The latest “15 questions” feature is with guitarist Lewis Turner. UK based Lewis recently launched his instrumental solo album “The Beckoning Silence” that fuses a mix of musical genres played to an extremely high standard. Guitar Jar caught up with Lewis to quiz him on his guitar equipment, technique and how he manages to write some of those amazing lead guitar runs…
Many people say you can’t combine speed and feel which I think is rubbish. Speed should be used as just another way of communicating the musical language, used in the right place it can bring the house down…
- Hi Lewis, 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 first picked up the guitar when I was about 7 and I’m now 30, so I’ve been playing for quite a while! I didn’t really start to take it seriously until I was about 22 when I decided I wanted to make a career from playing guitar. As to why I started I’m not that sure – at that age I didn’t have any real influences, but my brother played drums so I guess I thought guitar was a good choice of instrument.
- In the first few years in learning the instrument, which guitarist(s) were you influenced by the most and why?
I started to get really into music in secondary school, and it was guys like Jimi Hendrix and Brian May that I was exposed to like many players my age. However, my biggest influence for many years was Mark Knopfler. I just loved the effortless way that he played, the melodic lines he created and his sound. A lot of my peers were into rock players but Knopfler stood out as being different to me and a bit more interesting, plus he didn’t use a pick which I tried to emulate for many years! Knopfler is one of the few players that I still enjoy listening to from my early influences. Then I started to get into guys like Scott Henderson (who is my favourite player), John Petrucci, Robben Ford, Allan Holdsworth, and many more.
- Can you talk use through your rig? What guitars, amps and effects do you use when you play live and do you have a “go to guitar”?
I have two main guitars a Custom Shop Fender Stratocaster and an Ernie Ball Music Man 7 string John Petrucci model. I use an Engl Powerball 100 watt head through an Engl 4×12 cabinet. I don’t use any effects live only the channels on the amp. In the studio most of my lead lines will have no effects, but I will occasionally add delay/reverb etc afterwards if needed. My Strat is the most used guitar, I love it! It’s so versatile I use it for jazz/rock/soul/funk/pop, everything, it just sounds great, that’s the real workhorse and it has some scares to prove it!
- Are you a fan of amp/guitar modelling?
Not for live use. I have tried a Line 6 live and it just doesn’t cut through. However, I have a POD XT that I use for home recordings and it’s great.
- Your solo album, “The Beckoning Silence” demonstrates how fast you are as a player. Does the ability of playing fast mean you’re a better guitarist than someone who chooses to play a lot slower?
No not at all. Speed is a very touchy subject in the guitar world. Many people say you can’t combine speed and feel which I think is rubbish. Speed should be used as just another way of communicating the musical language, used in the right place it can bring the house down. However, used as just a means to show off is completely missing the point of playing music. I can spot when a player is forcing speed into their playing just because they think they should. It’s all about choices; I chose to knuckle down and practice for hours on end to develop my technique, but it was never my goal to just become really fast for the sake of it. I always wanted to incorporate speed in a musical way, and getting my technique down has enabled me to play what I hear in my head. It’s also all about playing tastefully. I would never throw in an 8 finger tapping lick in the middle of a soul gig because it wouldn’t fit, and I would get sacked from the band! Likewise, if I’m recording for a death metal band then I’m not going to break out my best BB King licks!I have many different influences these days in many different styles of music and I think that’s important. I get very annoyed by players who say “I don’t play fast because I’m a feel player”. No, you don’t play fast because who haven’t been bothered to sit down and practice your technique. On the other hand there is nothing worse than hearing a player that bangs out 760 16th notes a second just because they can, I hate that, and I could name so many players that do that, but I won’t!
- How often do you practice and what do you focus on to improve your technique?
I’m real busy with playing and teaching so I don’t actually get that much time to sit down and do a specific practice routine. When I do, it’s really not focused on technique any more. I’m constantly trying to develop my musical vocabulary and come up with new ideas, in an improvisation context, especially in jazz and fusion styles. Back in the day though I used to practice the technical aspects of playing every day. It wasn’t un-common for me to spend three hours just on my alternate picking. The biggest tip I can give is write yourself short technical study pieces so you can start to use your technique in a musical way. I wrote study pieces for alternate picking, sweep picking, economy picking, legato, tapping etc and this really helped my development and cut down my practice time. A metronome will be your best investment!
…I’ve also found it good to sing a solo over the top, record it and then transpose what I sung onto the guitar. This is a great way to break out of playing the same old scales and patterns…
- There are so many guitar runs on your album. How do begin to write the lead lines and how on earth do manage to remember them all? What influences your creative process?
This album was a long process starting back in 2007, and my main focus was to write a guitar instrumental album that’s a bit different to the norm. The way I write comes naturally to me, it’s really not forced. I don’t play a simple riff and think “okay how can I make this really complicated” because I then feel that the music wouldn’t flow. It normally works that I come up with a riff and think “oh that’s cool” and then have to figure out what it is (time signature etc.) Some of the solos on this album are improvised, but there are many composed ones, especially on the really technical tracks, as I think a well composed solo fits better in that style. A lot of my lead lines start with a very simple idea and I then try to embellish that idea and turn it into a whole solo, or run. I’ll loop a section I have to solo over and just improvise over it; sometimes ideas come really quickly other times they take ages. I’ve also found it good to sing a solo over the top, record it and then transpose what I sung onto the guitar. This is a great way to break out of playing the same old scales and patterns. Influences are a tricky one; for example the tune “Fat Pigeon” came about as I was sat in my house one day and I could hear a wood pigeon outside. The rhythm that pigeon was cooing is the rhythm of the opening riff! Remembering this stuff is a nightmare I must admit. I have to play it all regularly otherwise I forget parts. I also scored out every guitar part of this album for that reason; these scores are also what the drummer and bassist used to help them learn the tunes.
- You’re currently employed at West Herts College where you head up the guitar teaching. How did you get the job and what is the most enjoyable aspect of this role?
That specific job I got from answering an advert and going through the normal interview process. It’s getting harder to get good teaching positions now as the qualification requirements are high, and this is a good thing. Anyone that wants to get into teaching should be looking at getting good playing and teaching qualifications. There are great colleges now like West Herts that can help you do this, as well as good syllabuses you can do from home. There are many things I love about teaching, from seeing that light bulb moment when you show a student something new and everything starts to click into place, to watching my students perform which is great; it’s a very rewarding job.
- Have you had any nightmare experiences whilst gigging?
I gig a lot, about twice a week on average and in all those gigs I’ve never really had anything terrible happen, although I’ve probably just jinxed that! I’m very meticulous with my prep for a gig, making sure all my gear is in good working order and changing strings before every show. Of course I’ve had many gigs where I’ve played like an idiot, strings have broken, made loads of mistakes etc, but there’s an art to covering them up!
- Your house is burning down. What’s the one guitar item you would save?
My Strat no question!
- What album(s) are you currently listening to?
I’m really into Joshua Redman (sax player) his bands are awesome “Freedom in Groove” is a great album. Scott Henderson, Steve Smith and Victor Wooten put out a couple of outstanding albums called “Vital Tech Tones“, and Meshuggah’s live album “Alive” is great, those guys are just so tight it makes me sick!
- If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
At the moment Brian Blade who plays with Joshua Redman. His groove and feel is just incredible, watch “Jazz Crimes” on YouTube it will blow your mind.
- Great Scott Marty! A DeLorean time machine has just pulled up outside your house, waiting for you to take it to 88mph! Would you go to the past or future and why?
Future, check out what the guitarists of the time are doing. Steal all their ideas and when I come back, I would be way ahead of my time!
- Lager or Cider?
Lager. I’m also getting quite into my ales now, must be an age thing!
- What’s the plan for you musically for the next 12 months?
My band’s going to start rehearsing in preparation to take it live, looking at a live album launch at the start of October. I want to work on new material and ideas, maybe even start writing the next album…
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