“When I was 5 years old, I heard the band KISS and as soon as I heard that Kiss Alive! Album, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. And I started working towards that goal and never stopped, and by the time I was 6, I had a band and we were writing songs, we were playing shows; we were making recordings and doing everything that a band does. And it never stopped. And I would say it took about 20 years before it became something that I can support myself and live music.”
Guitar virtuoso, songwriter, recording artist – Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal is not a new name to the guitar fanatics across the world. His sheer technical prowess on his signature double neck Vigier Bfoot leaves everyone in awe.
Bumblefoot recently conducted a guitar workshop at CRCC Pune and mesmerized the audience by playing his signature tunes like Pink Panther Theme, Guitars Suck, Guitars Still Suck and answering questions from the audience on studying intervals, how strings work, overcoming stage fright, improving technical skills, importance of dynamics, rhythm and developing unique phrasing and soloing style.
Post-workshop we had the pleasure of interviewing the man himself. We talked about his current visit to India, latest album ‘Little Brother Is Watching’, how did he become a full time musician, upcoming collaborations and so on.
The interview is published in 2 parts. You can find the link to the part 2 at the end of this interview.
Guitar Gabble: Hi Ron! How you’ve been?
Bumblefoot: Good! Been so busy with so many good things. I just feel so full of energy and life. Been putting out so much music and travel to a lot of new places, I mean being here right now! I think, I’m enjoying more that they’re. I’m going to be in Pune for such a long time that by the time we’re done, I’m gonna have a roadmap in my head and know the places like home. So, I’m looking forward to that.
Guitar Gabble: This is your 3rd visit to India, I believe. So tell us your experience of playing here. Any artists from India that you’ve got a chance to listen to?
Bumblefoot: There’s so many! Even just in the jam we did yesterday in Mumbai with Warren from Blackstratblues and Shazneen Arethna, what a phenomenal singer!
The last time we came, we were tagging along with a band called Point of View. It is always wonderful playing with them and through them I got to meet 2Blue and Warren for the first time. And it’s good; it’s given me a chance to experience the local artists here from up-close as opposed to when it was with GN’R, seeing an opening band. And now this time around, I get to make music with the singer of that band (Siddharth Basrur). So now it could be personal even more, instead of me just watching the bands saying, “Oh, they were good!” Now you really get to play together and bond. And that’s better!
Guitar Gabble: You have released a new solo record titled Little Brother Is Watching. Tell us something about it.
Bumblefoot: Oh, I could tell you a whole bunch about it! Where do we begin! Alright, it is my 10th solo album in past 20 years. Musically, it’s more epic styled songs where the songs have big changes. It definitely has a lot of space and there’s plenty of guitar playing, but I think there’s more of a balance where the songwriting and vocals come through. I think, I have found a really nice balance between the guitar playing, the vocals and the song itself and bringing out the best of each. I think in the past when I listen to back, I thought I accomplished that, but now years later I listen and say I would’ve done this differently or maybe I would’ve sung that differently. I don’t want to use the word maturity, but I think it just developed in a certain way where there’s a good amount of space that each aspect leads to the other aspects of a song. And I think I have found a good balance in the songs.
Guitar Gabble: Tell us your journey of music like starting to play guitar and becoming a full time musician.
Bumblefoot: Well, that starts when I was 5 years old and I heard the band KISS and as soon as I heard that Kiss Alive! Album, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. And I started working towards that goal and never stopped, and by the time I was 6, I had a band and we were writing songs, we were playing shows; we were making recordings and doing everything that a band does. And it never stopped. And I would say it took about 20 years before it became something that I can support myself and live music like I didn’t have to do anything else, everything I was doing with music which was teaching, writing music for whether it is a TV show, releasing music, doing shows, producing and everything. And it’s been 20 years of being a full time musician after that coz I’ve been playing for almost 39-40 years now.
Guitar Gabble: You said you were 6 when you started a band. So what would the band usually play?
Bumblefoot: It was a good band! It sounded like KISS. We wrote our own songs and a lot of the songs sounded like Firehouse from KISS and the songs that had that slow grungy, classic rock-ish kind of stuff. It’s pretty good! I wrote better when I was 6 than I do now!
Guitar Gabble: Who are your 3 major influences or guitarists who were like the Guitar Gods? And what makes them so special to you?
Bumblefoot: Definitely Eddie Van Halen. His playing was so innovative that it opened my eyes to the fact that there’s more than one way to play the guitar and made me want to figure out as many ways as possible to get sound out of those strings.
Jimmy Hendrix also. His use of chords and melody in bluesy way and expressiveness and the way he made you feel when he played. It was just something about it.
And then would be a tough choice for the third. Either Ace Frehley or Angus Young or Brian May. Definitely one of the classic rock guys. Or even Jimmy Page for the songs and the production and everything he did. That would be a very hard choice on #3 and it would be one of those guys pretty much for the same reason because the way they played, it was about the songs and the sound that they had and what they added to a song personality wise, it was very important to the music. And it was one of the most important spices in their music.
Guitar Gabble: Fans would like to know the story behind the name Bumblefoot.
Bumblefoot: The name started off as an animal disease and I wrote a song called Bumblefoot. When I had my first record deal, I was on Shrapnel Records, I was on Roadrunner records in Europe and Japan, I called it the Adventures of Bumblefoot and named every song after different animal disease and after that in 1997, I started releasing my own albums through my own label or my own production company and then I called the band Bumblefoot and for the last 18 years we’ve been doing albums, touring and doing everything under this band name Bumblefoot. So from a band, it became more like a nickname.
Guitar Gabble: One quintessential guitarist that you would recommend that every guitarist must listen to?
Bumblefoot: That’s tough! It has gotta be just one? I am gonna say Allan Holdsworth and the album Road Games. The other part of me wants to say Al Di Meola and the album Electric Rendezvous. But I’m gonna say Allan Holdsworth and check out the album Road Games.
Bumblefoot: Having the fretless is an important part of my playing. And before that guitar I used to choose either the fretted or fretless. And I needed something that I could incorporate everything all at once. So, the company is Vigier Guitars. They are made in France. And that’s my signature guitar and it is available to everyone!
It weighs 30 pounds. 35 when I have my strap because I have a counterweight on the strap coz it’s neck heavy so it balances it. So it’s a good workout, keeps you strong!
The fretless neck is stainless steel and it has DiMarzio pickups. It has a Tone Zone pickup by the bridge and a Chopper pickup by the neck on both. A 5 way toggle switch to choose between the pickup selections. And it’s my baby and I love it very much!
Guitar Gabble: What is your current setup like?
Bumblefoot: Well, when I am travelling, I’m using the VOX ToneLab EX as something that I can fit in my suitcase to make sure I get the sound I need. Sometimes, I can go straight from the amp. My own amp that I use is Engl Invader 100W head and just a Marshall cabinet. And I use TC Electronic effects and D’Addario NYXL strings.
Guitar Gabble: Being involved in multiple bands, how do these bands influence you when writing music?
Bumblefoot: I think, depending on how much the band has been a part of my life. Like Art of Anarchy, it didn’t affect so much my writing coz my role was more of a producer and second guitarist in the band. So I just did what I do to the music and get the sounds and everything.
With GN’R, it definitely played role as no way you can have something being in your life for the whole decade not be a building block of what you do after that, so, it definitely added, especially on the new album, the way some of the songs like, Argentina, Don’t Know Who to Pray to Anymore. I think the sense of space and melody and how the vocals and lead guitar work with each other I think, that’s something that was influenced by playing GN’R for so many years.
Guitar Gabble: Can you tell us the experience of performing with Guns N’ Roses, playing the timeless classics, and touring extensively.
Bumblefoot: I think, most people will think of it as a dream come true and everything they’ve been striving for. I’ve played with a lot of bands and people and it was definitely a learning and growing experience playing with them and it was the growth that I needed to better myself. It was definitely challenging because it was hard to give up a lot of the things that I was doing as far as the producing and the teaching and all those things to be on the road so often. So for me, I would often get frustrated with trying to keep a balance of time for everything. That was definitely a challenge for me.
But as far as being on the road and touring and doing everything is pretty much what everybody in life is working towards so I’m glad that it happened. Definitely the good times were really good and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. And especially the fans! The best part of touring was spending time with fans, whether it would be sitting outside the hotel on the stairs with an acoustic guitar and just singing together or being silly backstage or just laughing and having fun!
You can read part 2 of this interview here: In Conversation with Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal – Part 2
Special thanks to Classic Rock Coffee Co. India for organizing the workshop and the interview.
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