It’s time for another in our Gear Nerd series here at Roadrunner UK and seeing as how the guys are currently here in the UK, we thought it would be fitting to bring you our recent chat with ALTER BRIDGE guitarist Mark Tremonti about his guitar playing career and his current set-up…
Roadrunner Records: Was guitar the first instrument that you picked up and learnt how to play?
Mark Tremonti: My first instrument was the trumpet!
RR: Wow, so how did that come about?
MT: I was in grade school and we had a Music class where you had to choose an instrument. Everybody played the recorder and then you had to chose what instrument you where gonna play and I chose the trumpet, and I think I learned ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’- that was probably the most in-depth song I’d learned- and after that I just kinda lost interest a little bit.
RR: Wasn’t really your thing?
MT: It wasn’t my thing, no! I kinda get grossed out with the spit and the spit valve and all that! It was kinda gross!
RR: So when did the guitar come in to things? When did you first pick up a guitar?
MT: I first started playing guitar at 11 years old. I wanted to play for years before- I asked my parents to buy me one but they never did; not for a few years. So I finally found a friend who had a guitar (an imitation Les Paul) that he sold me for $10, that I played at first with my thumb on the fret board; I didn’t know how to play! [laughs] From then I just tried to write songs for years and years. I tried to learn songs by Black Flag and Bad Brains and Metallica as much as I could and it took a very long time cause I never really took guitar lessons you know, but um I’m glad I did it that way cause I developed my own ear!
RR: So you never actually had one lesson?
MT: I had one lesson, and they tried to teach me ‘Silent Night’ and I got bored with it. I told them and they said “well what do you want to learn”? And I said “a Metallica song! I want to learn Blackened”. And he said “er okay, I’ll bring that in to you next week”. So the next week came; he didn’t have Blackened ready for me so I said, “you liar!” [Laughs] And I quit! And that was my last guitar lesson!
RR: So which guitarist really inspired you to play?
MT: James Hertfeild / Metallica inspired me to get into the speed metal kinda stuff and Mustaine. In my early years I was just a metal head but as far as lead guitar, first I got into the shred stuff like Steve Vai, Vinnie Moore, Paul Gilbert, Joe Satriani… As I’ve gotten older now I’m more into Robin Ford, Larry Carlton, Audley Freed, Warren Haynes, Blues Saraceno (I know he’s kinda shreddy as well), jeez, I could go on forever and ever! I just love guitar players, you know? I’m into Michael Schenker as well, Zach Wylde…but I’m trying to learn more of the bluesy side of the guitar playing at this moment.
RR: So the way that you learnt to play guitar essentially therefore was just listening to all your favourite music and favourite guitarists and just trying to emulate them?
MT: Trying to tackle it, yep! But I was always more of a songwriter more than I was a lead guitar player. That didn’t come until much much later.
RR: So when it comes to writing, as you’ve not had lessons, how did you start to put your songs together?
MT: I just did it! I mean I just felt the way they should go together and just…When I was young I saved up for a four track recorder and recorded my own songs and little by little you get better and better at doing it and see what parts fit together and you hear songs on the radio – how they go and you just kinda take notes. I just started writing my own songs! I did that for most of my life, you know, since I was 11 so I’ve been doing it for about 25 years now!
RR: So what was the very first band that you were in as a kid, and what kinda music did you play?
MT: Diversion was the name of the band, and it was a punk-metal band. Punk speed metal band! It was just real raw, dirty…Even now some of the songs would be pretty hip! The singer was a pretty raunchy kind of cool front man! But then there was another band in town- we were more of the sloppier punk band, and there was another band that was a little more…refined… Motley Crue type of cover. They were better than we were musically, but there were some of the guys in our band that were good too so we combined forces. Me, the drummer and the bass payer left our band and joined forces with the other band who had a guitar player and a singer. We formed a band called ‘Wits End’ and Wits End got pretty good! We went to the big studio in town and recorded demos and um, we recorded about 5 or 6 songs and those songs – somebody’s still got ‘em- some of them are pretty decent. But that was my 8th grade year and then freshman year when my parents moved me down to Florida and then nobody where I went to school played any instruments, so I bought a four-track recorder and that’s when I learned how to programme drums and write songs and try and sing them on my own! And that’s why I really became a song writer.
RR: so you said at the moment you’re kinda submerging yourself in blues and things like that. Are there any other styles, like other than rock and metal that have really influenced you over the years? And that you delved into?
MT: Yeah, blues and jazz. But see when I dive into…I don’t know everything there is to know about them. I tackle one song at a time! So, when I say Robin Ford, I know the hell out of ‘Up The Line’, I don’t know like his whole catalogue, you know? I never try and dive too much into one guitar player for too long; I like to learn a song or two of one, and then jump, jump around. I try and mix it up. I don’t ever wanna find myself sounding like another guitar player.
RR: So when you look back over your professional career, I’m assuming you’ve had quite a few endorsements. Who’s endorsed you in the past? Who are you endorsed by now?
MT: Main endorsement is Paul Reed Smith– I’ve got a signature model with them. I’ve been endorsed by Morley- I’ve got a signature Power Wah Morley Pedal. I’ve got an endorsement with T-rex pedals. I’ve got my signature Tremonti fazers, I endorse Dunlop Picks, D’Addario strings, Planet Wave Cables…oh someone’s gonna get mad if they get left out…! [laughs] umm… I think that’s about it you know!
Fender’s always been really cool to me too. Like, if I need anything from Fender, they give me a really good deal and they give me really good quality stuff! I use fender twins in my rig at all times and I’m a really big fan of – although I use PRS’s exclusively on stage- I still love Fender strats and telecasters, so I use those at home as well, but yeah, that’s about it for endorsements.
RR: So, run us through your set-up for your shows in the UK. What will you be bringing with you and how will you be setting things up?
MT: I’ll have my normal rig. Its got four 4×12 cabinets with two 65 twin reissue 2 by 12 combos, open-back combos…I have my dual rectifier head and my Bognor Uberschall head- that will be my rhythm tone and when I switch tones over to my clean tone, I go to my fender twins and I go to the clean channel of my ‘boogie’ and then when I go to lead tone, it switches over to my orange channel of my ‘boogie’ and its and I got a tonebone headbone pedal that switches the load from a cabinet from a head, to a two rack custom reverb signature head, where I do my leads and in that head I have an effects loop with the t-rex replica pedal and a overdrive pedal as well.
RR: So when you’re playing these shows, there’s bound to be kids in the crowd who will be looking up to you, and be like “I wanna be like Mark one day!” What advice would you give those budding guitarists?
MT: Just follow your passion you know? As far as the gear stuff goes, you don’t need anything fancy! You need one good amplifier, and not a bunch of pedals, just…It’s all about your fingers, not just going crazy trying to find the perfect tones. If you’re into being a good song writer, dive into it; try to write songs all day. If you’re just a guitar player, follow your passions, you know? Follow what you’re really into. Don’t let somebody try and teach you ‘Silent Night’! [laughs] If you don’t wanna play ‘Silent Night’ and you know if you wanna learn a Gilmore lead, learn it! You know, learn it by ear! Tab is confusing sometimes, ’cause a lot of the times it’s wrong, so try to develop your ear. Not having to rely on other people is a big, big key to success and developing your guitar skills.