Serge Pizzorno: my top 5 tips for guitarists
As he prepares to run down his top five tips for guitarists, Serge Pizzorno, Kasabian's enterprising and engaging man of many hats (axe wielder, producer, chief songwriter, prime mover and shaker) feels compelled to make the following admission: "There's not a ton of guitar on our new album. A lot of what could be guitar parts are actually played on electronics. I just find that to be way more creative these days.”
Pizzorno cites the song bumblebee, the second single from the band's fourth consecutive number one UK album, 48:13, as something of a blueprint for the current Kasabian sound: "If we ever had a real vision to combine those elements, the guitar and the electronics, that song is it," he says. "You've got a heavy riff, well-recorded hip-hop drums and cool, chaotic synthesizers in the back. That’s our sound, really.
"I’ve always been into the idea of the whole," he elaborates. "I like thinking that whatever is coming out of the speakers could be played by a five-piece band, not just whatever the guitarist is doing. I’m not into hundreds of guitar parts. A simple, great part does the job."
The specter of Jimi Hendrix looms large over Pizzorno, who idolizes the late six-string legend to such a degree that it forces him, he says, to seek expression on an instrument besides the guitar. "Hendrix was so good and so ahead of his time, so where do you go with that?" he asks. "If you compare anything that you do with him, you’re sort of fucked. So I go the other way a bit. A synthesizer kind of has a mind of its own, and you can play games with it and be surprised by it. You can’t master a synth the way Jimi mastered the guitar."
But as soon as those words leave his mouth, Pizzorno does a virtual heel-spin and finds himself reasserting his dedication to the guitar. "I'm nowhere near done on it," he says. "In fact, the next album could be more guitar-driven than anything we've ever done before. I’d like to shift up and redefine the guitar. I know it sounds lofty, but I’m gonna try my damndest to figure out the next chapter for the instrument. What’s left? Surely there must be something more that old piece of wood can say.”
Kasabian's 48:13 will be released in the US on October 7. You can purchase the album at iTunes. For tour dates and ticket info, visit the band's official website. On the following pages, Serge Pizzorno discusses his top five tips for guitarists.
Don't listen to Jimi Hendrix
“That's right – don't listen to him. It’ll break your heart and destroy your spirit forevermore. He’s just so ridiculously amazing. It’s like, ‘Oh, my… This will never be.'
“Of course I’m being facetious. Do listen to Jimi Hendrix. Listen to him a lot. He’s the greatest guitar player of all time. But what's funny is, I think he’d definitely be into electronics if he were still alive. Listen to Electric Ladyland – it’s so futuristic. He was so ahead of the game. He would’ve pioneered electronic music just like he did for guitar music.
“I watched numerous documentaries on him, and all of the people who played with him said that he was like Picasso. He would be at the desk, creating, hearing all of these sounds that nobody else did, like he was in his own world. He was a one of a kind."
Practice your fucking ass off
“You should never stop practicing. If you’re not working at the guitar for at least five hours a day, then you’re not seriously into it.
“The thing is, guitars work for people who are obsessive. If you wanna just play and be all right, OK, fine, then do that. But if you want to make a statement, if your goal is to be amazing, then you have to practice your ass off.
“I didn’t do that, of course, ‘cause I’m too lazy. [Laughs] I’m terrible, really. But I found what I was good at and I stuck with it. So I don’t practice what I preach, which means I’m just like everybody else!”
Good amplification is vital
“The Beatles used to play these Watkins amps. You can still pick them up relatively cheap on eBay. They’re fantastic! They distort a guitar better than any amp or pedal that I’ve ever come across.
“I’d liken a Watkins amp to the sound of a Motown vocal, where the needle is hitting the red but it still sounds great. It’s gritty and crunchy, but it's very musical and special. It's just the best.
“Not a lot of people are playing Watkins amps, so go on eBay and find one. But if you don’t do that, if you go into a guitar shop or whatever, play through as many amps as you can until you find ‘the one.’ Don’t listen to the guy at the shop who’s trying to sell you something. Find what you like.”
Find A Guitar That No One Else Plays
“Early on, I noticed that my favorite guitarists each had a main guitar that they played. They were known for that guitar and photographed with it, and it was their thing. The look of the guitar was as important as its sound.
“I was sort of rummaging around second-hand stores, looking for something that I could make my own, and luckily for me I found it – the Rickenbacker 480, one of the coolest guitars ever. I mean, it’s a fucking bitch to play, and it sounds absolutely horrendous, but there’s something about it. I’m so lucky to have found it.”
Don't change strings on your acoustic guitar
Above photo: Kasabian (from left) Chris Edwards (bass), Ian Matthews (drums), Pizzorno and Tom Meighan (vocals).
“I don’t know about anybody else, but for me, the sound of new strings on an acoustic is horrendous. Oh, my God, it's terrible! [Laughs] So I would advise anybody to just leave their strings on for as long as possible. The older and more beat-up the strings are, the better.
“I’ve gone over a year without changing strings on my Hofner acoustic. Our guitar tech is my dearest friend. He’s 65 and has been with us for over 10 years. He’s toured with The Kinks and Zep and you name ‘em – he’s the real deal. I frustrate the hell out of him because he’s always trying to change the strings on that guitar, and I won’t let him.
“I tell him, ‘Leave that thing alone. There’s dirt on those strings, and that makes the guitar sound better.’ Seriously – sparkly new strings on an acoustic are flat-out horrible. Let 'em get old and just play the thing."