15 questions with guitarist: Chris Manning
The latest “15 questions” feature is with guitarist Chris Manning. Chris is a Strat wielding, Dallas based guitarist who’s released three guitar based instrumental albums during the last 10 years. Having opened for acts such as George Lynch and Michael Schenker, it seems only fitting that Guitar Jar catches up with Chris to quiz him on his guitar equipment, technique and the projects he’s currently involved with…
…There are great players with average song writing skills and there are average players with great song writing skills. I aspire to be a great player with great song writing skills but it’s always a work in progress…
- Hi Chris, 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?
I picked up the guitar because I’ve always looked up to my older brother and he had started playing drums and was involved in several bands that practiced at our house. Even though I started playing guitar as a kid, it wasn’t until I became a teenager that I began to practice 2-4 hours a day and really fall in love with the instrument.
- In the first few years in learning the instrument, which guitarist(s) were you influenced by the most and why?
Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple, Rainbow), Alex Lifeson (Rush), and Ace Frehley (Kiss) are some of my early influences. I would love to say Hendrix too, but I didn’t “get” Hendrix until I got into my 20’s, but I am a huge Hendrix fan now! Ritchie Blackmore was and still is one of my favourite guitarists because he has such a unique voice on the instrument and is one the pioneers of technical playing in hard rock music. His solos in “Highway Star“, “Mistreated”, and “Burn” are among the greatest solos of all time. Alex Lifeson is another early influence because Rush songs were such a challenge to learn and perform live, especially before the advent of guitar tab. It was a great challenge to learn “Anthem”, “2112″, and “La Villa Strangiato”.Love him or hate him, Ace Frehley is responsible for putting a guitar in the hands of countless kids across the world. There are two things about Ace I still love. His solos were attainable for a teenager trying to play covers and his solos were memorable and thematic. When a cover band plays a Kiss song, they usually play Ace’s solo note for note because his solos are synonymous with the song. To me, that’s what makes a great solo and I have incorporated that in my own songs and tried to write memorable solos.
- Were you born in Dallas or did the Texan music scene lure you over the years? What’s the music scene like in Dallas currently?
I am from the Dallas area so I’m a native Texan. In regards to original music, the Dallas music scene has some great bands however, there seems to be a shrinking number of venues, at least in the rock/metal genre that cater to original acts, although some of that is probably due to the slumping economy. However, if you are in a cover band, have three hours of material, and you’re decent musicians, you can play every weekend and make good money. I just get don’t get the same level of satisfaction being in a cover band, which is why I have always been in original projects and have worked on becoming the best songwriter I can be.
- Can you tell our readers about your band? How did you all meet and are there any clashes in musical tastes?
When I began to put my band together, bassist Mike Price was the first one I called. We had worked in several bands together over the years, and we get along well as friends and as musicians. Mike takes a technical approach to playing and as a result, is not limited to one or two techniques. He can play fast, tap, and slap as well as lay back and play a smooth groove appropriate to the song. He can write cool bass riffs too, which will make for some interesting collaboration for the next CD.I got lucky finding the right drummer so quickly for this project. Brian Martini was about the third drummer we auditioned and it was apparent the first time we started playing, that he was the right guy. Brian and I come from similar musical backgrounds and tastes so it was easy to find common ground (e.g., Rush). Brian possesses something I always look for in a great drummer: the technical chops to play flashy when appropriate (ala Neil Peart), while having the musical sense to play less when the song calls for it.
- From what I can tell, you’re a Strat man. Can you tell our readers about your guitar collection and the history of acquiring your favourites?
I have always been influenced by players who played strats (Hendrix, Blackmore) so I gravitated towards the strat. While I own several American strats, my primary guitar when playing live is a made-in-Mexico (MIM) standard black strat with a maple neck and Seymour Duncan Hot Rails pickups. My collection also includes a few USA Hendrix strats, a few MIM strats, and a few Ibanez guitars. The advantage in owning more than one guitar is evident once you try to get the right tone when recording.
- What amps do you use? Is that a Marshall Silver Jubilee stack I can see in your videos!?
The video you are referring to is from a July gig so I think the Marshalls you see in the video belong to either George Lynch or Michael Schenker. I am using two amps and a pedal board to run my rig in stereo for live shows. I have one of the new Blackstar HT Venue Series 2×12 amps as well as a Fender Supersonic. Both amps are 60 watt, all-tube and I replaced the stock Celestion speakers with Eminence Swamp Thangs, which are great speakers and really smooth out the highs while maintaining a good low end. I am also using several modified Boss pedals, and regardless of what you think of the stock DS-1 distortion, you should hear the tone I am getting with a modified one (monteallums.com).
- Are you a fan of amp/guitar modelling? In the studio, are you averse to using this technology?
I am a big fan of modelling technology, especially for recording direct. Having the ability to get a great guitar tone that is consistent day after day, is the reason home recordings have been steadily improving in quality. I recorded my first CD “The Road Back” using the first generation Line 6 POD and I was able to squeeze out some great tones out of that box. I don’t think you can appreciate how lucky we are today to have all this technology available for home recording, unless you’ve had the expensive studio experience (which I have had) of setting up gear, mic’ing cabinets, and trying to capture your live tone in a studio while the clock is running. I recorded my new CD “Symmetry” using various modelling devices and I have received a lot of compliments for my guitar tones.
George Lynch and Chris Manning
Why did you choose to focus on instrumental guitar playing?
Fate. I had played in various rock/metal bands always fronted by a vocalist, but in the late 90’s what began as a pain in my left wrist developed into a 14+ month ordeal and a potentially permanent injury to my fret hand. I saw seven doctors and went through physical therapy three times before I found someone who knew how to properly diagnose and treat musician injuries.During this difficult time, I began to write instrumentals although I could only play five minutes a day without my hand swelling up. I decided if I was ever able to play again, that I would write and record an instrumental CD, which became “The Road Back”.Fast forward to the present and I have now written recorded, and released three instrumental CDs: “The Road Back”, “Forever November”, and the new one “Symmetry” (Warmouth Records). I was featured in the American publication Guitar Player Magazine in December of 2008 for a song “Journey to Tomorrow” from The Road Back CD. I initially gravitated to writing instrumental music because I don’t sing and it allowed me to perform most of the parts myself (guitar and bass). Plus, I have always been a fan of guitar-oriented instrumentals, especially Joe Satriani, Vinnie Moore, Steve Vai, and Craig Chaquico, an excellent guitarist who was one of the first to use electric guitar techniques on the acoustic for his solo work.
- Do you have to work hard at creating the guitar parts or is it something that comes easy to you?
I think I have a good ear for what is appropriate in a song. I also have a knack for writing complimentary guitar parts that blend well together and create a wide stereo field on my recordings. With that said, song writing is always hard work, whether it comes easy or not and I think that’s why a lot of guitarists neglect their song writing skills. There are great players with average song writing skills and there are average players with great song writing skills. I aspire to be a great player with great song writing skills but it is always a work in progress.
…My vibrato has really improved over the years and is one of the elements of my style that helps define my sound. There are so many things I want to learn and improve on that there are never enough hours in the day…
- How often do you practice and what do you focus on to improve your technique?
I practice every day for several reasons. First and foremost, I love to play guitar and there is something medicinal about playing. Second, I am fascinated by all the techniques and different facets of playing and song structures that can be studied as a guitarist. I focused on speed and technique in the late 80’s, but as I matured I began to focus on other things like vibrato and feel without abandoning the speed and technique I had worked hard to develop. My vibrato has really improved over the years and is one of the elements of my style that helps define my sound. There are so many things I want to learn and improve on that there are never enough hours in the day.
- Have you had any nightmare experiences whilst gigging?
Fortunately, there have only been a few instances where something went wrong. I played a show where I didn’t realize my tone knob was set to zero (I never tweak tone knobs on guitars) but I knew my tone was off somewhere. Luckily, I discovered the problem early in the set. There was a gig where my former band had landed the opening slot for a national act, Yngwie Malmsteen, and we had two guys in the band about to start throwing punches at each other minutes before the show! The George Lynch and Michael Schenker gig we did back in July was interesting because the stage was small and they put all the backline equipment for all five bands on stage at once, one band in front of the next one. This created a very small stage! But we ended up having one of our best shows and you can see that in the youtube videos.
- Your house is burning down. What’s the one guitar item you would save?
Now that is a difficult question. I have been collecting guitars for decades and not that I have a large collection, but it is similar to having kids and being asked which one is your favourite.
- If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
If I was going old school I would probably choose Mitch Mitchell from the original Jimi Hendrix Experience. At the other end of the spectrum is my favourite drummer Neil Peart (Rush) and it would be amazing to play with him. Somewhere in the middle is Ian Paice (Deep Purple) who remains one of the most underrated drummers of all time. Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater would be high on my list.
- Lager or Cider?
- What’s the plan for you for the next 12 months?
Continue to play live and get the name out there. We seem to invoke a feeling of intrigue with audiences when they discover we are an instrumental band and we have been able to maintain their interest for the duration of our sets. We are one of the few original instrumental rock bands in the Dallas area, if not the only and I think we offer audiences something different. Plus it takes a high level of musicianship to play the type of music we are playing and people respect that. To keep things interesting we also perform a few covers and instrumental versions of well known songs.We also plan to continue writing songs for the next CD. It will be in the style of “Symmetry” (i.e., rock) but as always it will contain a broad range of styles and span multiple genres. I am always looking at ways to get better as a song writer, guitarist, and overall musician and that involves learning new techniques, incorporating other styles of music, and learning from other players. Since discovering the greatness of Guitar Techniques Magazine, I have been learning tons of new stuff. I also have a new respect for guitarists from the U.K. and overall the U.K. guitar publications are better than here in the U.S.
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