Tosin Abasi on Generation Axe

With his band Animals as Leaders and other projects, Tosin Abasi has stretched the boundaries of technique and technology, championing digital modeling, extended-range guitars, and odd meters.
By Michael Molenda ,

With his band Animals as Leaders and other projects, Tosin Abasi has stretched the boundaries of technique and technology, championing digital modeling, extended-range guitars, and odd meters. He absorbs all of the sounds and concepts of new music, as much as he is influenced by the greats of the past. So while Abasi may be considered as the “new generation” of Steve Vai’s Generation Axe tour, he’s also an “old soul.”

Do you know what gear you’re planning to bring on tour, or are you waiting until you have a few Generation Axe rehearsals under your belt to decide?

I’ll bring my two prototype signature Ibanez guitars, but the biggest thing is that I’ll be up against really loud amps, so I want to design a new rig for the tour. I normally run a Fractal Audio system direct, and I use in-ear monitors. But for this tour, because the majority of the material Steve is arranging is in the classic rock genre, I figured, “Why not make this an opportunity to play through a ‘real amp’ for once, and be a bit more raw?”

Joe Morgan makes these amazing hand-wired amplifiers and cabs, so his gear might be the heart of my tone. Basically, I’m going to design the rig to emulate presets—even though it will be pedals and an amp. It just won’t be MIDI switched. Honestly, it’s simpler to run a modeler because you can design your tone. If we’re playing Deep Purple, for example, I could literally tone match the lead guitar tones with the Fractal, and have that exact preset on recall with the touch of a button. It’s actually making my life a little more difficult by going the real amp route.

I wonder if an audience can even tell the difference between a tube amp and a modeling system.

It’s funny that you ask whether it matters to an audience, because I’ve done a lot of A/B testing. By the time your tone is hitting the front of house and mixed, I’m confident you wouldn’t be able to hear the difference between a Marshall JCM 800 and 1968 cab miked with a Shure SM57 versus the Fractal equivalent of it. Now, if you plugged into each rig—well, that’s different. There’s an immediacy to an amp that’s the result of not having the signal converted to digital. It’s noticeable, but I’m okay with it because of all the other benefits the digital world makes available to me.

What do you perceive as your role on the tour?

Considering it’s called Generation Axe, I guess I’m the amalgam of players who grew up listening to Yngwie, Vai, Nuno, and Zakk.

And how do you represent those influences, as well as spotlight your own evolution?

That’s a good question. First of all, I’m playing an extended-range instrument. Vai was the first person I saw play a 7-string guitar, and, thanks to him, these guitars became available to the general public. It’s now a valid market—every manufacturer is making 7-and 8-string guitars—when it used to be so fringe. But, stylistically, what I’m bringing are some rhythmic contributions I haven’t found in “older” guitar music—a lot of odd and compound meter.

What do you feel the Generation Axe tour brings to the “guitar party,” so to speak?

I think it’s a celebration of the current culture of guitar—which is experiencing a renaissance right now. I might be speaking from a microcosm, but, in my experience, you go back to 2002, and if you had a 7-string, it was because you were a Limp Bizkit or a Korn fan, and you didn’t know what a diminished arpeggio was. Now, I go online and I see teenagers transcribing the most incredibly complex stuff note for note. The culture around guitar playing has been reignited. People want to study advanced concepts and techniques—things that were definitely not in vogue a while ago.

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