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Paul Gilbert

Racer X, Mr. Big

"If you're not bending, you might as well be a harpsichord player. With bending you get to pretend you're a vocalist, even if you have a lousy voice." Paul Gilbert of Mr. Big and Racer X talks about the power of the guitar in this episode of String Theory.

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Paul Gilbert:
Officially I began playing Ernie ball in the mid-'90s, about 20 years ago. I tried the strings, I fell in love with them, and it just immediately solved all string problems.

Paul Gilbert:
The gauges are changing all the time because it really depends on the state of my calluses. If I'm a couple of weeks into a tour and I've got some good calluses, if I've done a couple of sweaty gigs in a row and my calluses have been destroyed, I'll go as light as 8s. Sometimes I'll go as heavy as 11s, and not only gauge but for acoustic guitar sometimes I really like to use a plain G, and there's a set of Ernie Ball strings that's the hybrid acoustic set that has a plain G string. To me, that's a huge difference in what I'm able to do on an acoustic guitar.

Paul Gilbert:
So it's satisfying as a guitar player to play stuff that's related to the blues because, you know, if you're not bending, you might as well be a harpsichord player. Bending is just, you get to pretend you're a vocalist, even if you've got a lousy voice.

Paul Gilbert:
When it comes to songwriting, I grew up in the '70s listening to AM radio, so I have all these pop songs running through my head from, you know, Paul McCartney and Elton John and a lot of stuff that was written on piano. And that's really different than the riff rock that I was into as a guitar player.

Paul Gilbert:
As a writer, a lot of times I'm sort of juggling those two things that I love, and then also juggling the fact that I'm a singer of limited ability and a guitar player who probably knows too much for my own good. So it's, you know, it's all that stirred into a big vat and hopefully something good comes out. But the more that I write, the more basic songwriting principles come into play.

Paul Gilbert:
As human beings we're visual creatures, and it's so easy to play the guitar by looking at it. It's a real challenge to go from that visual way of perceiving the guitar to getting back to that pure sound, connecting to the instrument. I mean, for guitar players, it's such a beautiful way to take what you hear in your head and make it real.