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Four New Electric Players of Note

November 8, 2012
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READER RESPONSE TO “FOUR CORNERS OF THE NEW ACOUSTIC Universe” in the June 2012 issue of GP was so positive that we decided to follow up with a similar piece showcasing four young electric guitarists that you may not be familiar with, but who we feel deserve your attention. These players all come from entirely different musical backgrounds and their approaches to the instrument reflect that. What they have in common is a commitment and a passion for pushing their playing to new heights, demonstrating that the electric guitar is still as relevant and vital in contemporary music as ever. Also, as previously, we have included six additional Google-worthy players that we strongly encourage you to check out.

Charlene Soraia
Although you probably wouldn’t guess it from listening to her music, 23-year-old British guitarist and singer- songwriter Charlene Soraia is a major progressive rock fan. “King Crimson is my favorite, but I also like Gentle Giant, Soft Machine, Pink Floyd, and others,” she says. “Of course, I like normal stuff like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, and David Bowie, too.” While there is Mellotron on her debut album, Moonchild [Peacefrog], and the record takes its name from a King Crimson song, Soraia’s music and guitar playing evoke Joni Mitch- ell and Rickie Lee Jones more than Robert Fripp.

Soraia commandeered her father’s guitar when she was five, and played her first gig at eight. She honed her solo act at open mics and per- formed with rock and psychedelic blues bands, releasing several EPs along the way. Last year, her cover of the Calling’s “Wherever You Will Go” nearly topped the U.K. charts after being featured in a Twinings tea commercial, thrusting her into the spotlight.

Soraia’s playing is sophisticated, seductive, and a tad quirky, providing the perfect complement to her catchy compositions and alluring vocals.

What role does guitar play in your songwriting process?
I spend most of my time playing guitar, often as a sort of meditation, and most of the songs I write are based on something complicated that I’m trying to master, such as a new technique or chord progression. For example, on “Daffodils,” my right hand is doing this strange percussive thing while I’m hammering on and pulling off with my left hand, and “When We Were Five” was all about playing in 5/4 to begin with.

You do lots of interesting things with your right hand. Describe a few of them.
I use all of my fingers when fingerpicking, and I sometimes add flamenco-like percussive flourishes. I also tap notes and chords in different ways, and change how and where I pick to vary the tone color. Odd fingerpicking patterns are also part of what I do, sometimes combined with weird tunings such as G, A, B, F#, D, D [low to high]. Tunings like that force you to get away from standard chords and harmony and find new forms of expression. I also play with a pick, but not when playing my own music.

You employ some jazz harmony and phrasing. Where does that come from?
I’m self-taught, and have never taken a lesson, but I use my ears and have learned some things from friends.

You collect guitars. Which ones do you play most often?
My main guitar is a 1973 Raver. It’s a Japanese copy of an ES-335 that belonged to my dad, with custom P-90 pickups and other electronics and hardware that I installed. The front pickup has really thick windings, but there’s a coil-tap switch built into one volume pot that thins the sound out a bit. That guitar is strung with a .010-gauge set, and I’ve never changed them because I quite like dead strings. My second favorite guitar is a Danelectro baritone, and I also have another Dano that’s in Nashville tuning.

How about amps and pedals?
I went D.I. for years, but recently I got a 1974 Fender combo with one speaker and a fantastic sounding reverb. My only pedals are an Electro-Harmonix POG2 to get organ sounds, and an inexpensive Artek analog delay.

What’s next, a double-disc prog record with a Roger Dean cover?
Oh my god! One day I’ll do that. Actually, I’m planning to use more guitars and effects on the next record, and I’m thinking of holding a séance to get Joe Meek to pro- duce it! —BC

 Jimmy Bowskill
Jimmy Bowskill
Canadian guitar guru Jeff Healey passed in 2008, and in addition to leaving an amazing discography for future generations of guitarists to discover, he also left us his own discovery—Jimmy Bowskill.

“They wouldn’t let an 11-year-old inside his club, so I started busking on the side- walk outside,” recalls Bowskill. “Jeff heard about me, invited me in to play, and I did pretty well. I got a lot of gigs and exposure just from that one night.” Healey’s bassist, Alec Fraser, provided studio time for Bowskill, and eventually the precocious youngster inked a deal with Ruf Records.

Now 21, the Torontonian recently delivered his fifth CD, a lively blues-rock gem titled Back Number. Bowskill may have been Healy’s discovery, but his rough-and-tumble, Les Paul-through-a-Marshall style and sound are more akin to another of his heroes— Paul Kossoff. Back Number sounds as if it was cut directly off a studio floor in 1970— lean, mean, and alive.

What do you dig most about Paul Kossoff’s guitar playing?
He’s heavy. Koss is all about copping a tone, and playing the tone and the groove. That’s how you get a solo across. If you play a lot of notes things get blurred. His tone on “Trouble on Double Time” from Free’s second record is unbelievable.

What are your favorite guitars and tunings?
My favorite guitar is a ’68 Gibson Les Paul Custom. It’s a three-pickup model, but I disconnected the middle pickup. I generally tune down a whole-step because I like the fat, rumbling sound. I play “Down the Road” on the 12-string neck of a Gibson EDS-1275 doubleneck. I love how the six open strings on the other neck ring sym- pathetically. For slide, I use a cowhide- covered Fender Esquire with a single humbucker that my dad and I put together out of parts. For “Broke Down Engine,” I tune it to a version of open C that’s like a standard first-position E chord tuned down two whole-steps—C, G, C, E, G, C, low to high. I ran it through a ’60s Bogen P.A. and a ’70s Marshall 4x12 loaded with Celestion G12H 30 speakers in the studio.

Is that your main rig?
No. I simultaneously use an s2 Ampli- fication clone of a Marshall 18-watt head into a 1x12 cabinet from a ’50s Gibson GA-30 loaded with a modern Celestion greenback, and a 50-watt ’67 Marshall plexi head through my Marshall 4x12 cab. The s2 rig provides presence and a nice mid- range, and the plexi provides the weight and punch. I use a ’70s MXR Dyna Comp as a boost on solos.

Are you planning to tour the United States anytime in the near future?
I’ll be down there next year with Ruf’s Blues Caravan tour. It starts in January in Europe and will probably hit the United States sometime in the spring. —JL

Bilal Karaman
Hailing from Istanbul, Turkey, Bilal Kara- man has forged a highly eclectic guitar style that bridges East and West in much the same manner as the city that he calls home. “Istanbul is both Asian and European, and being exposed to both sides is an advantage of living here,” he says. “For example, I have been influenced very much by Turkish and other Middle Eastern instruments—particularly stringed instruments such as the oud and various types of baglama—and I try to get the feeling of those instruments on guitar. At the same time, I have been exposed to Western music, and I also studied jazz with American teachers at Istanbul Bilgi University.”

Karaman plays both electric and acoustic guitar, and occasionally fretless versions of both. “I have two fretless guitars, but I rarely play them,” he says. “Erkan Ogur (featured in the March 2008 issue of GP) has been a big influence on my musicality, and he is a master of fretless guitar, so I wanted to play fretless, too, but I haven’t really concentrated on it the same way I have fretted guitar.”

The guitarist’s extraordinarily fluid, inventive, and emotionally compelling playing is showcased on Bahane [Esen], which also features a cosmopolitan blend of brilliant accompanists—but his next release will focus entirely on guitar. “It will be a quiet album, without drums or percussion, and I’ll use different types of guitars to create all of the colors,” says Karaman. “The pieces will embody my musical approach— my chord voicings, my arrangements, and my melodies.”

What guitars, amps, and effects do you use?
My primary electric is a semi-hollow instrument handcrafted by Murat Sezen, but I also play Yamaha SA2200 and Silent guitars, one of which is fretless. My acoustics are all handmade. I play the electrics through a Roland JC-120. I have a hand- made overdrive pedal, a Line 6 DL4 delay, and a Boss RC-20 Loop Station.

What strings do you use on your electrics?
I prefer heavier strings. They are gauged .013, .016, .024, .028, .038, and .049.

Do you play in standard tuning?
Most of the time, though I sometimes tune my sixth string down to D, and there are a couple of other tunings I have used with fretless.

Do you ever incorporate traditional Turkish music into your compositions?
Not directly. Also, much of that music is based on makams, which are similar to scales but involve microtones, which you can’t play on a standard guitar. Some- times, however, I’ll play whichever Western scale comes closest to a particular makam, and bend the strings to approximate the sound—but only when I want to sound like an oud or a baglama.

Describe your creative process.
It varies. Sometimes I’ll just have a particular feeling and a style in mind. For example, on “Ben Sende,” I began with just the key and the time signature, which is 5/8. Then I heard a traditional Turkish folk melody in my head, and I decided to re-harmonize it, and ultimately to compose a new piece based on it. Another example would be the song “Happy Moments,” which has no melody. I played a few chords that sounded happy, and then, when I played them as chord arpeggios, they outlined a melody. On other occasions I might start with a jazz standard and re-harmonize it in a modern way, then replace the melody with another melody, resulting in an entirely new composition. —BC

Scott Carstairs
“A guitar player should aspire to be a virtuoso,” says Scott Carstairs, who spear- heads the San Francisco Bay Area-based and politically charged band Fallujah, armed with an Ibanez RG7321 7-string loaded with DiMarzio Blaze humbuckers. “It takes the whole package: proficient technique, tasteful notes and phrases, and a solid tone.”

Carstairs possesses that package at an age when most are happy to have had their first legal beer. He and gravel-voiced screamer Alex Hofmann started formulating their progressive metal in 2006, and along with second guitarist Rob Mar- amonte, Carstairs threw down the guitar gauntlet at the close of 2011 on Fallujah’s, Harvest Wombs [Unique Leader]. It’s brutal as hell and rhythmically complex, causing Carstair’s clear, legato melodies and soaring, liquid shred lines to stand out in stark contrast.

“I focus on melody foremost, and then phrasing,” explains Carstairs. “Music should sound like one fluid piece, not chopped up segments.”

What inspired you to become proficient, and when was the turning point?
The insanely clean riffs and melodic solos in Necrophagist’s tunes inspired me to pursue technical proficiency. The turning point came when I began taking lessons with Christian Müenzer of Necrophagist and Obscura. We analyzed Necrophagist’s “Epitaph,” and Obscura’s “Cosmogenesis.” Studying with the original architect gave me a great understanding of how such melodic runs were created. We also analyzed techniques used by players such as Greg Howe, Allan Holdsworth, Guthrie Govan, Scott Henderson, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani.

Describe your right-hand technique.
I use a small jazz pick with a closed fist because it facilitates a very controlled motion, making it a lot easier to execute fast, articulate runs. I use sweep picking, but I find that tapping is the easiest way to play extended arpeggios. I tend to tap with my middle and ring fingers to add scale degrees such as 5ths and major 2nds to whatever lick I’m playing.

What is unique about your style and what you’re bringing to progressive metal via Fallujah?
The way I enhance progressions by playing chord extensions and voicing triads phrased in odd groupings of five and seven over them is unique. Trying new ideas in progressive metal with a background in jazz-fusion brings something a bit different to the table.

How did the epic instrumental “The Flame Surreal” come about?
We wanted to have an instrumental that was a little more prog than the rest of the album, so we incorporated alternate time signatures, polyrhythms, and a lot of chromatics to give it that jazz-fusion sound. I created some progressions that left a lot of leeway for note choices and then began constructing the phrasing from there.

What are your aspirations and goals?
I want complete control over the notes I choose to play and how I play them. As simple as that sounds, it’s a long journey. —JL

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