Felix Martin’s first doubleneck guitars were built by Canadian luthier JP Laplante. Martin still plays his custom Laplante models, including this doubleneck with a 9-string and 7-string configuration. Photo by Mary Escalona
Which is harder: complicated independent parts or a unison line on both necks?
It depends on what you’re playing, but I think they’re the same. At this point, you’ve just got to play them well. That’s the hardest part: Make whatever your playing sounds good. Obviously, if you want to play a Bach fugue, that’s really hard. I’m transcribing a Beethoven piece and it’s really challenging on guitar. It’s a piano piece, not a guitar piece. It’s so fast and the arpeggios are with just one hand and then the other hand is doing something else.
You play a lot of cool polyrhythms between your two hands. Talk about learning how to do that.
I was really into them when I was a teenager and when I was at Berklee. I used to listen a lot to Dream Theater and jazz fusion groups like the Bad Plus. Nowadays, I’m more into focusing on trying to discover new sounds on the guitar rather than music-theory-related things. I’m really influenced by drummers, too. For the polyrhythms, I would listen to Virgil Donati [Allan Holdsworth, Planet X] and Marco Minnemann [the Aristocrats, Joe Satriani], and then Mike Mangini and Mike Portnoy [Dream Theater]. Nowadays, I’m more influenced by the gospel chops guys like Tony Royster Jr. and Thomas Pridgen [the Mars Volta]. I really like drummers and I get a lot of inspiration from them.
You recorded with Marco Minnemann, too?
Yeah, that was long ago. That was fun.
In addition to tapping, you also use many different picking techniques—slap guitar, and things like that.
Yeah, but I don’t do that anymore. I haven’t played with a pick since three years ago. That was the last time I touched a pick.
For the new album and the new set list for the live shows, I’m not using a pick at all. On the older material, sometimes I use a pick. I used a pick for shred lines and power chords, but nowadays I will play them with my index finger. I developed a technique where I use my index finger as a pick.
It was painful at the beginning, but I can play lead lines and power chords with the index finger. I play tapping all the time. It bothers me a lot to play tapping and then to grab the pick. If you’re playing live, you’ve got to put it in your mouth or somewhere else. So, I decided not to play with a pick anymore.
In addition to playing sans pick, there’s also no distortion on the new album. Why is that?
It’s not that I didn’t want to use distortion; it’s more that I wanted to focus on what makes me different. It was a challenge to write a guitar-based album where you’re not using distortion, playing power chords, or soloing and playing lead lines.
There are a lot of people already doing that, so I focused on tapping—the chords I do with tapping, the percussive techniques, and then the whole scale of things that I do with the tapping and also the slapping. I wanted to do something different that sounds really different. It was a big challenge and for the next album I think it’s probably going to be the same. I’m going to focus on pushing myself a little further, pushing the technique more and more, and make it better.
You’re able to get some heavy sounds, which is pretty surprising.
That was another challenge. We play shows with progressive metal bands, and we belong to the metal community. I was like, “Man, I’m going to do this tapping, but I have to make it sound heavy.” The first song, the first groove on the album, I’m just tapping, but I’m playing hard and focused. I’m playing two chords at the same time, like two minor chords, but I’m playing them really fast and really hard. It sounds pretty heavy and I’m not using any distortion. That was the idea; to do something heavy, but that sounds different.
What is the role of the bass player in your band and why don’t you just play those parts yourself on your 8-string guitars?
Well, first, my guitars are just guitars. I don’t have bass strings on them. But mainly, I don’t like to do the bass parts on my guitar—that’s why we have a bass player. I want to find different sounds using both hands for the guitar. The bass player is mainly playing the roots, just like in any band, and taking care of the low end.
Do you enjoy getting harmonically adventurous, pushing parameters, and exploring dissonance?
I don’t experiment with dissonance much these days. I’m experimenting with chords and with tensions. I have this thing where I can play a chord and then I can play the same shape on the other neck and get all the tensions. For example, you can play a regular Cm7 [on one neck] and an AbMaj7 [on the other]. It’s the regular shapes of those chords, but it’s another voicing. Nowadays, I play more in the key than outside the key, but I have a lot of older stuff online. I was a big fan of diminished scales, where I would harmonize the whole thing and all the melodies were on the diminished scale.
Do you improvise or is most of your music worked out?
It’s pretty worked out, though live I improvise a lot. I think more like a drummer. I play fills in between. I don’t always play the same thing live. I change things. I think it’s more fun for me. I don’t know if it’s more fun for the audience, but I feel like having fun onstage.