Interview: Paul Gilbert on Paul Gilbert's Great Guitar Escape

Learn guitar - and maybe a few cool rock poses - with Paul Gilbert at his summer camp. © Larry DiMarzio

Want to improve your guitar skills with the personal help of Paul Gilbert? Now you can. The acclaimed guitar virtuoso, known for his work with Mr. Big and Racer X, has announced the first annual Paul Gilbert's Great Guitar Escape in which players of all ages, levels and styles are invited to join Gilbert and other expert musicians for a five-day series of workshops.

Set for 9-13 July 2012 at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, New York, the summer camp (which is also open to bassists and drummers, although the focus is on the guitar) features a host of instructors handpicked by Gilbert. Among the names are Guthrie Govan, Tony MacAlpine, Chris "Kid" Anderson, Scotty Johnson, and many more.

Interested players can get full details at MusicRadar sat down with Paul Gilbert to get his thoughts on teaching and how he came up with the idea of his own summer camp for musicians.

How did the Great Guitar Escape come together?

"The venue where it's taking place is the Full Moon Resort, and they do a lot of music camps there. A guy from the resort contacted me, and I took a look at the photos on their website, and the place looked amazing.

"Besides that, I was excited to put together a great group of teachers. Guthrie Govan and Tony MacAlpine are both well known and have incredible depth as musicians. Scotty Johnson is a guy who I've worked with on a lot of my tours and albums, and I'm always blown away by his musical knowledge and playing. And I'm really excited about Kid Andersen. His vocabulary in blues and rockabilly is just ridiculous.

"And I've been checking out Sam Coulson on YouTube for a couple of years now. He's got some of the best vibrato that I've heard, and can play ridiculously fast and clean lines as well. Sam didn't start playing guitar until he was 16, so I'm curious to talk to him and see how he could progress so quickly.

"Also, you've got to see my rhythm section! Rodney Holmes is just crazy-good. He has blistering technique, but he can also just hold down a wicked groove. He's played and recorded with Santana and jazz legends like Randy Brecker. I've got Kelly LeMieux on bass. Kelly played in my live solo band before and he also has that rare combination of great technique and love of a simple groove.

"I've also got my long-time engineer and friend Tom Size to run sound and give a crash-course seminar on live and studio mixing. I'll also have some top-notch guitar techs there to give some insight to the nuts and bolts of the instrument. Overall, I wanted to make a week of workshops and performances that will be life-changing to those who attend."

Gilbert plans to teach students the essentials of picking. © Larry DiMarzio

Have you ever participated in any of the Rock 'N' Roll Fantasy Camps?

"I've never done a typical 'Fantasy Camp.' My camp is not really about hanging out with rock stars. My camp certainly has some big names in the world of guitar, but just because someone was in a famous rock band doesn't mean they have good teaching skills. I want to make the Great Guitar Escape very much about music, so I picked musicians who are not only masters of their craft, but who can also communicate their ideas in an interesting and practical way.

"When the students finish their week at The Great Guitar Escape, I want them to leave with more than some photos of themselves standing next to a guy with an expensive leather outfit and lots of silver jewelry. I want them to leave with musical inspiration and practical ideas on how to improve at their instrument. If my students leave thinking, I can see how to do it now, and I can't wait to get home and play! then I've succeeded."

How did you go about picking your co-instructors?

"I picked people that I want to learn from! I'll be busy giving a lot of workshops and lessons myself, but if I have any extra time, I'm going to sneak into the back of the room and get some ideas from the other guys."

Specifically, what kinds of things will be focused on in the workshops?

"Every instructor is unique. Tony MacAlpine not only plays guitar, but is a stunning classical piano player, so he can show how that influence molded his guitar playing. Scotty Johnson is both a Berklee instructor and has played guitar in the orchestra pit for many big Broadway shows in New York. He's got practical experience on how to make it as a guitar player in ways other than being a rock star.

"Sam Coulson started playing guitar at 16, and he developed his technique to a very advanced level in a very short amount of time. I'm really curious to discover his practicing concepts. But overall, I want to let everyone be free in how they approach their workshops. These guys are all experts and don't need me to tell them what to do."

Each evening will culminate with jam sessions at Paul Gilbert's Great Guitar Escape.

"For my own workshops, I'm going to give the people what they want. Picking is always something that people are curious about, so I'm planning to really break that down to essentials. I'm also going to get the students plugged in and have them play with me, so I can see what they need to work on. Sometimes a couple notes are worth a thousand words.

"Also, I'm setting aside some workshops purely for beginners. I think the beginning stage is so important to get people on the right track with their technique and concepts. This class will be very 'hands-on.' I want to show how easy it can be to make music on a guitar right away. For me, that is the key to everything, regardless of what level you are: Finding a way to play things easily, so you can enjoy the music."

What kinds of things do you plan to help the beginners with? What sorts of fundamentals?

"My teaching method for beginners is to put them in a situation where they can't screw up. I'll start with things that are extremely easy. At the same time, I don't want to bore them with Mary Had A Little Lamb. I'll pick material that sounds good right away, make it easy to play, and give the student the feeling of what it feels like to really play the guitar. From that point, I'llslowly add one thing at a time, as they are ready for it. These beginning stages are so crucial, and I'm excited to help new players get started in the right direction."

There's going to be a nightly jam. Will you have a "No Free Bird" rule?

"The days will be filled with a lot of workshops. This is where the other teachers and I will be breaking music apart into small, manageable pieces for the students to understand and take home. The jams at night will let us put those pieces back together and show how to fit everything into real music.

"And quite simply, it will just be a lot of fun to play with such great musicians. I can't wait! As far as Free Bird…don't underestimate the end solos in that song! To get them right would take a lot of work! I'm sure our setlist will have some guitar classics in there, as well as some good surprises."

Aside from the music instruction, it is a summer camp. There's swimming, hiking, all that cool stuff. Tell us the truth, you really got the idea from the movie Meatballs, right?

"I remember that title, but I haven't seen that movie. I was too busy playing my guitar when I was a kid!"

Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar WorldGuitar PlayerMusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.