Guitar Zen: A relaxed and creative approach

Ron Thal has been well documented as a true virtuoso of the instrument for decades, frequently mentioned alongside the likes of Guthrie Govan and Mattias Eklundh as a player a with total mastery. He’s always had a prolific solo career, performed quality clinics, and carried the flag into battle for Vigier Guitars, but now that he’s officially in the Post-Guns N Roses stage of his life, it was great to talk  with him about JUST Bumblefoot. Below, I’m going to break down his clinic, and fill in the gaps with the chat we had later while on the Axes & Anchors cruise, which is a cruise I’d highly recommend!

A Literal Approach to Strings

“The guitar is only a tool, it’s important to understand what we’re literally doing to the instrument to create music. All we’re doing is shortening lengths of string. An open A string is 110hz which is a measure of the speed of vibration which is how we perceive pitch. You can go up to the next octave and you have 220hz, followed by the next octave at 440z (some would argue it’s actually 432hz but we don’t have any time for chasing unicorns around right now) and so on and so forth. What can we do with this? Well we can fret, we can bend, we can use the bridge. What everyone forgets though is that we’re measuring the length from the nut to the saddle, and we can do this from both directions. I keep this thimble on my right hand’s pinky, and what is a fret? A piece of metal. So now I have this little moveable fret that I can place on the string near the pickups. All you have to do is listen for it, and you can get new notes from both directions: the nut and the saddle. The guitar is just another voice and you need full control over that voice to express yourself. The same can be said for tapping. Your right hand just has additional fingers for when you run out of them on your left hand. You can extend all of your patterns, and even play off the fretboard if you use a thimble, or get creative on the neck pickup. Once you think of your phrasing in that way, everything becomes much more natural.”

The Value of Fretted and Fretless Guitars in the Same Song

“Why do I use both? Well they’re completely different instruments. They feel different, they sound different. Frets are a guide and help you play in tune, but they can also limit you. You have to place your fingers in the exact right spot on a fretless guitar, for a D chord for example, or it will sound just awful. It takes a lot of practice, but having that control is valuable. For example, I can play a note with a pinch harmonic, and slide that all the way up the fretboard. It’s fantastic for beautiful smooth melodies, or the most atonal painful oddities you can imagine. On this double neck I can play both guitars at once. Just a wonderful tool for songwriting.”

Be the Whole Band: If you’re playing by yourself, play the entire song

“The wonderful thing about bands is that they’re a collaborative effort. Growing up I was drawn to The Beatles and KISS. It’s great how you can listen to those albums, see their pictures on the front, and really feel each individual’s contribution to the song, even the producer. The problem with that is though, a lot of the time you’re playing by yourself. That can get really boring, it lacks context. So again, don’t let your instrument limit you! Play two scales at once, play the bassline and a melody, play rhythm and lead. It’s daunting at first but it becomes second nature. Steve Morse is fantastic at that, arranging old Yes songs is a great exercise for that, even just start out with a C Major scale. In 8th notes play the root, then the octave, then the 2nd, then the 9th, and so on and so forth. Two totally independent sounds coming together, that you can then apply to more complex and creative pieces.”

Creativity in the music industry

“I frequently get asked about my music being weird. It’s not that I ever set out to be weird, I’m just a weird guy so my songs are weird. The value in music is being yourself and doing something that only you can do. It’s your own sound. Music is really about identity these days. Who you are, what you sound like, what you look like. It used to not be like that. In the ‘70s people were doing wildly different things: Van Halen, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin; just being creative, but they were all rock bands. Musicians, the industry, and listeners all get too caught up in labeling right now. Just do your best to be yourself.”

Vigier Guitars

“I never actually wanted an endorsement deal. I made my own really, really weird guitars. That was part of my artistic expression as well. Vigier approached me, offered me my own model, and obviously they make fantastic instruments. I couldn’t say no. So essentially on accident I’ve been working with them for 19 years now. Simply fantastic instruments and I’m grateful for every bit of it. From sounding fantastic, to the necks not shifting, to the designs being creative, they’re just great all around. It’s awesome how they support left field musicians as well. Obviously I’m probably the oddest person on this boat right now and they support me, and old student of mine named Tom Monda who plays in a great weird band called Thank You Scientist is a Vigier artist too.”

Ron’s clinic was a highlight of the cruise. From warming up with a solo arrangement of Isn’t She Lovely (followed by the quip, “this is why you don’t give guitarists a microphone, we try to sing”), to many of his solo songs that can only be described as sideways pop punk, to playing 3 Yngwie solos at audience request (“He’s going to be playing these songs later in the cruise. Why do you want me to? He’s going to come up from his room and get mad at me”), he covered a lot of tonal ground. Flanked by the beautiful Key West scenery and weather on the pool deck of the ship, the morning was indicative of his entire mantra: relax, and make great music.

This article was written by Kyle Karich, our editor located in Florida.

By the way, in addition to providing our community with great reviews & interviews, we’re now dealers for various brands too.  Check out what we have to offer here.

About The Author