Welcome back to Guildford! How does it feel to be back at the Boileroom?
Yeh it’s great! Last time I was here was in 2012 if im not mistaken, so that’s like 5 years ago! That was one of the most memorable clinics I’ve done because it’s a tiny venue – now you have chairs, but back then, everyone was standing still, it was sold out, there was a mojo barrier in front. I just felt weird doing a clinic for a rock and roll crowd! We were streaming it was well! That was really cool – really good memories. It’s nice to be back here. I like Andertons too, it’s one of my favourite places. Good crew, a great store, good laughs and good times!
I was recently here in February as well – not for a clinic but I was doing a video for your YouTube channel. It’s always good times here!
Welcome back – any time! So Metal Hammer Germany recently anointed you ‘God of Riffs’ 2017 which is pretty amazing – are there any other highlights of your career so far? Anything else in particular that sticks out as being one of the coolest moments of your guitar career?
God of Riffs bro! When stuff like that happens, especially from a big publication like Metal Hammer – I had a Golden God from the British Metal Hammer a few years ago – to me, it’s an acknowledgement of your offering to the metal community. It’s a reward back from the metal community, either from a magazine, or even better if it comes from the fans! It’s nice to be recognised, and it kinda always puts more stress on me – I wanna get better, it pumps me up, I wanna do more! It’s a good thing man! It’s good for the status too, it looks good online and all that stuff, but to me it’s more about the respect thing – from the people around you for your efforts. You’re like ‘I’ve probably done something right for some people!’
Congratulations – it’s an amazing achievement. So as you may remember from last time, we’re a music shop so we love talking about gear! Being part of Jackson Guitars, you’re listed alongside the likes of Randy Rhoads, Marty Friedman, Adrian Smith, all of these huge names – how does it feel to be on the same list as those guys?
It’s a huge honour man. One of the things that attracted me to Jackson, besides their instruments, was the list of these guys you just mentioned. They’re some of my favourite guitar players ever! That’s a great legacy right there, so to be accepted by the Jackson family is just a huge honour.
You’re endorsed by a few other companies too, one of which being Blackstar. You’ve got your signature Blackfire amp from a few years ago as well!
Yeh, that’s also a big honour because I’m the only signature artist from Blackstar! It was a limited run, it’s probably sold out everywhere by now!
They’re quite highly sought after!
Lots of people are asking where can I find it, you know. But of course, it’s amazing just to be able to design a product with any of these companies – these guys are masters at what they’re doing.
Now we also love pedals. Could you tell us a little bit about the pedals that you like to use, either live or in the studio?
I don’t use many to be honest, I’m not a big pedal guy! I like my main tone to come from the amp. But that said, I do have a small pedalboard like everybody. There’s a tuner, there’s a Wah pedal – I like the Morley. I use the Maverick, it’s like the Bad Horsie but a smaller version. When you do travel dates, fly dates, those things are big pieces of gear man! This one’s just a smaller version, so it only weights like 1kg, whereas wah pedals are like 3kgs or something. It’s very convenient. Then I have a couple of Boss pedals; a chorus, a DD3 and a DD7 delay. The DD3 I have in front because I use it to create this loop effect and the DD7 I use in the effects loop for ambient stuff.
If you could have one pedal for the rest of time, what would it be?
Probably the delay, just to sweeten up my leads. Probably the DD7.
What gauge strings do you use? It’s a bit of a boring question…
I use 10-56, tuned down a whole step. Although nowadays I’m a little tired of it. It’s hard work, and I’ve been lazy lately. Recently I’ve tried using 10-46 but that’s too slinky so I’m gonna change to…10-52 or something. I’ve been a 10-56 guy for so many years, which is cool for detuning, but sometimes it just feels like too much effort – it shouldn’t be like that when you’re playing guitar!
You dial quite a lot of gain into your amps – do you find that the high-gain sound influences the way you play, or is it the way you play that influences your sound?
That’s a very good question actually. For me, it’s pretty straightforward because I’m a heavy metal guy, so obviously I need a high-gain amp. Usually I won’t use that much gain actually, because my pickups have a lot of output. But I think it’s a bit of both; the sound you choose influences your playing, but ultimately, a good tone comes from your hands. You make the sound as well – the way you attack, not only from your fingers, but from your whole body.
You’ve been involved in many different musical projects, from power metal to melodic death metal, the Ozzy stuff, and so on; that’s quite a broad range of sounds that you’ve tried. Are there any styles that you would like to try that you haven’t tried yet?
Absolutely. I’d love to do a blues album one day, blues-rock would be cool. It’s a scary thought because I’m not a blues player. I do have influences in my playing, but it always ends up fast; that said, I do love a bit of Gary Moore. That would be my blues-rock influence, so I’d love to do an album like that one day. Maybe when I’m a bit older – I can put on a suit and everything!
You grew up in Thessaloniki, on the Greek mainland. Did you find that you took influence from traditional Greek music? Did you ever play any traditional Greek instruments or anything like that?
No, not really. My father was a singer for Greek weddings and stuff, but I was never attracted to the sound of bouzouki, which is a Greek folk instrument. It is pretty technical though, those guys are sick shredders! That’s the cool part that I admire about them, but I don’t like the sound of it! You get 3-string bouzoukis and 4-string bouzoukis, but they’re double-stringed like a mandolin. Shredding on that with a clean tone is pretty crazy. It’s interesting, but to answer your question, I was always a very straightforward rock and metal guy. A lot of people tell me they hear a lot of oriental and ethnic stuff in my playing, and maybe in the back of my mind it’s because I like all the phrygian modes – like Uli Roth, Yngwie and all of those guys. Maybe a little bit of my Greek background comes into my playing, because it’s easier for me to understand. It’s the sound I grew up with, but I wouldn’t really like to play that kind of music.
That’s interesting! Way back when you were learning the guitar, was there any particular technique that you found challenging to get the hang of? For example, mine was barre chords – when I was younger, I just didn’t get it!
Yeh of course, I mean like you said barre chords – when you’re starting out, it hurts right? Also going way back, getting the first calluses on your fingers and stuff. When I started practicing alternate picking, getting into the more technical side of things, that was a big thing for me. Trying to get clean when you play faster is where 99.9% of guitar players have trouble. I always get that question: ‘How do I play fast and make it sound clean?’ Time and practice, there’s no shortcuts with that. But some guys are better than others! Some guys might take two months to master a lick or technique, but others might take six months or two years or whatever.
It’s nice to be recognised, and it kinda always puts more stress on me – I wanna get better, it pumps me up, I wanna do more!
Subjective isn’t it? Now a question on writing; when you write music and compose, do you incorporate music theory or do you do it mostly by ear and experimentation?
Absolutely the latter one. I never think in music theory terms when I compose. Flat this, sharp that, the resolution should be on the 4th, no way. That helps you originally to understand why you’re playing what you’re playing, but music is a thing that should just come to you naturally. You need inspiration for that. Either something sounds good or it doesn’t! I never really analyse it – I’ve seen stuff written on charts later on, and I’m like ‘oh that’s what that was!’
Different people write in different ways.
Some people hear music in their mind and write it down, in a very classical kinda way. I never really did that.
Do you have any cool studio gear that you use at home or when you record?
Yeh, I have a very simple Pro Tools setup at home. I’m still on Pro Tools 9, I should probably upgrade now!
That’s fair enough – we’ve all been there!
I like everything to be very fast, very easy and just…work forever! I also use a lot of the Toontrack stuff – I even had some of my sounds on there for this metal guitar pack that they did. So it’s really easy now, I just plug into my interface and I’ve got my lead tone, my rhythm – it’s all there. That was another cool thing that happened, getting to work with those guys. I love programming drums too. I basically compose the whole thing – except the vocals – but yeh, drums, bass, keys and guitar. I put it all together in Pro Tools, with a simple interface. Plug in and play.
Awesome. We’re going to finish with a couple of funny questions –
I hope you don’t mind and please forgive me if any of this is offensive in any way! As a Lord of Riffs yourself-
-God of Riffs please actually, ha!
Ah, sorry! As a God of Riffs, who was your favourite figure in Greek Mythology?
That’s nice man. Well obviously, Hercules was a badass. All the Greeks were great. Achilles as well! King Leonidas too – wait, that’s history, not mythology.
I’ll change the question then, don’t worry! If Leonidas, Hercules and Achilles had guitars, what kind of guitars would they have?
Each one? Hmmm. Hercules would play my signature Jackson guitar, ‘cause he was a demigod you know.
Much like yourself, exactly!
Ha! This is such a tricky question.
Do you think Achilles and Leonidas would be metalheads?
Absolutely. I was thinking of giving Achilles either a Strat with a Floyd Rose, ‘cause that’s like a weak point. Once you break a string, you’re f*cked!
Perfect answer, a Strat with a Floyd Rose! So how about Leonidas?
Yeh, let’s give him a Les Paul ’59. For standing there at Thermopylae with his brave 300 men fighting a million Persian soldiers. He deserves a ’59 Holy Grail, right?
Those are some seriously good answers, man. Thank you! Let’s wrap up with what you’ve got coming up on your agenda. What’s next?
Well I’ve got some more clinics with Jackson coming up, and a bunch of Europe & US dates. Then it’s Christmas! After that we’re off touring in February in South America – it never stops!
Amazing – well thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Gus!
Pleasure – that was fun!