Welcome back to our Gear Nerd series where we pick the musical brains of Roadrunner artists about their craft. Past Gear Nerds have included Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree), Matt Heafy (Trivium) and Daniel Adair (Nickelback) to name but a few, but this week we've got Ratt's main axe-grinder Warren DeMartini.
With the band having just released their first album in over 10 years, Infestation, our UK counterparts catch up with the guitarist to talk about where it all started. Read on to learn about how Warren first got into music, who he cites as his influences, what his gear set up is like and more.
Roadrunner UK: How old were you when you first started playing guitar?
Warren DeMartini: I was probably 8 or 9 when I first tried to play guitar, but that didn’t work out. I was probably around 14 or 15 when I picked it up and really got it.
RR UK: Was that your first instrument?
WDeM: My first instrument was cello. There was a programme at my grade school in Chicago where you could play snare drum, cello or trumpet. I wanted to play drum, but my mum’s favourite of the three was cello – she said if she was going to let me do it, it had to be something she would like listening to me practice!
RR UK: So who inspired you to play guitar – and what styles have inspired you most over the years?
WDeM: The first thing that comes to mind is Jimi Hendrix, but having said that I was exposed to the fantastic work of Pete Townshend, Carlos Santana, Alvin Lee, George Harrison and Eric Clapton. I’d have to say all of the above.
RR UK: So when you first started playing, were you self-taught or did you take lessons?
WDeM: When I was 8 or 9 it was just self-taught, then if anyone dropped by the house who could play anything they’d show me. The tuners on the guitar I had were so loose it wouldn’t stay in tune, it was impossible for me to get anywhere on it so later on I did take a few classical lessons. I just dabbled a little bit here and there with instruction, nothing really lasted.
RR UK: So what about now – when you play a show, what’s your practice and warm-up regime?
WDeM: I like to get loose, give it a half-hour going over various stuff that I’m going to play. We’ll usually have the set-list back there so we’ll pick out stuff to warm up on. The show inevitably takes on its own pace, if you don’t warm up that can cause problems.
RR UK: Are there any current artists who are inspiring you?
WDeM: Michael Schenker continues to be very interesting for me. Uli Roth – I still get inspired when I listen to their work today and the stuff that I was listening to in high school. Steve Hunter, Joe Perry, Brad Woodford – I could go on and on!
RR UK: How did your guitar-playing career get started?
WDeM: Well, it really didn’t resemble anything like a career until a band I had in high school called Enforcer – I named it after the Clint Eastwood movie (I’m a big fan). We never actually thought it was gonna do something, it was just a case of having a show in a couple of days and needing a name! The first indicator that there might actually be a career was when we played a show supporting Ratt in Burbank, California in 1980 or 1981.
RR UK: Which brands have you endorsed in the past or present?
WDeM: I’ve never really done much endorsing. I had a pretty casual arrangement with Charvelle Guitars between 1984 and 1987, it was just a very loose thing. They weren't promoting or anything like that, but it was getting a lot of exposure because of Ratt. I could just drop by with an idea and they’d put it together, it was a really cool thing, then the company got sold and went overseas, by which time I’d met the guys from Performance Guitar- a custom guitar boutique in Hollywood. I knew of them from a trip to Frank Zappa’s house one time, he had this guitar in the studio and I really liked the way it played, so I called Performance Guitar and asked them if they still had the spec for that model. They did, so I had them make me one, and two or three months later I got it. Anyway, Fender bought the rights to all the Charvelle stuff so that’s being produced by the Corona factory now where they make all the other Fender guitars. The quality’s very good and now I am being endorsed by Charvelle guitars again.
RR UK: What advice would you give to budding guitarists?
WDeM: I had an instructor for a short while and I really didn’t get it because the medium was based on reading music, which I just didn’t like. I’m an ear-player, but I did learn good things from that period. My instructor would say, ‘just use the easiest way, use the least amount of energy to get from one place to another’ – for years that went over my head, but gradually I began to understand that advice. Y’know, I’d just say if it feels good, it is good.
RR UK: Finally, what’s the best thing about being a full-time musician?
WDeM: You get to sleep in, that’s the best thing!