|AS A MULTI-THREAT GUITARIST, PRODUCER,
engineer, composer, and label honcho, New
York-based Brian Tarquin has scored jingles,
television shows, and movie soundtracks, and
has even won a couple of Emmys. But the guitar
is obviously his first and enduring love, and
his BHP Music label is dedicated to releasing
instrumental albums that celebrate guitarcraft.
Tarquin’s Guitar Masters Series—currently at
Vol. 2—showcases a diverse crew of guitar
stars such as Jimmy Page, Zakk Wylde, Allan
Holdsworth, and John Scofield.
What are the elements of a truly striking instrumental
I think you have to go back and examine the
music of the ’50s and ’60s, where bands like the
Ventures had a discernable sound and catchy
melodies. Simple is usually better. An instrumental
piece doesn’t have to deliver a barrage of
notes and changes to be interesting. It also helps
to remember that many listeners probably aren’t
used to hearing guitar instrumentals, so you have
to imagine the guitar as the vocalist, and the tone
and the melody must be seductive.
Is it difficult crafting a guitar sound that enhances
the vibe of the instrumental, yet still respects the
individual tone of the player?
That’s a very tricky detail, but the composition
itself will often dictate the guitar tone. For
example, when Steve Morse recorded “Towers”
[for Tarquin’s 2008 release Fretworx]—a song
commemorating the 9/11 victims—he went
for a wonderfully haunting tone with heavy
sustain that intensified the emotion of the track.
That tone was distinctly his, but it also worked
for the song.
What are some of the techniques you employ to
pull a transcendent performance out of a guitarist?
I find that players actually respond quite
well to a bit of rivalry and competition, so I
might have them listen to something one of
their contemporaries did on another track.
They’ll usually want to play as well—or better—
than their “competition.” If a player tends to
freeze up when recording, I’ll have him run
through the track a few times, and not tell him
I’m recording everything. I’ve also learned that
90 percent of the time the best takes are the
first three, when the player is fresh. Any more
takes than that will usually wear the player out.
When compiling a Guitar Masters release, besides
star power, what qualities do you identify as particularly
saleable to the guitar public?
I try to select material that guitarists will
identify with, but not find overbearing to the
ear. There also must be interesting tonal and
compositional qualities—it’s not all about
shredding. For example, on Guitar Masters, Vol. 2,
“Flashing Lights” by Jimmy Page and Lord
Sutch is a rarity with some terrific historical
value. It’s not Jimmy’s best moment in the sun,
but I thought the guitar audience would find
it intriguing to see Page out of his Zeppelin
guise. There are some great moments on it,
and the raw production lets you hear the hum
of the amps and the hiss of the tape.