DEWA BUDJANA IS A ROCK STAR IN HIS HOMELAND OF Indonesia. As the guitarist and principal songwriter for the
mega-popular quartet Gigi, he interjects interesting harmonic
twists and the occasional heady solo into the band’s otherwise
straight-ahead pop songcraft. Formed in 1994, Gigi has
released 15 studio albums, and continues to draw large crowds
and move tons of records, the most recent being Live at Abbey,
recorded at the hallowed London facility of Fab Four fame.
Budjana’s parallel solo career, however, is likely to be of
particular interest to guitar enthusiasts. His diverse and highly
inventive compositions infuse jazz-fusion with renewed vigor,
and his wonderfully imaginative and melodic guitar playing
pays homage to past masters, while simultaneously providing
fresh perspectives. Bassist Jimmy Johnson and drummer
Vinnie Colaiuta back Budjana on his latest release, Surya Namaskar
[Moonjune], which also features cameos by keyboardist
Gary Husband, guitarist Michael Landau, and several superb
Besides playing guitars, Budjana collects them, and he is
especially fond of painted and otherwise decorated guitars—so
much so that he founded a guitar museum in Ubud, Bali, that
will open in 2015. “The building has three floors,” explains Budjana. “My collection is on the first floor,
a collection of instruments from Indonesian
players is on the second floor, and on the
third floor is the international collection.
I already have guitars from Robby Krieger,
Steve Vai, Allan Holdsworth, Michael Angelo
Batio, and Guthrie Govan.” Thirty-four of
Budjana’s painted guitars are chronicled in
Dawai-Dawai, which includes interviews with
the painters and photographers.
Did you study Indonesian and/or Western
No, I am almost entirely self-taught. I
grew up with traditional Indonesian gamelan
music and it forms my roots, but I didn’t
study it formally and I don’t play any traditional
instruments. I did take lessons from
the legendary Indonesian jazz guitarist Jack
Lesmana back in 1985, and also from his son
Indra Lesmana, but mostly I learned from
listening to music, from books, and from
magazines. Actually, Guitar Player was my
But you do read and write music, and
have even arranged some of Gigi’s songs
Yes, long before forming Gigi I was a session
musician for the Indonesian National
Orchestra and also in some big bands, and
I learned about orchestration as a result of
those experiences and simply by doing. Now,
when working with musicians in the studio,
I communicate my music with sheet music
and also verbally.
How does traditional Indonesian music,
particularly gamelan, enter into your compositions
and your approach to guitar playing?
Basically, I begin with a melody line that
is influenced by Balinese gamelan, Sudanese
kendang percussion, or Borneo suling bamboo
flute, and combine it with modern chordal
harmony. Most of my compositions—such
as “Dalem Waturenggong,” “Surya Namaskar,”
and “Lamboya” on Surya Namaskar—came from Balinese melodies. But there are
many colors of gamelan from the various
regions, with pentatonic scales being the
most common, though also seven-, nine-,
and ten-note scales, and the pitches may
be equal-temperament or not. The tuning
depends on the leader of the orchestra.
The music you write for Gigi and for your
solo records is radically different. Does your
creative process differ when you are writing
in those two styles?
Yes, it differs greatly. In Gigi we do everything
as a team—composing, arranging,
producing—but for my solo recordings I do
all of those things myself, though I sometimes
get input from the other players while
in the studio.
Surya Namaskar differs from your last
few solo albums. What led to the change
Peter Erskine was the drummer on several
of my previous albums, and his participation
inspired me to compose and arrange
in particular ways. When it came time to
record Surya Namaskar, I wanted to go for
a more progressive-jazz-rock sound and
Jimmy Johnson, who also played bass on my previous album, recommended Vinnie
Colaiuta. Then, once Vinnie had confirmed,
I composed material with him and Jimmy in
mind. Often the inspiration for my music
comes from the spirit and energy of the players
Are your main guitars Parkers?
I prefer to play Parker Fly guitars because
they are very light and I like the tension and
feel of the fretboards. Most of them also have
piezo pickups, and I love the clean sound I
get with those. I have five Deluxe models,
a Mojo, three Nitefly models, and some
P Series instruments. A few of them have
custom artwork carved and/or inlaid into
the tops. I also always use my PRS McCarty
Hollowbody, whether recording with Gigi or
solo, and I have PRS Custom Soapbar and
Custom 24 Anniversary guitars, as well as
the Klein guitar I’ve played for many years.
Recently, I acquired a Tom Anderson
Hollow Drop Top Classic guitar that I mostly
used on Live at Abbey and on Surya Namaskar,
as well as a Duesenberg Starplayer-TV
with a piezo and hexaphonic synth pickups
installed that I bought while doing the session
with Antonio Sanchez in New York earlier
this year, and now it is my main electric
guitar for both solo work and with Gigi. My
main live acoustic guitar is a Godin Multiac
Steel, my main acoustic when recording is a
Taylor 712C. I also have a Lowden that I like
a lot, and a Takamine nylon-string. Actually,
I have many guitars, but these are the ones
I play most frequently.
What brand and gauges of strings do
I use D’addario Strings, .010-.046 for
electric and .011-.052 for acoustic.
Do you play just with a pick, or sometimes
with your fingers, or a combination of both?
I combine both, and I use 1.0mm Pickworld
Do you ever use non-standard tunings?
Not really. Sometimes I’ll tune to dropped-D when recording, but I’m always in standard
tuning when performing live.
What amps are you currently using?
I love direct recording and from about 1990,
I used the Mesa/Boogie Preamp and TriAxis
Preamp. Since 1994, I have tried to use more
amplifiers and miking systems, including Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier and Lone Star amps.
Now, I’m using Bad Cat Cool Cat 30 and Lil
15 amps, along with my main system, which
is a Bob Bradshaw Custom Audio Electronics
CAE 3+ SE Guitar Preamp and CAE RS 24
MIDI Controller, into a Mesa/Boogie Stereo
Simul-Class 2:Ninety Power Amp and two
1x12 cabs. When going direct I use a Line 6 POD Pro or a Fractal Audio Systems Axe-Fx II.
Do you have two different setups for playing
with Gigi and for playing solo?
I use a more complex setup with Gigi,
which is basically a power-pop trio. There
are three outputs from my guitar: electric,
piezo, and synth. The electric signal goes
into the CAE system, the piezo goes directly
to the P.A., and the output from the synthesizer
also goes direct to the P.A. Plus, there’s
a POD Pro in the CAE system that also goes
to the P.A., and that sound is combined with
the sound of the miked-up amps. My solo
setup is much simpler. The electric signal
goes to a pedalboard, the piezo goes direct,
and there is no synth.
You have quite a few pedals both on
your pedalboard and in your CAE switching
system. What are a few of your staples?
The Pro Co Rat has been my main distortion
pedal since 1986. There’s one on my
pedalboard, along with an Ibanez TS9, a Free
the Tone SOV-2 overdrive, a Strymon Time-
Line delay, a Line 6 M5, and a Z. Vex Fuzz
Factory pedal. These go straight into a Bad
Cat or Mesa/Boogie amp. Other pedals that I
use frequently in my rack system are a Providence
OD, Pete Cornish SS-3 and CC-1 overdrives,
a Fulltone Octafuzz, a Demeter Fuzzy
Octavulator, and a Neunaber Chroma chorus.
How did you get that fantastic fuzz sound
on the solo for “Fifty” on Surya Namaskar?
I played a Klein guitar through a Fulltone
Octafuzz into a CAE OD-100 amp, but I also
split off and recorded a dry signal and later
reamped that direct track through a Z. Vex
Fuzz Factory and my Mesa/Boogie TriAxis
in my home studio.
Is that a Coral Sitar on “Kalingga”?
That’s a Jerry Jones Master Electric Sitar,
based on the Coral Sitar from the ’60s.
“Duaji Guruji” has a Mahavishnu Orchestra
flavor in some sections. Was that intentional?
And what time signatures are you
playing in on that piece?
The Mahavishnu Orchestra was my biggest
influence going back to when I first played
in a junior high band, and that composition
was dedicated to Guruji John McLaughlin.
In fact, I asked him to play on the track, but
he was too busy touring to be able to do it.
The piece is in 13/8, but it switches to 4/4
in the chorus and solo sections.
Similarly, the Allan Holdsworth influence
comes through during your solo on
I never try to copy, but Holdsworth is
another of my heroes, as well as Pat Metheny
and Bill Frisell. Actually, though, that solo
was entirely spontaneous, in response to
what Jimmy and Vinnie were playing.
What time signatures are you playing in
on that piece?
The intro and verse are in 11/8, and the
chorus and solo sections are in 7/8.
Despite your formidable chops, you
always emphasize melody in your playing.
I’m not a shredder. For me, the melody
and the song are always the most important
How does spirituality inform your music
and guitar playing?
To make people happy gives full satisfaction
to my soul.