By Christopher Scapelliti
Guitar virtuoso Paul Gilbert appears in a recent episode of Ernie Ball’s acclaimed String Theory series to talk about his love of guitar, influences and choice of strings and gauges.
In the video, Gilbert plays his Kikusui Sake Ibanez Custom Shop Fireman, a custom guitar inspired by the sake bottles of the Kikusui brand. “When you see all the sake bottles at a Japanese grocery store, the Kikusui bottles always stand out,” Gilbert says. “I thought that the bottle was really beautiful, so I decided to make a guitar inspired by it. We used the bottle caps as control knobs and incorporated the same graphic designs throughout. It’s one of my few guitars that doesn’t have a scratch on it. It’s so beautiful that I’m scared to take it on the road. If I scratched it I think that I would cry.”
If you’ve seen other String Theory episodes, you’ll know they offer great insights into the minds of guitar players. Some other featured guitarists include Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Tool’s Justin Chancellor, Joe Bonamassa, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, among others.
Below, we’ve called out four things we learned from Gilbert’s String Theory episode. But be sure to watch the entire video, shown at bottom, to hear plenty of his shredding.
You can watch other episodes of Ernie Ball’s String Theory, plus clips from its equally excellent Pursuit of Tone series and much more, at the company’s YouTube channel.
1. Paul is constantly changing his string gauges. (:43)
“My gauges are changing all the time, because it really depends on the state of my calluses,” Gilbert explains. “If I’m a couple of weeks into a tour and I’ve got some good calluses, if I’ve done a couple sweaty gigs in a row and my calluses have been destroyed, I’ll go as light as .008s, sometimes I’ll got as heavy as .011s. And not only gauge, but for acoustic guitar sometimes i really like to use a plain G.”
2. When it comes to guitar, it’s all about bending strings. (1:32)
“It’s so satisfying as a guitar player to play stuff that’s related to the blues,” he says. “Because if you’re not bending, you might as well be a harpsichord player. With bending you get to pretend you’re a vocalist, even if you’ve got a lousy voice.”
3. His music is as much influenced by Seventies pop piano songs as it is by riff rock. (2:10)
“When it comes to songwriting, I grew up in the Seventies listening to AM radio,” Gilbert says. “So I’ve all these pop songs running through my head from Paul McCartney and Elton John, and a lot of stuff that was written on piano. And that’s really different from the riff rock that I was into as a guitar player. As a writer a lot of times I’m really sort of juggling those two things that I love.”
4. He believes it’s important for guitarists to hear the guitar rather than look at it. (3:10)
“As human beings we’re visual creatures, and it’s so easy to play the guitar by looking at it,” he says. “It’s a real challenge to go from that visual way of perceiving the guitar to getting back to that pure sound connecting to the instrument. For guitar players it’s such a beautiful way to take what you hear in your head and make it real.”