On the road: Paul Gilbert

(Image: © Gary Brown)

Disposable gloves and a makita drill are among the touring essentials for Mr Big’s stringsman, Paul Gilbert…

What was your first gig and how did it go?

“I played Cat Scratch Fever by Ted Nugent at my sixth grade talent show. The girls were very excited and they all ran up to me and said, ‘Do you know any Bee Gees?’ I didn’t know any Bee Gees.”

What’s on your rider?

“The most unusual thing is fresh ginger - I make ginger tea with lemon and honey - then Marshall amps, preferably the ones with the least knobs. For my clinics, I allow cell phone cameras, but I ask that people use them where I don’t see them. I like to see faces.”

Describe your current stage rig…

“An assortment of Ibanez FRM and PGM guitars and vintage-style Marshalls. My pedalboard changes for every tour, but today it has - in order of signal path - a Boss CS-3 compressor, a Boss DD-3 digital delay, an MXR Phase 90 (script with LED), a Catalinbread Sabbra Cadabra distortion, a Catalinbread Karma Suture germanium overdrive, a TC Electronic MojoMojo overdrive, a Catalinbread Callisto chorus and a TC Electric Alter Ego vintage echo. This is all powered by a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus. 

“I also use DiMarzio cables, Ernie Ball strings and Tortex picks (‘The Wedge’ 50mm). Oh yeah, and a custom Makita drill with four guitar picks mounted on the end of a wooden dowel rod as the bit.”

What’s your best tip for getting a good live sound?

“Rock shows are loud, so I try to use a sound that is warm on the high frequencies. I don’t want to cut people’s heads off with biting treble. I use the volume control on my guitar, both for dynamics and as a manual noise gate. I try to play as dry as possible as many rooms have enough natural reverb already.”

What non-musical item couldn’t you do without on tour?

“Disposable rubber gloves, the kind that dentists use. I use one on my left hand when I take a shower, so my calluses don’t get soaked and soft. Of course, I still wash my hands to keep clean, but I can do that quickly without messing up my calluses.”

What’s your best tip for getting the audience on your side?

“Look into their eyes and try to communicate the groove and tempo of the song. If the audience is sitting, I watch their feet to see if they are tapping to the music. And I watch their heads and shoulders to see if they are moving. If I can get people moving, I feel like I’m doing something good. I sometimes feel like musicians don’t want to move their bodies, but just want to experience the music intellectually. I try to force past this and somehow get them to feel it.”

What’s the best venue you’ve played in, and why?

“On the beach in Santos, Brazil. There were 100,000 people and giant video screens so they could see the band from the back rows. The trick with the big venues is to make sure that they still put the drums and amps close to the front of the stage. I hate to rely on monitors to hear myself and the drummer. I want to be close to the band and the music.”

What’s the worst journey you’ve ever had to or from a gig?

“I can’t remember the name of the city, but it was somewhere in India. The band and I were already in India, but it took two more flights to get to this city. At that point, I thought that we must be pretty close to the hotel, so I didn’t bother to go to the bathroom at the airport. But it turned out to be a four-hour drive to the hotel.

Getting a Makita drill caught in my hair in front of 10,000 people... I wish that had been caught on video

“The road was marked for two lanes, but we had a police escort with sirens going the whole time so we could drive in the middle lane. The escort vehicle was a Jeep with an open top. Several security guys rode in the back of the Jeep with machine guns resting on their legs. As we bounced down the road, I couldn’t help but notice that the guns would sometimes point towards our vehicle. 

“I can’t remember exactly what was on the side of the road as we drove. I just remember that there were no opportunities to go to the bathroom on that siren-filled, machine-gun bouncing, four-hour ride. But the show was great!”

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve witnessed on tour?

“An elephant strolled up next to our van while we were waiting at a stop light in Thailand. The elephant stopped. When the light turned green, the elephant started walking again. There was a guy riding on top, so he might take the credit for the stopping and starting. But still, it’s not something that I see every day.”

What’s the nearest you’ve come to a Spinal Tap moment on tour?

“Well, getting a Makita drill caught in my hair in front of 10,000 people, of course. I wish that had been caught on video, but it was before everyone had cell phone cameras.”

Which airline, as a musician, do you find is easiest to travel on?

“The Singapore Airlines stewardesses always leave a good impression. Mostly I try to avoid Ryanair as they are really strict with baggage.”

What are your favourite live albums?

“Frampton Comes Alive, Robin Trower Live, Pat Travers Band Go For What You Know, Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush Live, Cheap Trick At Budokan, KISS Alive! and Alive II. The '70s were so good for live albums!”

Mr Big’s new album, Defying Gravity, is available now via Frontiers Music.

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