INTERVIEW: Bumblefoot

Guns N’ Roses guitarist Bumblefoot, or more formally Ron Thal, is known in guitar circles for his dizzyingly original compositions sense and his near impossible command of the axe, and in the new incarnation of the mighty Gunners he gets to flex his musical muscles over classic material as well as soon-to-be-classics from the forthcoming album, Chinese Democracy.

A succession of legendary axemen have occupied the guitar chair in Guns N’ Roses over the years, including not only Slash but, briefly and unofficially, Ozzy and Black Label Society shredder Zakk Wylde too. Freak-in-residence Buckethead held the coveted role for a few years before Bumblefoot picked up the baton. “It was through a recommendation – we started chatting in 2004, and it all came together by 2006,” he says. “It’s been a good year…”

Bumblefoot can’t be drawn on a single favourite Gunners track to play live, instead settling on “Every f**king one of them. I can never pick a favourite – each song has something about it, a cool riff, melody, groove, the energy and attitude, they all have something special about them, ya know? The new songs get pretty deep, really dig ’em. So yeah, all of them.” And how did Bumblefoot feel playing on stage with G n’ R for the first time? “A little hungry.”

Guitar-wise, Bumblefoot keeps his Gunners gear minimal. “I keep it as simple as I can – Gibson Flying V for most of the show, a Parkwood acoustic and Vigier fretless guitar. Plug into a Line6 Vetta2 head and 4×12 cabs, and that’s it. Plug ‘n play, real simple.”

Amongst many other feats of technical and musical daring, Bumblefoot is known for playing fretless guitar. How did he discover fretless guitar? “Vigier Guitars has been making a fretless for 25 years, but none of their artists really jumped on it. I figured I’d give it a shot, and see what comes of it. Definitely a different approach – no bending strings, vibrato more like a cello – takes a minute to adjust, but after that it feels natural.”

I once saw a DVD of Bumblefoot demonstrating some freakishly original two-handed tapping, a style often associated with dodgy 80s Van Halen ripoffs, but devastatingly awesome in the right hands. “I don’t think I’m doing anything physically different from other players, maybe just the choice of notes and phrasing. Maybe the only difference is the metal cap or thimble on one of the fingertips so I can tap above the fretboard and still get sustained notes off the string. You can hear that in the song “Guitars SUCK”, the real high notes, that’s all tapping with the thimble.”

Finally, Bumblefoot has advice for other guitarists who wish to inject more personality and uniqueness into their playing. “Just be yourself, don’t be concerned with popularity or trends or what other people think. Express yourself the way that feels right to you. Live life to the fullest so you have a lot of experiences to draw from, when you play. Enjoy yourself.”

Bumblefoot’s new album, ‘Abnormal,’ is available from Bald Freak Music.
Photo by Jarmo Luukkonen