10 questions for Europe's John Norum: “Work on vibrato. It’s like a personality for a guitarist”

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(Image: © Sergione Infuso - Corbis / Getty)

Historically, he left Europe and then rejoined - but how will John Norum handle the 10 questions we ask everyone?

1. What was your first guitar and when did you get it?

“It was an acoustic - my mum’s guitar. My whole family are basically guitar players, my uncles, my grandfather… I can’t even remember the name of it. I started off playing acoustic and then my first electric was an Arbiter; I think it was made in Japan. It had an SG-type body but with single coils and a Fender-style headstock, so you had a weird combination of a Strat and an SG with a whammy bar.”

2. Suppose the building’s burning down; which one guitar from your collection would you save?

I had a ’57 Les Paul Junior and also a ’57 Gold Top, but I sold them in the 80s. If I had known then what I know now, I’d never have done it!

“Oh, that’s easy: my Fender Stratocaster from 1965. I’ve had it since ’84 and it’s been on pretty much every album I’ve recorded since. It has a nickname, I call it ‘Old Betty’. I don’t know where it came from. Sometimes I refer to it as The Final Countdown guitar because I used it on The Final Countdown album, on all the solos, and on my first solo album, Total Control. I don’t use it live any more, because I feel it’s too valuable, not in terms of money, but more like a sentimental type of thing, you know?”

3. What’s the oldest guitar that you have in your collection?

“The ’65 Strat. It’s quite special, too, because it’s a custom colour - a white one - I think it was a special order. It has yellowed a lot over the years… I’ve had other guitars: I had a ’57 Les Paul Junior at one time and also a ’57 Gold Top, but I sold them in the 80s. If I had known then what I know now, I’d never have done it!”

4. When did you last practise and what did you play?

“About 10 minutes ago, actually. I don’t really call it ‘practice’, I just play and see what happens. I’m going on tour so I’m going through all the amps. I’ve got five, and two or three of them will be on the tour, so I have to decide which will be the main amp, but I need a backup, so I’m just diving in and changing tubes. Same thing with the guitars: soldering new pots, trying different pickups. I’m a real nerd when it comes to sound.”

5. When was the last time you changed your strings?

“About three or four days ago, as we haven’t done any gigs for a while. I like changing strings - it turns out better when I do it myself. It’s stuff like, how many turns on the machineheads? I’m very particular with details like that.”

6. If you could change one thing about a recording you’ve been on, what would it be and why?

“I guess what comes to mind is our last record, Walk The Earth. I should’ve used a little less gain on the rhythm guitar. It made it a little too fizzy for my taste. Now I don’t use so much gain; I like the clean sound, more like an AC/DC type of thing or Blackmore, early Deep Purple stuff - Made In Japan. It has a lot of sustain, but it’s very clean and you can hear every note. I don’t like any of that fuzzy, fizzy stuff. That’s one regret I have.”

7. What are you doing five minutes before you go on stage and five minutes afterwards?

I broke four strings at once one time. I don’t know how it happened… We didn’t have a backup guitar

“Five minutes before I’m just stretching and getting ready. I usually warm up for about half an hour or 45 minutes, and then my guitar tech comes and takes the guitars up on stage because they have to adapt to the climate outdoors, indoors or whatever. I’m basically stretching and drinking beer! Always one beer before the show, it relaxes you - and bananas, they’re good for the muscles. Afterwards, walk off, into the dressing room, sit down, relax, talk to the guys about the gig.”

8. What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you on stage?

“I broke four strings at once one time. I don’t know how it happened… just hitting it too hard, I guess. We didn’t have a backup guitar and so I was stuck there. This was back in the 80s on our first or second tour and I thought, ‘I don’t need two guitars, one is enough.’ I had to get the guitar tech to put some more strings on and the other guys were standing around improvising. Embarrassing.”

9. What song would you play on an acoustic around a campfire?

“The first song that comes to mind is King’s Call by Phil Lynott from his first solo album, Solo In Soho. That is the perfect campfire song. It’s the one that Mark Knopfler played the lead guitar on.”

10. What advice would you give your younger self about playing the guitar?

“The most important thing is to work on vibrato. It’s such an important thing, it’s like a personality for a guitarist. Also play in pitch: you can play a million notes a minute and then bend a note and it’s out of tune then you’re kind of screwed.”

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