In the world of guitar heroes, Paul Gilbert is the everyman’s shred god. Vai has the alien freak thing down, Satch is the shiny Silver Surfer, and Yngwie is the neoclassical reincarnation of the roadrunner. Gilbert just comes across as a cool guy who loves to rock. With a career spanning classic shred band Racer X, through to Mr Big (admit it, you’ve strummed “To Be With You” on an acoustic guitar around the campfire at least once), covers projects with Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, and a solo career that’s seen him play everything from jangly guitar pop to all-out metal, with a few classical detours along the way, it’s surprising to note that 2006’s, “Get Out Of My Yard,” was his first all-instrumental album. In October of that year, Gilbert took some time out from defending his yard to tell me all about it.
PETER: Why did you wait until now to release an all-instrumental CD, and what inspired you to do it?
GILBERT: When I was a kid, all the coolest guitar players were in big rock bands, playing arenas, and being played on the radio. And all these bands had SINGERS. Eddie Van Halen with David Lee Roth, Jimmy Page with Robert Plant, Randy Rhoads with Ozzy, Alex Lifeson with Geddy Lee, Michael Schenker with Phil Mogg… and even Allan Holdsworth had John Wetton. I loved these guitarists, but I also loved their BANDS. So when flashy guitar playing started to become a niche that was aimed solely at an audience of guitar players, I wanted to stay away from it. From the beginning, my band RACER X had singing and songs. MR. BIG, of course, went even further in that direction. And as a solo artist I surprised everyone and went in a pop/punk direction rather than make the shred album that most people were expecting. But as much as I love rock and pop songs, I AM a guitar player. And after playing for 30 years, my guitar had some things to say. So I thought I would quit complaining about the guitar niche and heartily join in by making the coolest CD of pure guitar music I could dream up.
PETER: Did you stumble across any cool new techniques during the recording of the album?
GILBERT: The first song I recorded was the Haydn symphony. I used my guitar to replicate every instrument in the orchestra. I learned bassoon parts, oboe parts, cello, clarinet, flute, bass, viola, and of course, the main violin parts. The arpeggios and scale sequences in classical music are always a challenge to play on guitar, so I have no choice but to invent some unusual fingerings to make the notes happen. After recording the whole piece, I was definitely warmed up to do the rest of the record!
PETER: What happened to the song titles for the album that you originally posted on your website, that when strung together formed a paragraph about pesky kids in the yard?
GILBERT: Ahh! You saw that! I thought that would really cool at first, but I couldn’t remember which song was which, so I went back to my original titles.
PETER: What guitars did you play on the album?
GILBERT: I used an Ibanez PGM300 with a Kahler tremolo on it. I haven’t used a whammy in a long time and it was fun to try it again. You can hear that guitar on the solo in “The Curse of Castle Dragon”. I also used it on the main parts of the Haydn symphony. I have a custom Ibanez doubleneck that I used for the opening “Get Out of My Yard” solo. One of the necks is strung with just 3 strings, all tuned to “E” in octaves, low, middle, and high. This is really good for playing arpeggios with hammer-ons and pull-offs. I used this tuning with a capo in a bunch of different positions to make the intro happen. I also have some vintage Ibanezes that I really like: a ’79 hollowbody Artist, a ’77 Deluxe 59’er Les Paul copy, and a ’77 SG Custom copy. I bought these all on ebay. They are killer!
PETER: Will there be any new PGM Ibanez models in the near future?
GILBERT: I just got a new prototype with a narrower fingerboard and three gold covered humbuckers. It’s really cool! For something to become a production model, I would really have to become my main guitar. And the current PGM301 is still hard to beat.
PETER: How did you get to be so damn good on the guitar? Do you practice a lot these days, or do you not need to any more?
GILBERT: Thank you the compliment. I don’t practice ALL the time, but often enough. I definitely had to practice for the Haydn symphony!
PETER: What’s the strangest place you’ve heard one of your songs played?
GILBERT: The first thing I can think of is… a few years ago I was doing a guitar clinic… I think it was in Kansas. A kid who worked at the music store picked me up from the airport, and as soon as we got in his car he turned on his stereo and starting listening to “The Jam”. This the last song on my first solo album “King of Clubs”. It’s a 20 minute long guitar battle where the rhythm section basically never changes, and Bruce Bouillet and I just solo and solo and solo and solo. So, back the story… the song was about 17 minutes into it when he turned it on. That meant he had already made it that far. And then, 3 minutes later, the songs ended… and STARTED AGAIN. He had the thing in “loop” mode. 20 minutes of non-stop soloing was NOT ENOUGH for this kid. He needed it AGAIN. Insane.
PETER: Godzilla is tearing apart the city. You have time to save one guitar before he eats the rest. What guitar will it be?
GILBERT: At the moment, I really love my ’79 Artist hollowbody. I haven’t played hollowbodies much before but the thing just resonates so beautifully. Even at a low volume I get great feedback and sustain. Plus it’s BIG and since I’m very tall it’s nice to have a guitar that’s more my size. Maybe, armed with this guitar, I could fight off Godzilla and preserve the rest of my guitar collection. I would certainly try.
GET OUT OF MY YARD is on Mascot Records
Click here to buy ‘Get Out of My Yard’ on CD.
Click here to buy the ‘Get Out of My Yard’ instructional DVD.
Click here to buy ‘Silence Followed by a Deafening Roar’ on CD.
Click here to buy the ‘Silence Followed by a Deafening Roar Guitar Instructional DVD & Shred Annex.’