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Alter Bridge’s Mark Tremonti: “Singers? They’re all hypochondriacs”

Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti reveals why he only took two lessons, why guitarists should stick to one key, and why singers are germophobes

He’s one of the last great guitar heroes, having built on his metal roots with an ongoing desire to challenge himself – and a passionate thirst for different kinds of music (he cites Joe Bonamassa and Derek Trucks as two of the best players out there).

Offstage, however, Mark Tremonti is remarkably unassuming. Talking to him is like talking to a regular, down-to-earth guitar nerd. He's humble but quietly brimming with enthusiasm for his instrument. Accordingly, getting him to chat about all things six-stringed wasn’t difficult...


The song that made me want to pick up the guitar was…

When I saw the movie Back To The Future, and I saw Michael J Fox rocking on that huge amp [playing Johnny B Goode] at the school dance I thought that was pretty awesome. I thought ‘man that would be the coolest thing to be able to do!’ Then I saw Crossroads and that really took me over the edge. It was just things like that, learning simple chord progressions that really sunk in… I was just really drawn to the guitar.

The first guitar I owned was…

A ten dollar Les Paul imitation called the Tara. I was eleven years old.

The first thing I learned on a guitar was…

Probably Smoke On The Water I think. That and Iron Man are probably the two first things I was playing.

My first guitar teacher was…

I only took two lessons. One where the guy tried to teach me stuff like Silent Night and stuff that I had no interest in learning at all. And I said, ‘Well, can we learn some Metallica next time?’ and he said ‘sure, tell me a song and…’ and I went into my next lesson and he didn’t have that song ready. He kept trying to teach me the same stuff. I never went back.

The best bit of advice another guitarist has given me is…

I’ve had so much advice over the years, but I think one thing that stuck with me was to master one key. Don’t get overwhelmed by all the keys, just pick your favourite key of the moment and try to really master that one key and transpose from there – so you don’t get overwhelmed with everything going on with the guitar theory. I don’t remember who first told me that, but it always stuck with me.

The most underrated guitarist in history is…

Eric Gales [American blues-rock guitarist], coz he’s still a relatively unknown player but he’s jaw-droppingly good. I first heard him when I was on tour and my drum tech gave me a CD of his to check out. The CD was great but it wasn’t until I saw him play some clips on Youtube that I was just absolutely stunned. And I remember on this last tour me and Myles [Kennedy, Alter Bridge vocalist/guitarist] were on the bus looking up clips and we ran into some Eric Gales clips and we were just like ‘this guy could be the best player on Earth’. He’s definitely an unknown, for the most part, master of the guitar. And the good thing about him is he’s not a technique-driven guy, he’s got a great feel and a great personality on the guitar. You can tell he’s spent his whole life playing that thing.

The one thing I can do on guitar that no one else can is…

Gosh, probably play the same lick 200,000 times and still not be able to get it right?! [laughs] I don’t know, I don’t think there’s anything I can’t do that nobody else can. Anyone can do anything if they spend enough time doing it.

The most I’ve spent on a guitar is…

Um...let’s see...probably $13,000. It was a 1944 000-18 Martin. We were at this shop in New York and me and Myles were guitar shopping, and we both bought a guitar that day; he got a resonator, an old National. We both bit the bullet that day financially and bought some toys.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I rate myself as…

As a guitar player? I’d give myself a 6. When I think of guys like Joe Bonamassa and Derek Trucks and all these crazy good players out there, I rate those guys at the 10 mark so I’ve got a way to go! I grew up loving speed metal and thrash, so that’s the roots of my playing, but I respect these other guys’ playing so much because it’s not what I’m familiar with for the most part – it’s not what I grew up on. All the metal stuff I can go and learn pretty easily, but as far as the bluesy stuff is concerned it’s a whole other world that I absolutely love – the blues and jazz.

The album I want to be buried with is…

Well I think the song I’d want played at my funeral would be Nightshift by The Commodores. That’s my jam. And I’d say Bob Marley’s Legend would be the album I’d wanna be buried with.

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The silliest I’ve ever looked onstage was when…

I was playing Chicago House Of Blues, probably about five years ago, and I tripped on my monitor at the very beginning of the show. I’d got my horns up to the crowd and I fell right on my ass. It was quite an embarrassing moment, but I lived through it. You’ve just gotta smile your way through stuff like that.

If I wasn’t a musician I’d be…

I was in school studying finance so I’d probably be some accountant for someone. Or some boring desk job. I’m glad I chose the path I did.

The worst thing about singers is…

They’re very hypochondriac. I’m a singer now and I’ve become a hypochondriac myself. Germophobe, that’s a better word. You’ve gotta look after your voice though. Is Myles a big germaphobe? Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

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