THE GRISTLICIOUS GREG KOCH IS NOT ONLY A HILARIOUS GUY and a monster player (check out his latest release, Nation Sack, with Malford Milligan for proof), but, as the top clinician for Fender and Hal Leonard, he’s also the most high-profile product specialist on the planet. Here he talks the good, the bad, and the heinous when it comes to clinics. —Matt Blackett
What makes a successful clinic?
The true definition of a successful clinic is one where compensation is received prior to the clinician leaving his or her domicile. In terms of content, I like to foster a feeling of bedlam from the git go. I usually start with an incendiary musical selection to get their attention then begin to explain why I’m there and what we are going to do for the next couple of hours. My disturbing verbal ramblings let them know that they’re in for an interesting ride. I invite questions from the beginning—and that may lead the clinic in any number of directions—but usually people are pretty tight lipped and only towards the end will they begin to ask questions.
Do attendees ask more about the gear or your playing techniques?
The questions usually range from deep theory queries to what strings I use, and I just take ’em as they come. I demonstrate a few different techniques in the tunes I play so there are certainly questions on those. Gear questions can be about the stuff I’m currently playing in the clinic, stuff I’ve used in the past, or just generic Fender questions that I field to the best of my ability. Nothing really crazy is discussed as I am not a total gear freak, not that there is anything wrong with that. I always make it quite clear that the majority of the tone comes from your hands, and that the gear is there to provide tone enabling and to spike motivation. I haven’t met a custom wound pickup or an expensive new old stock tube that can compare to hours in the woodshed or on the bandstand for actually making you sound unique and extraordinary, but gear can certainly make those pursuits more enjoyable.
What was the worst clinic experience you’ve had and what was the best?
I started doing clinics in 1995 and rest assured, I have repressed the occasional Close Encounter of the Turd Kind. My favorite that I can currently remember was showing up at a large national retail store, where musical instrument sales were only a small segment of their operation. After much confusion, I had to play the tracks through a boom box as I played my guitar through a very small transistor practice amp permanently attached to a wall in front of three moms and their nostril-defiling offspring. I did, however, get paid in full.
Some of the best that come to mind are being in Jakarta in a hall in front of thousands of folks with jumbotrons showing my hands, doing a Fender clinic in Cape Town, South Africa, in a theater with Reggie Hamilton on bass and Tom Brechtlein on drums when the jams and the humor were flowing for three-plus hours, and doing a week long master class in Sicily with Robben Ford and Guthrie Govan, stealing ideas and feasting like warriors in Siracusa. Are you kidding me?