There has been a tumult of concern over the younger generation and its commitment to the guitar. For our part, the dearth of guitar in much of today’s pop music, the apparent revenue struggles in the music-gear industry, and the worrying financial health of giant retailers such as Guitar Center prompted us to pose the question “Who Will Save the Guitar?” in our March 2017 issue. Then, a June 22 article by the Washington Post entitled “Why My Guitar Gently Weeps: The Slow, Secret Death of the Six-String Electric and Why You Should Care”—along with GP’s own online commentary on the Post story—set off a firestorm on social media. The content obviously scraped across an exposed nerve, and tons of peer comments and thoughts from pro guitarists and gear manufacturers offered solutions, hope, denial, or complaints about the current music and guitar cultures.
But we feel that one oft-repeated “old saw” is absolutely not accurate: That the absence of contemporary guitar heroes is responsible for the guitar’s decline as a cultural icon.
The definition and impact of the guitar hero has certainly evolved. It’s no longer the characterization that someone born in the ’50s, ’60s, or ’70s would support. Time has moved on. The entire music industry is a much different beast today than it was when guitar heroes and guitar bands ruled the AM/FM radio waves and pop charts. And yet, scores of pre-teens, teens, and millennials still aspire—as my generation did—to be fantastic guitar players, technical masters, tone freaks, extraordinary soloists, riff wizards, and distinctive composers. The best of these players are marvels on YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram, charting tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or even millions of views. They sell downloads and tabs and Skype lessons and concert tickets, and many are asked to join established artists for studio sessions and/or big-time tours. Gear manufacturers often seek them out for demos and signature models.
So we decided to select ten of these guitarists to kick off a continuing series of print and online reports on youthful players. We obviously want to promote and nurture the future of guitar, but we also want to focus on the new generation of players to share their musical stories, chops, approaches, career strategies, and gear choices—just as GP has done with all styles of guitarists throughout its 50-year existence. As a community, we need to be vigilant, as guitar music needs constant reinvention—as well as continued respect and teaching of its history—to inspire new audiences and new disciples. But the young have not abandoned the crusade for 6-string glory. They are spreading the guitar gospel right alongside more “mature” players and all the readers of this magazine.
Photo Credit: Sam Donato
In this YouTube age, teenaged technical wizards abound. But far from being a bedroom shredder, at 17 years old, Daniel Donato was a mature enough player to land a three-year stint with the famed Don Kelley Band at Robert’s Western World in Nashville. In doing so, he was stepping into the shoes of former Kelley sidemen Brent Mason, Johnny Hiland, Guthrie Trapp, Redd Volkaert, and J.D. Simo. When GP spoke to Donato in 2015, he had just left Kelley’s band, and today, at the ripe old age of 22, he is leading the life of an in-demand Nashville guitarist.
“I’ve played on more than 15 records since then, for artists like the Wild Feathers and Lilly Hiatt,” says Donato, who, as an archetypical musician of the new era, is also doing videos, lessons, and product endorsements. “It is about attracting an audience, and making money from that—which musicians have always done. I’m working with Jam Track Central, one of the largest sources of online guitar content in the world. I also send out email lists of what I’m listening to, and what videos I’ve been watching.
“Recently, I found that playing a tribute show built around the music of a great artist like Chuck Berry is a cool way to stay inspired and pay your bills. I was forced to learn a different style of music. I was also organizing the event, finding promoters and artists, organizing a house band, figuring out prizes and giveaways, and finding radio slots for promotion. It’s an adventure, but, at this point, many things involve less time playing guitar and more time setting up events where I get to play guitar.”
Donato has a new gig on Broadway at Nudies Honky Tonk. Though he is again tearing up country classics, it differs from his Roberts gig in that running his own band requires wearing more hats.
“I select the songs, pick the band members, and read the audience,” says Donato. “Everything that happens when it’s your show is a representation of what you want to portray musically. Obviously, as a session player, I can’t bring my personal approach to guitar on every gig, so I wanted to develop my show to display my own approach where the songs and my guitar playing are proprietary—like what Jerry Garcia, Willie Nelson, and Jimi Hendrix did throughout their careers.”
Donato is a fan of vintage Fender Pro Reverb amps, and his favorite instrument is his Fender Custom Shop Telecaster—although he is developing a new guitar with Ernie Ball Music Man, and owns a cool Revelator Guitars Offset model. The most consistent pedals on his board are a JHS Colour Box and an Eventide H9.
At the time of our interview, this preternaturally talented guitarist’s future will see him touring behind Nashville star Aubrey Peeples’ new record, working on an EP of his own music, and continuing to play in the bars where he only recently became old enough to drink.
Photo Credit: Jan M. Lillø
We discovered Norwegian guitarist Fredrik Halland in 2011, when we selected him as one of the finalists for our 2011 Guitar Player’s Guitar Superstar competition. He wowed us then, and now, at 23, the former Musicians Institute student (he won a scholarship in 2009) has become a stellar Los Angeles-based sideman, either performing with, or appearing on records by Colbie Caillat, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Jason Mraz, Rihanna, Gavin DeGraw, and Michael Jackson (the King of Pop’s posthumous Xscape release in 2014). Halland is currently working on his first solo album.
How did you start this crazy musical journey from Norway to the U.S. pop charts? Who were your influences?
I was first inspired by my dad playing in his band, and, at seven years old, I picked up a guitar and asked him to teach me. As for influences, Stevie Ray Vaughan is at the top of the list. His tone, feel, and aggressive style of playing are just out of this world. Then, there are so many great songs and killer guitar parts by Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and John Mayer, and there are mesmerizing wizards like Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, Guthrie Govan, and Pat Martino.
What skills are most critical for maintaining a career as a sideperson in Los Angeles?
You must have good technique, good timing, and the ability to able to play many different styles. Efficiency and creativity are very important. You should be able to come up with a part right away, instead of fumbling around trying to figure out the right notes or chords. Also, you should define your sound once you’ve “sold” the guitar part, because you never want to disrupt the flow of creativity in the room and lose momentum by tweaking with your pedals. Knowing when to take the front seat, and when to listen is critical. Some artists and producers are not sure of the sound they are trying to achieve, but, sometimes, they have a very clear view of what they want, and you don’t want to distort their vision.
What gear do you typically bring to your gigs?
I have a Tom Anderson Hollow T Classic, a Gibson ES-335, a Fender Stratcaster, and a Martin 000-28EC with an LR Baggs Anthem SL pickup. I’ve been using Elixir strings for pretty much my whole career, gauged .010-.046 for the electrics, and .012-.053 for the Martin. My amps vary depending on the performance, but right now, I’ve found the Two-Rock Studio Pro and a Marshall 4x12 cabinet is a good combo. My main effects are a Strymon BigSky reverb and a Strymon TimeLine delay—which is more than just a delay pedal. It has so many unique sounds that once you start to create with it, the possibilities are endless.
What is your view on the current health of guitar music in the industry?
We live in a technological world that’s constantly evolving, but I think that good music always prevails. Today’s pop songs may not showcase guitars as much, but I feel that guitars can always find their way into great songs. I prefer to create music with guitars being a dominant presence, with melodies, grooves, and rhythms that cut right through. The magic may have been heard in the ’70s and ’80s—where the innovators paved the way for young guitarists and musicians today—but I feel we are coming to a new crossroads, because of the many young players posting videos of themselves. It’s inspiring to watch for sure!
Photo Credit: Paul Natkin
At 21 years old, Marcus King is mystifyingly good in an “old soul” kind of way that brings Duane Allman to mind, and he dazzles on every level—chops, soul, intensity, songs, and the ability to deliver transcendental live performances. Warren Haynes produced King’s sophomore effort last year, The Marcus King Band, and King has been touring the world ever since. Witnessing King play San Francisco for the first time was memorable, not just for his band’s Millennial take on roots rock, but for the wide eyes and gaped jaws of everyone in the house as they were introduced to a rising guitar star about to go supernova.
What’s it like to go from being in high school to selling out theaters?
In the grand scheme, things may have taken off pretty quickly, but my band has gone through a lot of disheartening moments as we pay our dues along the way—just like everybody else before us. The whole process has been a little strange and foreign, and I’m just trying to roll with it.
What gear adjustments did you make as the venues grew in size?
I love my Fender Super Reverb, but it doesn’t carry enough weight to cut it in a room like the Beacon Theatre, so I’ll add a Marshall, an Orange, or a Homestead 100-watt head through either a Homestead 4x12 or 2x15 cabinet. I’m still playing an ES-345—a new one that Gibson sent me so that I wouldn’t have to take my grandfather’s ’62 345 on the road anymore—and a Les Paul.
How do you develop a guitar style that’s uniquely your own?
Joni Mitchell once said that you should stop listening to your main influences, or else you’ll start to sound like a watered-down version. So I made a conscious decision to quit listening to guitar players for a while. I listened to horn players, organ players, pedal-steel players, and, especially, vocalists in order to approach the instrument with different phrasing ideas. Have you heard Aretha Franklin’s version of “Eleanor Rigby”? Oh, my—that’s the kind of phrasing I try to get on the guitar. I’d also listen to Janis Joplin sing “Summertime,” and I’d try to translate her timbre to the guitar. I’d try to cop the sustain Coltrane got on his horn, as well as Sonny Rollins’ phrasing—all the time remembering to breathe, which is an important thing you can learn from vocalists, horn players, and other wind instruments.
You came up playing blues rock in your father’s band, and you incorporate blues into your own style. What’s the key to keeping young people interested in the blues nowadays?
I don’t like to paint with a fine brush like that. Music should just be music. I try to let younger players know that whatever you play, play it with conviction. When a someone directly from the heart, rather than thinking too much, that’s when you’re going to find the likes of a Duane Allman or a Bukka White. But I feel that lots of kids are getting back into blues these days, and that’s because there are so many great players out there playing the blues again.
Jared James Nichols
Photo Credit: Chris Cuffaro
Tall and lanky, with a cascade of long blonde hair and a single-pickup Les Paul strapped to his shoulder, there’s no mistaking Jared James Nichols for anything but the embodiment of a classic rock star. And yet, the 28-year-old Wisconsin-born guitarist is far from an archetype off some retro-hip fashion spread harkening back to the ’70s. Nichols gets deep inside his influences—Leslie West, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter—to the point of researching their influences. The combination of image, smarts, and impassioned technique has won Nichols endorsements from Gibson, Seymour Duncan, Blackstar, and D’Addario; tours with Zakk Wylde, Blue Oyster Cult, Saxon, and UFO; a spot in the documentary series Uncharted; and enough of a fan base to release a second solo album, Black Magic, due September 2017.
Who do you consider as your essential stylistic influence?
My dad played me Mountain’s “Nantucket Sleighride” when I was nine years old, and something about Leslie West’s playing really spoke to me. After I found Leslie, I wanted to know how he took this crazy-fast, overdriven rock style and made it sound so bluesy. When I discovered that he was influenced by B.B. King, I listened to B.B., and I heard exactly what Leslie was taking from him with his touch, vibrato, bending, and phrasing. You could almost see the bones of B.B. King melded in “Mississippi Queen.” It was a powerful moment for me.
That’s wonderful. I often worry that a lot of younger blues-rock players may stop their education at Joe Bonamassa or Derek Trucks.
The most essential part of this music is the feel, and I think it would be an absolute shame for younger guitarists to stop at Joe and Derek, because they’d only be looking at two pictures in a massive encyclopedia of musical knowledge.
The majority of rock guitarists play with a pick, but you abandoned it. Why?
I hated playing with a pick, so I focused my energy on getting good without it. Then, I heard Albert King and Jeff Beck, and I thought, “Well, no one forced them to use picks.” In the world of guitar, it’s almost like you have all these made-up rules of how to play. I just rebelled. I decided to do what felt right, and that was when it all started to connect for me.
How do you avoid being wedged in by history when you write your riffs?
I can usually tell after about ten seconds of playing a riff if it’s just some old dinosaur riff that everyone has heard a million times. So I’ll pull out every tool in my toolbox to make it not sound like a dusty old stock riff from 40 years ago. I’ll change a few notes, change the timing, change the key, or change the feel. Perhaps I’ll palm-mute notes, or do weird things with my fingers.
How critical is social media to your career?
It’s essential. But you can lose yourself in that image thing. On Instagram, you have 60 seconds to show someone why they should follow you. That’s daunting. I’m that stereotypical long-haired guitar guy, but I don’t want to become a caricature. So I just try to be authentic and serve the music. I choose to believe that if you’re good and you’re passionate about what you do, people will find out about you.
Photo Credit: Farrah Skeiky
She typically stands onstage wearing a prim dress as if she were about to offer you an hors d’oeuvre during the intermission of an opera. Beware. It’s a trap. Because if any guitarist musically evokes the post-apocalyptic fury of David Bowie hollering “This ain’t rock and roll—this is genocide,” it’s Marissa Paternoster. The 30-year-old guitarist for Screaming Females assaults her strings like a pack of ravenous hyenas. Her note flurries are fusillades of wild abandon and aggression—often punctuated with a burst of slides, hammer-ons, or furious bends—but they are as musical as they are electrifying. The band’s latest album is 2015’s Rose Mountain.
How do you keep Screaming Females vital and working?
We play more than 150 shows a year, but we all have extra jobs. If you love making music, you do the extra stuff to pay bills and rent. That’s just the way it is.
What inspired you to play guitar?
When I picked up the guitar at 14, I already thought rock music was archaic—a relic that my dad embraced. But I really wanted to have a supportive community, and to surround myself with likeminded people. The guitar just happened to be the device that could link me to those people, and playing in a band got me the community I was looking for. I spent a lot of time printing out tabs and stuff, but it was meeting other kids and just playing that informed my style and developed my ear. I’ve never had a guitar lesson, and my knowledge of music theory is embarrassingly small. To this day, I see guitar chords as shapes that give each song a reference point. I don’t understand keys super well, or know many scales, but within the shapes I see in my brain, I know there are a set of frets I can play within and hear music.
What informed your band’s blend of rock and punk?
I listened to what the average student was probably listening to in the ’90s—Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden—and I gradually got into punk bands like Bratmobile, Bikini Kill, and Crass. These groups were definitely guitar oriented, but their message wasn’t solely about musicianship—it was more about their moral compass. At that point, I stopped trying to emulate older men like Billy Corgan, but I really like guitar solos, so I just ended up playing them somewhat unconventionally.
What gear are you currently using?
I have two G&L S-500s—one borrowed “forever” from my second cousin—and a Sunn Concert Lead and recessed cabinet. I use a .009 set of GHS strings, and I have some distortion pedals by Earthbound Audio, a Boss DD-6 Delay, a Fulltone OCD, and an Earthquaker Devices boost. It’s mostly different stages of gain. I used to have some modulation effects, but I got rid of them so we could stop sounding like a psychedelic rock band.
I’m fascinated by the wild abandon and energy of your solos. Are they composed or improvised in the moment?
A couple of solos are sort of composed, but I improvise nearly all of them. A lot of my playing is an abstraction. I can’t really describe it to you, other than it’s the rare moment of catharsis that I get to enjoy daily.
Isn’t that a bit daunting to pull almost every solo out of thin air at each show?
I only mourn things in retrospect, so I do get sad if things go poorly. But you can’t control the universe, so I just let the chips fall where they may. There’s always going to be another show, so I’ll always have a chance to redeem myself.
It’s the dream of thousands of inspired young guitarists across the globe: Write some cool instrumentals, produce and mix a spectacular album entirely “in the box” on a home computer, get millions of plays on YouTube and Instagram, and become a world-renowned solo artist overnight. It’s a dream only a handful of players actually achieve.
Plini made realizing that dream look easy. And, even if instrumental prog-metal isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll be hard-pressed not to be lulled into sonic euphoria by the masterful guitar layering that fills each song off Plini’s new album, Handmade Cities.
Barely 24 years old, Plini has, in fact, already released three self-produced albums (garnering tens of thousands of sales), toured the world as a solo artist, and landed a signature-model guitar from Strand-berg—and he did all of this after earning a Master’s degree in architecture. Incredibly, the overachieving Aussie professes to be quite “lazy.”
“If there is one thing behind my musical decision making, it’s getting the most out of the least effort,” says Plini, who possesses a Tom Sawyer-like knack for getting others to help with his workload. “When I decided to try music for real, I reached out to the best bassist and drummer I knew of in Sydney—Simon Grove and Troy Wright—and I got them onboard. Simon is also a great engineer, so he tracked his own bass parts and fed me a great stereo mix of Troy’s drums. Those tracks were a terrific foundation for me to stack guitar parts on. I do nearly all of my recording and mixing in Apple Logic on the iMac that sits on the desk in my bedroom. I use a Fractal Axe-FX for most of my guitar sounds.”
As for Plini’s stage sound, well, if you’re guessing that he’s too lazy to carry around guitar amplifiers, you’d be correct. He plugs his Axe-FX or Atomic Amplifire straight into the house P.A. system.
“I’ve barely ever used a real amp,” he confesses. “Recently, while we were on tour in California, we stopped by Mesa/Boogie headquarters, and I tried a Mesa Mark V—which sounded incredible. But that’s probably only the third amp I’ve ever played in my life.”
Plini’s ethos even extends to his choice of guitar—a fan-fretted signature-model Strandberg.
“It has this trapezoidal neck profile that is ergonomically perfect,” he says. “The thing is super light, too. Plus, the curved cuts on the body allow it to sit on your lap horizontally or angled up, classical-style. It’s impossible not to find a comfortable way to hold that guitar. It’s the ideal guitar for lazy players.”
Not surprisingly, Plini also takes a laid-back approach to live performance.
“I give my bandmates all the hard parts,” he says. “I just play the nice little melodies with the delay and reverb. I hit one note, and I let the technology handle the rest. But this is also where I don’t cop out with laziness, because I put a lot of effort into choosing that note.”
Jason Richardson may be collecting millions of YouTube and Instagram views as a solo artist and as a member of (or side-person with) several progressive-metal bands, but that’s just the rock-star side of this 25-year-old guitarist. Richardson also gives back to the community by posting lesson videos and hosting a tab site for his music. In addition, the self-aware creative thinker is far more than just a super-sonically fast “technique geek.”
“I’ve read a lot of opinions that there isn’t ‘feel’ in crazy shred stuff,” says Richardson, who didn’t pick up the guitar seriously until he was 12, “but I deal with that by making sure the chord progressions where I’m playing fast passages are something special that can grab a listener’s attention.”
What’s your current rig?
My Ernie Ball Music Man Majesty is my favorite. I love my Music Man custom JP15, as well, but the Majesties are just incredible. I also have my own signature-model Music Man in the works. I switch back and forth between Ernie Ball Cobalt and M-Steel strings. My gauges are .010-.056 for the 7-string drop A [A, E, A, D, G, B, E], and .011-.058 for 7-string drop G [G, D, G, C, F, A, D]. My amp rig is a Fractal Systems Axe-Fx II through a PRS Archon head and PRS 4x12 cabinet. I also have a signature Joey Sturgis Tones Tone-forge Jason Richardson amp plug-in that’s modeled after all the guitar tones engineer Taylor Larson dialed in for my last album, I . I’m not anti-pedal, but I automate all my effects and patch changes via MIDI from a DAW so I can focus on just playing the guitar and not worry about tap dancing on stage.
What players have influenced you?
When I first got into guitar, they were all the greats of shred, and John Petrucci was definitely my number one. I also listened to Children of Bodom, Paul Gilbert, Yngwie Malmsteen, Allan Holdsworth, Greg Howe, and Stephan Forte. More recently, I’ve been listening to John Mayer, and a couple of Instagram dudes, such as Mateus Asato and Todd Pritchard.
Do you feel that young people today embrace highly technical guitar playing?
I do feel like there’s a new wave of people getting more into the virtuosic side of playing. For example, if I post an improv video on Instagram, it will get between 20,000 and 30,000 views. But if I post something composed that is borderline impossible to play—even for me—it will get up to 70,000 views and hundreds of comments.
As a teacher, what are your students most passionate about learning from you?
The number one thing I get asked about is sweep picking—although most of the players aren’t ready, because they haven’t mastered other techniques that are very crucial to working up to being able to sweep well and accurately. It took me three years of consistent practicing every day before I could confidently say I had sweeping down.
How do you feel a guitarist can maintain and grow his or her career these days?
With the Internet being what it is, and as much as it sucks to say it, you need an image that people can associate with. If your content is awesome, and you look epic doing it, people will take notice, and you can build a following from there. Also, you have to try your hardest to write music that hasn’t been done before, but is still digestible and fun to listen to. It’s pretty much an impossible task, but the harder you try, the more innovative the outcome will be.
Photo Credit: Mark Kimura
No less a legend than Tommy Emmanuel has mentored Joe Robinson, who Emmanuel name-checked as a “brilliant young player” in his August 2017 cover story. The 26-year-old Australian—who is equally mind-blowing as an acoustic fingerpicker and electric soloist—taught himself to play guitar at ten years old, and was a touring guitarist by 11. He released his first solo album at 15, won Australia’s Got Talent at 17 with his version of “Classical Gas,” and was named Best New Talent in GP’s 2010 Readers’ Poll. His YouTube videos display an astounding combination of taste, speed, cagey phrasing, and a clear, articulate, and sparking tone. Robinson now lives in Nashville, and is working on his fourth solo album.
What’s your insider’s view on how to carve out a career as a guitarist today?
It takes ingenuity, hard work, self-awareness, persistence, and some luck, but the bottom line is you have to bring value to people. Music plays an important role in the lives of billions, and the guitar is the most popular instrument in the world—there is so much opportunity. For session players, a hugely important skill is knowing how to make other people sound good, but I’ve never had much interest in working for anybody else. I feel most at home entertaining folks and telling stories in my own words.
What elements should a striking or musically sensitive guitar solo have going for it?
The longer I’ve played, the less I need to think. I feel there’s an infinite melodic well inside of me, and if I play like I really mean it—and my technique is invisible—I can switch off my brain, and let the music flow. I don’t even think I play primarily from the “ear”—it comes from an emotional place that’s more from the feeling of the rhythms and the strings under my fingers. You can analyze a solo all day, but, for me, it just has to feel good.
What’s your current rig?
I love my Maton Custom Shop 808. It plays perfectly, it’s built very well, and people frequently comment that it delivers the best amplified acoustic-guitar sound they’ve experienced. My Gretsch White Falcon Jr. is fast becoming my most-used electric guitar, as it has a dense, punchy, and vibrant sound. I’ve played Stratocasters since I was 11 years old, so I also have a Fender Custom Shop 1963 Strat. I use various string brands, but the gauges are always .016-.054 for the Maton, and .012-.049 for the electrics. For amps, I have a Shaw Full Tilt 30 and 2x12 cab, and a Fender Vibro-King, which has a sweet spot that’s hard to beat. At lower volumes it sounds particularly great. For the Maton acoustic, I use an AER Alpha combo and an AER preamp. My effects are Strymon, Eventide, and TC Electronic pedals for delays and reverbs, and I use a J. Rockett Archer and a Hermida Audio Zendrive for dirt.
Do you have a practice regimen to keep your chops in shape?
I try to work on my music career 100 hours a week—which is 14.2 hours a day. I practice every day, and I warm up before every show and recording session. Dõgen [Buddhist philosopher] said, “Continuous practice is the circle of the way.” I think many people self-limit their ability to learn. I’ve always loved practicing, and I deeply care about being a great player, sharing my talents, and making some kind of artistic contribution. But I don’t really know how to analyze the relevance of accomplished playing. I think being great at anything is timeless.
Photo Credit: Anthony Scarlati
At just 24, Molly Tuttle has already been performing on bluegrass stages for 13 years. (Do the math—that means she started her professional career at 11 years old.) So it was definitely time for the young but road-and studio-experienced multi-instrumentalist (and Berklee graduate) to release her premiere solo EP, Rise, this year—especially as the record debuted at #2 on the Billboard Bluegrass Albums chart, and Tuttle scored the April 2017 cover of Acoustic Guitar magazine with a bluegrass master class. In a genre historically saturated with acoustic shredders, Tuttle still manages to stun—such that bluegrass superstar Bryan Sutton brought her to our attention for this article.
What are your main guitars?
I play a Huss & Dalton TD-R Custom and a Huss & Dalton OM Mahogany with a sunburst top. Both guitars have thermo-cured tops. My favorite strings are D’Addario EXP Phosphor Bronze Medium.
What tunings do you typically use?
I mostly play in standard tuning, but I also really enjoy playing in DADGAD and DGDGCD.
You’re a multi-instrumentalist who plays banjo fingerstyle, but it seems you typically play acoustic guitar with a pick. Do you ever cross-pollinate the techniques from instrument to instrument?
I do a bit of fingerstyle guitar, as well as clawhammer technique, but I usually play with a pick, because that is what I have worked on the most, and I feel the most comfortable expressing myself with one.
When do you opt to use a capo?
I use a capo when a song is in a key like Eb or B, and I want to play with a lot of open strings and open-sounding chords. I also might use a capo when playing with another guitar player if I want to play in a higher register, or if I think a certain chord voicing will suit the song better.
Which musicians had the most impact on your playing, and how did you derive your own style from their influence?
My main influences are David Grier, Dave Rawlings, David Tronzo, and Clarence White, but I developed my own style through improvising and writing songs. Also, I always try to discover new ways to accompany myself while singing.
What elements inform your approach to songwriting?
I often will draw from guitar parts I come up with. Sometimes I like to mess around in other tunings to find new ideas and chord voicings. I also write down lyric ideas throughout the day, and I use writing exercises like object writing or stream of consciousness writing to generate ideas.
How important is social media to a professional musician’s career these days?
Social media is a great way to reach new people, and it it’s a way to tell stories about who I am—and what inspires me—that people can connect with. The challenge is reaching younger listeners who haven’t grown up listening to as much guitar-centered music as previous generations—which is why I think it’s important to keep finding new ground.
So how do you feel guitarists should evolve to keep guitar culture strong and relevant?
Musical trends go in waves, but the guitar has always been such an important part of our culture. It can fit into so many different styles, and I hope people continue to find new ways of incorporating it into popular music. There are just endless possibilities with the guitar. I also hope the guitar community continues to become more and more diverse. I would love to see more women playing lead—which I believe is a really important part of keeping the guitar relevant.
Steve Lukather once said there are “embryos” on YouTube shredding faster than anyone. It was a joke, of course, but when you come across blazing guitarists such as ten-year-old Yoyo (Liu Pinxi), you start musing that Luke might be clairvoyant. Yoyo’s formidable skills are forged through online lesson videos and a nurturing father and teacher—as well as her own desire to excel and improve. Whether the pre-teen sticks with the guitar or not, she proves that committed youngsters can develop remarkable technique and thrill hundreds of thousands of YouTube viewers. The future! (Thanks to Leiyu for translating Yoyo’s answers to GP’s questions.)
What inspired you to take up the guitar, and how did you become such a shredder?
When I was a baby, my father played guitar and sang children’s songs with me, so I thought playing guitar was a cool thing. One summer, he sent me to a music school, and I started playing classical guitar with many kids my same age. We were all learning music and having fun. I never thought about the type of guitarist I’d become, but kids enjoy songs with fast tempos, so I always have a sense of accomplishment when I shred. I started to gradually improve my speed with exercises. It took me three months to play sixteenth notes around 160bpm. Half a year later, I could play sixteenth notes around 260bpm. But my father and teacher said each note did not sound clear, so I stopped focusing solely on speed.
Do you have a practice regimen?
I only practice one hour each day, because I go to class from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then I have homework. I spend 20 minutes practicing my technique. Then I take 20 minutes to review what I’ve learned in the past. After that, it’s 20 minutes of studying new tunes or new licks. My father and my teacher also use online resources, such as Lick Library, Jam Track Central, guitarplayer.com, and guitarworld.com. When they see some cool videos, they ask me to watch them.
What players inspire you?
Steve Vai is my idol. I’ve also watched John Petrucci’s instructional videos, and I’ve covered Andy James’ songs. Joe Satriani is great. The first real tune I played was his “Always with Me, Always with You.” I learned harmonic-minor and diminished seventh chords from Yngwie Malmsteen’s “Far Beyond the Sun,” and I ask myself, “Why does he write songs that are so hard to play?” I like watching Paul Gilbert’s guitar lessons. He’s funny. Jennifer Batten is also one of my idols. I’m so proud that I have a picture of us together. Ozielzinho is a Brazilian guitarist who is very popular in China. He gave me some gifts and pointed out where I should improve.
Could you tell me about your guitar gear?
My favorite guitar is an ESP E-II FRX. I love that it looks cool, but the feel is also very suitable for a little girl like me, and it definitely makes me play better. My amps are an Orange Micro Dark and an Orange OR15. My main pedals are a Joyo Ironman JF-303 Little Blaster and a Joyo JF-308 Golden Face. I have a Gruv Gear GigBlade bag that fits my guitar and the Micro Dark head when I go to my weekly lesson. I use Ernie Ball 2923 M-Steel strings, gauged .009-.042, which I think is best for little girls. I don’t have long fingers, and they are not very strong, so bending is a hard technique for me. My dad jokes, “Yoyo, you have invented a new technique—the 75-percent bend.”
Support Your Local Guitar Prodigy!
One of the ways GP supports young guitarists is with our annual “Ronnie Montrose Rock the Nation Award,” which we offer to male and female players from 8 to 18 years of age. Past winners—who you can find by searching for the awards on guitarplayer.com—include Max Lazarus, Jess Araten, Geddy Franco, and Skye Emanuel. If you’d like to nominate a young player for the 2018 Montrose award, please alert me at firstname.lastname@example.org with YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and/or website links.