If there is a guitar hero for today’s generation, Gus G. is in the running for the title. While he has already made a name for himself in Japan and his home country of Greece, the United States will now also be getting their own introduction to the 26-year-old guitar virtuoso. He’s been associated with several bands over the years (Nightrage, Dream Evil, Mystic Prophecy), but he now devotes himself full-time to Firewind. A hybrid of epic metal and classic hard rock, Firewind recently released its U.S. debut Allegiance and is looking to make a connection with American audiences in the future.
recently teamed up with Ultimate Guitar in the “Betcha Can’t Transcribe This
” contest, which put readers up to the task of transcribing a mind-bending lick from Gus. At the time of the interview with UG writer Amy Kelly
, the Firewind guitarist was still awaiting the final results from the contest and wasn’t quite sure if the lick he provided was way too simple or an overwhelming challenge for readers.
Ultimate Guitar: Thanks for taking time to take part in the “Betcha Can’t Transcribe This” contest with UG. Any word on the submissions yet?
Gus: Yeah. I haven’t seen any transcriptions, but they’ve been telling me that there have been hundreds of entries - but very few have actually submitted the transcriptions, other than the first 3 or 4 notes! To be honest, after I heard that I was thinking maybe it’s too hard and that I played too fast. Usually I see all these comments on YouTube and all these kids that are smartasses write, “Oh yeah, that wasn’t that hard. I could play that.” So I thought, “Okay, maybe I’m playing too simplistic. Maybe for the guitar contest I should do it a little more difficult.” I see now that I did it way too difficult!
For some people this contest is a huge introduction to your skills as a guitarist.
Yeah, that’s what it’s all about. I think it’s a very good idea
I understand you went to the NAMM convention in Anaheim to introduce your ESP signature model to the US?
We did a signing session with Michael Wilton from Queensryche and Will Adler from Lamb of God. So we did a signing session for an hour and a half, and I was there mainly to display my signature model.
Your model has been available for some time now in other countries, correct?
Yeah, it was released a couple years ago. It was mainly released in Japan and for the market of Greece and some other European countries. The guitar was doing very well actually. A lot of people loved it and we thought we should do the LTD version, which is the cheaper model. It’s probably more affordable. It still has the same specifications and everything, but it will be more affordably priced.
What kinds of specifications are featured on your model?
|"ESP has a lot of power. You can play a lot of heavy styles."|
Just everything from the pickups to the choice of woods - everything. I love the shape very much. ESP suggested that I use the Random Star for my model. Before I was playing this Dimebag Washburn guitar. Since I started becoming popular in Japan, that shape kind of became like a trademark for the fans there. I was just like, “I should go with this kind of shape.” The difference with the Random Star model is that it’s smaller. That’s very good for me because I’m a small guy. It fits me perfectly. The rest was just like my choice. We did it in 2 different colors actually for this model. There is black, but so far we’re releasing the red guitar here in America. It has a flamed top model, the body. It comes with 22 frets on the fretboard. It uses a flame inlay, original Floyd Rose tremolo, 2 Seymour Duncan humbuckers. I only have 1 volume knob, but the good thing about this is that I have this pickup selector switch, which you get through your sound switch from the humbucker single coil. It’s good for the people that want to play a lighter style or more blues stuff.
So the sound of the ESP lends itself to many styles?
I think so. It has a lot of power. You can play a lot of heavy styles. I’m both a rhythm and lead player, so I want those heavy leads and all the harmonics for the lead because I play high notes as well. But I want everything loud and clear, so you can play all kinds of styles with it, I guess.
For people in the US who might not be familiar with Firewind yet, how do you like to describe your band?
I would say our band is more like a traditional metal band, something straight from the 80s like Accept, Scorpions, Priest, Sabbath, Metallica, and stuff like that. But obviously there’s a lot of cool guitar involved. There are a lot of good solos that are influenced from the golden era of Michael Schenker. That’s where it’s coming from, the influences at least. The good thing about this record is that there is a lot of variety in it. There are all kinds of songs in there. We have power ballads. We have faster stuff, more speed metal. We have more hard rock type of songs like the single “Falling To Pieces.” It’s more like a contemporary heavy metal style. It has a very traditional flavor to it, but at the same time it’s very modern and up to date. That’s what we’re trying to do, just take the heavy metal from the 80s and 70s and then just transform it freshly with what’s up to date. That’s what Firewind is all about. After that, there is good musicianship. I think everybody is a good musician in the band. Like Apollo, he’s a great singer. There’s a shredder keyboard player - not many can play like him!
The title track on Allegiance makes an immediate impression both melodically and in terms of your shredding ability. What was the songwriting process like in that track?
To be honest, I wrote that song because I wanted to have a really strong opener. I was deliberately making this song a bit more technical than the rest of the songs. We should start by just hitting everybody in the face! Let’s make this huge track with a bunch of guitars and bass and everybody. It was just followed by a very typical Rising Force kind of riff but next to a very heavy verse. There’s a way usually all these songs come about. It comes usually from jamming on the guitars and coming up with the riffs and the rest just follows. One of the main things that we always pay attention to is we need to have a strong chorus. That’s what people are going to want to sing to. He’s very strong on the vocals, especially in the chorus. We want all the choruses to really open up and stick in people’s mind after one listen.
That’s refreshing to hear, particularly considering that there are a lot of technically skilled guitar players who forget about the song as a whole.
I know! A lot of these guys, their music ends up being backup tracks for them to solo over. That’s what I just hate. If you notice, there are a lot of solos on the album here and there, but it’s not like you have 185 measure of guitar improvisation. That’s not happening. I want the solo to serve a purpose. It’s not there just to show that you can play good. You play a solo for a purpose. You need to say something with it. Otherwise, if the song doesn’t call for a solo, don’t do a solo.
Is it hard to keep yourself in check with the solos considering you’re able to do a lot more than the average guitarist?
|"I would say our band is more like a traditional metal band."|
No. To be honest, I have no problem with it. I have like an ego hang-up or something! It’s not like, “Okay, now I have to shred on this one.” It’s not like that at all. I’m very happy if we have a really great song - if I listen and I get the goosebumps. That’s what matters to me. Then when the solo part comes, then I know that’s the measure I need to play and just try my best to make each solo be very special. I try not to repeat myself actually.
You’ve mentioned in the past that Joe Stump was a huge source of inspiration for you. Do you think he helped shape your musical style?
Joe obviously is very dedicated to what he’s doing. He’s doing instrumental music and he loves that Yngwie type of thing. But he’s definitely way more extreme. He’s much faster than these guys. Playing with him and studying with him was more of a spiritual thing rather than just hearing licks. It was more like I was seeing how he’s very dedicated and how he’s doing the music he wants to do.
Back then, when I met him in ’96 or ’97, it wasn’t cool to play that stuff. It was cool to play with your guitar untuned. But he stuck with it. Now all of the sudden, 10 years later, it’s cool to be a guitar hero again or something. Kids are starting to practice again and you see actual guitarists that can play on the covers of guitar magazines! I think that’s amazing. For people like me, it’s beneficial because, of course, hopefully it will give us a bit more exposure. But it’s not like if it wasn’t that way we wouldn’t do solos. Firewind has been playing this kind of music since 2002, since the first album when this stuff was not really popular. Lately there’s also like this power metal revival. Bands like DragonForce, they’re opening the market in America for bands like us. It’s cool. The most important thing is to do the music you like.
You recently toured with DragonForce. Did you and Herman Li ever chat about technique?
Everything that he knows he learned from me, to be honest! (laughing) Everything he knows, I taught him. No, me and Herman have been friends for a long time, before DragonForce even released their first album. So that was back in the day when we were bigger than them. So now it’s the other way around and we’re supporting them, which is very cool. He just gave me a call and he’s like, “Do you want to join us on the European and UK tour?” I was very grateful of that because he just let us play in front of their fans. Because of that we made of loads of new fans. A lot of people that love DragonForce love Firewind as well. They play much more extreme and their tempos are faster on the songs and they’re a bit over the top with everything they do. We’re more traditional than them. Even though that’s going on, I think we have a lot of the same ingredients involved in our music, like those catchy choruses and a lot of interesting guitar in there. So we come from the school more or less, but we do it differently obviously.
What do you think of some of the other guitar players on the music scene today?
Like Trivium, they are very good players. They are younger than me actually. They’re like, what, 19 or 20? It’s funny because I went to their tour bus a couple of years ago and they told me that they had been listening to all of my bands. Like they loved what I had done with Nightrage and Firewind. So I was like, “Wow, really? You guys actually know about me.” They said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We love your albums, man.” So even though the bands that I played with never really broke big in America or something, apparently some of these kids listened to it and they liked it. Maybe they picked up something from it.
You’ve worked with several bands over the past few years. How is it working with your current lineup in Firewind?
|"If the song doesn't call for a solo, don't do a solo."|
Each band that I played with was a very important part of my career and life, of course. I had a chance to work with different producers and different musicians, and learned a lot from them. I just tried to apply all of that into my own band. I just made the choice of continuing with Firewind because I didn’t have the time to play with anybody else anymore. So the band was growing and it’s natural, but that doesn’t mean that I can follow everybody on full tours and recording sessions. To release 4 albums per year, it’s not possible anymore. Firewind needed a bit more attention and that’s why I chose to do that. We’re like a family know, not just like a group of friends. It’s a family. We’ve been together on the road, we’ve done the album together. Out of all lineups in the past, it’s been the best one. We say, “We’re either going to do it with this lineup, the 5 of us, or not.” That’s what we said. We’re going to continue no matter what.
What goes through your mind when you listen to all the records you’ve done in the past?
Actually I can hear that I’ve been getting better and better as a player and as a songwriter. I can hear actually the determinations that I had from album to album to become better. We’ve had lots of problems in the past with lineup changes, and I can hear how determined I was to make every album better than the other ones and surpass it. Just we should leave all this shit behind and just move on. If somebody left the band for whatever reason or it was bad blood, we’ve got to make it better next time.
It’s admirable that you can leave those kind of feelings behind. Some people get hung up on personal issues.
To be honest, my hero for this types of changes - you know who it is? It’s Tony Iommi. Yes, because he’s been through the same with Black Sabbath. There was a point where they were changing a lot of lineups. But it’s still Black Sabbath and they managed to make great albums throughout all those years. And I must tell you that I’m a big fan of the Tony Martin era, and that’s not such a famous era of Black Sabbath. Like the early 90s or early 80s, they did some really good albums with Tony Martin and, of course, with Dio. So for me, it’s not always the Ozzy period.
What advice would you give to guitarists who are just beginning to play?
Well obviously, playing well involves a lot of practice. I always tell them, “Listen to your favorite guitar players. Listen to the records and try to pick up the stuff you like. Keep what you like and throw the rest. Just try to incorporate it into your own style. Don’t try to copy anybody.” Of course, you are eventually going to remind somebody else. But if you have your own personal stamp on your music, then nobody can take that away. It’s not something that comes with one album. It takes a while, you know? Nobody was born the perfect songwriting or player. So you just need to keep working at your song style and just do what you want to do.
How old were you when you started playing?
I was 10.
How much time did you devote each day to practicing?
|"We're like a family know, not just like a group of friends."|
For the first few years, I didn’t practice that much. I just wanted to play a lot, but my teacher was limited and I was playing with these classical guitars. It was more like I was learning from one of those schools from the neighborhood.
Then when I was 14 my father got me my first electric guitar and I went to a very good teacher. That guy really turned me onto guitar. He really made me interested in what I really wanted to do and inspired me to practice like 8 to 10 hour a day. Yeah, I was practicing very much for a few years. I was practicing all kinds of things. I was practicing the stuff that my school was giving me, like learning how to read, ear training, whatever. Of course, I would do my own research. I would try to put on my favorite albums and pick up my favorite guitar licks, learn how to play rhythm, and all that stuff. But you’ve got to do your own personal exploring.
Do you think learning how to read music is essential?
It’s good to know what the symbols are so that it doesn’t look like Chinese! But my sight reading was way better 10 years ago, I must tell you. Since I started doing my own sound and everything - I have to be honest - I never really needed charts. We would play rock and roll. You would just jam. That’s what it is. So I never really had to sit down and write the charts and give it to somebody. Nobody ever passed me a chart. That’s when I was in music school. Those days are long gone now. But I mean, I still remember the notes and everything. I know my theory and harmony, all my scales, all my modes, all that stuff. I try not to think about it, to be honest. I try to play from my heart and just create what I feel.
Good luck with your upcoming dates. In the meantime, I can’t wait to see who wins the “Bet You Can’t Transcribe This” contest!
Yeah! Me, too! I’m really anxious about that!
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