The latest “15 questions” feature focuses on Bournemouth based guitarist Steve Coates who’s currently juggling his time between playing the guitar in the Bournemouth live music scene and being a full-time student at Bournemouth University. Guitar Jar caught up with Steve to quiz him on his guitars, effects and stunning ability to play bass, rhythm and lead guitar all at the same time…
…it’s been a bit of an obsession to try and play as many of the major parts of songs all at once on the guitar…
- Steve, before we get into the details of your guitar style and equipment, can you give our readers a brief rundown of what you are currently up to in life?
Yeah sure, I am currently studying Interactive Media Production at Bournemouth University, currently in my second year. I work part-time, also, as the lead guitarist in the Dave Griffiths Band.
(Update: Steve also joined Bosh in September 2010 – Sam)
- How often do you play live?
I currently play regularly with The Dave Griffiths Band. I also do a lot of acoustic solo gigs where the focus is less on playing really well-known covers and more music that I like really mixed in with some stuff that I’ve written. In addition, I’m also in a 3-piece band called ‘Rootberry’ which, unfortunately due to university, marriages/babies, for the other members of the band, has meant that we’ve had to pull back a bit lately. We’re definitely planning to start playing again this summer though!
- You own an impressive range of guitars. Tell us a bit more about them and how often you use them.
Haha! Well, I technically own 3! I have a Gibson Les Paul DC faded, an Epiphone ES-335 and a Taylor 210E acoustic. My father, however, recently acquired two Heavy Relic Custom Shop Strats – very cool. I remember coming home one day and he just had two of them out on the sofa – I thought it was a joke! I would say I more regularly play my LP and 335 than the Strats though! When I’m home I mostly just crack out the acoustic.
- You have a special “Hendrix” talent where you can play bass, rhythm and lead on the same guitar at the same time. How did you approach developing that technique?
Well, perhaps that’s a bit too higher praise for what I do but… I remember listening to Billie Jean one day and just picking out the bass line on my acoustic. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to have the chords going over the top of this bass line. It took a little while to get it but eventually it started to sound alright. I also remembered seeing Newton Faulkner do this sort of body tapping beat on his acoustic and I thought that would sound great with this Billie Jean thing I’ve got going on – give it some rhythm. I put all the three things together and it actually sounded alright! Since then, it’s been a bit of an obsession to try and play as many of the major parts of songs all at once on the guitar – I’ve got two hands after-all!
- What was the last album you purchased? Do you recommend it?
I think the last album was ‘Infinite Arms’ by Band of Horses. It’s incredible. I saw them on Later With Jools Holland a while back and instantly loved what they were doing. I’d definitely recommend it – I love their sound and song writing!
- Tell us more about your choice of amp and what are your opinions of the “big boys” – Marshall, Mesa Boogie, Fender etc
I currently have a Fender Super Reverb ’65 Reissue. It’s a big old amp! I heard this song called ‘Volunteered Slavery’ by Derek Trucks one day and was blown away by his tone! I found out he was using an original Super Reverb so I went to try out the reissue and loved it instantly. My tone doesn’t tend to get too dirty so I wanted an amp that would give me sweet clean tone. I’ve tried Marshalls in the past and loved them – I just think the Fender suits my style a little more.
- How often do practice and what do you focus on to improve your technique?
There was a time when I thought playing 20 notes per second was the ultimate in musical expression but when I started listening to some blues music particularly guys like Doyle Bramhall II and Albert King I found they did so much more for me with one note than some of those guys did with 100! I wouldn’t say I really ‘practice’ anymore as in learning scales and stuff, it never really worked out for me. If I hear someone playing something I like then I go all out trying to replicate what they’re doing. I think that’s been it for me, before I played guitar I loved guitar music so when it came to playing, I went after the styles of artists I liked.
- Your house is burning down. What is the one guitar item you would save?
Oh no! Well, firstly I’d make sure my dad had one of the custom shop Strats in each hand and then I’d go for my Taylor acoustic, I think. It was an 18th birthday present and it’s the guitar I’ve had the longest. It’s just starting to show some wear marks – it just feels like mine really.
- What effects do you use? Do you recommend them or would you encourage other guitarists to seek alternatives?
I have a Keeley modified Ibanez Tube Screamer (TS-808), an original 80s Marshall Bluesbreaker (not the silver reissues) and a Boss DD-3 – that’s it! (and a tuner but that doesn’t really count). It’s not that I’m against effects and I think there are some really cool things you can achieve with them, I just have seen so many guitarists who completely hide behind them and then when they’re taken away have no idea what to do. I’d have said, by all means use them but don’t hide behind them all the time.
- Have you had any nightmare experiences whilst gigging?
I think the most memorable and fairly recent event was when the pickup in my Les Paul unscrewed itself, fell out of the guitar and then clamped itself to the strings meaning that they were all muted. I had to finish the song by literally holding it in place and carrying on playing.
- Has your guitar style ever been compared to anyone else?
Yeah! I’ve never consciously tried to copy his style but I’ve had about 3 people in completely different scenarios say that I sound like Mark Knopfler! I think this might have become more apparent due a time when I couldn’t find any picks and so started playing purely with my fingers – I still do! I guess that’s where it’s mostly come from. I love his playing so it’s a big compliment!
- Let’s say you get signed to a major label soon. What item of guitar equipment is top of your shopping list and why?
A Gibson ES-335 I reckon. I love my Epiphone version and I’ve played some Gibsons and they sound incredible. I love the hollow bluesy sound they give.
- If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
I think it would have to be either Steve Jordan or JJ Johnson. They’re both great! They really sit back into a beat and groove.
- Lager or Cider?
- What’s the plan for your music career in the near future and are you open to offers for session work?
Looking to do some stuff with my band ‘Rootberry’ this summer and write some cool tunes. I want to keep playing acoustic gigs and playing with the Dave Griff Band too. I’d love to do some session work! If Ray Lamontagne calls I’m available.
For more information about Steve please visit myspace.com/stevejcoates.