Tim Henson is one of the player’s we look to when we’re looking to up our game. He is one of electric guitar’s futurists, and his partnership with Scott LePage in Polyphia has yielded some of instrumental prog guitar’s most daring arrangements.
But who do you turn to when you are Henson and you need to expand your repertoire? As it turns out, you give Tosin Abasi of Animals As Leaders a call.
Speaking to Reverb, for a video segment shot in which he and LePage discuss gear, technique, songwriting and more, Henson said he found himself at an impasse in 2020. He needed to bring something fresh to his game, and it just so happened that Tosin Abasi’s name was in his contacts.
“Every album I just try to level up my playing, and I was like, ‘Okay, well it’s probably time I learned thumping’ because I wanted to learn it eight years prior,” says Henson. “And I had tried. It was too hard. I said, ‘Fuck that!’ I had started hanging out with Tosin and I was like, ‘Well, I personally know Tosin now, so let me just ask him if he will teach me something. I offered him a thousand dollars for four guitar lessons and he said ‘sure’.”
But even for Henson, getting the hands around the Abasi’s percussive thump guitar style was no gimme. He had to work on his fingerstyle technique. He needed more digital independence in his picking hand, and Abasi had an idea.
“He showed it to me [in] the first lesson and it was so foreign and then he was like, ‘Okay, yeah, also, if you are not that well-versed in using your fingers try these classical pieces,” said Henson. “And one was La Catedral. That was one of the pieces that I had to learn to kind of just get used to using these other fingers because, prior to that, we were just hybrid picking.”
Written by the Paraguayan virtuoso Agustín Barrios, La Catedral is a doozy. Henson demonstrates a neat version of its first measures in the video, also demonstrating just how useful that nylon-string mode is on his Ibanez TOD10 signature guitar for getting close to the tone without reaching for a classical guitar.
Ultimately, Henson got his thumping technique down, expanding the sounds available on Remember That You Will Die. But he and LePage admit they approach it totally differently.
“We’re playing a bunch of the thumping shit on tour and I am watching us during practice and rehearsal, and I am doing it the way I learned from Tosin then Scott is just doing it a way he taught himself, and it is two completely different-assed things but they are sounding the same!” said Henson. “If you just listen, close your eyes, ‘Yeah, that sounds right.’ But then you look; our right hands are doing something completely different.”
All that matters is that is sounds okay. But even then, there’s always the sense that Polyphia write some things that are so out there that not they, not anyone, can replicate it live.
Speaking to MusicRadar in November 2022, Scott LePage said they just go for it in the studio to make the song sound as good as it can be and worry about if they can play it later. So what if they have to change something?
There was one moment during Chimera when, mid-song, LePage was playing an eight-string guitar and decided he was going to tune the low string down a half-step just because he wanted that note.
“What we do when we write is we think in serving the song, right? Most of the time anyway,” said LePage. “There is a small aspect of, ‘Okay, this needs to be performable.’ But sometimes we just do cool shit for the sake of doing cool shit and we worry about it later. If we have to change some stuff, we do that.”
You can check out the rest of Henson and LePage’s conversation with Reverb above. And if you want a lesson from Tosin Abasi but can't find his number in your Rolodex, you can always check out MusicRadar's Tosin Abasi lesson in which he breaks down his picking and tapping techniques.