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  • Writer's pictureBarış Şahin

Guthrie Govan Interview (2012)

Guthrie Govan holding a Turkish tea glass
Guthrie Holding a Turkish Tea Glass

Hello Guthrie. This is Baris and you are, once again, my visitor but for the first time on Guitarism Section. How and where on earth are you now? (read the first interview with Guthrie from 2007 here)

Lets begin with your last action with Bryan Beller and Marco Minnemann “the Aristocrats”. Can you tell us some details about this super group project? You know, the meeting the gang, decision to form a band, composing and recording process...

Indeed! It all started when Bryan Beller emailed me back in January, asking if I'd like to participate in a one-off trio gig with him and Marco Minnemann. (The gig in question, just for the record, was the Bass Bash - a celebration of All Things Bass which occurs every year in Anaheim, during the NAMM period.) Originally, Greg Howe had been scheduled to play the show, but he had to cancel at short notice, and I believe some people contacted Bryan on Facebook (or some such) recommending me as a possible replacement.

Well, to cut a long story short: we did the gig, with the bare minimum of preparation, and I think everyone - audience and band members alike - felt that there was a unique chemistry in the line-up. Cool little spontaneous musical things kept happening, and the whole thing just seemed to work. The gig was so much fun that all three of us came off stage wanting to recapture that vibe, by whatever means necessary... so we booked a studio in Chicago for a few days in April, with the intention of making an album.

One of the fun things about this band is that everybody writes music, so we opted for a totally democratic approach - we contributed three tunes each, emailing mp3 demos and charts to each other before our meeting in Chicago. We all had very hectic schedules so, once we'd arrived at the studio, we had less than a week in which to arrange/rehearse/record everything... but somehow we managed!

Aristocrats band live in 2012 photo credit Claude Dufresne

So that our magazine can be ideal alternative or promotion tool for telling people what your band have, how do you describe the music and the way of “the Aristocrats”?

Well, hopefully the overall vibe will come across as that of a rock power trio doing strange, naughty things with their instruments. We didn't want to be too "fusion" or too serious. Everyone in the band has some kind of reputation for being able to play "complicated" music, but we didn't just want to focus on chops and technique for the Aristocrats album: our main goal was to capture that energy and humour which seemed to flow so naturally at the Bass Bash gig where we first played together.

We wanted to make this album as "honest" as possible - there's one section in the first track where two guitar tracks overlap slightly, but apart from that the whole thing is basically the sound of a trio playing live in a room. In other words, it's pretty much the opposite of a heavily layered, "produced" album like Erotic Cakes kind of recording... which means the live shows can have the same kind of sonic texture as the record.

It's hard to describe an eclectic band like this accurately, but your readers are very welcome to check out our website - - if they want to learn more!

What do you predict about the future of “the Aristocrats”? Is it just one night stand for you all or will it be long term relationship?

No, we all want to keep doing this thing: we always wanted the Aristocrats to be a real band, not just a project, so we have plenty of plans for the future. Watch this space!

Guthrie Govan with a Suhr Pro

This magazine is focused particularly on recording so that i have to ask details about recording sessions of your aristocratic album. Can you please give some secrets, details? The whole studio period, the guitars, amps, mics and other equipments and sofwares that you have used etc.

We recorded the album at a place called Planet 10 Studios, in Palatine IL. They certainly have some nice gear - a big Neve board, etc - though to be honest we were all so busy learning and arranging our tunes that we didn't really have the time to check out all the studio's outboard gear thoroughly! I can at least tell you that all the audio was recorded using the Nuendo software, and that the guitar tones were captured using CAD Audio T-7000 ribbon mics and a Universal Audio 2108 2-channel mic preamp.

In terms of how the guitar parts were recorded, I wanted to record everything through two amps simultaneously, in an attempt to make things sound as "big" as possible, so I used an Axess Electronics buffer to split the signal from the guitar. The main amp was a Suhr Badger 30 head running into an Suhr open back 2x12 cab, and the secondary amp (which we mixed in subtly for a little extra high and low end) was a Custom Audio Electronics PT-100 head running into a 4x12 cab. We also blended in a fair amount of signal from the room mic, to make things sound a little more natural.

Oh, and the main guitar I used for the album was my Suhr Antique Modern GG signature model: you can hear this on every track apart from Get It Like That, for which I replaced the guitar part at home after the main studio sessions, using my old Gibson ES-335 running into my trusty Badger 30 head (again!) and subsequently into a Two Notes Torpedo speaker simulator.

Whats beyond “Erotic Cakes” as your first solo album? How about second one? If you still have no plan to release second, do you have written stuff?

I do have quite a lot of demos stored away for the follow-up solo album, but I've stopped making promises I can't keep regarding when the next solo CD will actually be finished. My musical life is pretty busy these days, and I'll continue to pursue whatever activities interest me the most at any given time, so... the album will be ready whenever it's ready: that's really all I can say ;-)

Another subject; “Guitar Clinics”. You are traveling around the world for Suhr and tell the masses the use of volume knob is not a toy but also a very functional tool and how your signature models are awesome :) We are pretty happy to see you live in İstanbul. Anyway, how does it feel to be a traveler like this?

It's great to be able to see so much of the world. One of the things I particularly like about my job as a clinician (and indeed as a musician in general) is that I always feel a certain sense of purpose: wherever I go, I feel that I have a reason to be there... and of course it means that I meet all the cool "musician" type people wherever I go, rather than just wandering around like a lost tourist! The pace of life can be somewhat tiring and hectic at times (jetlag, constantly changing diet, etc) but hey - this is the life I chose for myself, and I wouldn't swap it for anything else!

What about the memories about Turkiye and Turkish audience&fans? I see you have very good times with eating our delicious foods, visiting touristic places ;)

I'm not just saying this because I'm talking to a Turkish person: Istanbul really is one of the coolest places I've ever played. I love the fact that there's music on every street corner, and the warmth and energy of the fans is definitely something special: it feels like Turkey has a culture where music is very highly valued. (The only other place where I've noticed anything similar would be India, I think...) I suppose Istanbul straddles two different continents, so it should come as no surprise that the place is so alive ;-)

Here's an interesting thing: I'm starting to become more familiar with some of those microtonal notes which are so commonplace in Turkish music, yet don't exist in the Western music I encounter at home (there's a very cool note lurking somewhere between the minor and major second degrees of the scale, for instance, and i hear it a lot in "minor key" Turkish music...) At first, these microtonal notes sound a little strange to someone from Western Europe or America, but they start to make more sense after a while. I own a Vigier fretless electric guitar, so some of your traditional Turkish music can be a refreshingly different source of inspiration in terms of how to approach fretless playing - it's a pretty "young" and under-developed instrument where I come from!

Guthrie Govan had Suhr signature model guitars
Signature Series of Guthrie Govan by Suhr Guitars

Concerning Suhr, you are endorsed by Suhr for a while. First we see you some regular production models, then first Signature serie and then set neck model. And the last one is antique GG model. There ise some alterations on that guitar. First of all, is it you prefering the woods, pickups etc.?

The basic design is identical to the previous versions of the GG model: same wiring, same pickups, same frets, etc. I just wanted a more "vintage" vibe for this guitar, so we used nitrocellulose lacquer on the body, and the old style bent steel saddles on the bridge. Apart from that , the most obvious difference is the wood choice (which has a huge effect on the tone) - this one has a basswood body with a plain maple top, coupled with a roasted maple neck.

Okay, why do you prefer Basswood as a body wood? You may know, basswood has slightly bad raputation for some because of many far-eastern cheapo guitars made out of basswood, even if their “Basswood” are not from same subspecies. So that i may assume that some people may have prejudices for your newer signature guitar.

It not so much that I prefer basswood - I still love the sound of mahogany, and to my ears basswood just sounds different, rather than "better". It has more highs and lows than mahogany (which has a distinctive midrange focus) so it somehow sounds "bigger", which is great for an exposed trio setting like the Aristocrats - it fills up more frequencies.

As for basswood's "bad reputation - I think it's undeserved. After all, saying that all basswood sounds the same is just like saying that all beef tastes the same!

How can you describe "roasted maple" necks of Suhr? Do you know how do they do and what differencies did led you turn from mahogany as neck wood to roasted maple instead of roasted mahogany? By the way, the first time i interview with John Suhr himself, will be the first time i’ll ask about why roasted maple not roasted mahogany ;)

I believe they bake the wood in an oxygen-free oven of some kind: this removes all the moisture and organic residue from the wood, and the result is a very resonant and stable piece of maple. It rings beautifully, and I've found that I don't really need to adjust the truss rod as I fly between places with very different temperature/humidity in their climates - which is very helpful, in view of my crazy touring schedule!

As for the mahogany question - I think I can save John the trouble of answering that one! The problem with mahogany is that it's a more porous, spongy kind of wood, not as tough as maple, so I don't think it would react so well to the roasting process.

About amps and pedals? Do you still use your Cornfords? What are your actual gear besides guitar?

It's been hard to find Cornfords in some of the places I play: they're obviously great amps, but lately I've been using the Suhr Badger 30 quite a lot... and for my current Erotic Cakes tour of Italy I'm using a Brunetti Mercury head, which is a pretty cool split-channel head. (The Badger, of course is a single-channel amp - great for the Aristocrats music, but not quite versatile enough for the slightly bigger lineup I'm touring with at the moment, in which Dave Kilminster and I both play guitar...)

I try not to use too many pedals - I prefer to get most of my tone by playing in a certain way and using "honest" amp ettings which respond to the nuances of how I hit the strings, etc - but I can certainly tell you about the pedalboard I'm using for the Aristocrats gigs (and indeed for most of my other gigs...) I run into a Suhr Koko Boost (which features a clean boost and also a switchable midrange boost) into a TC Electronid Polytune, a Guyatone WR-3 envelope filter, a Providence Anadime Chorus, a Dunlop Jerry Cantrell wah and some kind of volume pedal (it varies) In the FX loop, I also have a TC Flashback delay, and occasionally a TC Hall OF Fame reverb, too.

Guthrie Govan and his Suhr guitar and amp

Market waits for your affordable Rasmus Guthrie Govan Model impatitently. When will people achive their GG Rasmus Guitars, you know something about it? Plus, you played the prototypes in Factory (Yako Guitar Factory), China. What was your first impressions, experiences with this guitar?

(Now I feel really bad about how long it's taken me to answer your questions - the Rasmus GG guitars are actually available now!)

I think the Rasmus concept is very cool - it's all about helping people achieve Suhr levels of construction and playability at a more affordable price. The Suhrs are awesome, of course, but I am aware that many of the Suhr customers are doctors and lawyers, rather than serious gigging musicians - particularly in these crazy economic times! Much of the basic construction work for the Rasmus instruments is done in China, as you know, but the pickups/hardware are the same as what you'd find on a custom Suhr, and the final quality control/setup/fret-dressing etc are all done in the Suhr factory in California, so I think it's a good way to get "the best of both worlds". On the GG model, in particular, I like the fact that the cosmetic aspects have been kept as simple as possible, so every dollar of the price goes into ensuring the best tone and playability for the money - i.e. the truly important factors!

Guthrie Govan visits Yako Factory in China for Rasmus Guitars project
Guthrie visits Yako Factory in China for Rasmus Guitars project

I was also quite impressed by the factory in China during my visit: it was nothing like that "sweatshop" stereotype which so many people associate with Chinese manufacturing...

We have spoken about your Signature guitars and so i like to ask you about endorsementships. You are endorsed by some companies and i’m pretty sure there are much more companies willing to work with you. What is the best way for them to approach you? How do you choose suitable ones?

I only really do the endorsement thing if: 1) the company genuinely likes what I do and 2) I genuinely like what they do, too. It's great to be able to work with a company like Suhr: I've actually learned a lot about different woods and guitar construction from hanging out with those guys, spending time in their factory and so on, which helped me to make my signature guitars even more accurately tailored to my needs. I think that kind of relationship is more valid than just signing up with a big company and asking for a signature model with my initials inlaid at the twelfth fret ;-)

I like to ask you, also about guitar playing. For me, your most advantageous sides which is a lot :) is articulation and phrasing besides bare speed. Plus you can play the guitar in every genre of music. I like it! You can play flashy fast lick and bind it with uptempo country/bluegrass melody, after then can play king trinity of blues (B.B. King, Albert King and Freddie King) type of things. Moreover you do this without using bunch of pedals, ultra modern one zillion channel amps with infinite patches, but just changing the tones just how you use pick and a volume pot :) Its bloody amazing...

I'm not sure if that's actually a question, but... thanks for the kind words! :-) Well, I just do what I do, and if I'm blending a lot of different musical influences it's purely because I like a lot of different music. The simple, hands-on approach to getting different tones comes mostly from my simple blues-rock background, I guess, whereas some of the more technical elements probably come from listening to jazz, bluegrass, classical or whatever. I always liked that old saying that there are only two kinds of music - good and bad! - but I guess the balance between different playing elements varies from one genre to the next. It's all good...

How about your relations with vintage masters like Duane Allman, Eric Clapton, Rory Gallagher, Jerry Donahue, Roy Buchanan and Chet Atkins?

All great players, obviously! Of the names you mentioned, I think Clapton (in his Gibson/Marshall days) was the biggest single influence in my formative years, alongside Hendrix, Zal Cleminson (from the Sensational Alex Harvey Band) and (in a slightly different sense) probably the Beatles.

It is 2011 now and we still cant see your name with G3 tour. Personally, i really like to see you on new G3 tour besides Joe Satriani and another third guitarist. What do you say about it, what are your opinions about G3 tours and being part of it?

I don't really know. I think I'd find it difficult to sit through a whole concert where three consecutive artists play in such similar genres: I think I'd have more fun watching Satch playing on a bill with two entirely different players, like Tommy Emmanuel and Derek Trucks. If the G3 guys asked me to do it, I'm sure I'd say "yes" anyway, but... well, they haven't asked me, so this is purely a hypothetical discussion ;-)

Its been too long to see you as an instructor for guitar magazines. I still remember your parts, i was trying to emulate you in 2008/2009 or sometime :) Dave Kilminster and you werevery educative those days. Anyway, what does writing gain you and do you miss writing stuff?

Well, I've written a lot of educational stuff over the years, and all of it is still out there, somewhere, so I don't feel at all bad about the fact that my life seems to have moved into a new phase where I'm more focused on gigging, recording, writing, etc.

I mentioned Dave Kilminster and it reminded me other skilled British players like Paul Biletowitz, Jamie Humpries, Phil Hilborn... What names do you recommend us to follow?

There are quite a lot of interesting UK guitar players these days: one "new" guy you should definitely investigate (if you haven't already done so!) would be Alex Hutchings. Of the slightly "older" generation of UK guys, I always thought Shaun Baxter and Paul Stacey were a couple of the most interesting. I'm not sure what they're up to these days, but they're both splendid players...

(Oh - and there's a great acoustic guitarist from the UK named Clive Carroll - definitely check him out!)

How do you evaluate the actual instrumental guitar habitat and foresee beyond?

Well, nobody can predict what might happen next in the instrumental guitar genre - that's part of the fun of it all ;-)

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