Guitar God Paul Gilbert Talks Mr. Big, His New Guitar and the Great Guitar Escape

It’s always fun when you get to interview a guitar god. I’ve gotten to interview my fair share of great guitar players, but none greater than Paul Gilbert. I got the chance to talk to Paul about the status of Mr. Big, his new signature series guitar, and his guitar camp get away event called The Great Guitar Escape.

Zoiks! (Z!): Mr. Big has reunited within the last couple of years, how is that going?

Paul Gilbert (PG): I am still recovering from it a bit. We toured most of last year. The shows were great, and the traveling was… severe. But I should stop complaining because it’s not such a bad trade to get to play so many cool places in exchange for being so tired that I can sleep on the bare tile floors in airport check-in halls. It’s amazing to feel like a homeless person by day and a rockstar by night. And actually, I am neither. I just want to be a musician and bend the strings on my guitar.

Z!: Earlier in 2011 you released the album "What If..." What was different this time around recording that album?

PG: The biggest difference was not the band or the music, but the expectations on us. Since we hadn’t made a record together in something like fourteen years, there is always the question of…Can we still do it? As a band, we weren’t really worried about it. We just wanted stay true to our sound and make a record of music that would be exciting to add to our live show. We did use a new producer that we hadn’t met before, Kevin Shirley. I really like working with him. He insisted that we rock hard, and he constantly inspired us to do so.

Z!: Does Mr. Big have any 2012 plans or are you guys taking some time off?

PG: I try to keep my plans secret until I have something finished to unveil. If there is news, I will announce it.

Z!: Can you tell us a little bit about your new signature Fireman guitar from Ibanez?

PG: The first thing that anyone will notice about it is that it looks like an electric brontosaurus. If you put your hands on it, you’ll notice the neck, because it has the most awesome neck in the world. I did a lot of research and tweaking together with Ibanez to get the best balance of chunky resonance and inspiring playability from the neck and neckjoint. Also, the pickups are new DiMarzio Injectors which have a great combination of single coil clarity with a nice punchy mid and solid low end. There’s a DiMarzio Area 67 in the middle which is nice by itself, but also sounds great in combination with the neck or bridge. And the frets are the highest and skinniest that I could find. This makes string-bending easy and the intonation accurate. I’ve road tested and studio tested this years for a few years now, and I’m addicted to the thing.

Z!: You've done a lot with Mike Portnoy throughout his career, now that he's out of Dream Theater do you have any more projects with him on the horizon?

PG: We’ve got some ideas, but we’re both pretty busy at the moment. I always have a great time playing with Mike and I think we’ll do more stuff when the time is right.

Z!: You're also kind of famous for being a guitar instructor. What lead you down that path?

PG: My first guitar student was ME. I taught myself by ear for the first two years that I played guitar. I wasn’t a very good teacher, because I had no idea what I was doing! I finally took some lessons from a proper teacher, and that really helped me. My first teacher was super-organized and good at explaining basic guitar chords and scales. But after getting those basics, I went back to learning by ear again. I was always in a band playing covers when I was a teenager, and that was really what formed me as a musician. Also, I went to GIT when I was seventeen, and that helped me to organize my thinking about music a lot. I started teaching there after I graduated, and I spend a few years doing that until I was too busy touring with Mr. Big. I really like teaching. It helps me untangle my own playing, and I always have a good time jamming with the students and giving them some new ideas.

Z!: Can you tell us a little bit about the Great Guitar Escape?

PG: This is the first time that I’ve organized a guitar and music camp myself. My main priority was to get great musicians who not only play at a virtuoso level, but who can explain what they do in a clear and interesting way. I want make every level of guitarist feel welcome to the camp, so I plan to teach a course for beginners, as well as offer the more advanced masterclasses that I usually do. I want everyone to get some inspiration and ideas to take home and use for their own music. If I get some extra time between my classes, I’m going to sneak into the back of the other classes so I can get ideas from the other teachers. I still love to learn. And I know there will be some awesome playing and musical concepts from Guthrie Govan, Tony MacAlpine, Kid Andersen, Scotty Johnson, and Sam Coulson.

Although, the camp features the guitar, I also wanted to bring in a world-class bassist and drummer, both for teaching, and to play in our concerts every night for the students. So I’ve got Kelly LeMieux on bass and Rodney Holmes on drums. Kelly has worked with people like Dave Mustaine, Tommy Lee, and the band Goldfinger, and Rodney has worked with Santana, Randy Brecker, and Rob Thomas from Matchbox 20.

And finally, I wanted to give some insight into related musical jobs like being a sound engineer or a guitar tech, so I’ve got Tom Size to mix our concerts and talk about pro engineering. He’s worked with Steve Vai, Joe Pass, and a long list of famous bands and musicians. And I’ve got Mike Arellano who is the Repair Team Leader at Ibanez guitars and Tama drums. All in all, it’s going to be an amazing place to get inspiration and ideas to drive your own musical goals. And the resort itself is quite stunning. I can’t wait!

Z! How long have you been doing the Great Guitar Escape?

PG: This is my first one, so I’m putting all my effort into making sure it goes well. My teaching staff is thoroughly overqualified, which is exactly how I like it, and I’ve got a lot of surprises in store for the students in addition to the daily workshops and nightly performances.

Z!: What was the That Metal Show experience like?

PG: A friend of mine gave me this…sort of a giant, armor-plated, Batman motorcycle jacket. It’s so bulky that I didn’t know if I could actually play guitar in it. But it’s so heavy metal looking that I had to try. So I brought it to the TV shoot and managed to play some metal guitars solos while wearing that thing. I had a good time, but TV is always a little weird for me because there is so much waiting around before you get to do anything. I still prefer live concerts.

Z!: What can fans expect from you in 2012?

PG: Just keep an eye on my website. When I have things ready, I’ll put them up on there. But in general… lots of guitar and music!


Bob Zerull is the Managing Editor of Zoiks! Online. He writes pop culture commentary, does interviews with bands, and reviews music and stand-up concerts. He also administers Zoiks! Online's Facebook page. Follow Bob on twitter at bzerull. Email Bob at

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