NEWS: Paul Gilbert & Freddie Nelson US, Europe release dates

Paul Gilbert and Freddie Nelson’s CD, United States, has been out in Japan for a while (Ibought my copy from and it will soon be available in Europe and the US too. CLICK HERE to read my review of the album, and click HERE and HERE to read my interviews with Paul.

Release dates are April 20 in Europe and April 28 in the US.

Gilbert and Nelson recently completed a string of Japanese live dates, all of which are available as official bootlegs. Here are the links to buy the individual shows (and thanks to I Heart Guitar reader Kevin for providing the photo):

Official Bootleg Tokyo 1

Official Bootleg Osaka

Official Bootleg Nagoya

Official Bootleg Tokyo 2

CLICK HERE to buy United States from

Oh and for up-to-date Gilbert news, check out Random Chatter Music.
Man there are a lot of links in this post.

INTERVIEW: DiMarzio’s Steve Blucher

If you’re a fan of guitar music (and if you’re not, you’re probably not even reading this website to begin with), go to your CD collection and pull out a random assortment of, say, 10 CDs. You’re probably gonna find Steve Blucher listed in the thank-you section of about 8 of them. As head of research and development for DiMarzio, Blucher is partially responsible for some of the coolest guitar tones ever. Recently I tracked him down and asked a few questions.

I Heart Guitar: How did you get started designing pickups? What were your early experiments like?

Steve Blucher: I originally split my time between playing guitar and working in guitar repair shops in New York, but I knew nothing useful about pickup design until I started working for DiMarzio. I learned from Larry DiMarzio on the job, so to speak. My first experiment (for better or worse) became the X2N pickup.

IHG: Do you get much of a chance to play these days, or are you too busy being a legendary pickup guru?

Blucher: I’ve played since my late teens, and have never stopped. I’ve had a fair amount of experience both live and in studios. I’m sure it’s possible to design pickups without being a player, but, for me, an essential connection would be broken if I couldn’t play. It also feels important to be able to relate to current guitars, amps and effects. Pickups don’t exist in a vacuum.

I don’t feel like a pickup guru, legendary or otherwise. Anyone who has seen my workspace will have an entirely different view of my status, and possibly also of my sanity.

IHG: What styles do you play?

Blucher: My favorite style (if you can call it that) is improvised music with as few restrictions as possible. This may seem very vague, but having lived my entire life in New York City might explain it, in the sense of being exposed to many influences and a musical culture pretty intent on not being caught up in rules.

IHG: With regard to when you said pickups don’t exist in a vacuum, I imagine you seek feedback from various players from different genres when designing a new pickup? For example, Paul Gilbert was featured in an ad for the Tone Zone – did he have any feedback into its development?

Blucher: We sometimes seek opinions from players in different genres, but not when a pickup is being designed for a specific player or style of music. Paul Gilbert didn’t provide any input towards the development of the Tone Zone. The only player who did was Eddie Van Halen, in the course of doing the pickups for the MusicMan EVH guitar. My understanding is that the final choice for the bridge pickup was between the TZ and the pickup he actually chose, and it almost literally came down to a coin toss.

IHG: The wiring scheme for the Ibanez Jem, with the split coils in positions 2 and 4, has become an industry standard. Do you have any other tricks, designs, schemes, etc like that which you’d like to see in wider use?

Blucher: I suppose this is simply a logical offspring of the JEM wiring, but recently I’ve been liking Strats with 3 Area hum cancelling pickups (the middle pickup being reverse-polarity) and a multi-pole 5 way switch to split the pickups in the 2 & 4 positions. This wiring offers the possibility of using relatively warm-sounding pickups in all 3 positions–which many Strat players want–and still having the typical Strat “cluck” in the 2 & 4 positions, which they also want.

IHG: Steve Vai once said that in designing the pickups for the white Jem, he put you through hell and that you probably have a few white hairs that say ‘Vai.’ What’s it like working with someone like Steve Vai, who has such precise ears, and how do you translate the sound from their head into their pickups?

Blucher: I guess “hell” is a relative term in this context. Steve is a perfectionist, and that fact used to make me very nervous because I was afraid of the possible consequences of failure. That said, it is easier in many ways to work with someone who can clearly describe what he or she wants than with someone who has only a general idea of the direction to go in, and Steve has always been very specific about what he’s after. He usually describes what he wants in terms of frequency response. It’s not the way most guitarists visualize sound, but it offers a good idea of what he wants to hear.

IHG: Vai also said that when you were designing pickups for the white Jem, you went through several prototypes named after Harley Davidson engines. Do you remember the others and what they sounded like? And did the Breed have its origins in this period too?

Blucher: The nicknames were panhead, flathead and shovelhead. Most of these directly preceded the Breed models. In terms of performance, they were all intermediate steps between the PAF Pro and the Breed.

IHG: It’s been reported that in addition to the Vai/Harley Davidson prototype names, the FRED was named after Fred Flintstone. Are there any other surprising working titles for your pickups?

Blucher: Yes, but good taste sometimes must be maintained. Some of the names were just silly and would probably cause offense if they saw the light of day.

IHG: A few of my readers wanted me to ask you if there are any plans for a Paul Gilbert signature pickup. It seems to me that Paul likes to use lots of different Dimarzio models for different applications.

Blucher: Your observation is exactly right. It would be difficult to do a pickup for Paul, because he goes between a large number of guitars with different pickups. I don’t think he’d care to be limited to one model. [ed. note: Gilbert now has his own signature pickup, the Injector, and surprisingly it’s a single coil. Read my review here.]

IHG: When 7 string guitars took off again in the late 90s, were you all like, “Alright, now I get to design more 7-string pickups”?

Blucher: I’m afraid not. I reserve that attitude for pedal-steel pickups, which I do for myself. We all have guilty pleasures, I suppose.

IHG: What are the specific challenges of designing 7-string pickups, especially when it’s a version of an existing 6-string pickup?

Blucher: We’ve gotten pretty good at being able to make equivalent 7-string versions of existing 6-string models. We’ve done it for about 12 models, so it’s no longer the exercise in terror that it was in the beginning. Designing a 7-string pickup from the ground up can be fun – the increased length of the bobbins literally offers more room to play around with tone and output.

IHG: Has the advent of digital modelling amps/units had any effect on your work? In other words, do you tend to consider the signal chain a guitarist might be using with a particular pickup, or do you just concentrate on making the best pickup you can?

Blucher: Digital amps have had an effect. As I mentioned, I don’t believe pickups exist in a vacuum, and there cannot be a “best pickup” that we can all agree on. Pickups are one part of the signal chain, and I don’t believe it’s possible to ignore how they affect and are affected by the rest of the chain. Change any part of the chain and the performance of the pickup will change as well. If I know what a players signal chain is, it’s going to have a serious effect on the design of the pickup.

NEWS: New releases, February 2, 2009

A pretty quiet one again for new releases this week. On a positive note, that means I won’t be spending all of my lunch break at JB Hi Fi lining up to buy a bunch of CDs…

Keith Emerson Band featuring Marc Bonilla – self-titled
I haven’t really heard from Marc Bonilla since his album EE Ticket back in the early 90s (check it out, it’s pretty cool). This is the US version of an album released in 2008, and it includes one exclusive bonus track: ‘The Barbarian’ ( a reworking of the classic ELP track). Also features Gregg Bissonette.

Metallica – All Nightmare Long EP (Australian Exclusive)
This is one of my favourite tracks from Death Magnetic, and in true ‘sometimes we Aussies get cool bonus stuff’ fashion this release includes one of the live tracks found on the European Part 1 pressing and both live tracks found on the European Part 2 pressing: ‘Master Of Puppets’, ‘Blackened’ and ‘Seek & Destroy.’

Don’t forget that this week Paul Gilbert and Freddie Nelson are touring Japan, and each show is available from as an official bootleg.

Here are the links to order the individual shows:

Official Bootleg Tokyo 1

Official Bootleg Tokyo 2

Official Bootleg Osaka

Official Bootleg Nagoya

And you can CLICK HERE to buy Paul and Freddie’s CD, United States, from CDJapan.

NEWS: Official Paul Gilbert/Freddie Nelson bootlegs for preorder

CDJapan will offer limited-release official bootlegs of all four shows on Paul Gilbert and Freddie Nelson’s mini tour of Japan. As an avowed CDJapan junkie, this makes me kinda dizzy with glee.

Here are the links to preorder the individual shows:

Official Bootleg Tokyo 1 [Cardboard Sleeve] (Title subject to change) [Limited Release] / Paul Gilbert & Freddie Nelson

Official Bootleg Osaka [Cardboard Sleeve] (Title subject to change) [Limited Release] / Paul Gilbert & Freddie Nelson

Official Bootleg Nagoya [Cardboard Sleeve] (Title subject to change) [Limited Release] / Paul Gilbert & Freddie Nelson

Official Bootleg Tokyo 2 [Cardboard Sleeve] (Title subject to change) [Limited Release] / Paul Gilbert & Freddie Nelson

And you can CLICK HERE to buy Paul and Freddie’s CD, United States, from CDJapan.

And apologies for the link overload, but you can CLICK HERE to preorder the new Ibanez PGM401 guitar from
I’m planning to buy the hell out of these bootlegs. United States was one of my favourite CDs of 2008, and I can’t wait to hear how it translates in a live setting.

If you’re heading to NAMM in a couple of weeks, here are Paul’s scheduled autograph signings:

HomeBrew Electronics (2:00 pm Fri)
Ibanez Guitars (3:30 pm Fri)
Marshall Amps (10:30 am Sat.)
Ernie Ball Strings (Noon Sun.)
Alfred Publishing (1:00 pm Sun.)

NEWS: Freddie Nelson interview

Head on over to the Random Chatter Music blog for a new interview with Paul Gilbert’s new co-conspiritor Freddie Nelson. This is the first interview I’ve read anywhere with Nelson, and he has some interesting stuff to say about his background. Part 2 of the interview will be online soon, in which Nelson will talk about each song from United States, his new album with Paul.

By the way, how hip does Paul look in this new shot with his Ibanez Fireman guitar? In my mind this look fits right in with his excellent debut solo album, King Of Clubs, which had a cool 60s feel.

CLICK HERE to buy Paul Gilbert and Freddie Nelson’s ‘United States’

CLICK HERE to buy Paul Gilbert’s ‘King of Clubs’

NEWS: Stuff you may have missed on I Heart Guitar

I’ve picked up a bunch of new I Heart Guitar readers over the last few weeks, especially thanks to some links on kickass sites like Guitar Noize,, Truth In Shredding, Random Chatter Music Blog, Premier Guitar and, so I thought it might be a good time to point to some previous articles, reviews, interviews and lessons. So here ya go!

Interview with Joe Satriani

Interview with Paul Gilbert

Interview with Bryan Beller

Interview with Steve Turner

Review of Paul Gilbert and Freddie Nelson’s ‘United States’ CD

Review of Extreme’s ‘Saudades De Rock’ CD

Review of Def Leppard and Cheap Trick’s November 3 concert in Melbourne, Australia

Review of Lloyd Spiegel’s Live In Japan DVD

Sweep picking guitar lesson

Digital editing for guitarists

A guide to using pedals

REVIEW: Paul Gilbert & Freddie Nelson – United States

Paul Gilbert and Freddie Nelson’s album seemingly appeared from nowhere: Paul mentioned in a news update on his site that he’d completed recording a new CD, and a few weeks later it was released in Japan. A worldwide release is yet to be announced, so for now this album is only available on import. I bought mine here at and it was delivered in exactly 1 week. Woo!

The collaboration with the not-very-well-known-yet Nelson marks Gilbert’s return to vocal music after two highly successful and progressively brilliant instrumental albums, Get Out Of My Yard and Silence Followed By A Deafening Roar. The material has a different vibe to Gilbert’s solo stuff: you can really hear him enjoying just being the guitarist again like in Mr Big. The songs have lots of wild guitar playing, but the focus is on the vocal melody, and while you can particularly hear Gilbert’s melodic influence on the opening track, ‘Paris Hilton Look-Alike,’ often the vocal melodies come from a different place to those Gilbert sings on his own solo material. Nelson’s notes often seem to ride above the fundamental tones of the chord, rather than following them like Gilbert’s tend to (which is not to discount the inherent coolness of Gilbert’s melodies).

There may have been a temptation to take these songs and make them all FM-radio slick, but instead the drums sound natural and ambient, the guitars are warm and round, and there’s a live, seat-of-the-pants vibe to a lot of the material. Gilbert’s obviously enjoying the softer sounds of his Marshall Vintage Modern combo, and the sizzling treble of much of his solo stuff is completely absent here.

Nelson has been compared to Freddie Mercury (which makes me wonder, is Freddie his real name, or is it a nickname that was prompted by his love of Queen?), and while his voice itself isn’t overly distinctive, his control and range remind me of Jeff Buckley without the shakiness, or Richie Kotzen without the gravel. He has a very smooth, natural tone which perfectly suits the softer guitar tones.

So let’s look at the album track by track:

Paris Hilton Look-Alike. Thematically, this one reminds me of ‘Every Hot Girl Is A Rock Star’ from Paul’s ‘Space Ship One’ album. Musically it’s the most Gilbert-esque track on the album, and therefore a good introduction for what’s to come. Nelson hits some very natural, unforced falsetto notes, showing off his Freddie Mercury influence.

Waste of Time. Heavy on the melody, and a lot more uptempo than track one. Kicks the album up a notch, pointing to more awesome rock power to come.

The Last Rock N’ Roll Star. This one features a crazy riff in 6/8, and chugging verses that remind me a little of Van Halen’s ‘Judgement Day.’ There’s a mega-fast solo which will put to rest any lingering fears guitar fans might have that Gilbert is saving his best licks for his solo instrumental stuff these days.

Bad Times Good. A bit of an Aerosmith vibe, with a stomping 4-on-the-floor groove and some melodic, old-school rock solos. It sounds like Gilbert and Nelson trade solos on this track, with Freddie on the left and Paul on the right.

Hideaway. Another song that reminds me a little of stuff from ‘Space Ship One.’ A mid-tempo track with long vocal notes creating a nice contrast to the palm-muted riffage. There are some unusual, atmospheric chord choices in the chorus.

The Answer. I love this one. It sounds like it could fit on Gilbert’s ‘Flying Dog’ album. There’s a nice 12-string acoustic intro before a chunky riff kicks in, capped off by a waltzy chorus and another ultra-fast solo. Gilbert’s not afraid to slam it into higher gear on this material.

I’m Free. Very cool vocal harmonies, which sound like they’re achieved by sampling Nelson then playing the notes back on keyboard. This one has a spacey, ethereal vibe – yet there’s still an over-the-top shred solo, broken up by some soulful sustained notes and melodies. But lots of shred. Did I say shred? Just checkin’. Cos so far there’s lots of it.

Pulsar. This one has a very funky riff which reminds me of some stuff from Mr Big’s ‘Hey Man’ album, or the way the ‘Space Ship One’ track ‘Interaction’ moves between extended guitar figures and vocal interjections. There’s a change to 3/4 time in the middle for an evil high-speed Black Sabbath vibe, along with a cool harmony solo.

Girl From Omaha. A slightly Weezer-ish chorus, backed up by funky synth sounds and an almost pop-punk riff, in a similar vein to some of the stuff from Paul’s solo debut, ‘King of Clubs.’

I’m Not Addicted. An uptempo track and great way to close out the album or a gig. This one features those famous ADA Flanger sweeps Gilbert is so known for, yet he never overuses this signature sound. A good singalong song and I imagine this one will also be lots of fun to play on guitar.

This is an interesting and unique departure for Gilbert: more hard rock than his own vocal songs, less polished than Mr Big, and more easily accessible to non-musicians than his instrumentals, despite being full of astounding technique. With some major label money behind him I could see this album doing quite well in the US, and while I hope Gilbert never stops doing his own vocal and instrumental albums, I can’t wait to hear what these guys come up with next.

WHD Entertainment

CLICK HERE to buy Paul Gilbert & Freddie Nelson’s ‘United States’ from

NEWS: Paul Gilbert & Freddie Nelson Japan tour

Big props go to the Random Chatter Music blog for this one. Paul Gilbert and Freddie Nelson will play a few shows in Japan in 2009 to promote their new album, ‘United States.’ I’ll have a review of the album soon, but in the meantime you can read more about it here and here. The album is said to sound like a mix of Mr Big and Queen, and it’s Paul’s first vocal album since the brilliant Space Ship One.

CLICK HERE to buy United States from

Tour Dates

Tokyo shows:Feb.1 17:00 open 18:00 start 2009, 2 / 1 (Sun) Shibuya KURABUKUATORO 17:00 open/18: 00 start

Feb. 2 18:00 open 19:00 start 2009 2 / 2 (Monday) Shibuya KURABUKUATORO 18:00 open/19: 00 start
7,000 [Rate] 7000 (standing / 1 drink tax included)
03-3477-8750 03-3477-8750 Shibuya KURABUKUATORO

Nagoya show:Feb. 3 18:00 open 19:00 start 2009 2 / 3 (Tuesday) Nagoya KURABUKUATORO 18:00 open/19: 00 start
7,000 [Rate] 7000 (standing / 1 drink tax included)
052-264-8211 KURABUKUATORO Nagoya 052-264-8211

Osaka show: Feb. 4 18:00 open 19:00 start 2009, 2 / 4 (Wed), Shinsaibashi KURABUKUATORO 18:00 open/19: 00 start
7,000 [Rate] 7000 (standing / 1 drink tax included)
06-6281-8181 KURABUKUATORO Shinsaibashi 06-6281-8181