“I’m back with Fender… again!” says Asking Alexandria guitarist Ben Bruce when asked about the black Telecaster used in recent video Antisocialist – the third single from the band's new album, Like A House On Fire.
“Right now I’m absolutely loving my Telecasters. Is it a thing where you hit a certain age and start preferring Fenders? Maybe it is! They’re definitely easier on the fingers! That one is an American '50s thing, from a fairly new series. I find it such a versatile guitar even though Telecasters aren’t really known for metal sounds.
“They have are more mids and treble, so definitely more twang than a Les Paul, which is why I find them to be more versatile. They also feel very natural and easy to play for me, I like the shape of the neck and weight of the body.
"Ibanez are known for slimmer necks, which are normally easier to move around, but I actually struggle with thin necks. When I had Ibanez [Custom Shop] making my guitars, I had them replicating Les Paul necks just because I preferred that chunky feel. The Tele is a nice balance between the two, it’s easy to play like a lot of Fenders but still feels chunky. It definitely feels like you’re holding something.”
As it turns out, the guitarist had originally signed up with Fender in Asking Alexandria’s early years, following a brief stint with Gibson. Though he loved his Les Pauls – and still keeps his first one hanging proudly in the music studio – there were some issues with floods at the time which meant he couldn’t get enough instruments out on the road as quickly as he needed them...
“So I went to Fender for a bit, I was super young around 19 or 20, and then Ibanez came along offering me a signature series and other things,” continues Bruce. “It felt fuckin’ insane! I remember going to the guitar store as a kid and seeing the Mick Thomson or Steve Vai models… it felt like I could suddenly be one of those people. So I bailed on Fender and went to Ibanez.
"They were true to their word, I got my signature series and had a great time with them. But Ibanez were never my guitar of choice growing up. I was all about Gibsons, Fenders or PRS guitars. Once I got a little bit older, I just wanted to be comfortable on stage and play a guitar I absolutely adored.”
Bruce likens his return with Fender to reaching out to an ex-girlfriend, his rep initially pointing out that the guitarist had indeed bailed on them in the past. He was then told the guitar giants no longer offered endorsements, instead preferring to build longer-standing and more personal relationships with their artists...
“I thought it was refreshing!” enthuses Bruce. “Most companies are like, ‘Play my shit and post about it!’ So that made me have even more respect for the people over there. They genuinely care about who they are working with and want to make sure their artists are in the right hands. I tried telling him I was young, dumb and now a changed man and they ended up being super good to me. Billy, my rep, has become more of a friend now, our kids go to each other’s birthday parties…”
"When it comes to amps, however, the Asking Alexandria guitarist is somewhat less nostalgic. Though he still expresses love for the old school valve amps found at the beating heart of many a legendary rock recording, it’s more a case of using what’s best for the job. And, in his case, it’s the plug-in he made with Joey Sturgis Tones which truly captures the sound he hears in his head. Safe to say, there were no amps involved for album number six...
“I have a signature plug-in through him and I think it’s the most basic out of all the ones he does,” laughs Bruce. “I told him I liked playing blues, rock’n’roll and heavy riffs so all I needed was a distortion that could be dialled down and still sound warm, plus a good clean you can add reverb and delay to. I used it for the record and completely stand behind it, JST make great plug-ins.
"It took a while for me to accept that Axe-FX was there and plug-ins were getting good, but I’ve come to realise it all works. It reminds me of when people were changing from vinyl to CD. There are arguments that vinyl is warmer, you can hear the life in the record from all the scratching. That’s cool… I still like vinyl, the same why I like pedals and tube heads. But, at the end of the day, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best for a modern day album...”
This is something the guitarist has learned through experience, when the British metallers were tracking 2013’s third full-length, From Death To Destiny, at NRG Studios in Los Angeles, as well as six other studios and even their own tour bus.
“We made From Death To Destiny at NRG and did everything analogue, the old-fashioned way. It cost us nearly half a million dollars to make that record, which is a significant amount of money, especially in an age where people don’t buy records anymore. You don’t make the money to warrant spending it. So you fall back on your digital products, simulators and plug-ins and you know what? They sound fuckin’ great!
“It’s a little scary – I’m actually worried for my job. I went to the studio the other day and our producer was just making a song for fun and I said his riff sounded cool. And he replied, ‘Guess what? I didn’t play it, no-one did… it’s all MIDI!’ But it sounded so real. I was disturbed to say the least. They did it with drums but for guitar? I genuinely thought they’d never figure out the feel but they did and it’s really quite terrifying.”
At least Ben's choice of guitar heroes isn't so concerning…
1. Eric Clapton
“This was super hard for me, there are so many guitarists I love for so many different reasons. I decided to go with the ones who personally influenced me the most, they might not be the fastest or technically gifted, but they shaped me the most, from starting out to right now.
"Which is why I have to start with Eric Clapton, who funnily enough was known amongst his friends and colleagues as Slowhand. His nickname would suggest he isn’t known for flashy playing… but what he did play was executed so flawlessly.
“Every note would seem to count. Sure, there are people out there who can play a million notes and sound impressive, but he could do that with just two. And the way he plays those two notes is what I find so much more impressive.
He makes it look so easy when it’s not. Listen to songs like Wonderful Tonight or Tears In Heaven or Cocaine or Bell Bottom Blues, you know it’s him straight away. The guy has chops and licks for days… he’s unreal.”
2. Gary Moore
“If I had to be put these in order, Gary Moore might be number one for me. I think the reason why is that not only you can hear it in his playing, but you also see it on his face. Every note he hits on that guitar is wailing, it’s like he’s projecting everything through the instrument. He feels every note he plays and I just love that. You can tell he’s thrown himself into that guitar.
“The gutting thing for me is I never got to meet him but way, way back – maybe around 2010 – we were playing in Spain and heard that Gary Moore was in the hotel next door to us.
“Everyone said I should go and see if he’s around. And I thought it was ridiculous... there was no chance the receptionist would even give me his room number if I turned up asking for him. And what if he asked me to jam with him and made me look like an idiot. So I didn’t do it...
“A week went by and then I found out he had passed away, right around then. From what I understand, he passed away in that hotel room that night. And it made me wonder what would have happened if I did go round, would I have stopped his death or discovered him dead? It’s a weird one for me. In hindsight, I definitely would have gone and knocked on that door.”
3. BB King
“The King of blues himself. My dad introduced me to his music and that’s probably why I got into the whole ‘less is more’ approach. To be honest, B.B. was the master of ‘less is more’. He could say more with one note than other guitarists could in an entire song.
I’ve got a soft spot for BB because his music reminds me of growing up. He ended up collaborating with Eric Clapton and them making an album together, so Riding With The King was like heaven for me. Two of my favourites on the same record.
“I never got to meet B.B. either, unfortunately. But a couple of years ago we played the Arena in Memphis and went out after to get some drinks. Most of the others were tired, we were quite far into the tour, plus we don’t party like we used to.
"I went out and didn’t know where to go, the streets were lined with blues bars and the only one which was empty was BB King’s Blues Bar. That made me sad. BB is the man, why did it feel like he had been forgotten? So we went in and this blues band were playing. It was phenomenal!
“I was one of the only white people in there, but there was one other white guy who was being such a prick. He was standing up, heckling the band and I was wondering what the fuck was his deal. The band stopped and said, ‘Why don’t you come up here, then?!’ And he tried to shrug it off, before getting told to shut the fuck up.
"This woman at the bar then said she would come up and sing. The singer told her, ‘Oh my god, for you... the stage is yours for as long as you would like!’ I was wondering what the hell was going on and the bartender then told me it was BB King’s granddaughter. She was un-fucking-real. I managed to get a picture with her, I apologised if it was a bit weird, but she found it funny.”
4. Synyster Gates
“Out of the modern players, he’s definitely one of the most charismatic ones out there. He is as a person too, but it’s his guitar work I’m talking about. In my opinion, he’s easily one of the most recognisable players in modern rock – kinda like the Slash of today. As soon as Synyster starts playing, even if you can’t see him, you know it’s him playing… that’s hard to do and hard to come by these days.
“I have a great deal of respect for just how versatile he’s been over the years, from Beast And The Harlot where he’s shredding and playing these crazy riffs, then songs like Dear God which are more country-driven as well as songs like Crimson Day which is more laid-back and bluesy.
Yet throughout it all, he has this super recognisable playing style. Sometimes I find myself thinking about his note choices which can feel quite bizarre - I’m left going, ‘Wow… you went there?!’ My brain simply wouldn’t have taken me down that route.”
“Now it’s time for Slash, because in my eyes he was the original Synyster Gates. There are a lot of similarities in how recognisable they both are. To be honest, I don’t think Slash is as good as Synyster technically, by any means… but he’s fuckin’ Slash dude! You hear him play and you know.
"It doesn’t matter if you’ve learned the Sweet Child O’ Mine solo and have been practicing it for 10 years, it won’t sound the same as when Slash plays it. You just can’t replicate his playing - that’s what makes him such a special player. You can play what he’s playing, sure, but you’ll never really be playing what he’s playing…
“He’s a blues player… everyone can understand what Slash is trying to convey. That’s what connects him to guys like Eric Clapton and Gary Moore. Live And Let Die is fuckin’ awesome, I love how orchestral it is and how he dances around it. November Rain is a classic and it’s a classic for a good reason.
"It’s like when people always choose Stairway To Heaven as their favourite – well, there’s a reason for that. It stood the test of time! That’s why it’s my favourite.”
6. Tom DeLonge
“This one is probably a bit more leftfield. He’s not known for being the most technically advanced guitarist, maybe he is at home. I don’t personally know him so I can’t say, but in terms of what he’s associated with, it’s probably not flashy.
"His style of playing influenced me greatly growing up - it’s very unique to him. You have to remember he’s responsible for some of the most memorable guitar licks and progressions in punk music.
"Everyone knows the riff to Dammit from the album Dude Ranch. The same can be said about What’s My Age Again? These songs are so well-known, they are the kinds of things every 12 year-old kid tries to learn on guitar…
”And he has a million songs like that: Adam’s Song, Stay Together For The Kids, First Date… he was just a very good guitarist for that time and genre of music. He’s greatly overlooked. You know he’s talented from the songs he wrote in Angels & Airwaves or Box Car Racer, they’re fantastic.
"That’s why I think he’s deserving of a place on this list. The way he played didn’t make any sense, he’d be up and down the fretboard from first fret to 12th instead of dropping down a string but that was just his style. It’s quite unique to Tom and very very cool.”
7. Brian May
“The almighty Brian May has been responsible for some of the greatest songs and solos of all-time. All of the members of Queen were tremendously talented, but Brian May is very special.
Like Slash or Synyster, you know it's him right away. And he wrote the guitar riff in Bohemian Rhapsody, which is one of rock ’n’ roll’s most iconic and recognisable guitar moments…
“Then he jumps from that to something like Stone Cold Crazy, which is almost thrash metal when you think about it, as well as stuff like I Want It All, which is as epic as rock gets.
"He was super versatile and could bounce around that guitar playing different sounds under the name of Queen so effortlessly. I’ve always found that really cool. He really knew how to stand out.”
8. Mark Knopfler
“I remember seeing Mark live and being so blown away by his ability and showmanship. He looked so comfortable with that guitar around his neck, it was just so completely effortless. I was at the barricade, right down the front, and in my mid teens. It didn’t even seem like he had a guitar on him, it was just part of him, like he was born with that thing in his hands. There’s a real connection there and nothing between the player and the instrument.
“What I love about him most is that when he records a solo, he leaves the fuck ups in there. He doesn’t go back in going, ‘Oh no, I need to re-record and get it perfect!’ Instead, he leaves his mistakes and allows them to breathe more life into his music.
"Okay, there was a little fuck up but it was more about the take having all the right emotion. He wasn’t afraid… he didn’t have to hide behind deception and tricks. The other thing I like about Mark Knopfler is that he is predominantly a finger picker, which is very cool and not seen from that many rock players.”
9. James Hetfield
“Sure he’s not the lead guitarist, though he does play a few. But I think his right hand is insane – he’s the best rhythm player out there. It’s not intermediate, by any means. Just playing his parts is tough enough by itself, but he’s also singing and fronting one of the biggest bands of all-time. He’s unreal and just so incredibly talented.
“My favourite song probably isn’t the biggest or a typical favourite, but I remember having just bought the Black Album on CD. I started with Kill ‘Em All and worked my way up around the age of 13. Suddenly Through The Never came on and this jolt of adrenaline just shot through my body when the riff came in.
"I remember jumping on my bed, so excited by this music that was unlike anything I’d ever heard. I think that was the exact moment I made the decision to play music for the rest of my life and make people feel the way that riff did.”
10. Jimmy Page
“I’m a huge Zeppelin fan because of Jimmy’s incredible blend of heavy rock and blues. A lot of guitar players around his time were blues-influenced but it was different with Jimmy. He literally injected blues straight into their songs. It was unfiltered and untampered with blues music.
"If you listen to Baby, I’m Going To Leave You or Since I’ve Been Loving You… it’s just straight blues. But they’re also one of the biggest rock bands of all-time when you hear Dazed And Confused, Immigrant Song or Whole Lotta Love, a very dark rock band with this powerful blues within it. If there was one band I had to pick to listen to for the rest of my life, it would probably be them just because of the sheer amount of moods they catered to.
“You can hear they were definitely experimenting. I love that – I’m clean now and don’t do drugs anymore – but I’d love to go back in time and make an album out in the middle of the desert on copious amounts of LSD just to see what happens.
"I’ll get round to it, once my kids are grown and I’m on Asking Alexandria record number fuckin’ 15, I’ve got arthritis, my hair is grey but I still can’t grow a beard... I’m going to go to Joshua Tree, do loads of shrooms and write that record!”
Asking Alexandria's new album Like A House On Fire is out now via Sumerian Records. The band are scheduled to play live in Russia and the UK in October 2020. For more info, head over to askingalexandria.com