Greg Howe – The Quintessential Fusion Guitarist

Greg Howe has reshaped modern fusion guitar with his remarkable skill and vibrant grooves. His influence as a leading jazz fusion guitarist and inspirational figure extends globally, captivating both newcomers and seasoned enthusiasts alike.

Solo Work, Collaborations, Studio Sessions and Tours

Howe began playing at 10. Just a few years later, he became skilled and started gigs right after high school. With his singer brother Albert, they played in local bands across Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.

Key Takeaways

  • Greg Howe’s Influence: Greg Howe is a pivotal figure in modern fusion guitar, known for his technical prowess and groove, influencing many players worldwide.
  • Career Milestones: His debut album “Howe” showcased his skill, while “Introspection” marked his significant shift to jazz fusion, with subsequent albums cementing his style.
  • Collaborations: Worked with notable artists like Richie Kotzen, Michael Jackson, and Enrique Iglesias, enhancing his reputation as a versatile musician.
  • Playing Style: Howe’s distinctive style includes complex harmonies, fast runs using techniques like tapping and legato, and a strong sense of rhythm and groove.
  • Gear Preferences: Uses signature Kiesel Guitars models, DV Mark amplifiers, and various effects pedals, often sticking to brands like Carl Martin, Boss, and D’Addario strings.

After a few failed band projects, he sent a demo tape to the legendary producer Mike Varney, founder of Shrapnel Records. A couple of demos were enough to get him hired.

Interestingly, Howe had no experience composing then. The demo tapes were simple jams, so creating music for a debut album took longer than usual.

However, Howe showed remarkable composing skills. His spectacular technique led to the debut album, “Howe,” achieving commercial success. Interestingly, at this stage, Howe had not yet explored fusion. This album is a typical shred record, similar to famous names from Shrapnel Records like Vinnie Moore, Paul Gilbert, and Jason Becker.

The second album with Shrapnel took a new direction. Howe included his brother Albert and other members of Howe II, resulting in a more typical vocal album. Released in 1990, it became clear after two national tours that commercial success was out of reach. It was time for something new.

After a few years off, Howe tried something new. In 1993, he released the album “Introspection,” marking a major career shift. For the first time, his music showed a notable jazz influence. The album features complex harmonies, fluid phrasing, and a strong funk flavor.

Back then, this was a groundbreaking shift in the guitar scene. Many guitarists had blended genres before, but this marked a new dimension that would evolve into modern jazz fusion.

Howe’s new approach was quickly recognized, leading him to further refine his style. His subsequent albums “Uncertain Terms”, “Parallax”, and “Five” introduced a fresh range of ideas. These included complex harmonies, unusual rhythms and time signatures, and numerous ‘outside’ notes, which became his trademark.

This period is also known for my collaboration with famed guitarist Richie Kotzen, brought in by Shrapnel. We released two instrumental rock/jazz fusion albums, “Tilt” and “Project”. Both achieved significant commercial success.

After a few years’ break, a new album titled “Ascend” was released. It featured typical shred with plenty of neoclassical elements. Unfortunately, it didn’t receive much praise, and even Howe mentioned it was his least favorite.

Fortunately, Greg didn’t intend to stick with this new style. A year later, he released a new album, “Hyperacuity.” This genuine jazz fusion album contains some of Howe’s best works.

Next up was a project with fusion stars Dennis Chambers and Victor Wooten. After two years of recording, “Extraction” was released in 2003. Despite the incredible talent, critics had mixed opinions.

In 2008, “Soundproof” was released. It’s one of Howe’s finest albums. The album features a lot of amazing guitar work and groove, but what stands out most is the varied writing approaches.

After over a decade, the latest album, “Wheelhouse,” finally came out in 2017. It brings new elements to Howe’s playing while keeping the distinctive style. Another jazz fusion masterpiece.

Greg Howe is famous for his work as a session and tour guitarist, especially with Michael Jackson. In 1996, he replaced Jennifer Batten for the Asian and European segments of the HIStory World Tour.

A few years later, he toured with Enrique Iglesias. He then collaborated with major artists like Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, and Christina Aguilera.

In 2012, I formed a band called Maragold with Gianluca Palmieri, Kevin Vecchione, and Meghan Krauss. We were active until 2016. In 2017, I joined Protocol, featuring Simon Phillips, Ernest Tibbs, and Otmaro Ruiz.

Playing Style

Without a doubt, Howe is one of the greatest guitar virtuosos of our time. He’s a genuine fusion player with a vast array of techniques and approaches.

One of his trademarks is using “outside” notes. Howe blends various scales and arpeggios typical of jazz, incorporating many modes. While melodic minor is prominent, you’ll also hear chromatism, diminished, altered, and whole tone scales in his playing.

Besides offering a range of different voices, what really sets Howe apart is his extraordinary sense of rhythm. Traditional jazz guitar players often miss this, but Howe infuses his melodies with a funky groove.

Howe’s technical skill is crucial. Influenced by Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen, and other shred guitarists at a young age, it’s no surprise his ability is so impressive.

Fast runs are essential to his playing, and he mainly relies on techniques like two-hand tapping, legato, and hammer-ons, rather than alternate picking.

Howe is a talented instrumentalist. He plays drums, bass, keyboards, and more on his recordings.

Gear

Throughout his career, Howe has used various guitars, amps, and pedals. Most of his gear nowadays includes his signature models.

He prefers superstrats with humbuckers and Floyd Rose. Endorsed by Kiesel Guitars, he has two signature models, GH24 and GH3.

Both guitars have a classic strat shape with 24 frets and an HSS pickup configuration. The GH3 is also available in an SSS configuration. He sometimes uses his old Carvin model.

Amplifying with the Howe signature DV Mark 250W head offers a unique sound. This solid-state amp is compact and includes built-in reverb. There’s also a signature 212 cabinet for enhanced performance.

Howe’s setup is quite simple, yet he uses a good variety of effects. The most important is his signature “Lick Box” from Carl Martin. It acts as a 3-in-1 pedal with boost, crunch, and hi-gain effects.

Of course, he’s got several more effects on his pedalboard like reverb, delay, compressor, and chorus. He prefers brands such as T-Rex, Boss, Pigtronix, and Carl Martin.

Other things I should mention are strings and picks. For strings, he prefers D’Addario 10-46 gauges. He uses various picks, but there’s a signature Dunlop Gator Grip model.

Brian Clark

Brian Clark

I’ve been a writer with Musician Wave for six years, turning my 17-year journey as a multi-instrumentalist and music producer into insightful news, tutorials, reviews, and features.

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