and sending small-minded players scurrying for cover before his mind-boggling might. At least that’s what one listen to the famous shredmeis-ter’s new instrumental album, Fuzz Universe, reveals. Maybe that’s why
Gilbert chose such larger-than-life artwork for the new album’s cover.
We recently spoke to Gilbert as
he toured the US doing clinics and
workshops before heading off to
tour Japan. As always, he was funny
and articulate as we discussed
everything from his favorite Beatles
chords to how his tones have
changed over the years and how his
hearing loss affects his performing
You’re a huge fan of the Beatles and all sorts of jangle pop. How
does that affect your writing and performing for an all-instrumental
album like Fuzz Universe Is the instrumental format liberating or
The Beatles are kind of my musical DNA. If I could sing like them,
write like them, and make girls jump up and down and scream like
they did, then I would never have to play instrumental music at all.
But for some reason, playing athletic things on the guitar always
came easier to me. So I try to do that in a musical way that even a
Beatles fan like me could listen to. More specifically, I try to learn
lots of chords from ‘60s and ‘70s pop songs and use them as the
foundation for my melodies. On this album, I used a lot of min7% 5
and 7sus4 chords. I love the sound of those chords, and I feel they
are terribly underused in heavy rock. I felt it was my mission to bring
up the average.
Also, it’s funny you mention the Beatles, because when I was working
on the chorus for the opening track, “Fuzz Universe,” I was suddenly
inspired with a chord progression and melody. I ran into my studio
to record it while it was still in my head. First I recorded the chords,
then I started overdubbing the melody, and—damn—I realized I had
just written the bridge to a very famous Beatles song. I ended up
changing it with a couple of chord substitutions and a totally different
melody of my own, but you can still sing the Beatles melody over the
top and it fits perfectly. I’ll let you guess which song it is.
That song begins with this cyclical, sinewy lead that reminds me
of the licks you were teaching at clinics back in the ‘80s. There’s
also a prominent flanger sound. Is that your signature Ibanez AF2
Airplane Flanger engaged on most of the song?
The intro was actually inspired by the Doobie Brothers. I was learning
the chords to the song “What a Fool Believes,” and the first chord is
a 7sus4—possibly my favorite chord in the world. It’s also the “Hard
Day’s Night” chord, and it’s very similar to the opening chord of
“Hemispheres” by Rush. I thought, “If this is really my favorite chord,
why not learn an arpeggio version of it?” So I started working out fingerings that would let me play the chord tones in a quicker, more
solo-y style. I ended up adding a ninth at the top, and that became
the intro. The second half of the intro is the same pattern but using a
min7% 5 chord, like I was talking about before. The flanger is actually
an MXR Phase 90, the script-logo one with the LED. I used that on
the intro and for the big strummed chords. I use the Ibanez Airplane
Flanger for the crazy Whammy-type sound later in the song.
If I’m not mistaken, the Airplane Flanger was based on the old
ADA units, right? What tweaks to that design did you request?
The old ADA flangers were cool because you could turn one of the
knobs all the way up and it would take over your whole guitar sound
with this ferocious, electronic dive bomb. I asked Ibanez to make
a pedal that would give me something like that, but with a second
flange channel that I could adjust for more normal flange sounds. The
normal side will also go crazy if you crank it up, so sometimes I can’t
resist and I just toggle between the two crazy sides.
You get a ton of tones on “Olympic” alone—ringing, semi-clean
intro licks, crunchy Vox-style rhythms, modulated arpeggios,