IMM Web Edition

Rick Renstrom

One of the World's Greatest Neo-Classical Guitarists speaks with Jenny ...

Jenny: What influenced you to pick up a guitar? What kind of guitar was it?

Rick: At first, Judas Priest was a heavy influence at an early age and I somewhat wanted to learn and play guitar. I came from a very musical family and actually sang in church and school choirs, so the music was in me. It wasn't until I was about fifteen when I first saw Yngwie Malmsteen on TV and right there I was hooked. I wanted to play like him, be like him. The style was mesmerizing along with his sound and showmanship, it completely fascinated me and became my main goal was to emulate him. My first guitar was actually an old Gibson hollow body electric. It was probably more geared toward blues/jazz guitar styles, but i fought with it and practiced constantly. About a year later, I got a Charvel Model 4 which become my guitar manufacturer of choice.

Jenny: How does music affect you and the world around you?

Rick: Realistically, I hear the music but I dont listen. It just depends on what it is these days. Since I studied music in college, i do appreciate all forms of music and respect anyone that creates it, but I dont like to get too deeply involved as I am always trying to create my own music style. There comes a time where listening only to your own music has to take center stage. Growing up, I constantly listened to my favorite bands and learning their songs and used those influences to create a new sound. So, with all that i do in creating, the influence is there, but I don't copy it. I will say many of my fans tip me to new stuff and I check it out, but only about four bands that I have heard lately have I went ahead and downloaded the albums on Itunes.

Jenny: To someone that doesn't know anything about Neo-Classical guitar, how would you explain it to them? What does does it mean to you?

Rick: Neo-classical guitar is the art of taking ideas and styles from previous classical composers and breathing new life into the music by adding a heavier sound and utilizing the guitar as the main or solo instrument. Most often, neo-classical players will study and learn the violin parts from concertos or symphonies, but also transferring such instruments like harpsichord or piano to recreate the melodies and runs. Neo-classical is also in its basic form extremely technical and most of the time using very fast runs of scales and arpeggios, using a minor key. To me, it means everything. It was what I was brought up on and its a style that will always be around. You don't necessarily need to be the fastest guitarist, but ultimately being able to control the speed, clarity and precision that is required to play this style.

Jenny: Do you play using music theory or do you mainly play by ear? Or both?

Rick: Originally, I took lessons for two straight years. My first teacher was a strict theory teacher and this is where i leaned all of my chords, scales, intervals, notation and definitions of all the theory aspects. My second teacher was more geared toward learning the neo-classical style by showing me signature licks and tricks. Also, teaching me how to put all those things together to create a solo. I use both theory and ear training for learning songs when needed. Since, I mostly write music, my theory comes into play in every chord or change I create.

Jenny: How many guitars do you own and which one is your most precious? Why?

Rick: Currently, I own seven guitars, mostly Charvels, Jacksons and Fender. My most precious guitar is a 1990 Charvel Predator. For me, it is the perfect guitar. I prefer the dinky body style with a reverse neck. Also, it has 22 frets, which I am very used to. I'm not a fan of 24 frets as the scale of the neck feels differently. I have also done all the setups on this guitar and the playability is excellent and the sound is very amazing. This particular guitar has been with me everywhere around the world and has seen hundreds of thousands of fans and has been used to record on every album I have been on.

Jenny: Please list what strings, pedals, amps, etc that you use.

Rick: For strings, I only use Ernie Ball Slinky 9's. Very clean and warm tone to them. I do not use any pedals, i feel they are too noisy and usually only prefer to use an amps original sound. For amps, I only use Marshall. I have 2 Marshall Valvestate 8100's which i have used since 1997 and I also have a Marshall TSL100. I use Marshall JCM800 cabinets as well. I do use some rack gear, but really only to color the sound a bit and level it. For that, I use a digitech dsp-256 in which i use a small amount of reverb and eq. I also use an Alesis 3630 compressor gate to level the sound and keep the guitar quiet when I'm not playing.

Jenny: Other than your guitar, name one piece of gear they would have to pry from your hands

Rick: I'm really fond of my Line 6 Pod 2.0. I mainly use it for practicing and home studio recording. It has an amazing tone and really shreds! You can actually find them pretty cheap, but for the price it is worth it. Extremely programmable and flexible and bot only have I created my own sound tailored to my needs, I've also been able to emulate other guitar players tones. Great little tool for sure!

Jenny: Aside from Neo- Classical, what other genres of music lurks inside your closet as the one you love to play? Why?

Rick: For sure, my personal music collection is not so eclectic. It mainly consists of Classical Masters and Heavy Metal bands. I really don't own much more. I have a few jazz fusion type records like Al Dimeola, John Mclaughlin, Allan Holdsworth and Scott Henderson, but aside from that nothing else really.

Jenny: Which composer immediately became your favorite? Why?

Rick: Johann Sebastian Bach is certainly my favorite. I'm my mind he is the great grandfather of this Neo-classical Shred guitar style. He really expanded the scope of any instrument and voice. One of his greatest works, The Well tempered klavier, is a complete study of how to play in every key. His baroque style is one that when heard is immediately recognized. His concertos are epic, his sonatas and partitas are technically some of the most brilliant pieces ever written. The way he composed his music structure is something that has continued to be studied and emulated over the centuries and can be heard in a lot of music recorded in the last 50 years.

Jenny: Who are your musical influences? Why?

Rick: My influences range from classical composers to some of the great guitar players ever. My classical influences are the big three..Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. They are my favorites because of the sheer technical ability, amazing sense of melody and super composition. Certainly, there are many more great composers but my collection mainly consists of these three. Paganini would be another influence as he was probably the first ever "shredder." For guitar players, my top five are Yngwie Malmsteen, Ritchie Blackmore, Uli Jon Roth, Ronni LeTekro and Andy Larocque. Ritchie and Uli are really the grandfathers of neo-classical, both implemented classical themes and use of speed in their playing along with incredible control of melodies. Ronni is a bit unknown these days, so to speak. He is the guitarist of TNT. His playing Style is just amazing with incredible speed and melodies that are extremely memorable. Andy is the guitarist for King Diamond and is just another amazing guitarist. His playing combines a lot of classically influenced melody, yet he also expands into a more wild and expressive style. His sound is one that is also very memorable and very hard to emulate. Beyond that, other players I've listened to and been influenced by are Al DiMeola, Vinnie Moore, Tony MacAlpine, Joey Tafolla, Paul Gilbert, Randy Rhoads, George Lynch, Criss Oliva, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.

Jenny: Name your favorite techniques from your musical influences?

Rick: Yngwie has the ostinato phrasing that I love, Ritchie does a minor to major arpeggio lick, Uli has a very unique bending technique where he will bend into a note, which is very complicated and creates and amazing sound. Ronni does an incredible 8 note speed burst lick that just smokes and Andy has a signature bend to a double stop.

Jenny: Who is the world's greatest guitarist? Who is the worlds most under-rated guitarist?

Rick: I really dont believe there is a "greatest guitarist." Each player out there has a unique ability and sound. They all do something different and bring something amazing to the table. If you want to put a name on someone, the persons that truly revolutionized how guitar players play, in my opinion would be Les Paul and Jimi Hendrix. For and underrated guitarist, I'd have so say Jorn Lofstad of Pagan's Mind. He's not really known as a shredder, so to speak, but his melodic sense is pretty awesome and he's a really great songwriter.

Jenny: What do you think of the "Neo-Classical King", Yngwie Malmsteen? How do you feel about being "One of the World's Best Neo- Classical Guitarists in the World" and set aside many of the "Greats"?

Rick: What can't I say about Yngwie..He really started the Neo-classical shred guitar style and opened the door to more players like myself and many others. I always give him credit and thanks. I've certainly heard stories, but i can personally say he is a really nice guy. I've met him before and he was very friendly and personable. If there was never and Yngwie Malmsteen, there never would have been a Rick Renstrom. I think its an honor to be classified as one the best players in the world. I worked very hard and had a few lucky breaks that put me out there. Whenever I had the chance to show my skill, I did. I think my style became recognizable on the records I've been on and continue to create a sound that has retains my influences yet still have a sound that is different form all the others. There's still work to do, but thankfully I was able to build a solid foundation with many loyal fans.

Jenny: What was the last gig you went to as a member of the audience? What was your experience?

Rick: Well, I really haven't been to a "concert" in a long time. It's usually a rare instance where i will go out and see a live band. I have this mentality that if I'm not playing I'm not going. Don't get me wrong, I've been to my share of concerts, but after playing in front of so many people, I just prefer to be playing to the crowd and not in it. Although, I will say, I played at the Bang Your Head festival 2003 in Germany, when i was with Rob Rock, I was like a kid in a candy store. Not only did I get to meet some of my favorite bands, I got to see them tear it up and I was in the crowd. Of course, it was amazing to be hanging out with over 20, 000 Metal fans having a great time enjoying some of the best Metal ever played. My all time favorite concert I've ever been to was Judas Priest and Dokken tour when I was a kid. One of the most awesome things I had ever seen

Jenny: What was the last great album you bought ( or were given)?

Rick: The last great record I bought has to be Joey Tafolla "Out of the Sun"..and I really mean album lol on vinyl and everything. In my opinion, he was the last of the great "Shrapnel Records" shredders. Apparently, he was one of Paul Gilbert's best students and it definitely shows. Its a fantastic record with great songs and solos. More recently, the German metal band, Primal Fear, is a band that I always buy their albums. Really amazing sound and great traditional Metal songs.

Jenny: How do you feel about being called "Guitar World's Newest Hope For Guitar Hero"?

Rick: It's pretty cool, but I dont let it go to my head. In all reality, I'm just a guy with a love for playing guitar and sharing it with others. Playing guitar or any instrument requires a lot of dedication, discipline and desire and when I started i learned to play because that is what i wanted to do. It was for my enjoyment and through time after really honing my skills, I was more than happy to get out there and show it off, so to speak. I love entertaining and making people happy, so if I can do it by just playing my guitar, I'm very gracious for that and fell very blessed as well.

Jenny: What bands/ artists have you played with and/ or been featured with them?

Rick: My first worldwide release that I was a part of was the only Yngwie Malmsteen tribute album released by JVC Japan with a band I had called Wicked Ways.I was then asked by Italian keyboard virtuoso Mistheria to record for a Jason Becker tribute album with a song called Urmila. After this I joined Rob Rock and recorded three albums with him and subsequent tours. I was also asked to perform on Powergod's Bleed for the Gods metal tribute. I then recorded my solo album Until the Bitter End with some amazing players like Richard Christy(Death,Iced Earth,Howard Stern), Mat Sinner(Primal Fear,Sinner), Wade Black(Crimson Glory,Leatherwolf) and Rob Rock. My last band was in 2004 called Leash Law with Wade Black and Richard Christy.

Jenny: How much playing did it take to get to the level of technical proficiency you are at today? Did you have any schooling and/ or lessons?

Rick: It really is a life long process. It really only took me about 2 years to really understand the theories and how to use them when applied to writing solos and songs. As far as technique, i had the raw speed within the 2 years as well. In about the first four years of me starting guitar, i was putting in six to eight hours a day of practice, just playing mostly "boring" stuff like exercises and modes using the circle of 5ths with a metronome.

Jenny: In order of importance , what should someone interested in playing Neo-Classical guitar (beginners) be practicing? For advanced guitarists, what advice would you have for them in boosting speed and mastering Neo- Classical guitar?

Rick: For beginners it is very important to start slow before you can become fast. countless exercises must be practice and practiced again over the entire neck. A metronome is essential with everything practiced as well. Starting slow and building up the speed gradually is most important. practicing exercises starting at quarter notes, to eight, to sixteenth and finally thirty second notes.Alternate picking is also a must and complete synchronization of right and left hands is the ultimate goal. For advanced players, it is all about taking all that you can do and what you have learned and apply it to composing music that people can enjoy. As i said earlier, it doesn't mean you have to be the fastest. That is all well and good, but there's no longevity to it. It becomes boring to the untrained ear and for the musicians that listen, will fold there arms and simply say "seen it, heard it." Albeit, impressive, its not going to get you a record deal or make you famous. You can easily search Youtube and find countless others, doing the same thing. Its all about standing out in some way. Most of all, you've got to write and record as much as you can and continue to better it as in the song structure and recording technique.

Jenny: What are you up to at the moment and/or what currents projects are you working on?

Rick: It gives me great pleasure to answer this! Since I had my hiatus, it really gave me time to refresh everything musical about me. In late 2010, Waded Black called me and asked if I wanted to start a new band with him. We talked about it extensively and I packed everything up and moved to Tampa, Florida from Orlando and we began working on a new concept. We found an amazing bass player named Rich Marks and spent about three months writing and recording in our home studio. We searched high and low and it took longer than expected, but we found an awesome drummer name Jasin Marxx and "War Of Thrones" was born. The band's sound is a mix of traditional and modern Metal styles. It's very heavy, very melodic and my solos are much more geared to memorable moments as opposed to pure shredding. You can visit the band's website at http://reverbnation.com/warofthrones for more info and songs. Now earlier I mentioned Rich Marks, War of Thrones bass player and this next band has a lot to do with him. Let me first say that Rich is absolutely amazing on bass. He grew up listening to a lot of the same music and influences i had and has taken bass playing to a whole new level. He can play just as fast as me and just as melodic too. I had plans to do a second solo album, but after working with Rich, I started writing instrumental neo classical songs geared for his amazing style. This side band is called "Holmes and Slice" The concept is a group of Shred Metal Super Heroes and its non stop guitar, bass, keyboard and drum shredding! I made a few phone calls and first contacted Mistheria to handle the keyboards and also one of the coolest things ever was that drum legend Atma Anur joined the band and we recorded the album. Atma is well known as the shredders drummer as he has played with Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Greg Howe, Ritchie Kotzen and many others. Working with Atma was like walking with the legends. It was one of the coolest experiences I've ever had and his playing is purely amazing! We are in the final mixdown stages of the record and hope to release it very soon. Visit us at http://reverbnation.com/holmesandslice or holmesandslice.com