British Guitar phenom Andy James—Who operates his own Guitar Academy instructional website—has gone over like gangbusters in the shred community. But on his just-released fourth album, Exodus [Urban Yeti], he made good on a goal to create music that was more accessible to non-guitar fans.
“It’s not really a challenge anymore to write stuff that is based solely on technique,” he says. “I needed to advance to something more memorable, so I learned how to let my guitar playing get more fluid.”
Here, James shares three pieces of advice to guitarists also looking to break out of the shred-only box.
Photo Credit: Corinne Cumming
DON’T LISTEN TO GUITAR MUSIC
“That’s number one,” says James. “But if you do, stop trying to be somebody you’re directly influenced by. I used to try to get into the minds of my favorite players, like ‘What would John Petrucci do with this lick?’ And I’d come up with something that was very Petrucci-esque. There’s a certain small victory in pulling that off, but, at the end of the day, what’s the point? More and more, I listen to vocal bands—While She Sleeps, Daughtry, and Nickelback—and I get out of the metal-shred mode when I listen to that stuff.”
BUT DO LISTEN TO THE SONG
“Sense what a track needs. Play the right notes for the right length of time and with the right effect. You want to evoke some sort of feeling with what you’re doing. If the music is aggressive, it might be cool to play something shreddy, but if a section is chilled-out, try to use the moment to your advantage. If you go off and do cool guitar-clinic solos over a whole song, people’s ears will burn out.”
TOOLS AREN’T AS IMPORTANT AS YOU MIGHT THINK
“Buying a super-expensive guitar or amp is not going to make you sound better. At the end of the day, a guitar is just a guitar. It has to feel good, and even a cheap one can sound good if you’re playing well. In fact, I sit and practice on an acoustic guitar to make sure there are no weak spots, and that a tune is fully written. Then, when I plug into an amp, I know it’s gonna be fine.”