert: Mr. Big is up next. I love playing guitar in Mr. Big, and it’s really fun to sing in that band. Everyone sings, so the harmonies are really thick live. And there is no other bass player who plays like Billy Sheehan, so we always have a good time working out some insane things to play together.