WHAT IF ...
We spoke to Paul Gilbert about his
last solo album, Fuzz Universe in our
September 2010 issue, and here he joins
us to fill us in on his contributions to the
latest Mr. Big project.
You’re involved with a lot of projects—
from Mr. Big to solo records, teaching,
and Racer X reunions. What’s especially
challenging about playing with Mr. Big?
Mr. Big has heavy songs, ballads, and
everything in between, so it’s a challenge
to get the right sound for each song.
I need a big, crunchy metal sound for
“Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy,” where
“Just Take My Heart” is super clean and
compressed. “Green-Tinted Sixties Mind”
and “Take Cover” are more jangly, so I
have to find a balance between a clean
sound with enough overdrive to still
make it rock. And there’s “To Be With
You,” which is acoustic. I wonder if anyone would notice the difference if I used
the same sound for everything or if I’m
just giving myself a complicated hobby
because I like to mess around with gear?
What’s your favorite aspect of the
I think the songs will sound great live,
because they were basically recorded that
way. But one of my favorite things about
Mr. Big is the vocal harmonies—I love
playing and singing.
“Once upon a Time” features a heavy
drop-D riff. Do you write much in nonstandard tunings?
I’m mostly scared of different tunings. I’ve
invested so much time into learning to play
in standard tuning that it’s a little depressing to start over with new shapes in a new
tuning. But “Once upon a Time” is manageable because only one string is different.
I hear a lot of single-coil sounds on
What If ... . In a genre that’s pretty
humbucker-centric, what draws you
to the sound of single-coils?
Paul Gilbert and his signature Ibanez PGMFRM1 Fireman, which features hum-cancelling DiMarzio single-coils, a Volume knob, a Tone knob that only affects the bridge pickup, and a 5-way
pickup selector. Photo by James Chiang
I saw Frank Marino play a few years
ago, and he had two Gibson SGs: One
with the humbuckers and one with
three single-coils. The single-coil guitar
had a lot more clarity and just sounded
better overall. That inspired me to put
single-coils in the Ibanez Fireman gui-
tar that I was designing at the time. I
think that they offer a good balance of
clarity and thickness. I used it on the
new Mr. Big record as well as my last
solo record, Fuzz Universe.