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: renowned solo jazz guitarist and Telecaster Tonehound, Tim Lerch.
GT: What is it about guitar instrumentals that appeals to you?
TL: I get the impression from the questions that the term ‘guitar instrumental’ is suggesting a particular genre of pop, rock or country guitar music, but without vocals. As a player who is primarily playing instrumental music – jazz, blues, etc - I have a perhaps slightly different view of things but I’ll try to answer the questions the best I can. I have always loved the sound of the guitar, even before I could play it. As a guitarist it has always been sound rather than lyrics that has captivated me. The guitar can be very expressive and vocal-like in the right hands.
GT: What can a piece of instrumental music provide a listener that a vocal performance can’t?
TL: An instrumental leaves lots open for the imagination. The listener can hear sound rather than the words and be allowed to make up their own story.
GT: What are the tendencies that you aim to embrace or avoid?
TL: These days almost all of the music I play is without vocals, but I’m playing songs that have lyrics and have been sung, so I respect the melody above all else and really get it to sing above the harmony.
GT: How useful is studying a vocalist’s approach when it comes to guitar melodies?
TL: Very useful. There is so much available in our instrument if we search it out and get our fingers to comply. We don’t want to be a bunch of typists!
GT: How do you start writing one; is there a typical approach?
TL: I mostly arrange or improvise solo guitar pieces. So for me it all kind of happens at once - the harmony suggests melody and vice-versa.
GT: What do you aim for in your performance?
TL: To make a musical statement that is beautiful, logical, and has a groovy feel.
GT: Many vocal songs feature a guitar solo that starts low and slow then finishes high and fast. Is this structure useful for instrumentals?
TL: There are many ways to approach things and I suppose that’s one way to go.
GT: What type of guitar tone do you prefer for instrumentals?
TL: Clear, round, full and creamy.
GT: Do you ever resort to favourite keys or tempos?
TL: Nope. I have to use all variety of keys, tempos and feels to keep things interesting.
GT: Do you find Minor or Major keys more rewarding?
TL: No preference really; it’s all just about what makes the melody sing.
GT: And what about modes - do you have any favourite?
TL: No, I’d say I’m an equal opportunity modalist!
GT: And what about modulations into new keys?
TL: I change keys often and enjoy the adventure of finding new ways to set up modulations.
GT: Do you view the backing band in a different way than you would on a vocal song?
TL: Playing solo (unaccompanied), my backing band is on my lap!
GT: What are your views on harmonising melodies?
TL: I love to harmonise a phrase differently as the piece goes on. I love surprises and it helps keep things interesting for the listener.
GT: What three guitar instrumentals have inspired you?
TL: Ted Greene’s version of Danny Boy is very beautiful; and I also love Lenny Breau’s Emily and Cannonball Rag.
Tim Lerch: “My backing band is on my lap!”