Matt Palmer’s main guitar was built in 2005 by luthier Kolya Panhuyzen. “There is a
ton of volume, but it can also sound really soft and delicate.”

Hear a track from Un tiempo fue Itálica famosa:
Matt Palmer isn’t your typical classical guitar hero. His blistering technique isn’t fueled by Fernando Sor and Heitor Villa-Lobos arpeggio studies, and his musicality wasn’t originally inspired by lyrical Bach passages. Palmer in essence turbocharged the vehicle of classical-guitar composition with a DIY ethic inspired by the visceral sounds and rule-breaking spirit of early metal shredders. Unlike most aspiring classical guitarists, who often find inspiration in the works of Andrés Segovia and Julian Bream, Palmer spent his formative years nurturing his musical yearnings with generous helpings of Yngwie Malmsteen and Marty Friedman.

“I first got a guitar when I was about 10 years old,” Palmer recalls. “This was when Guns N’ Roses exploded on the scene, so I was really inspired by Slash. The image of a cool guy who played the guitar really spoke to me.” After poring over Slash’s whisky-soaked pentatonic licks, he moved on to the neoclassical shred deities of the period, foreshadowing a greater stylistic turn later in life.

“A short time after I started playing guitar, I got into Randy Rhoads—he was one of my big influences all through high school,” says Palmer. “I played everything off the [Ozzy Osbourne]Tributealbum, and from there I progressed into really heavy stuff.” By that, he means the thrashing riffs of Slayer’s Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, as well as Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell.

Although Palmer’s parents were supportive of his burgeoning 6-string interests, his mother gave him a gift she hoped would steer him in a different direction. “When I was about 16, my mom bought me a [classical-guitar veteran] Christopher Parkening CD,” Palmer remembers. “I threw it in my closet and forgot about it. I think she just got it for me so I would try something a little ‘nicer’—and that wasn’t as loud.”

Though Palmer dismissed the gift at the time, the whole incident foreshadowed a sea change that would happen just a few short years later. During his freshman year of college, he attended some classical guitar concerts—including by his future instructor Bill Yelverton— that blew him away in much the same way Slash had in his youth. And, just like that, Palmer switched musical paths decided to focus on classical guitar.

“When I first started I thought, ‘I’ll play the classical stuff because I like it, but I’m going to use all this musical training to make myself a better electric guitarist’—y’know, get the theory background so I could write great heavy metal guitar solos.”

When Palmer decided to record his debut album,Un tiempo fue Ital’ca famosa(which is named after the Joaquin Rodrigo composition it begins with), he took matters into his own hands and learned how to record himself. The result is a snapshot of a young artist about to make a real dent in the stuffy world of classical guitar. The pieces range from bursts of nylon-string virtuosity in the title track to the modern thunder of Czech composer Štêpán Rak’s “Sonata Mongoliana.” We caught up with Palmer to discuss his musical metamorphosis, how he gets distortion out of a nylon-string, and why he uses three types of strings on a single instrument.

Which shredders first influenced you to pick up the guitar?

After going through the Randy Rhoads stuff, Yngwie was really big for me. From there, I started to hear about other guys like Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Chris Impellitteri, and Paul Gilbert. I was into anything and everything shredding and fast— like Slayer and Pantera. Today, I’m primarily a classical player, even though I think the term “classical guitarist” isn’t so great.


I think when most people hear “classical guitarist” there can be a negative connotation—like it’s not cool or it’s old and dated. When I was a teenager, I would have never considered listening to classical guitar. People might think it’s weird that I moved from metal and neoclassical shred to classical guitar, but I think it’s a natural progression.

How so?

If you look at it from a purely technical point of view, players from both genres are at the height of what they can do on their instrument. Both have spent countless hours in the practice room to get better. Musically speaking, both genres contain very dramatic and moving music.