The third edition of ESC took place in 2008 in Syracuse at Palazzo Impellizzeri, on the island of Ortigia, as in the previous edition. The city is now taking the form of an obligatory stop in the teaching of modern rock-fusion guitar.
This year’s guests bring news and great returns: Guthrie Govan, a young Englishman who was part of the faculty the previous year; Andrea Avena, teacher of Theory, Harmony and Ear Training always present since the first edition; Robben Ford, a milestone in modern blues and fusion who made the history of the guitar; the very nice Greg Koch, important interpreter of a sort of rock-blues/fusion with many influences. These last two artists have also wrote several books and manuals for modern guitar, many of which were present at the ESC thanks to the partnership with the historic Birdland Bookstore in Milan.
The 2008 edition got a special issue and a dedicated cover of the famous Italian magazine AXE Magazine, a periodical for guitarists.
We find Andrea Avena, as always, starting the harmony lessons on campus, picking up the previous year’s topics on harmonization on a major scale and the notes to avoid in order to obtain a melodic and catchy sound.
Greg Koch introduces himself carrying a Telecaster Blonde, a full-volume sound from his Fender Twin Reverb and a lot of sympathy, starting with a country-blues typical of his style. After talking about the guitarists he is inspired by (Jimi Hendrix and Albert Collins), he moves on to a technical demonstration of his peculiarity: chicken picking. It is nothing more than a hybrid pick-finger technique that he uses in two ways. In the first he uses his thumb and index finger, playing a ghost note with his thumb while the string is stopped by the index, then the index tears the string to play the note fully; he prefers it in the blues. In the second, we find the use of pick and ring finger for faster rendering and an aggressive sound.
There is no shortage of advice on how to make blues phrasing more jazzy thanks to the use of slides and various types of vibrato that he has customized by pilfering (like true geniuses) from great guitarists like B.B. King and Eric Clapton.
Great importance is given to the rhythmic shuffle, such as the “lump” in which the palm rests on the strings in order to stop them; once you understand the fundamental, you can only add tweaks and customization at full throttle. The speech is enriched with advice on particular scales (hextonal, diminished semitone/tone) and harmonics in tapping on dominant seventh chords. Another great ability of the guitarist is the use of alternative and/or open tunings, and what better demonstration of the use of these than songs born from the genius of Jimmy Page? By the way, Greg was wearing a Led Zeppellin t-shirt; coincidences?
A small interesting anecdote is the one about the instrumentation: he went from a very bulky pedal board to a slim one, in which however booster, overdrive and delay stand out.
Robben Ford shows off a magnificent Noupaul by luthier Taku Sakashta with which he performs a first highly sensitive improvisation. He talks about his first approaches to the guitar, always self-taught who relies more on his own ear than on academic notions. In his style, jazz is a fundamental element, so much that the greatest inspiration comes from the sax (his first instrument) of greats such as John Coltrane and Paul Desmond. He relies on instinct and finds exciting to play without knowing where to end up (those who are good can afford it!).
While playing on the stage of the Palazzo Impellizzeri, Robben claims to accompany the rhythm with chords of two or three notes (often they are only 3rd and 7th, creating a tritone over a dominant seventh chord) and handles the theme of the relationships between scales and chords. He advises to make the sonorities of the modes one’s own, so that they are distinguished by ear (or heart) rather than trying to learn their mere academic names.
He then moves on to the theme of songwriting, stating that he has moved from instrumental to song form, focusing on the text to better express the interiority of the songs. The inspiration comes from a melody or a harmonic progression, but the starting point is a good title.
To the many questions about instrumentation, good old Robben replies that he used Gibson Les Paul Gold Top and Fender Telecaster on his albums, pumped by a Dumble Overdrive Special.
Guthrie Govan started playing guitar at the age of three (oh yes) and started with listening to Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix and then discovered Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai later.
His advice on playing focuses on the hands, since those are the real link between the personality of the guitarist and the instrument, so there is no need to spend on various amplifiers and pedals. Besides, a few precautions are enough on the equalization of amp and guitar to bring out amazing sounds, but also the angle and the area of the pick greatly affect the final result.
His vision of the modes is tripartite: we have the major modes (Ionic, Lydian and Misolydian), the minor ones (Doric, Aeolian and Phrygian) and the semi-diminished (Locrio). It is important to sing the modes to recognize the peculiar sounds of each one.
Precisely this careful ear of his allowed him to reproduce various ringtones that the participants did not silence (true English humour!).
The lesson focused on the varied use of simple pentatonics, with additions of sensitive notes (B on the Am scale), chromatisms and slides that recalls jazz musicians such as Coltrane and the legendary Django Reinhardt.
Guthrie does not use a pick and is capable of creating many sounds with just the help of his fingers, which allows him to switch to tapping (spectacular) and harmonics quickly.
At the end of the event, first, second and third level certificates were distributed to the participants who, since 2006, still returned to enjoy the wonders of Syracuse and the infinite knowledge of the precious guests.
The 2008 ESC was embellished, as every year, by the IGJ (International Guitar Jam) held in Syracuse with the three artists, introduced by the performance of the Andrea Quartarone Elektrio. Guthrie Govan played excerpts from his solo album “Erotic Cakes”. Greg Koch played original songs and a highly acclaimed Led Zeppelin medley. Robben Ford proposed various blues songs which was followed by a jam with all three artists in which the various personalities of each stood out. ICJ 2008