Welcome to the second episode of this interview Q/A series: “Awesome Talents”. Today, we have a young talented guitarist from Finland (and we sure know how many talented guitarists – especially within the rock and metal genre – come from this awesome country! one of my favorite metal bands, called CoB – Children of Bodom – comes from Finland. Shout out to the Finnish metal heads everywhere! \m/). His name is Elmo Karjalainen, and in this interview, he's going to talk about his passion for the guitar, as well as shed some light on the heavy metal music on the guitar. I wish you a fantastic read!
- Me: Hello Elmo, tell us a bit about yourself, and your music please.
Elmo: Hi there! I’m a bearded person who plays the guitar. I’ve been playing since I was 11, but the first couple of years I mostly made excuses to my guitar teacher. You know the kind: the cat ate my homework, there was a flood, habla español, and so on. So now I’ve played for roughly 26 years.
I play all kinds of music, but nowadays it’s mostly rock or metal. I do however enjoy all kinds of music. I like really calm acoustic stuff to relax. I like jazz occasionally, I enjoy progressive rock. I like old school hard rock, and I also enjoy modern extreme metal. Personally I like metal for the same reason as I like anything else good. It moves me in some way. It makes me feel something. Metal is just like everything else. There’s good metal and there’s not so good metal. The good stuff is stuff that makes you feel something.
Me: I can't agree more with you regarding the metal genre. Like everything else, either you like it, or you don't. And there are good metal music, as well as bad metal music. Most importantly, you've got to love the music that you play, doesn't matter if it's Metal, Jazz, or even Oriental. That's the whole purpose of music, to enjoy it and to indulge in its magic. Allow me to add here one important notice: Led Zeppelin, one of the icons of the classic rock ‘n roll, have played a major role in paving the way to the creation of heavy rock and heavy metal music. Some say that metal music originated and influenced mainly from Led Zeppelin alone, but don't take my word on that!
- Me: Tell us about your influences, and how did they affect your guitar playing
Elmo: David Hasselhof. Hearing him made me realize what not to sound like. Haw haw…
But seriously, I guess there are too many to mention here, so I’ll give a few examples.
Gary Moore was the first one. He’s the one who got me to play guitar for real. I heard his old hard rock stuff and was blown away by his solos. I wanted to be able to play like that. I later discovered his blues stuff, which was really good for my development. He was really good at bending and vibrato, in addition to being fast. I was attracted to his fast playing, but at the same time I got turned on to something more.
Yngwie Malmsteen is probably the biggest one. The reasons for me liking him were the same as for me liking Moore. I liked his speed and intensity. He was a step beyond anything else (and still is). There are people who are faster than him (although not many), but no one is as intense. He also has great bends and vibrato. His sense of pitch is brilliant.
Steve Vai is another one of the usual suspects. He’s very diverse, which is something I like. He’s also fun. Jeff Beck is a newer influence (newer in the sense that I discovered him later). His phrasing is beyond belief at times. I could add Pat Metheny, Meshuggah, Devin Townsend, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Steve Lukather, Danny Gatton and many more.
- Me: What are the various guitar gear that you have, and what was your first guitar?
Elmo: My first guitar was an East German guitar. It was a Lead Star with white lightning on a black background. Very cheesy.
Nowadays I mostly use Strats. I use a 50 watt Marshall 1987x head that goes into a Marshall cab with Greenbacks. I use an overdrive in front of the head, and add some delay in the loop (or in the DAW if I’m recording). It’s all very old school. I also have a Fractal Audio Axe-FX II XL for when I play live. If it’s a bigger gig I still bring my Marshalls.
Me: Awesome gear … yummy …
- Me: to our main topic! Please elaborate on the metal music, how one can learn how to play metal music on the guitar
Elmo: That depends on whether we’re talking lead or rhythm. Every guitar player needs to know how to play rhythm. But I’ll assume we’re talking lead, as most guitar players seem to find that more fun.
There are a whole bunch of things to keep in mind. The biggest thing is still the same whether it’s metal or blues. Get your bends and vibrato in order. There’s nothing worse than a guitar player who goes flat or sharp when he bends. Bends and vibrato are also your biggest source of drama. No one gives a toss if you can tap with your toes if you can’t get your bends right, at least they won’t care for long.
There are tons of different types of bends (and vibratos). Listen to your favorite players and listen to how they do those things. Even Yngwie has time for vibrato and bends. And believe it or not, his bends and vibrato are some of the best in the business. There are also tons of people who aren’t too good with bends, but I’ll let you discover who they are on your own.
Other than that you want to improve the coordination between your picking hand and fretting hand. Playing 1234 (index, middle, ring, and little finger) exercises up and down the neck is a good idea. The Steve Vai 30 hour guitar workout has plenty of these. You can find it online by googling. You should do four notes/string and three. When playing three notes per string you’ll have two choices. You can either use alternate picking or economy picking. Just do whichever feels natural. You can always learn the other technique later if you want to. Personally I use economy picking. It makes some stuff easier, like three notes per string patterns.
All the technical stuff aside, the one thing that I think is important is to remember to not take yourself too seriously. Do take what you do seriously, but don’t take yourself that way. Have fun with playing. Take risks, embrace failure (it can be seriously fun), and don’t be afraid to laugh (and make people laugh). Learn to improvise.
There is one thing that annoys the living daylights out of me. It’s listening to modern metal players who all sound alike. They’re technically astounding. They’re almost perfect. Except that the perfection means they start to sound boring. The music that they play is often also edited to death, so that there is nothing wrong with it, but in the end there’s nothing to remember either. There are plenty of these around.
Me: Right on point regarding modern musicians. I wish music today were more passionate, and driven by the love of music and giving only.
- Me: Any tips and advises you can give to the beginner guitarists out there who want to embark on the journey to learning the guitar?
Elmo: When you’re really new to the instrument it can be really hard to even enjoy playing. Fretting even the most basic stuff can be difficult. With a piano you can press the keys on day one and it will sound right. The guitar is more difficult in the beginning. That’s why you need to give it some time, and also put in the hours. It’s no good practicing twice a week for 15 minutes. You won’t get anywhere that way. The only thing that will happen is that you’ll get bored. So try practicing every day for an hour, and do that for a while. After that you’ll notice an improvement, and you can also see if you’re enjoying it. If you don’t even try, you won’t know if you like it.
Me: Exactly. I also emphasized hugely on this matter, about dedicating good amount of time to playing and practicing, and stay motivated. Read the related article here.
Elmo Continues: I’m also sorry to say that there are no ways to work around getting better. You have to play to get better. But you can try to play stuff that is fun. If you have an exercise that you don’t enjoy, try another exercise. If playing is fun you won’t even notice you’re practicing. Steve Vai once said in an interview that everyone thinks he has great self discipline because he practiced so much. He said that that’s not true. He loved practicing so much that it took no self discipline to practice. Not to practice would have taken discipline. So do what you enjoy.
Me: Great reference to Steve Vai here. Point noted.
- Me: Okay Elmo, that was a fantastic interview, I enjoyed it so much. Please give us some contact info and links to your music and work, so we all have a chance to enjoy it and support you.
Elmo: Thanks everyone for reading. Check out “The Free Guitar Album” by yours truly. It’s still free, at least until the end of summer. You can get it at: http://www.elmojk.com/freeguitar.
You can also check out my videos on Youtube here: MrPolevaulter
This is it so far. Thanks for having me and good luck!
You can follow Elmo Karjalainen here: