The latest “15 questions” feature is with guitarist Charlie Griffiths. Charlie is the guitarist from the prog-metal band Haken, who’ve recently released the album “Aquarius” which is one of the most played CD’s currently in the Guitar Jar stereo. Guitar Jar caught up with Charlie to quiz him on his guitar equipment, technique and his huge guitar sound…
I love amp modelling – the convenience of showing up to a gig and plugging one cable into the PA is a real godsend, particularly at festivals where change over times are so hectic and stressful…
- Hi Charlie, before we get into the details of your equipment and technique, can you give Guitar Jar readers an insight to why you first picked up the guitar and how long you’ve been playing?
My Dad taught me the riff to La Bamba on the nylon string guitar I got for my 8th birthday, so technically I started then. Strangely enough I wasn’t all that interested in music generally, but for whatever reason was fascinated with Queen. I would listen to them and no one else and really wanted to sound like Brian May. I remember learning the riff to Don’t Stop Me Now by ear and playing that constantly.
- In the first few years in learning the instrument, which guitarist(s) were you influenced by the most and why?
As you may have already guessed, Brian May was and always will be my favourite guitarist. I think it was the diversity of styles that impressed me the most. I loved “Sheer Heart Attack” (my all time favourite album – Sam), because it had the rocking songs, but would suddenly switch to a beautiful ballad or a Dixieland Jazz style. That influence really comes out in Haken’s music. After Queen came Metallica for me. My era was …And Justice For All and it’s still my favourite. I convinced my Dad to buy me an Epiphone Explorer, which I still have. I spent most of my early teens bashing out Hetfield riffs on that guitar.
- Some of our readers would possibly recognise you from writing for Total Guitar Magazine. How did that come about?
By complete chance actually! My friend Misha Nikolic, who incidentally engineered the drum recording on Aquarius – was working on Total Guitar and was supposed to go and do a video lesson with Kerry King, but he had to pass on it at the last minute. I had the required recording gear and a love of Slayer, so put me forward for it and that turned out to be the start of a pretty cool job. Kerry was really lovely by the way. Since then I’ve had the chance to sit down and get a lesson with pretty much all my guitar heroes – with the exception of Dr May. I’m still waiting for that one.
- How did the members of Haken meet?
Ross (Vocals) and Hen (Guitar/Keys) were school friends and formed the band around 2007 I think. I knew Tom MacLean (Bass) from his other band To-Mera as my previous band had done some gigs with them. I went to check out Haken at the Peel in Kingston and was totally blown away by the music – It was exactly what I had been looking for in a band and was an instant fan. A few months later I had a chance meeting with Tom on a train at Waterloo station and he informed me that Matt Marshall (original guitarist) had left the band. Obviously I knew I HAD to get involved and thankfully they gave me the position. I absolutely love playing in this band!
- I have to say I love “Aquarius”, it’s one of the most exciting prog-metal albums I’ve heard in a long time. The entire production of the album is epic. Where did you record the album and was it a fairly straightforward process?
Thanks a lot! The whole writing/recording process took about 6 months I think. Hen wrote all the music and we would all meet up as a band and work on the arrangements and tweak the songs to everybody’s liking. By the time we came to record the album, we’d already been playing it live, which really sped up the recording process. We recorded the Drums at Misha Nikolic’s Monster Trax Studio in Chiswick and did all the keyboards and vocals at our home studios using Logic. All the guitars were recorded clean, straight into Logic, using Amplitube to approximate the tones we were after. We were really working against the clock and I seem to remember we got all the guitars done in a week and a half. We then sent all the tracks over to Christian Moos at Spacelab Studios in Germany for mixing. Christian re-amped the guitar tracks and that’s what you hear on the record.
- Your guitar sound is huge on the album. Can you tell our readers what guitars and amplifier(s) you used and is this different to what you would use when playing live with Haken?
We double tracked the rhythms using a Musicman John Petrucci model on one side and my custom built 8-string on the other. That guitar was made for me by my good friend Pete Rinaldi, who plays guitar in the band Headspace. It has a 30″ scale, and Lundgren M8 pickups and has a really full, even tone – it sounds great recorded. As I said, we re-amped the guitars and used an Engl Powerball simply because that’s what was in the studio. I’m really happy with it. Live Hen and myself use Axe-FX Ultra’s, which is the best piece of gear I have ever owned!
- Are you a fan of amp/guitar modelling?
Funny you should ask that! I love it, especially now that products like the Axe-FX are taking full advantage of the processing power available. The convenience of showing up to a gig and plugging one cable into the PA is a real godsend, particularly at festivals where change over times are so hectic and stressful, plus you have consistency – you know the audience will hear a great guitar sound at every show.
- Are you endorsed?
Nope, we’ve paid hard earned cash for everything we use, but if any companies out there want to work with us, we’re all ears!
- How often do you practice and what do you focus on to improve your technique?
I do a bit everyday, but not as much as I’d like. I find alternate picking really hard and have to practice that the most. I routinely run through all the modes of the Major, Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor to keep the hands synchronised and keep the scales fresh. Usually I practice the Paul Gilbert/Steve Morse/John Petrucci stuff to really test my chops. Some of the Haken sections require constant attention too; otherwise they can quickly become sloppy.
- In my mind, your guitar style is full of energy and emotion. Do you agree and if so, is this something your work hard at?
Thanks again! I would say that it’s a result of being inspired by the music and the message we’re trying to put across. The story arc of the main character of Aquarius is quite tragic and I spoke with Ross a lot about the emotional journey that he’d envisaged for the album. I tried to keep those thoughts in mind while I was recording my parts, so I’m glad some of that is reaching the listener – it was really our intention to take the listener on an emotional journey.
- Your house is burning down. What’s the one guitar item you would save?
Is it? $£*%! It’d have to be my Malmsteen Strat. It belonged to my teacher Shaun Baxter and I bought it from him in the early 90s. I’ve spent a lot of time with that guitar and it feels a bit like an old friend. I took it along when I was fortunate enough to interview Yngwie for the mag. He actually played it for a bit too, so it’s really cool to have a guitar touched by such a player as him.
- A DeLorean time machine has just burst onto your front lawn. With your hoverboard in hand, you’re ready climb in and hit 88mph. Where do fancy going – past or the future and why?
I would go back to the mid 70s, force my way onto the set of Star Wars and demand that they let me be a Stormtrooper! Then in the evening I’d go and see Queen at Hammersmith Odeon – that would be a fun day! (Great answer! Sam ;-))
- If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
Well the one I’m thinking of could happen soon! I would like to see Mike Mangini playing for Dream Theater. He’s such an incredible player, but I don’t think he’s been in a band where he’s been utilised fully. DT is that band! That is until Mr Portnoy eventually returns, which I’m positive he will.
- Lager or Cider?
Can I have a cuppa tea please? Poured from a teapot, with a cup and saucer, not a mug. White, no sugar. Cheers! Oh and a chocolate Hob-Nob – nice one!
- What’s the plan for you musically for the next 12 months?
To write and record Haken album number 2. We’ve already started on it actually and there are loads of ideas to work on. Playing in a band with other musicians is by far the best way to grow on your instrument, so I feel very privileged to be in such a creative environment as Haken. We’d also like to take our music to more music fans, so hopefully more touring too.
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