Nov 21, 2012
Tosin Abasi, if you’ve been living under a rock somewhere, is one of the hottest “new” (I say “new” because really, he’s been in the scene for years now, but has only in recent years risen to prominence) progressive metal guitarists in the world. His use of extended range 8 strings in compositions ranging from atmospheric, to ambient, to clanging cleans and chunky downtuned riffs, has been a truly unique spin on guitar playing in a world which overstocked on straight-up shred by the late 80s. He is the creative force behind his band Animals As Leaders, who have been making waves in the prog world with their first two albums.
I recently picked up my very first review guitar from Musicworks, who have recently jumped on board (yay!) – tangent: this means I will be able to cover more brands for you guys, now including Ibanez, Schecter and Yamaha, as well as heaps of other brands. Anyway – as I was picking up the guitar (if you’ve looked on our Facebook page you’ll already know what it is!), the manager of the local branch casually mentioned, did I know that Tosin Abasi was doing a clinic later in the week?
NO. FREAKING. WAY.
Now, admittedly I’m at best a casual fan of progressive music – I like a bit of my old school Rush, but I never got into stuff like Dream Theater, and progressive instrumental music is probably not really my most listened to genre. That said, I’m still able to appreciate the extreme mastery of the instrument as well as the unique innovations that Tosin has brought to the guitar, enough to want to see the SHIT out of this clinic!! So I snapped up a ticket at the very affordable price of $15. Can you believe it??
So… the day of the clinic came, and I spent most of my work day spinning both of AAL’s albums – the self-titled debut, as well as the latest album, Weightless. And man, was it a ride. At times it was atmospheric, layer upon layer of clean clanging upon each other – then it would shift gears and become an extreme down-tuned groove… and then again it would morph into an almost dance-y staccato riff, with jazz fusion licks flying over the top of it.
And you know what? In person, it was like that, but ten times BETTER. I can only imagine how cool the actual Animals As Leaders gig from the night before would have been.
Musicworks opened their doors at 6pm sharp, and we all filed in and took our places around the stage that had been set up in the centre of the shop. It was a pretty full house, and you could see the eagerness in many faces in the crowd.
With minimal fanfare, Mr. Abasi came in, said a few words of introduction, and then started to MELT FACES. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a super hardcore fan so I won’t be able to tell you song names – however, I will try and cover some of the Q&A that Tosin did with the audience. I got some great photos, but unfortunately we were asked not to take any video, so I had to respect that!
Whoa. Check out that guitar. I’m not sure if it’s a new custom that Ibanez made for him, but damn was it beautiful. It’s probably the first time I’ve seen REAL mother of pearl inlays on an Ibanez – pretty kick ass that they did that for him.
I guess, while we’re on that topic – let’s talk gear a little. I mean, that’s partially why we’re all here, right?
On the guitar side of things, we have this beautiful Ibanez Custom Shop 8 string. Tosin said that he actually based the specs on an Ibanez bass, which I guess makes sense due to the monster neck. Here are the specs from the man himself:
- Wenge one piece neck – that’s right, the whole neck is a single piece (with bubinga strips I think he said), there’s no separate fretboard.***
- Swamp ash body
- Quilt maple top, in a very subtle sort finish, you can barely see it until you’re up close
- Custom Dimarzio 8-string pickups co-designed by Tosin (signature model pending?)
Enough talking, here are more pictures of this breathtaking guitar.
On the amp side of things, Tosin was running his Fractal Axe-FX II through an ENGL Richie Blackmore head that they must have had in store. He was using the ENGL as a power amp – an interesting comment that he made was that contrary to previous gigs/tours, this time around he was moving away from going direct into the PA, but more often going through whatever tube power amp was available locally, and running it through a quad. He also said that it is likely that this is how the next AAL album will be tracked.
On the floor, Tosin had the Axe-FX foot controller, as well as a Boomerang looper. It was amazing to see and hear him build up loops, activating and deactivating while simultaneously changing patches on the Axe controller.
For the sake of brevity, I’m going to paraphrase some of the main questions that were asked during the clinic – so if it was one of yours, sorry if I mangled it, and hopefully I’ve interpreted Tosin’s answers sufficiently well.
Q: What tips do you have for getting the most out of an extended range guitar?
To this, Tosin basically advised that when using an extended range guitar, he tries to dial back the gain as far as you can get away with (while still feeling like you have a decent amount), as well as making sure the guitar still sits in the midrange frequencies.
Q: Do you have a specific setting/patch to help with your tapping tone?
This one was pretty funny. Tosin basically goes… nah, you can hear this right? And turns his guitar volume down, and proceeds to show us that the secret to his tapping is, that he can tap FREAKING HARD. Acoustically, his two handed tapping was clearly heard across the room. However, he did mention that his clean tones usually feature compression, which can help with tapping as well.
Q: Do you write with your looper in mind, or do you write the tunes and then figure out how to incorporate the looper later?
Tosin’s answer to this was that a lot of the time the songs were naturally built upon progressively layering and looping – as an example he showed us how the song Weightless from the latest album was written, and it basically built upon itself in the act of looping. Very cool!
Q: Something about his slapping technique. (Sorry, I forget the question but the answer is killer)
Tosin answered this by showing us his insane double stroke slapping technique. I don’t know what, if any, the formal name for this technique is, but it was basically like slapping on bass, except he also gets a hit on the upstroke – essentially like “alternate picking” for slap. He then showed us how he builds it up with hybrid picking patterns on his right hand, while combining it with hammer-ons and tapping on the left hand to build up complex note/time groupings. MIND BLOWING.
He went on to talk a little more about his tuning (low E and B), his early influences (Limp Bizkit, haha, into progressive music like Dream Theater) and how he doesn’t improvise much because he “likes everyone to play the same thing”.
If anything, here are two key points I took away from Tosin:
- Don’t be afraid to be unconventional.
- Technique can be your source of creativity.
Face to face
And before we knew it, it was that time of the night.
We waited in line to get our pictures taken with Mr Abasi, as well as getting stuff signed. A couple of dudes brought their Ibanez RGA8 guitars along, but alas I didn’t have one.
Well worth it though. I’m glad I went, and much thanks to Musicworks and Tosin Abasi for putting on the clinic. \m/