It could be argued that Jeff Loomis is the best metal guitar player on the circuit. Formerly of Nevermore, the virtuoso shredder has been breaking speed and technique boundaries with the instrument for over two decades, with his two existing solo records finally highlighting his playing at the forefront. Unsurprisingly, it’s often suggested he, not distinctive operatic vocalist Warrel Dane, was the centrepiece in his former band.
Now gearing up for his fourth major tour to support his latest release, Plains of Oblivion (2012), Loomis explains his surprise regarding his post-Nevermore instrumental efforts garnering such momentum.
“The kind of music that I’m doing, the instrumentals and stuff like that, is kind of… you could almost call it a dated thing,” he says. “That was a really big thing in the ‘80s, early ‘90s and stuff like that, but I’m trying to keep that form of music alive simply because I enjoy doing it.”
Referencing his heroes Jason Becker (Cacophony, David Lee Roth), Marty Friedman (Megadeth, Cacophony) and Brian May (Queen), Loomis notes his intense childhood practice regimen and fascination with the aforementioned names helped his talent accelerate.
“I was blessed with having a good ear. I don’t know a lick of theory. I can basically hear a piece of music and learn it very quickly. So, that enabled to excel on the instrument quite fast,” explains Loomis.
Let that sink in: Jeff Loomis doesn’t know music theory. Naturally, that statement had to be investigated and sure enough, he says his knowledge of music reading and even notation is basically non-existent. So, one would assume that he must just woodshed 19 hours a day, right? Wrong.
“I’ll warm up, practice for a good hour until my fingers feel good, and then I’ll focus mostly on writing music and composing. I mean, you can only sit in your bedroom so long and hash out guitar licks, you know what I’m saying?” he says with chuckle.
If you follow the man’s work, this is jaw-dropping. Loomis’ immediately identifiable vibrato technique and unparalleled speed have become the object of affection for up-and-coming players everywhere. Despite that, the ever-humble guitarist believes he’s yet to carve out his style and niche, something he suggests should be the goal of every player.
“It’s like once every 10 years that a guitarist comes out and blows everyone’s mind. We had our Eddie Van Halen, we had our Jimi Hendrix and all that. These guys were true innovators to the instrument, you know what I mean? You see a lot of kids nowadays listening to other guitar players and trying to mimic them, so, really, it’s all about being original and being an innovator and I’d like to see more of that.”
So who are the head-turning guitarists on the market these days? According to Loomis, it’s England’s Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, Asia, Erotic Cakes) and Sweden’s Fredrik Thordendal (Meshuggah). He puts particular emphasis on Govan, who has mastered nearly every style of guitar one could imagine. That being said, it’s not only about skill: every guitarist is a gear junkie in his or her own right and Loomis personally likes to keep it simple, running his signature 7-string Schecter through a German made ENGL Powerball and an Axe Effects processor. He explained that this rig offers him the luxury of having everything both basic and versatile, and enables him to dial in any tone in he would ever need.
That being said… he could plug straight into a 10-watt Marshall combo amp and it would still be mind-blowing.
Be awed by Jeff Loomis on Saturday, March 30 with Soilwork, Blackguard, the Browning, and Wretched at the Republik.
By Brandon McNeilAB, Alberta