Mark Tremonti's top 5 tips for guitarists
“There are a couple of different sides to me,” says guitarist Mark Tremonti, who, somewhat fittingly, divides his time between two different musical outfits, Alter Bridge and Tremonti. “I like to write songs that are angry and dark, but I also like songs that are big and uplifting and anthemic – stuff that makes you feel good. I don’t like anything in-between; I’m into extremes.”
Listeners will find dramatic examples of both contrasts on the upcoming Tremonti release, Cauterize, due out June 9 on FRET12 Records. And if the idea of 10 new Tremonti songs just doesn’t seem like enough, the guitarist promises that a second release, Dust, will be out by year’s end.
“We went in the studio and recorded 20 songs, but I didn’t want to release all of them at one time,” Tremonti explains. “It you give people too much at once, it becomes overkill; they pick their five favorites and sort of lose track of the rest. By releasing two separate albums, all the songs can breathe and be heard in a meaningful way.”
Most of the material on Cauterize is new, but a couple of songs have origins that date back to the first Alter Bridge record. “Dark Trip is more somber and introspective,” Tremonti notes. “I started writing it a good four or five years ago.
"Fall Again is another one along those lines. I recorded it on the demos for the first Alter Bridge record, but it didn’t feel right when the band would play it live. I’ve always kept it around, though. When you keep pulling a song out for years and years and it still sounds great, you know you have to put it out eventually.”
Friedman, Whitlock & Van Halen
Tremonti recorded Cauterize with bandmates Eric Friedman (guitar) and Garrett Whitlock (drums), and holding down bass duties is new member Wolfgang Van Halen. Van Halen became a de facto part of the Tremonti team in 2012 after original bassist Brian Marshall dropped out before a tour.
“Brian had to bow out due to some personal reasons, so we called Wolfie to see if he was available,” Tremonti explains. “He drove over and started the tour the next day. It was that quick. After that, he became a member of the band.”
Van Halen is unable to join Tremonti on their current tour due to his obligations to a certain other surname-monikered group (Tanner Keegan is filling in as touring bassist), but Tremonti is effusive about Wolfie’s work ethic in the studio. “Unlike the first album, where it was just me, Eric and Garrett, and we were imaging how songs would sound without a bass, this time we had the bass thing down from the start. Wolfie’s a very gifted musician, so you don’t have to second-guess anything he’s doing. He knocked his stuff out and things were just perfect.”
You can pre-order Tremonti’s Cauterize at
On the following pages, Tremonti runs down his top five tips for guitarists.
Learn all five pentatonic scales
“Most people only learn the first position, and maybe they get a little of the second and fifth boxes. They don’t realize that there are five different shapes, all across the neck. When I’m on tour, I do guitar clinics, and I’d say that 90 percent of the people I meet don’t know all five shapes – and they’re crucial.
“Knowing all the pentatonic scales gives you the freedom to play across the neck. If you just learn the one box, you’re trapped. You’ve got to be able to get from point A to point B from one end of the neck. Just like the modal shapes, they connect from one to the next. If you learn them all, you’ll have a big grid to work from.
“It’s a little like learning the roads on a map. If you only know the layout of your neighborhood, you’ll be stuck there – you certainly won’t know how to get to the next town and the next. But if you familiarize yourself with the total map, all the little connecting streets and roads, you’ll be able to go anywhere you want.
“I admit, it takes time. It’s not the kind of thing you can pick up in a day. But dedicate yourself to learning all the pentatonic scales and you’ll find your fingers flying – and your overall musicianship will improve.”
Learn to improvise using bending and vibrato
“Focus on simple phrasing, but when you do so, make sure that you hit pitch when you bend notes. Also, work on your vibrato technique, making sure that it’s got a nice singing quality to it. A big part of people’s signature sound is how they use vibrato.
“Every time you play guitar, spend a good hour improvising and working on your bending and vibrato. Playing to a metronome is stale and not very helpful; try improvising to a backing track.
"Years ago, when Guitar Center was doing their guitar battle competitions, they had all of these backing tracks. I bought all of them, downloaded them, and I played along to them. I still do. You can find backing tracks on the internet – check ‘em out.”
Play over chord changes
“Once you’ve developed your bending and vibrato, focus on chord changes. When soloing, make sure you hit the sweet notes at the time one chord goes to the next. It makes it sound like you know what you’re doing, and it gives so much passion and soul to your soloing.
“If the band is playing in E minor, don’t just stay on the same notes when they change keys; hit that key change in your solo and play with it as the chords go by. You can always go back to E minor when they do.
“It’s always great to play with other musicians, but you can figure out how to practice this on your own. Make a backing track of a simple I-IV-V blues progression and play along with it. When it goes to the IV chord, touch on the IV chord as soon as it hits; same with the V – be right there. You’ll sound like you know where you’re going in a very natural way.”
Discover your style through your sound
“So much of the time, your tone tells a lot about your playing style. The sound that you make, the one that sounds best to you, can be evocative of the way you play and the kind of music you want to make.
“Go out and find which sounds work for you. Go to a good guitar store and check out various guitars to see which one works best for the way you play. You might like a guitar with humbuckers; you might like single-coils. See if you like a Stratocaster or a Paul Reed Smith or a Gibson Les Paul.
“Same thing amp-wise. See if you’re a 6L6 guy or an EL34 guy; if you’re a Fender Twin or a half-stack, high-gain kind of person. Your style will point you to a particular sound, but the kind of gear you use will dictate your style, too. I know I’m going to play differently with a Strat through a Fender Twin than I would with a PRS through a Marshall or a Mesa/Boogie Rectifier. See what your passion is, then go chase down the gear you need to make the sound that you want.”
Be patient and passionate
“Most guitar players start out fumbling around for a while. In my case, I was terrible when I picked up the guitar. It’s the truth. My brothers made fun of me; I could never play a song from start to finish. It took me years of patience and dedication to get to where I knew what I was doing.
“Today, things are easier – you’ve got YouTube videos and all kinds of instructional courses. With very little effort, you can see how something is played and learn how to do it. That’s great, but sometimes the shortcuts don’t pay off in the long run.
“I remember years ago, I bought the Metallica Master Of Puppets tablature, and it turned out to be completely wrong. I don’t know who transcribed it, but it wasn’t right at all. Of course, I thought I was terrible, because I was playing what was written down and it didn’t sound like the record. So I had to figure it out on my own, which took a lot of time, but I think there were a lot of benefits to working with my ear.
“That’s another thing: Learn to play by ear. There’s such a saturation of information available to you, but your greatest teaching asset is the one you’re walking around with – your own ears. Pay attention to what you’re playing by listening; when you play with other people, tune into what they’re doing.
"All of the YouTube clips in the world won’t give you the kind of lasting education you’ll get by learning to play by ear. Your instincts will be sharp and you’ll know what to do if you do it the good old-fashioned way. Put in the time and be patient.”