10 questions for Opeth’s Fredrik Åkesson

(Image credit: Ricky Bassman/CSM/REX/Shutterstock)

Opeth's lead machine opens up about the most valuable guitars in his collection, his favourite picks, and experiencing a power failure in the middle of filming a DVD…

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

“My first guitar was an Ibanez LP copy, when I was just nine or 10 years old. It was a sunburst model and I wanted it really badly because I’d just started to play guitar and I thought Ace Frehley and Angus Young were cool. They were the first players to evoke my interest. It was a really good guitar, but I don’t have it any more, unfortunately.”

2. If the building was burning down, what one guitar from your collection would you save?

“That’s a tricky one… It depends whether it’s in our storage or at home. It could be my Les Paul Junior from 1955. There’s something special about its P-90 pickup – there are many different colours in it that you can find with just the tone knob. I wanted something simple and we used it quite a lot on the previous album [Pale Communion, 2014] and this one as well [Sorceress]. It has a very aggressive, snappy tone to it.”

3. What’s the oldest guitar that you own?

I like to collect guitars from the year I was born, 1972, and so I have a Strat and a Gibson SG from that year

“That would be the Les Paul Junior. I found it in this little vintage guitar shop when I was on tour. The owner of the shop knew there was something special about it and it wasn’t expensive. You can pick them up for around £4,000 to £5,000. I also have this thing where I like to collect guitars from the year I was born, 1972, and so I have a Strat and a Gibson SG from that year.”

4. What plectrums do you use?

“I use Jim Dunlop picks and the gauge is 1.4mm. They’re Tortex Ultra Sharp – the point is a bit pointier, basically! I switched to using them about two years ago. Before that I used the green ones with an alligator on them – they’re a bit rounder than these. It’s amazing how you can hear different sounds from different picks when you get into the studio.”

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

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“I practised a little bit this morning. I’m just trying to go over an A major blues – A7, D7, E7 – trying to improvise in different ways and not just stick to the pentatonic scale. Using the diminished scale or the melodic minor – the A melodic minor over the E7 and finding all the related arpeggios. I think it’s very interesting and it broadens your vocabulary.”

6. When was the last time you changed your own strings?

“That I did when we recorded the new album. Mikael [Åkerfeldt, singer/guitarist] and I restrung all the guitars before we sent them over to the UK. Since then, I haven’t done it, but that was quite recent. I think there were at least 12 – and a bunch of acoustics as well. We use a regular PRS Angelus quite a lot while we’re recording. We also like to overdub with a Taylor Nashville-tuned guitar, so we get that sort of separated 12-string sound.”

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

I can go on forever with solos, but usually Mikael tells me, ‘This is good – stop it!’

“I try not to look back. You’re never 100 per cent satisfied, but it’s still a mark in time and you just have to move on and deal with it, even though you’re not super-happy. I can go on forever with solos, but usually Mikael tells me, ‘This is good – stop it!’ So I’ll stay safe and say that I wouldn’t change a thing.”

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

“Five minutes before, I get my in-ears [monitors] in and change my clothes, but before that, I always like to warm up for at least an hour. For the last five minutes I’ll leave the guitar with my guitar tech, so he can just check the tuning before we go on. We always do a handshake before we go on stage, too. Five minutes afterwards… that’s when beer comes into the picture!”

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

“One of the worst things was when we played the Royal Albert Hall. We were filming for a live DVD and there were a lot of personal things going on as well, so a lot of pressure. There’s this delicate part in a song called Lotus Eater and it was the end of the show and I was going to play this part on my own - a simple riff, not too technical - and right when I was about to start, no sound. My pedals still had power, so the tech and I were running around like maniacs, frustration built up and after a few minutes we discovered that one of the camera guys had stepped on the power cord to my amp. We kept it in the DVD!”

10. What aspect of your playing would you like to improve?

“Probably jazz fusion. That’s something I try to work on all the time… It’s inspiring, digging into that style. I was interested in that stuff at an early age, even though I have a metal background. It’s endless; you can always get better.”

Opeth tour the UK in November - tickets are available from Live Nation:

15 Nov 2017 - O2 Ritz Manchester
16 Nov 2017 - Barrowland Glasgow
19 Nov 2017 - Rock City Nottingham
21 Nov 2017 - O2 Academy Bristol
22 Nov 2017 - O2 Institute Birmingham

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