Guthrie Govan – A Genius of Our Time
Guthrie Govan is known as one of the most amazing players that have ever picked a guitar. Moreover, I am pretty sure that you won’t find any other musician with such level of versatility and unbelievably distinctive playing style these days. Impressive technique combined with world-class musicality and incredible improvisation skills are some of the reasons to call him a guitar hero. Govan is actually much more than that.
Solo Career, Bands, Collaborations, Studio Work
Guthrie picked guitar for the first time at the age of 3. By highschool years, he was already an accomplished guitar player. Even then, it was pretty obvious that he will become a virtuoso. Still, he didn’t want to neglect his education and even became a student at Oxford University. However, it eventually became obvious that he would have to focus on just one of these two things. Fortunately, he dropped and decided to chase his music career.
The thing with Govan’s career is that everything was going pretty steady. At the age of 20, he sent demo recordings to legendary Mike Varney of Sharpnel records. As you may presume, Varney was impressed with Govan’s playing and instantly offered him to sign a contract. However, Guthrie declined, because he never had the intention to sign a deal with Shrapnel, but rather just to see if he is good enough.
In 1993, he won Guitarist of the Year competition with the song “Wonderful Slippery Thing”, which would later become one of his trademark pieces. However, that happened more than a decade later. Meanwhile, Govan worked as a contributor to the Guitar Techniques magazine, as well as a session musician on various projects.
He finally introduced himself to wide masses in the early 2000s, when he became a member of the popular rock band Asia. Interestingly, Govan was the third choice of the band, which was unable to assign big guitar names like Brian May and Steve Lukather. After a successful tour, he became a regular band member and played on 2004 “Silent Nation” album.
In 2006, the band was reformed with original band members. Guthrie and a couple of more musicians became surplus, so they formed a new band, called GPS. Soon after, they released the album called “Window to the Soul”, which consists mostly of songs that were planned for the next Asia album.
Meanwhile, there were several more interesting side projects, including session work on The Young Punx’s debut album.
Meanwhile, something far more important was happening. During Asia years, Govan was working on his debut solo album. The “Erotic Cakes” was released in 2006 and it includes a couple of Govan’s older songs, such as “Wonderful Slippery Thing” and “Waves”. Also, the album features guitar solos by Richie Kotzen on a couple of tracks.
Although the album didn’t make a commercial success, it instantly became a cult album among guitar enthusiasts. Moreover, Govan established himself as a household name among guitar virtuosos.
At the same time, he formed a band called The Fellowship, which consisted of Seth Govan on bass, Pete Riley on drums and Zak Barrett on saxophone. For several years, the band used to play at the Bassment club in Chelmsford, Essex, every Thursday.
The 2010s have been the best years in Govan’s career so far. Most importantly, he became a part of the band that will become known as The Artistocrats. The band was formed in 2011 and consist of Brian Beller on bass and Marco Minnermann on drums. With three huge names in rock and jazz fusion world, it seems legal to call the Aristocrats one of the best supergroups ever formed. The first show was played after just one rehearsal and members instantly felt amazing chemistry. Therefore, it’s no wonder that the band is active more than ever these days. The fourth studio album called “You Know What…?” has been released recently. The discography also includes three live albums.
At the same time, he became a lead guitarist of Steven Wilson’s band and performed on three albums and a couple of tours until 2015, when cooperation ended due to tour schedule clashing with his primary band, The Aristocrats.
Another huge project we should mention is the Hans Zimmer Live project, where he became a member of the ensemble of the famous film composer. Besides playing on tours, he also participated in new soundtracks from movies like “The Lion King”, “X-Men” etc.
Guthrie is also a dedicated guitar teacher. He released a couple of books and also dozens of instructional videos. Also, he is often invited for seminars, masterclasses, and clinics all around the world.
The most amazing thing in Govan’s playing is the fact that he remains one of the most distinctive guitarists of all time while being arguably one of the most versatile musicians in the world at the same time. The first thing you will notice is his encyclopaedical knowledge of popular music genres. Practically, there is no music genre where he doesn’t feel comfortable to play and improvise, particularly in rock, progressive rock, fusion, jazz, country and similar genres.
Govan has been influenced by so many guitar players of all styles. Still, he managed to develop his own style, which is among the most distinctive ones among active players. Of course, there is an impressive technique, but the thing that sets him apart from other technical players is an impressive sense of musicality that is combined with spectacular improvisation skills.
When it comes to playing techniques, the interesting thing is that Govan doesn’t use too many different techniques. You will rarely see him play sweep or alternate picking. He insists on super-fluid sound, which in practice means that most of his notes are played with techniques like legato and two-hand tapping.
Another ingredient of Govan’s unique sound is the choice of notes. Unlike most guitar players, he doesn’t stick to common scales and modes. Instead, he plays a lot outside and chromatic notes in particular. Add to this a diverse chord vocabulary and interesting variations to common progressions and you have pretty much all ingredients of Guthrie’s unparalleled voicing.
Like most of today’s players, Govan doesn’t stick to a single guitar type or brand. Through his career, he used all kinds of guitar brands, wood types, pickup configurations etc. His first electric guitar was Gibson SG. Through his earlier career, he used mostly mahogany guitars with HH pickup configuration. In the 2000s, he started to use Suhr guitars. In 2012, he switched to Charvel guitars.
His signature Charvel guitar is quite interesting in terms of design characteristics. First of all, the body is made of caramelized basswood, while the top is either ash or maple, as there are two types in the offer. The neck and fingerboard are made of caramelized maple, while the pickup configuration is HSH, though with a little bit uncommon switching design.
Among many other guitars that he uses, Vigier Excalibur Surfreter Supra takes a special place, due to its fretless design.
When it comes to amps, he is currently on Victory amps, either on V50 The Earl 50w (EL34 tubes) or V30 Countess 30w (6L6 tubes). In the past, he also used Cornford amplifiers. Also, he uses the Fractal AX-8 multi-effect processor occasionally, as well as Kemper profiler on Hans Zimmer tours.
Of course, the number of pedals he uses is pretty big. Most of them are pretty common effects like overdrive, wah, booster, analog chorus, reverb, delay etc.
In terms of accessories, there are signature picks, fret wraps etc. He plays on D’Addario .010-.046 nickel-plated strings.
Featured image by ArtBrom [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons