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Inside the Great Guitar Escape: A Week in the Mountains with Paul Gilbert and Friends


Gilbert enjoying his time offstage in the audience.

Jam with Paul
Gilbert’s course offerings included “Scales and Arpeggios for Rock Guitar” and “Songs, the Best Guitar Teacher for Rock,” but by far the class that got everyone the most excited was “Jam with Paul.” After all, how often does anyone get to trade licks with a rock guitar icon?

You might think the jam session would turn into utter chaos with so many guitarists in the house. To the contrary, the jam was amazingly well organized. Ibanez’s repair team leader Mike Arellano was on hand to keep the line moving by removing and passing on the silent switching cable after each jammer had his shot. The first jam of the week consisted of sparring with Gilbert over an eight-measure A7–D7 vamp with everyone getting three rounds of the progression to blow on.

Although the jam session wasn’t a traditional class in the sense of information dissemination, for many it provided the best learning experience of the camp because it threw them right into the lion’s den. “You suddenly realize that, no matter what you’ve got as far as fast or slow, or whatever, you’ve got to be able to squeeze it into a framework,” says Gilbert. “A framework of tempo, a framework of harmony, a framework of accents—accents that you either want to match or play against and create syncopation. There are great guitar players who never think of those terms, they just feel it naturally. But there are also so many people—including myself—who … there are lots elements of music that took me way too long to discover. I hope that experience left a mark on everybody.”

Paul Gilbert gets inside information from Tony Spinner.

”Scarified” to Stevie Wonder
Every night was capped by a stellar concert with Gilbert and faculty. The song selections throughout the week’s concerts—The Bee Gees’ “How Deep is your Love,” Gary Moore’s “Still Got the Blues,” ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” and Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” among many others, reflected Gilbert’s recent interest in playing over changes. “The Stevie Wonder tune I played the other night goes from A major to Ebm7—a minor 7 chord a tri-tone away! I’m just the happiest person in the world listening to it and dealing with the challenge of soloing over it,” says Gilbert, who also picked up a Rickenbacker bass several times throughout the week for select cuts.

For the diehard fans who’d rather be dead than live without shred, Gilbert performed “Scarified,” his signature face-melter that he popularized during his Racer X days. During the performance, Gilbert asked for a do over of the insane arpeggiated middle section, just to nail it flawlessly.

Mimi Fox trades licks with Adam Fulara over a one-chord vamp at the all-star faculty concert.

Happiness from Happenstance
For many attendees the best part of the week was what transpired out of pure happenstance. Having the good fortune to have Gilbert, Timmons, or any other of the stellar faculty members end up on your roundtable during one of the three daily meals led to priceless conversation, which, for many, proved to be just as educational and entertaining as the classes themselves. Gilbert told a table of students with plates full of mustard seed-crusted salmon: “I thought of an amazing exercise. Play ‘You Really Got Me,’ which starts on the “and” of beat 4, but start it on every possible downbeat and every possible upbeat. You can do downstrokes or whatever; I’m not worried about the technique. It’s a rhythmic exercise. Your playing hasn’t changed at all, but it’s changed in reference to where the foot is. The idea is to mentally shift it, like you do in ProTools when you move something over and drop it in another spot.” That sounded simple enough—but when I got back to my room and tried it, I struggled through feeling like an uncoordinated klutz.

It wasn’t just random chances to hang with these guitar heroes that made the week special. Some lucky students had the opportunity to jam with them. One kid was just noodling on a hollowbody in the lawn when Timmons invited him back to jam. Mimi Fox also joined in and the kid got perhaps the most intense lesson he’d ever encountered in his life. Even if it wasn’t a jam with an established pro, there were daily round-the-clock unsupervised student jam sessions in three locations where everyone had a chance to strut their stuff.

Mimi Fox shows an eager student some blazing lines.

The Grand Finale
To top off the week, there was one final open jam with Gilbert. To make it even scarier, they pulled out all the stops and enlisted Timmons to play bass. The structure was an E blues and the students would trade licks with Gilbert every two measures for a total of two choruses each. I decided to take the plunge and join in. To be honest, initially, I wasn’t really scared. But the more I listened to those around me—both teenagers that practice eight hours a day and successful corporate business dudes—expressing just how terrifying of an activity this was, their anxiety rubbed off on me.

Probably like everyone else in line, I had some grandiose fantasies of what this moment was going to be like. However, when my turn actually came up, reality came crushing down, and instead of whipping out the 16th-note sequences that I planned on, I opted to play it safe and avoid trying to get into a guitar battle that I’d have no chance of winning. Before I knew it, my turn was over. At that moment, all I could think of was practicing like a madman for the chance to do it again next year. It then dawned on me why so many of the attendees are return students, and why the three Brazilians had already made plans for attending Gilbert’s next Great Guitar Escape.

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