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All Star Guitar Night: Rusty Cooley

In the circus world of guitar playing, the art of shred guitar occupies the role of sideshow attraction – other guitarists frequently look upon these light speed virtuosos and

In the circus world of guitar playing, the art of shred guitar occupies the role of sideshow attraction – other guitarists frequently look upon these light speed virtuosos and murmur, “How do they do that?” while trying to decipher patterns on the fretboard. It takes a true daredevil attitude to continually push the limits of a centuries-old instrument, and Rusty Cooley has found himself at the forefront of shred experimentation. Teaching the techniques to area students in Houston and participating in Troy Grady’s documentary, Cracking the Code: The Secrets of Shred Guitar, which attempted to break down the conventions of shredding through the use of super slow motion cameras, Rusty could be considered a mainstream academic on the subject.
All Star Guitar Night: Rusty Cooley

Of course, it’s not just a flurry of notes – there’s music to be made. Named one of the ten fastest shredders of all time by Guitar One magazine, he navigates his signature seven string Dean with a combination of breakneck speed and pure bravado, both solo and with his band, Outworld. We talked with Rusty about how he keeps on top of his game.

I understand that you only play seven string guitars. What brought about that preference?

The low string gives me extra range. I’m able to do things that you can’t do on a six string guitar without doing some down tuning, and of course, when you tune lower you lose the upper register.

What’s the gauge of the lowest string?

I use a .058 for my B string and the rest are just your standard 9 gauge set. The reason I use such a heavy B string is that it actually adds back tension. I tune down a half-step, so having an extra-heavy B string kind of pulls it back up. I’m always fighting between wanting to have heavier strings and not.

Are things going well with your band, Outworld?

Yeah, as a matter of fact, we just finished up recording a demo and we’re shopping it around right now. We’ve gotten some interest from a couple of cool labels right now – hopefully we can secure things soon.

Any names you can throw out or is everything still in the preliminary stages?

I don’t want to jinx myself! But we’ve got most of the material done and we sent out a four song demo. We have some good people backing us up – Michael Amott from Arch Enemy, Jeff Loomis from Nevermore, Karl Sanders from Nile, Chris Storey from All Shall Perish and John Petrucci are all pushing it to their labels, so you can do your homework and figure it out! [laughs]

You’re still teaching in Texas, right? What do you enjoy about that?

I enjoy playing guitar and passing it on. One of my biggest influences, Randy Rhoads, was a teacher and when I was a kid, I pretty much did anything Randy did. I got started teaching young – it beat the hell out of flipping burgers, and it still beats flipping burgers, you know?

All Star Guitar Night: Rusty Cooley

So when did you decide to push the limits of speed and intensity like you’re known for?

When I was growing up, everybody played and played well. I didn’t think about it as something that was unusual. In the midnineties, when I got my first seven string and stopped playing in bands, I thought it was time to go back to the woodshed and work on an instrumental album. There I reinvented my playing.

Prior to that, I did standard shred stuff – note tapping, one finger tapping, basic diatonic legato, and picking and sweeping. When I sat down to work on my technique, I really branched out and started working with all four fingers on my left hand, doing wide pentatonic scales with four notes per string and tapping with two, three or even four fingers. I was listening to guys like Shawn Lane and Allan Holdsworth and really extreme shred guys like Todd Duane, Derek Taylor and Buckethead. That really pushes you to play faster.

I was at sound check for All Star Guitar Night, and I heard you warming up. When you’re up there, are you thinking about what you are doing or do your hands just move?

It depends; I was pretty conscious about it today because I hadn’t played in four days. You come out here and there’s no time to practice, no amps in your room and my guitar’s been sitting in the Dean booth. It takes me out of the comfort zone, not being able to play for that long or practice over the track I’m going to play on. It’s all improvisation, but I still don’t feel like I’m on my toes like I should be.

Do you ever find yourself falling into traps, stale patterns that you return to when you’re running low on creativity?

Absolutely. When I don’t practice enough, I end up feeling kind of stale. When I’m practicing and I’m on top of my game, I can get more creative because my technique is more polished.

Do you have a specific technique to fight off that feeling of staleness?

Yeah, one of the things I do if I feel like I’m not being creative is just buy a new CD, instructional book or DVD – I just start listening again. I can be inspired by something as simple as just learning a new chord. Then I check out the scales I can use with that new chord and listen to the tonality. It can spark a whole new set of ideas.

Whose DVDs are you watching right now?

I don’t know if I’ve gotten any new DVDs lately, but when I go back to the woodshed, I’m definitely getting out my Shawn Lane or Allan Holdsworth stuff.

Do you see your playing, or shredding in general, as an art?

I don’t know if it’s an art. I try not to overanalyze too much – I just pick up and play. As a teacher, I see kids coming in who are so over-analytical that they don’t get anything done. And I have friends that spend all of their time dialing in their amps, and they never get anything done. If you just sit down, practice and play, I find you can be more productive.

Rusty’s ASGN Gearbox
Here’s what Rusty plugged in for his live performance:
Dean Rusty Cooley Signature
Model 7-String
VHT Two/Ninety/Two power amp
Rocktron Prophesy preamp
Diamond Amplification Nitrox
Bogner Uberschall
Radial Switchbone

Rusty Cooley