Interview: Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti

Tremonti and his signature PRS
Tremonti and his signature PRS (Image credit: Sayre Berman/Corbis)

Following the high profile Creed reunion and Myles Kennedy's successful stint with Slash, October 2010 finds Alter Bridge back on the road in support of AB III, a third long player packed with widescreen hooks and pulverising riffs. Alter Bridge axeman Mark Tremonti recently took time out of his fit-to-burst schedule to talk guitar and give MusicRadar the skinny on the AB III recording sessions:

"We recorded the drums down in Miami and the rest of the stuff we recorded in Orlando at Paint It Black studios. The only thing different I used was a Dunlop Uni-Vibe, which I used a little bit, and a Fender Tone Master that I kind of tucked in underneath the Uberschall and the Dual Rectifiers."

Some of those riffs sound pretty huge. Are you using any additional studio tricks to fatten them up?

"It's actually a funny story. My guitar tech had a buddy bring him his bass guitar to do some work on it, a pink Kramer bass with active pickups, and one night I came in there and the producer [Michael Baskette] said, 'You've gotta hear the tone this thing gets, we've gotta track it!' So I took all the real heavy riffs on the album, all the one note riffs on the record and layered it with that pink Kramer bass and it really made a big difference!"

So you'll be rocking the pink bass live, right?

"Hell yeah I'm using it live… haha, no, no. We'll just have to throw some distortion on Brian's bass."

We've heard reports that Myles has a solo record coming out and that you're playing on it. Is there any truth in that?

"Well he's mentioned that but he hasn't gotten around to sending me the files yet. I'd be honoured to do it, I just haven't gotten the tracks yet."

Were there any particular influences that inspired your playing on the new record?

"Not really, I just try to learn as much as I can. I've been into guys like Robben Ford, Audley Freed, Larry Carlton, Michael Schenker, just kind of a mix. If I'm learning like a jazz guy, I also want to learn like a rock guy at the same time. Warren Haynes was a guy I was dabbling with before doing the record as well."

Could you see yourself exploring the bluesier side of your playing and recording a pure blues album one day?

"Maybe in many years. All I'm trying to do now with the blues and jazzy stuff is round my sound out and make it more intelligent sounding. I learn a lot from those guys, different phrasing, different ways of voicing chords. I just want to do what I do and make it a little richer."

What advice would you give to guys who want to write the kind of heavy riffs that feature on AB III?

"A lot of the times the best riffs I write are when I set a metronome and just riff out. Some heavy riffs have come from playing along with nasty drum loops on Drumkit From Hell. But it's hard to say what the secret recipe is for a great riff, sometimes it just happens. Most of it's just guesswork and luck."

Which moments on the new album are you most proud of?

"My favourite solo is on All Hope Is Gone. My favourite fingerstyle section would probably be the Ghost Of Days Gone By verses. I like the music in general for All Hope Is Gone too, but I'm very proud of the whole record."

You've said in the past that Stevie Ray Vaughan is one of your favourite guitar players of all time. Couldn't Stand The Weather was reissued this year, just weeks before the 40th anniversary of the death of another legend, Jimi Hendrix. Are you still more of an SRV guy than a Jimi guy?

"I guess that Stevie Ray spoke to me more. He was just such an emotional player, you know, songs like Lenny. I actually prefer his version of Little Wing to Hendrix's. I like Hendrix's loose style but I love Stevie Ray Vaughan's perfection. I love Stevie's more refined kind of sound."

Has releasing an instructional DVD made you change your approach in any way?

"You know… I just play to have fun and try not to worry about it too much. When I play with other guitar players I'm always asking them questions, I'm not afraid to admit my weaknesses - everybody's got 'em. But when I play with other guitar players I'm always the one asking questions, I always want to learn from other people. I'm not afraid to play something I'm not comfortable with, it's the only way to get better."

So when you ask those questions, who are the guys who have the most useful answers?

"Vinnie Moore is a great guy to play with. He used to be a shredder now he's going in a real classy fingerstyle blues, jazz kind of direction, he has a lot of really good ideas. I also played recently with Rusty Cooley - a really over-the-top shred guy - but he's also a really good teacher. If you want to ask any questions about technique, he can give you ten answers to one question.

"But just any guitar player I sit down with - known or unknown - I always try and ask them a question like, What are your three go-to licks? What are your three most useful licks? That's always a big one for me. And I've done that with Myles, I've done that with Clint Lowery, Eric Friedman, with tons of guys. I'm a student forever, you know?"

It's interesting that you mention Myles. Obviously much is made of his phenomenal voice, but do you feel he's a little underrated as a guitarist?

"His guitar playing is severely underrated. He's a world class guitar player. He's got the best vibrato and feel of just about anybody I've ever seen. His style is just pure class."

AB III is out now on Roadrunner UK

Chris Vinnicombe worked with us here on the MusicRadar team from the site's initial launch way back in 2007, and also contributed to Guitarist magazine as Features Editor until 2014, as well as Total Guitar magazine, amongst others. These days he can be found at Gibson Guitars, where he is editor-in-chief.