20 Questions with Tom Kopyto

Part of the fun of having a website like Korea Guitar is getting a chance to listen to new music that I would otherwise not have a chance of hearing (especially in Korea), and passing that along to you  (Adelita’s Way, Ragdoll, Dave Reffett, Tyler Morris).  Tom Kopyto is one such artist.  He has recently released an instrumental album called ‘Resurrection’, is a highly sought after guitar instructor and  gives great interview answers.  Tom Kopyto’s 20 Questions is a must read.

1. What was your first guitar?

My first guitar was a Harmony electric. It was a starter guitar made of some kind of mystery plywood and I could’ve shot arrows off the neck because the action was so high. But I was happy that I finally had strings under my fingers! My first good guitar was a used USA BC Rich Gunslinger that was a birthday present a few years after the Harmony. Only the neck still exists . . . I’m planning on finding a Mockingbird body for it. My first brand new guitar was an Ibanez RG770, still play that one from time to time.

What do you play now

My main guitar now is my Rick Hanes signature model 7-string, the TK7. Mahogany body, flame top, set-in maple neck, rosewood fretboard, 24 plek’d frets, German made Floyd Rose, DiMarzio Tone Zone 7 & PAF 7 pickups, Grover hardware. Rick Hanes is an Indonesian company building top notch guitars, check them out!

2. Who influenced you to become a guitarist?

I picked up on the image & fun factor first, so it was CC DeVille and the Poison video “Nothin’ But A Good Time”. A huge stage to run around on, tons of lights, rocking music with a loud solo, cool neon & pointy guitars . . . a good time indeed. A little after that a friend in grade school gave me some mix tapes of a guy he called “Wingwee” and the band Dokken. I listened to lots of Yngwie and George Lynch back when I was still playing “Jingle Bells” in the Method 1 book. So those were my first guitar heroes that I wanted to emulate as far as style of playing: Yngwie & Lynch.

3. When did the 7-string guitars start to interest you?
I’ve always wondered what the appeal of a 7-string is. Could you tell us why the 7 string is better for you?

There were a couple of records that had that 7-string sound that I really liked: Carcass “Heartwork”, Dream Theater “Awake”, Fear Factory “Demanufacture”. Ironically, only “Awake” was actually done with a 7-string instead of a 6-string tuned baritone. So I tried one and really enjoyed getting that low B chunk without losing the sound of the higher strings for soloing and chord voicings like you would if you detuned a 6-string. I also play an 8-string guitar with a low B and a high A. The appeal with the 8-string are the options that the extended range provides . . . arpeggio & scale forms line up differently which lead to different soloing ideas and more possibilities with chord voicings. And for me, having more options is what initially drew me to the the 7-string.

4. Do you remember the first concert you attended? How was it?

My first concert was the Jackson Victory Tour with Michael Jackson & his family. Epic to say the least! My first rock show was Dream Theater on the “Images & Words” tour, the 2nd time they ever came through Chicago.

Do you remember the first time you played in front of an audience?

The first time I played rock guitar in front of an audience was at a dank little club playing cover songs with musicians that were much older than me. It was incredibly awesome experiencing the energy of making music with other musicians for the first time.

Kopyto_055. As a guitar instructor, what are the most important things you try to pass on to your students?

I remind students that we play & enjoy music because it gives a voice to emotion. Find a way to experience everything that you play, let it make you happy, sad, angry. Realize there is something to learn from everything you play; songs, artists and styles you aren’t necessarily drawn to can take you outside of your comfort zone and become a catalyst for improving your musicianship. Understand that technique & musicianship enable you to have much more fun playing. Both are effective tools for overcoming problems that prevent you from playing what you want to play. And besides all that, remember to have fun playing.

6. Was there a moment you remember when you said, “This is what I want to do with my life?

I don’t exactly remember the first time, but every time I achieve something large or small I’m reminded that yes, I’m doing something with my life I really enjoy and I’m fortunate to have that opportunity.

7. Sadly, blues legend BB King recently passed away. There are many critics out there who say that he could say more in three notes than someone like Yngwie Malmsteen could say in 1,000. What are your feelings about this?

The old debate of “more notes means less feel” and “less notes equals more feel” will never cease. What makes Yngwie so intense to listen to is the one note he ends the previous 1,000 with. And that note is usually treated with one the best vibratos that anyone has ever played in the history of guitar. If you hear someone buzzing around scales and arpeggios at light speed and ending with an out of tune bend or mosquito vibrato, I agree that not much is being said.
Could you also tell us about whether or not BB was an influence and what he meant to guitar playing?
BB wasn’t an influence for me, but I do enjoy & respect his playing. He found his own unique voice with the same 6 strings we all have and touched many people with his music.

8. What kind of effect did grunge music have on the ‘guitar hero’? Will we ever see another Eddie Van Halen or Randy Rhoads, not to mention the other boatload of legends that emerged from the pre-grunge era?

Grunge was interesting because it minimized the importance of the “guitar hero” almost overnight on MTV and in the guitar magazines. It also thinned the herd of hair bands and the overly saturated hot shot guitarist market. The bands and players that survived had substance. Eddie and Randy and even Dimebag were able to affect things so dramatically because the guitar world still had uncharted territory and there was a comparatively slower paced progression of discovery than what we see today. As did all the legends that emerged pre-grunge. I’ve often heard, and agree with, that Dimebag was the last hero to shake things up and shift the direction of music. And what I feel Dimebag did was put the pieces together of the preceding heroes in a unique way. He was able to do that because he was able to develop his sound & playing and refine it, and it was slowly disseminated to the world. It’s become more challenging to put pieces together in a unique way for players today because of the sheer amount of musical material on the internet, the ease it can be accessed, and how quickly it can be distributed to the world after being created. I think we have sacrificed a “gestation period”, a slower pace of development where the uniqueness of ideas can be refined into something revolutionary before being heard by the world.

9. Tell us about your new album, Resurrection. Give us all the juicy details. (producer, musicians, etc.)61qbGI5vS3L._SY300_

My goal when writing the record was to merge my favorite styles of metal songwriting with a melodic and technical lead guitar style. When a listener hears the songs they easily recognize traditional metal, progressive, and modern hard rock influences. Because of that stylistic familiarity the response to “Resurrection” has been very strong not only from instrumental guitar fans, but also fans of metal in general. “Resurrection” will make you bang your head, pump your fist, and speed in your car just as much as any CD with vocals.

I was fortunate to have several guest musicians help me complete the record. Andy DeLuca, the bassist for the entire album, added very interesting and tasteful technical sections to the bass tracks and always kept the low end locked in. Jason Bittner (Shadows Fall, Anthrax) blazed through three of the more “metal” songs on the record. Matt Garstka (Animals as Leaders) played on four songs and did a great job of building intensity while maintaining the groove. Mark Zonder (Fates Warning, Warlord) played on one track, “Let Them Fall”. The song has lots of odd meters and a very progressive arrangement. Mark’s amazingly complex yet grooving style really drives the song. I also have guitarists Mike Abdow and Oli Herbert (All That Remains) guesting on “Spine”. What I like about that song is how the ideas from each player musically morph into each other. I begin with phrases that are blues & jazz influenced, playing off the 11/8 groove. Mike gradually takes things into more melodic territory and Oli finishes with a perfectly composed and very tasteful solo. Keith Merrow (Conquering Dystopia) mixed and mastered the record, his post production gave everything a crisp and modern edge.

10. When you write, do you work out your solos before recording, or do you just wing it?

I read in an interview with Vai that he constructs solos by improvising and then, taking the strongest ideas from those improvisations, works out to some extent what he is going to play. I also remember reading an interview with Vito Bratta from White Lion back in the day where he revealed his strategy was working out melodies and other ideas that he wanted to play at key points and letting the improv happen between those parts. My approach is a combination of these two ideas.

11. What is the definitive Tom Kopyto song?

“Into Another” is a good one. Heavy riffing with a groove, melodic & sophisticated phrases, odd meters.

12. Could you give us your thoughts on these Legends of Shred?

Steve Vai: Very unique player. I enjoy Vai in a vocal band situation the most. HIs interviews are very interesting as well. Steve is very tuned into the spiritual side of music making and is able to articulate what that’s all about in a very intelligent way that’s very captivating.

Paul Gilbert: One of my all time favorites. I finally got to see Paul live earlier in 2015 and was pretty much right in front of him the whole set. His enthusiasm for the guitar is infectious.

Michael Angelo Batio: I did my first record for his MACE Music label and we mixed in his studio. On a break between songs he casually picks up a nylon string and starts playing like MAB: precise, intense, and melodic. That’s my favorite MAB memory and my favorite memory of doing that record with him.

Eddie Van Halen: I listened to many players that were EVH influenced during the hair metal era. I listened to lots of Sammy era VH because that was current at the time, and OU812 was the first rock cassette I ever bought. Only recently have I gone back to the early VH albums. Such a great rhythm guitarist and such killer phrasing.

Yngwie Malmsteen: Awesome vibrato and tone. I love watching Yngwie play because he is so fluid & intense. Really enjoyed his book as well as it gave insight into his take no prisoners attitude in building his career. He is very driven which is very admirable and inspiring.

Dave Reffett: High energy. I like what I’ve heard of his music. A really nice and down to earth guy as well.

13. What are your plans for the future? More recording? Touring? Teaching?

Definitely more recording as time permits. I’d like to move toward more vocal oriented material, either a metal or hard rock project. It’s been fun recording guest solos and guest recording for other bands and artists, and I would like to take on more of that work. I would also like to find some live performance opportunities, either with my solo instrumental music or with a vocal project. Honestly, I’m not looking to tour extensively. With teaching I’m always working on growing and bettering the music school I own & run with my partner, working with our teachers and helping our students experience music in the ways I mentioned earlier. I will also be doing master classes and some guest teaching with programs like Camp Jam this Summer.

Kopyto_3714. What kind of effects/amps/strings do you use?

My pedal board has a Dunlop CFH, an Airis Savage Drive or a Barber Direct Drive, and an ISP Decimator. All are wired together with DiMarzio Jumper Cables. They’re indestructible and sound great. My amp is a rack mount Mesa Boogie Mark IV. I also use a Rocktron Replifex for multi tap delay and that runs in the loop of the Mark IV. I don’t use MIDI or any type complex switching systems. In addition to the Mesa, I also use a Tech 21 Fly Rig and Amptweaker pedals with different amp setups, like for jams or recording. The Fly Rig is great for having great sounding tones in one very portable package. The Amptweaker pedals are also great because you can integrate them with any amp and create a virtual third channel while still using the preamp tones from the amp. I really like D’Addario strings and use a .010 -.059 set for my 7-string. For picks, I like the Dunlop .88 mm TIII Tortex series.

15. What’s your secret weapon, aside from your guitar?

Guitar faces. Seriously, the power of a well timed guitar face can make a mediocre lick sound genius. People you play for often listen more with their eyes than ears.

16. I’ve asked this question to many other guitarists: What are your views on the state of Rock and Roll and the music business in general?

If you’re out there playing and touring for a living, and that’s your primary source of income, you’ve really accomplished something. Physical sales are non existent, live venues want less or absolutely no original music unless it’s an established national act . . . the cliche of “it’s not the money, you play because you love it” is becoming a hard reality as the money just isn’t there from sales & shows.

17. What kind of exercises do you do to prepare for a show/recording session?

I warm up by playing with the track when recording. I used to have a pattern of warm up exercises and more of a regimented routine. By now I just play and make sure to not overdo things at the beginning. When I was doing clinics regularly I would play through parts of riffs and licks in songs I would be playing that I found most challenging.

18. In your opinion, who are the most underrated guitarists? Who are the new hot-shots, people to keep an eye out for?

Satchel from Steel Panther never gets his due as a player because he’s playing the role of Satchel from Steel Panther. He has a killer vibrato, interesting phrasing, can write a slamming hooky, riff and has great tone. Great guitar faces also. Always enjoyed his playing from way back when he was in Fight with Rob Halford. There are tons of good players out there popping up on YouTube everyday. The ones to watch out for are the ones that can play well and write songs well. I’ve given lessons to many hotshot guitar players that could play killer licks and solos but couldn’t write a song or even groove on a good riff. That’s who you keep an eye out for: the players that can shred & write good music.

19. If you could form a band with anyone, living or dead, who would be in it and what song would you jam on?

Bass & vocals would be Dug Pinnick (King’s X)and on drums, Morgan Rose (Sevendust). I would seize the opportunity to write as much original music with those guys and keep jamming on other artist’s music to a minimum.

20. What is the greatest guitar song ever recorded?

I have to name two: “Eruption” forever changed the way guitar is played and set in motion a style of playing that has continued for decades. It was like a culmination of what had come before and where things were heading. The same can be said of “Black Star”. Both were two sides of the same coin, two expressions of the extremes that rock guitar was about to be pushed to for the next decade.

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