Want to play guitar like Chris Broderick
? Well you probably never will but you can still attend the Skolnick & Broderick Winter Guitar Retreat
. For four days at the end of December, Megadeth's Broderick and Testament's Alex Skolnick will teach you how to play lead and rhythm guitar; harmony, improvisation, counterpoint and chord theory; and of course how to blaze through metal riffs. Broderick has been involved in the world of instruction for most of his career, earning a degree from the Lamont School Music at the University of Denver. Though he once tried to avoid the boredom of practicing the guitar when he was younger, he is now a devotee of the instrument capable of ripping through the most complex metal techniques and then sitting down with a nylon string and crafting beautiful classical pieces. He talked about guitar instruction, teaching and the Winter Guitar Retreat.
UG: Instruction has been a big part of your life: you received a degree in classical guitar from the University of Denver and you offer in-person and online guitar lessons. What attracts you to the teaching aspect of guitar?
I think there's a lot of reward in teaching and when you see that you impact on other player's lives and really give them some useful knowledge they can utilize, I think that's as rewarding as anything. I've taught for a long time now and that's absolutely one of the best aspects about teaching. It's just the fact that you see somebody be able to take the information you give them and make it their own and really benefit from it. That's huge if you think about it.
Do you think that it's a quicker road to learning the techniques of rock guitar by taking lessons or just jamming with friends and listening to records?
I definitely think that taking lessons and learning from others is the fast track. Think of it this way: If none of us spoke together and none of us shared knowledge in any area of existence, imagine how much further back we'd be in terms of our society and inventions and just knowledge in general. It's all through communication that people have really gained this repository of knowledge in every facet of life. So why should music be any different than that?
What made you want to get involved in the Skolnick & Broderick Winter Guitar Retreat?
It was really an idea that was presented to us by a common friend and when we both thought about it it was like, That's a great idea. Because Alex and I have toured together and we've hung out, we've chatted and we've talked. We're both very schooled musicians and been through collegiate institutes and stuff like that. So it makes a lot of sense for us to do this kind especially together. We cross the line between than kind of formal knowledge with just the more kind of street-wise brash knowledge.
For somebody attending the Winter Guitar Retreat, what would they learn?
I think during the classes you would learn a lot of how we view the instrument in terms of theory; how we construct solos; how we think of writing songs and stuff like that. And then also you would get some more of the logistics behind being a musician in a band: what it's like performing on stage; what the travel is like; what can you expect with the record labels. Also just some of the fun that you get with jamming with other members in a band.
Online you've talked about learning stuff but that until you really apply it to the instrument in a practical way, it will never feel like a natural part of your playing.
I use the example of learning quite a few different chord progressions there were used in the classical and the Romantic periods. Things like augmented 6th chords and things like that. And I learned about them but I'd never played them on the guitar. It was something I learned in the theory class and it was great and I could tell you all about them but I never used them. It wasn't until I started investigating them to see if I could actually put them in my own music and utilize them myself that I really felt like I understood them. It's kinda like that sort of a thing where if you're gonna have the knowledge it should be useful; it should be in your playing and under your fingertips.
As someone who has both a degree in music and plays in a bigtime band, how would you compare the young guitar player of today versus the young players of yesterday?
That's a hard one to recall because when I think back to the days when I was that age, I can only see it from that perspective. I can't remember exactly how good I was relative to everybody else because I had no real basis. Now that I have experience I can see that. But I will say that definitely kids today have much more access to resources to improve as a guitarist and musician in general. And that's huge right there. If that is the case where they're actually better at a younger age, it's really because of the resources.
Young players today do seem to be more advanced than their counterparts from decades past. But they sometimes compensate for a lack of style with technique alone.
"I almost consider the violin and the electric more related than the classical guitar and the electric."
I don't necessarily agree with that. I think a lot of that really is your personality and your preferences. I think a lot of kids today, if there really is the great playing and stuff like that, that's their intent and that is part of their style. If they want to tear up scales up and down that's a style nonetheless. Some people agree with it and some people don't but obviously you can't deny your personality and where you want to go and how you want to learn. I don't think it's a product of society that has made people just kind of vanilla or anything. I do think though that because there are so many styles prevalent todaybecause you get exposed to all of these different playersthat you're much less likely to choose just one path to really head down. Do you know what I mean? That's the way I think it used to be.
That makes sense. Back in the day most guitarists came from a blues background and really only had to learn blues scales and a convincing finger vibrato.
I think guitarists were a lot more on their own. Think of it this way: What do you think Jimmy Page's record collection was when he was growing up? How many records do you think he owned? And then you look at the average MP3 collection that somebody has today and it probably dwarfs it by 1000 per cent. And so the exposure to all of these different styles and all of these different people was much greater. And therefore I think they're much more likely to pull from all those experiences and not necessarily tying allegiance to one particular player or gone person that they really gravitated towards.
You believe there are guitar players who will emerge from the musicians who are around today and will go on to have the profound influence classic instrumentalists have had?
I think because exposure is so much more great these days that you're less likely to see em because everybody has got a Facebook page, a Twitter page, MySpace, Tumblr and whatever. There are all these different ways they're throwing their material out there on YouTube and stuff like that where it's much easier to get lost in the mix.
It was easier to distinguish yourself back in the day when you only had a new album to hear a guitarist's music?
Yeah, and you were definitely one of the lucky few [to release an album]. And there were probably fewer guitarists and musicians back then as well.
If you had to describe a modern guitarist who was a great rhythm player, who would you single out?
One of my favorites is Fredrik Thordendal from Meshuggah. You look at a song like Bleed and that is just the tightest rhythm you've ever heard. They're maybe not such a harmonically diverse band but definitely rhythmically awesome. Poly-rhythmic, odd times and just some insane rhythms thrown in there.
Who would you single out as a harmonically-gifted player?
Harmonically I would look more towards Wes Montgomery or George Van Epps and stuff like that; that more harmonic density. If I were to look into rock, I would probably pull out Eddie Van Halen again.
Who has the greatest finger vibrato you've ever heard?
Ooh, I would say Andy LaRocque from King Diamond. I love his vibrato; his vibrato is probably one of my favorites. George Lynch as well and he has some cool different vibrato techniques.
Finger vibrato seems to be one of those techniques that a lot of players miss.
My vibrato was developed mainly out of my violin playing and from classical guitar. The way some people use their muscles and limbs and stuff like that, sometimes lends itself to a process and sometimes doesn't. I do think I was fortunate in my vibrato in the sense that my hands found a natural way to do it. I've seen many people where they try and use different muscles or different muscle groups to execute vibrato and that needs to be changed. So I have that going for me with vibrato and then from there with my violin lessons basically I had worked on vibrato within rhythm.
What does that mean?
I would turn on a metronome and I would do vibrato at eighth notes; vibrato at triplets; vibrato at sixteenth notes. And I would even slow it down to half notes. Basically what I was looking to do was be able to control my vibrato speed at any sub-division of the beat within a song. So even within playing one note when you think you would vibrato at a certain rate, you can actually change that over the course of time as well. So you can move from eighth notes to triplets or vice versa or any of the above just depending on the type of expression you want. For a great musical reference for vibrato would be listening to any great vocalist.
How would you describe your tapping technique?
When you're doing that two-handed tapping stuff and thinking, How would I execute this with my right hand? Look at how your left hand executes it and then you'll know.
Your violin and classical guitar playing have informed your electric guitar style?
"It's just the fact that you see somebody be able to take the information you give them and make it their own and really benefit from it. That's huge if you think about it."
Yeah, they all influence one another. They're all related but not absolutely. I almost consider the violin and the electric more related than the classical guitar and the electric. It definitely crosses over.
There's a video on YouTube where you're playing Caprice No. 7 Op 20. You've got your hair tied back in a ponytail, have on your turtleneck and look very comfortable in your role as a classical guitarist. Could you have gone in that direction instead of playing electric guitar?
I don't think so. Classical just has such an elegance and a beauty to it that I admire it for that. That's one of the reasons why I still play it. It's one of those things that will always be there along with the electric guitar.
There's another video where you're showcasing pulloffs with a right-hand upside down hammer technique. What struck me was that this pulloff technique only worked with an amp that had a lot of sustain and overdrive. In other words, the style grew up around particular amp sounds. Would you agree?
I think that's always been the case; they definitely go hand in hand but I don't know if that particular reference [is accurate]. That's definitely been around and it wasn't the amps that made that possible that's for sure. It's just that it became more viable in the particular genre or it just became more accepted as a way of playing. If you look at Chapman Stick players, that's kind of where that came from. And even moreso from my piano lessons days when I looked at how I would run arpeggios, that's exactly what I copied when I did that five-octave arpeggio run [on the video]. But people like Stanley Jordan was doing it and tons of other people as well as Chapman Stick players.
And those players were really using cleaner, jazzier guitar tones so my theory doesn't hold water.
Yeah, and that's a lot of where I came from. When you get into single-line stuff then you can definitely consider distortion again in your playing.
Talking about your single-line distorted playing, you created a pretty memorable body of work with Jag Panzer over the course of four albums.
When I was playing with Jag Panzer, all those guys were great. It basically came down to the amount of time they could tour and they all had more formal jobs than I did. So when the opportunity came up to tour with Nevermore, I definitely jumped at it. I was still able to balance those two [bands] because they still weren't touring any considerable amount through the year even with both bands. So I could still devote myself to Jag Panzer and then tour with Nevermore when they needed me. But when Megadeth called, there's so much time that we're gone and we're out that there's no way to really have time for any other band or anything like that.
When Megadeth called did you think that was the perfect band for you?
You can only assume at that point because you don't know the situation or anything like that. But it was definitely my hope and that's what it's turned out to be.
What were those first sessions like on the Endgame album?
They were kind of interesting because we were building the studio Vic's Garage at that time. When we kind of set out to start recording, we started with a building that was pretty much just gutted. So it wasn't only just getting together and jamming but it was also kinda like trying to find space to work in and considering the layout of the studio and stuff like that. We were getting together and jamming and going through and looking at riffs and the general process you would do for a CD. But in addition we had to actually build a studio as well.
Dave Mustaine typically writes the music and the lyricshow much input do you have in the sense of what goes on the record?
Well definitely we can present all and any ideas and that happens quite a bit. Whether they're used or not is up to Dave. So that's the main thingit's gotta sound like Megadeth.
How do you think you played on the Thirteen album?
I would consider it much more in a way musical than guitaristic.
Were those Big Four shows cool?
"I think Jimi Hendrix was a trendsetter and somebody that changed the ideas behind the electric guitar. But I don't think that he was the best guitarist."
Amazing. How can you say anything less than that? Not only was it awesome to get up in front of so many crazy fans and just hear their roar but it was awesome to get up on stage with Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax as well.
Were you a fan of all those bands?
For the most part. When I was growing up I never got into stuff quite as heavy as Slayer but later on got into em a little bit more. As my tastes got heavier, I started to listen to em a little more.
Rolling Stone just published their 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time and named Jimi Hendrix number one. What do you feel about that?
I would disagree with that but it's popular and it just depends on your criteria for what makes a guitarist the best guitarist of all time. With a publication like Rolling Stone of course a big part of what makes somebody the best or something like that is gonna deal more with popularity than it's gonna deal with actual ability.
Who would you have named number one?
Oh, I would put Paco de Lucia [laughs] but again my criteria is totally different than theirs. I think Jimi Hendrix was definitely a trendsetter and somebody that changed the ideas behind the electric guitar. But I don't personally think that he was what I would call the best guitarist.
Eddie Van Halen was at number eight. Would you have pushed him farther up the list?
No, my thing is through playing the guitar and experiencing so many different guitarists, I realize that even naming the 100 best or the 10 best or the this and that and whatever is worthless anyways. Because there are so many great players out there that never got that break and were never lucky enough to get noticed. It's just one of those things and for me it's not even worth putting a label on it. Any of us that have made it into the spotlight or have been lucky enough to make our living doing what we love, it is absolutely thatbeing lucky enough in a way because there are a lot of great players.
You believe there are that many players out there as good as you who have never been discovered?
Yeah, there are a lot of great players out there. But the one thing I always tell people is there's always a reason why somebody prefers somebody over somebody else. And a lot of times you can't really quantify why that is but you just go with what you like.
A big part of why someone will listen to one guitarist over another are the songs that person writes. That is a huge part of the appeal.
Yeah, I mean definitely you should give credit where credit's due. But I realize the world is full of great musicians and stuff like that. I just feel lucky to be where I'm at.
Do you have any desire to do a solo album?
Maybe someday but right now I'm so busy I just couldn't see the time to get it all put together.
What are you working on right now?
We're working on putting together the set for Gigantour. I'm working on some individual songs that I'm writing but not planning on releasing on a solo CD or anything like that.
Did you practice today?
Oh, yeah [laughs].
Interview by Steven Rosen