Who needs a plan?
Last Sunday, I was fortunate enough to attend a Guthrie Govan guitar masterclass in Horsham, West Sussex. Govan is considered by many to be the best electric guitarist in the world. There were around sixty people in the audience, mostly male, 100% guitarists.
Guthrie took to the stage and announced that he didn’t have a plan. Nobody seemed to be worried about that. He started off by playing ‘Sevens’ and ‘Pig’s Day Off‘ – both suitably dazzling, before speaking for a while about his music journey and philosophy.
Guthrie started playing guitar at the age of three, and played his first gig aged five. He said that he wasn’t very good at that age, but people clap anyway when you’re five. His father taught him the basic chords: C, D, Dm (“sad D”), E, Em, G, A, Am, and the basic open and moveable blues shuffle patterns.
The importance of ear training.
That was everything that his father knew on the guitar, so after that, Guthrie was on his own with the guitar and his parents immense record collections. These were the days before TAB books and the internet, so he had to work everything out by ear. This is a process he described as “guessing at a note or chord, and if it was the wrong one, guessing again”. I think that is how most people start off transcribing!
Guthrie says that this method of transcribing songs from an early age gave him the most important tool a musician can have – a good ear. He mentioned that later, he would become obsessed with recreating the sounds he heard in his day to day life on the guitar; Nokia ringtones, metronome clicks, TV theme tunes, radio jingles etc… Later, on a trip to Turkey, he recalled becoming fascinated by the quarter tones hidden in the scale that he heard being sung at the mosques and played by buskers. This inquisitive nature and attention to detail led him to explore the guitar, and music in general, to an incredible depth.
He spoke a little about his signature Charvel guitar, which he described as his best attempt to design an all round guitar. Due to his schedule of constantly touring the world giving masterclasses and playing with his band The Aristocrats, Guthrie only carries one guitar!
Guthrie’s Charvel is the classic shredding machine: 24 frets, H/S/H pickup configuration, locking trem. It has a natural, organic look about it, as did his previous Suhr signature guitar, which I think looked much nicer.
Guthrie opened up the floor to questions from the audience, and proceeded to answer questions about the CAGED system (which he endorsed), making money from instrumental music (which he laughed at), his thought process whilst improvising (think in key, but look out for the tricky chords) and many other topics. He demonstrated a bizarre slurred harmonic technique for me, which I haven’t managed to replicate yet!
The masterclass ended with a superb rendition of ‘Waves’, then Guthrie nipped out for a quick fag before selling and signing some CDs.
All in all, this was an incredibly inspiring event. I played for three hours when I got home, and barely scratched the surface of all the ideas that Mr. Govan gave me. The event cost £20, which all things considered, was a bargain.
Cliff Smith, 2015.