While attending the Paul Gilbert Great Escape 2013, Premier Guitar was able to snag some quality face time with two major names in the guitar industry: Paul Gilbert and Andy Timmons. Longtime shredder Gilbert is renowned worldwide for his playing abilities in Mr. Big and beyond, but also for his aforementioned camp, which allows budding players to learn from the best of the best.
Among the teachers this year was Andy Timmons, a guitarist whose musical breadth lets him open arena shows with Danger Danger and arrange entire Beatles albums as 6-string instrumentals (a real cake walk, you know). Both Gilbert and Timmons offered insights into their personal learning processes and described what it’s like to be a teacher of the trade.
What are the most common questions or concerns that you hear from students?
Timmons: It seems like people are looking for the magic bullet or the shortcut, and the unfortunate answer is there never is any. In general, it’s always the same stuff we all need to work on—improving your ear and working on time and feel. Vocabulary and technique come the more you play.
Gilbert: At the camp, these are students who have come to see, I’m assuming, primarily me, so it’s a unique bunch of people because chances are they’ve seen my early instructional videos where I’m doing all the shred stuff. A lot of it is people wanting to know, “How do I use this three-notes-per-string scale to play really fast?”
But your musical tastes have changed drastically from the purely shredding aspect you focused on when you first hit the scene, right Paul?
Gilbert: In my own personal journey, [shredding] was certainly part of it. But my ears and my hands have opened up to so many other styles that I can’t help but try to pull them into that direction a little bit.
How do you address these topics to a large audience with people of differing levels?
Timmons: I just try to touch on things that are universal. When I get into more advanced things, maybe it might wash over younger, less experienced players. But it might be something that they get to later in life. “Oh yeah, that’s what he was talking about. I get it now.” That was the thing in my own education over the years. I was a self-taught player from 5 to 16. When I went to the University of Miami for two years, the great thing about the curriculum was it gave me a lifetime of things to work on. It wasn’t like, “Here’s a book of licks, now learn this.” It was more like, “Here are pieces to the puzzle, now it’s up to you how you put it together.”
In the jams, it’s obvious that the majority of students here can play at a pretty high technical level. However, there is a noticeable difference in how they sound when compared to either of you two or another established professional. What steps do you take to try to lead the students into sounding like a polished pro?
Timmons: For these players, it’s probably about listening. It comes down to awareness and fitting into every musical situation. You have to be musical with your knowledge. There’s a generation of guitarists that grew up with a wealth of information. There’s the internet, tab, and YouTube. There’s so much information—it’s all out there, and you have to kind of edit.
Gilbert: It depends on the framework. Every guitar player has a stylistic direction they’ve gone in. Somebody like Yngwie is a master of his style. If you want to play Phrygian Dominant over an E chord, nobody can touch that guy. But if he had to play “Autumn Leaves,” I would guess, and I don’t want to say anything bad about Yngwie, but it probably wouldn’t go that well. That’s the same thing with me. If I had to play “Autumn Leaves,” it would be a disaster. I haven’t explored that area enough. When I was a kid I had a teacher who was good at showing me scales and chords. He was very methodical and I learned a lot from him. But then my uncle, who is a fantastic guitar player, would pick up a guitar and play something with force [demonstrates]—great vibrato, dynamics, and all of those elements that can’t be written on tablature. And that’s the thing that I find. Some students play like tablature.