Guitar Club Interview, Feb 2018 [Translated and Edited]
by Steve Rosen

When Curtis Fornadley was just 11 years old, he started plunking around on a classical guitar. That early love and passion for the guitar has never left him. A masterful and commanding player who jumps from rock and funk to jazz and solo acoustic guitar with a sort of effortless ease, he showcased these talents in Guitar Player Magazine’s 2007 Guitar Superstar Competition where he ranked as one of the 10 finalists. In fact, his devotion to the instrument was so all-encompassing that he spent two years consumed in writing the ultimate book on guitar tones. Titled Tone Wizards: Interviews With Top Guitarists and Gear Gurus On the Quest for the Ultimate Sound, the book is a uniquely intimate look at some of the world’s most profoundly gifted guitar players and builders including Joe Satriani, Joe Bonamassa, Steve Vai, John Suhr and others.

In talking with those tone masters, Fornadley’s own approach to guitar was informed and shaped by what he learned. He now brings all that knowledge and his masterful and arcing guitar skills to bear on his newest Resonance album. These 13 tracks, containing fiery and dizzying guitar performances, bring to mind Eric Johnson and Jeff Beck but all funneled through Curtis’ unique sense of composition and arrangement.

Here, Fornadley talks about Resonance, Tone Wizards and what it takes to be a guitar player here in 2018.

What is the kernel for a record like Resonance?

That’s a good question. Part of it is the whole change to how we consume music. All musicians have experienced a huge decline in sales and no one’s buying physical CDs like they used to.  A few years after I released the Out of the Shell CD I thought, “Well, the world is moving to digital singles.” So I did that for a few years thinking, “Don’t make people who like your music wait two years for new music.” I was releasing something every four to six months.

How were your fans reacting?

I did not get much response from releasing singles. Then fast forward to the last year-and-a-half and I was thinking, “I’m gonna stop and regroup; maybe it’s time to go back to the record format.” I emailed my email list and said, “Hey, are you interested in CDs?” and they said, “Yes,” they like a collection of music.

Which is when you began recording Resonance as an entire CD?

I had a whole bunch of these digital singles I had released and I said, “OK, which are the best tracks that maybe people had missed that I can pull into a record project?” along with the other tunes I hadn’t released. Because I had a lot to choose from, I was able to drop tunes and really try to create my vision of a great playlist.

Because you play so many different styles so well—rock, jazz, funk, acoustic—your vision of a playlist is pretty eclectic. Do you ever think you should maybe focus more on one style than so many different ones?

I think if I was with a label and a producer, they would encourage that for better or worse. But because I love such diversity, I’m putting all that in there. There is an audience who likes to listen to music that’s guitar-centric and there’s an audience that wants it to be “all shred all the time”, and if there isn’t 10 tracks like that they’re not interested. I don’t know whether I’ve alienated people or surprised them.

When you talk about an audience interested in guitar instrumental music, how difficult is it with so many musicians recording digitally to cut through all the garbage that’s out there in order to find listeners who want to hear what you do?

I’m experiencing that firsthand and the noise level is so high and people have so much coming at them. How do you get above that noise, right? Speaking with people like you helps me with that because you can help get the word out. It’s like going into a store that has a bunch of candy bars and there’s too many options and you walk out with nothing.

What is it like being a guitarist in 2017 making records and touring?
It’s difficult [laughs]. You have to do a lot of different things, and for me one of those things was releasing a book [Tone Wizards: Interviews With Top Guitarists and Gear Gurus On the Quest for the Ultimate Sound]. That was one angle and one stream of income. Over the past 10 years, a cornerstone of the money I do make from music is production music for film and TV. Many of the tracks I release as an artist are also submit to numerous production music libraries.

How would you describe your approach to guitar playing?

As far as the performance thing, I think my guitar playing and my approach embraces many different styles. If I was to put myself in a category, I’d be more like an Eric Johnson or Carl Verheyen. I remember when Guitar Player used to have the voting about the best this or the best that and Steve Howe always used to win the Best Overall Guitar Player and I remember as a young kid thinking, “That’s the category I’d like to be in.” Steve Howe was a brilliant electric player but he also had the acoustic stuff.

Talk about your live performances.

Besides my original band I have three hours of solo guitar music I can do. These are not rockstar gigs. You’re going in and providing music as background but they usually pay pretty well.

Exactly.

As a musician you can’t be picky and be a snob about gigs. It’s a paid gig, this is what you love doing and you man up and you do it. This is your life. The gig can either be jazz guitar or acoustic. I also play a number of pickup gigs whether it’s jazz or rock. Then there’s my trio and if I’m doing just my original music, that’s probably the lowest paying gig. Right? Sometimes the band also adds cover material to the set. That is the reality of it is when we’re looking at making some money.

You mentioned the Tone Wizards… book you wrote in 2015. What was that like?

When I first got the idea, the feeling and obsession was like getting an idea for a new song, and it takes over your life, and it’s like, “Oh, I gotta do this.” One day I thought: “What kind of book would I like to read? One where it talks to all these different players and people who make the gear to try and get inside their head; the mental side of it.” For example, one of the questions I asked was, “Which hand do you think has more influence on tone?”

Very good question.

That’s a philosophical question and it got all of them thinking; and some said right and some said left.

What did you learn from Joe Bonamassa?

That was a surreal experience because I actually got to do the interview at his house surrounded by vintage amplifiers. The thing I got from Joe was what a hard worker he is. He seems to be a very intuitive player and grounded in what he does and focusing on the blues stuff.

What about Jay Graydon?
I learned about Jay Graydon from Steve Vai. I got to do that interview at Jay’s studio and I didn’t know about Jay until I learned about all the stuff he’d played on. There I got a great firsthand feeling for what it was in the glory days of the studio scene.

Joe Satriani?

Joe’s prowess as a player and songwriter makes everybody a fan. He came across as very down to earth and open. He came across as a deep thinker on some of these questions.

You’ve mentioned Eric Johnson as one of your big influences. What was it like meeting Eric?

It was pretty exciting and one of the hardest interviews to get. Again, real down to earth. I asked him, “Does the tone you have on a certain night affect the way you play?” I could tell in his voice it was something he has agonized over, so it hit home.

You’re obviously pretty tuned into the tone thing. Can you run down some of the gear you used on Resonance?

All guitars were recorded at my studio in Redondo Beach, CA. I used a Surh Classic Custom; Fender Eric Johnson Strat; Tom Anderson Drop Top; an Ibanez FG100 hollow body; and some other stuff.

[Note: Here is a list of the gear and a track-by-track description as provided by Fornadley]:

“Rat Beach Boogie”
Fender Eric Johnson Strat
Suhr SL68 amp
also Re-amped signal into 1965 blackface Fender Super Reverb

“El Rio”
Suhr Classic Custom guitar
Suhr SL68, Suhr Koko boost on lead
4X12 Scumback speakers

“Instant Karamel!”
Suhr Classic Custom
Suhr SL68, Koko boost on lead
“Turn 3 Mach 2”
Suhr Classic Custom guitar
Suhr OD100 Custom plus amp
Koko boost on lead

“Where There’s Water There Is Life”
Suhr Classic Custom
Suhr SL68 
Koko boost on lead
Catalinbread Bella Echo delay on main guitar

“Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”
Suhr Classic Custom
Fractal AxeFX II, mix of amps on main tune, Brown Eye on lead

“Jerry’s Breakdown”
Tom Anderson Drop Top (Curtis)
LsL Tele, 1950’s Gibson acoustic (Carl Verheyen)
1965 blackface Fender Deluxe through Bogner 1×12 with Weber speaker

“Sitting In The Sun”
Suhr Classic Custom
Suhr OD100 Custom plus, Bogner 2×12 cabinet, with V30s
Fulltone Deja vibe MDV2

“Daddy Long Legs”
Suhr Classic Custom lead guitar
Gibson Les Paul Heritage series drop D rhythm guitar
Suhr OD100 Custom plus, Bogner 2×12 cabinet

“Superstar”
Fender Eric Johnson Strat
Suhr Classic Custom (lead section)
Suhr SL68
Catalinbread Bella Echo delay on main guitar

“Welcome Home”
Suhr Classic Custom
Marshall 1987 50-watt Plexi reissue
“You Resonate My World”
Suhr Classic Custom
1965 blackface Fender Deluxe
Synth lines played with a YouRockGuitar triggering MIDI
Cheap Yamaha acoustic

“Letter From Home”
Ibanez FG100 hollowbody
1965 blackface Fender Deluxe

Additional recording notes: “Towards the end, I did some reamping using boxes from Radial,” Fornadley says. “ I learned about these techniques from Joe Satriani and Steve Vai while doing the Tone Wizards… book. I used a Suhr reactive load and speaker IR’s for some tunes and most IR were by Ownhammer. When recording I try to go direct from guitar to amp.  Most overdrive is from the amps but I did use a Suhr Koko boost to push the amp a little more. Most delays and reverbs where added during mixdown.”

How would you describe the way you developed your guitar tone?

All the components that make up a person’s tone are like a bunch of streams that flow and empty into a lake.  The flow and the lake evolves over a lifetime. The book took two years and during that time I was writing and recording. Some of the thoughts that came from the book, that were guidelines from a mental point of view, included what Steve Vai said: “You have to hear the tone in your head first. Then you have to tweak all of these elements in order to get that. Ultimately the playing is in the hands but it’s in the brain first.”

That is such a good point.

When I’m recording, the length of time it takes me to do a tune always depends on the time it takes to get the right tone. It’s not because I can’t play it physically. But part of it is also how I might play it, because the tone is not separated from my playing. You hear guys saying, “Yesterday my playing was great and I didn’t change any settings.” You know what? You changed. You ate something different; you’re in a different mood; you’re pressing harder with your right or left hand or you sitting in a different position. Or you could be doing all those things right and the perception in your brain has changed and maybe you’re just distracted or that kernel of the tone in your head has shifted.

You were a part of the 2007 Guitar Player Magazine Guitar Hero competition, which must have been pretty amazing.

Before the Internet, Guitar Player was the only conduit to get information. When they had that thing, I’m like, “OK, let me go for it” and when Michael Molenda [editor] called me I was driving and I almost went off the road.

Guitar Player acknowledged you as one of the best in 2007 and you’ve released your new album here in 2017. What does distinguish you amongst all the guitar players out there doing instrumental music?

The distinction for me is, yes, I can play these guitar styles but I consider myself to be a composer and songwriter who can write hooks and good music, just as Satriani is a great player but he also writes great songs with great hooks. I think that’s my selling point. Yeah, there are guitar showcase moments and surprises, and something for everybody, but in the end there has to be a tune you like that engages you.