Guitar instrumentals have supplied some of music’s most evocative moments. We asked some top guitarists for their take on this iconic movement. This month: Norwegian melodic rocker beloved of Zakk Wylde, TNT’s Ronni Le Tekro.
GT: What is it about guitar instrumentals that appeals?
RLT: That my ears gets a break from the lyrical landscape.
GT: What can an instrumental provide the listener that a song with lyrics can’t?
RLT: A different musical journey for the listener - unspoken.
GT: What are the tendencies with instrumentals that you aim to embrace or avoid?
RLT: I prefer improvised instrumentals, meaning free-bag. But I also treasure the well composed ones.
GT: Is a typical song structure of intro, verse, chorus, etc, always relevant for an instrumental?
RLT: I Would say never, although implementing repetition can be very important to CATCH the listener’s attention.
GT: How useful is studying a vocalist’s approach for creating guitar melodies?
RLT: Very useful. In fact I write most of my compositions based on a vocal approach.
GT: How do you start writing one; is there a typical approach or inspiration for you?
RLT: I would say the sound chaos that exists in nature or the big cities. I hear music everywhere.
GT: What do you aim for when your performance is centre stage as with an instrumental?
RLT: Focusing on my musical performance, first and foremost. If I lose focus on the music, I lose it. At the same time it’s about being visual on a rock stage, but it’s gotta come naturally, from what I’m playing.
GT: Many vocal songs feature a guitar solo that starts low and slow then finishes high and fast. Is this useful for instrumentals?
RLT: In general I would say so, but there are no ‘rules’. I love tossing arrangements around and seeing where it ends musically. Arrangements with a ‘twist’ have always appealed to me. From the likes of The Beatles, Queen, City Boy and others.
GT: What type of guitar tone do you prefer for instrumentals?
RLT: The tone of Ian Bairnson (guitarist with British prog-rock band Alan Parsons Project, with Pilot, with Kate Bush – played the solo on Wuthering Heights - and with singer Beverley Craven). Generally the tone coming out of 50w Marshalls running on 240V. It’s just something about that amp and tone that give identity to so many players around the globe. I also love the tone my ESP and Fenders give to my playing.
GT: Do you have favourite keys or tempos to play or write in?
RLT: F#minor, any tempo. I like to change keys every time I write to not get stuck in any key. It could be weird tunings with capos, or simply just mess up the harmonic conte nt a bit.
GT: Do you find minor or major keys easier to write in?
RLT: Both. But it’s hard to elaborate on. I go with the harmonic wind when I write, either by myself or with others.
GT: Do you have any favourite modes to play or write in?
RLT: E Phrygian, chromatic passages as well as British blues.
GT: What about modulations into different keys?
RLT: I constantly modulate into new keys, in almost every composition. I also try to have each track in a different key to maintain colour on a full album. The same thing goes with tempos... the tempo the song needs, regardless.
GT: Do you view the backing band in a different way than you would on a vocal song?
RLT: To be honest no, because I’m always looking for that special feeling whether it’s an instrumental or not. We have a more dynamic approach maybe, when it comes to backing a good singer and have to follow the singer’s dynamics.
GT: What are your views on harmonising melodies?
RLT: I’ve being doing it a lot through the last 36 years! One example is Wisdom with TNT, that contains block harmonics and 90 tracks of guitars. Took me a month of guitar playing, that song. The solo also has a 1/4-note solo (performed on my 1/4 stepper guitar).
GT: What three guitar instrumentals would you consider iconic, or have inspired you?
RLT: I don’t think I have any pure guitar instrumentals as favourites, other than stuff from Steve Hillage, Be Bop Deluxe, Frank Marino ...but that contains some vocal elements. Check out Frank Marino’s King Bee Live, for instance.
i constantly modulate into new keys. i also try to have each track in a diff erent key to maintain colour on a full album
Ronni Le Tekro: has all the chops but likes to play melodically