Instrumentals have supplied some of music’s most evocative and exciting moments. We asked some top guitarists for their take on this iconic movement. This month we meet the brilliant Aussie axeman, Brett Garsed
60 Seconds, Session Shenanigans, One-Minute Lick, That Was The Year, Jam Tracks and more.
GT: What appeals to you about a guitar instrumental?
BG: It allows listeners to come up with their own interpretation of what the song means emotionally, without a lyric guiding them in any particular direction. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a guitar instrumental but I suppose I’m drawn to them seeing as I am a guitar player. Well, guitar owner on some days!
GT: What tendencies do you aim to embrace or avoid?
BG: As long as I can come up with a strong melody without being too predictable, I’ll pursue the idea and try to make a song out of it.
GT: Is a typical structure still intro, verse, chorus, verse?
BG: Seeing as I’m not limited to any particular genre I try to exploit that and have the song go wherever it wants without conforming to any standard model of songwriting structure. It can be 10 minutes or three minutes long and go anywhere it wants. I try to enjoy the creative freedom that a relatively unknown indie artist can have.
GT: How useful is studying a vocalist’s approach?
BG: I’ve been lucky to have worked with John Farnham for the past 30 years, whom I consider to be one of the greatest vocalists of all time. I’m sure his phrasing and uncanny improvisational abilities have sunk into my brain. Jeff Beck and Derek Trucks are two great examples of a guitar being used as a vocal instrument. It’s a good thing to remind some players of if they get a bit stuck focusing only on ‘guitarisms’.
GT: How do you start writing one?
BG: I’ll try anything to be honest. Sometimes it’s just an acoustic doing the chords and melody and then other times I’ll improvise for half an hour and listen back to see if there’s any ideas in there that get me going. I try to not write too many songs that sound the same – at least that’s the goal anyway.
GT: Does being centre stage for the whole number affect you?
BG: I don’t like to be the centre of attention, to be honest. I like being in a large band and being part of the bigger picture, but if I have to lead the whole thing then I give it everything I’ve got, try to play my best and not screw up!
GT: Many guitar solos start low and slow then finish high and fast. Do you think this structure is a useful way to go?
BG: It’s one possible structure. It’d probably be a good idea to vary the dynamic of solo sections from song to song anyway.
GT: What type of guitar tone do you prefer for instrumentals?
BG: I believe that whatever suits the song is right. My personal tone is quite a dark sound but I’ll search for a tone that I feel is appropriate for the section I’m trying to play.
GT: Any favourite keys or tempos?
BG: No. I try to vary all of that as well so that I don’t end up writing songs that all sound the same.
GT: Do you find minor or major keys easier to write in?
BG: It doesn’t matter really. I find songwriting difficult but I think this is because I try as hard as I can to be original, which is really tough for me. I’m not as prolific as I should be but that’s probably because I’ll throw out an idea if it sounds too derivative.
GT: Do you have any modes that you naturally favour?
BG: TJ Helmerich said I really liked the Mixolydian mode, which is probably due to my being a massive Larry Carlton fan. I didn’t notice it until TJ brought it up but if I’m trying out a guitar or just noodling then it’ll probably be that Mixolydian sound.
GT: What about modulations into other keys?
BG: Yeah, I enjoy that stuff. I really like trying to play over changes written by someone other than myself.
GT: Do you view the backing band in a different way than you would on a vocal song?
BG: No, the musos I play with sound great playing anything. I’m lucky that they put up with me!
GT: What are your views on harmonising melodies?
BG: I don’t do too much of it myself but I enjoy hearing how other people use it.
GT: What three guitar instrumentals would you consider iconic or have inspired you?
BG: Allan Holdsworth is the master of texture as far as I’m concerned. He could have never played a solo and had a great career as an ambient artist. I really love an album by Michael Brook called Live At The Aquarium. Michael Landau or Scott Henderson would have to be included too but I’m already up to four so it’s impossible for me to just have three! Ask me about how many musicians I think are great and we’ll be here for years!
Fantastic regular and slide guitarist Brett Garsed