Conversations with Rob Balducci - A RHB Exclusive Interview

This weeks conversation is with Favored Nation and Rock House Artist/Instructor Rob Balducci.

A couple things to know about Rob before we get to the interview are:

Rob is native of New York, Rob Balducci has defined himself as a guitarist, musician, composer and one of the most sought after instructors in New York.

“Rob is an excellent guitarist… I’ve always had his CDs around and I am waiting for him to become the next big guitar player ” - Joe Satriani

“ Rob is a great player and is as dedicated to his work as one can get and it shows in the construction of his audio emotions”- Steve Vai

Steve Vai signed Balducci to Favored Nations and released Mantra and The Color Of Light CDs worldwide.

Balducci’s newest 2009 Favored Nations CD is titled Violet Horizon and features 15 new tracks of his best work to date with special guest appearances by Guthrie Govan and Dave Weiner.

Without further ado I give you Conversations with an incredible guitarist and true champion of innovative unique music Rob Balducci.

Rock House Blog: Rob what’s been going on lately?

Rob Balducci: I’ve been busy, with the release of my new CD. It’s my instrumental/solo CD, called Violet Horizon. I’ve also been rehearsing with the band and we’re working in our new drummer, who working out great!, so everything is going good.

I’m supposed to have a meeting with John at Rock House next week, just to go over the outline of the instructional DVDs we’re putting together so hopefully we’ll be working on that as well, real soon.

RHB: Can you tell me what it is you’re going to be teaching on your Rock House DVDs?

Rob Balducci: We’re going to be covering the basics like your exercises, warm ups, scales and things like that. But, I want to bring into the DVD things that are related to me, some song writing concepts, you know like where I get inspiration to write songs. I think it will be unique in that a lot of times that sort of stuff isn’t covered. It should be a unique set of DVDs by putting that kind of stuff into it.

RHB: That should be cool. I think one of the things that people are looking for is a way to learn how to maybe put a beat down and then figure out a direction to go with that when they play. It should be a good addition to the Rock House family.

Rob Balducci: Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. It should be fun.

RHB: I was reading on your web site that you gained your inspiration to learn music from your sister.

Rob Balducci: I have 3 older sisters. A couple cool things about having 3 older sisters is that the age span is pretty far apart, so they were into really cool music. When I was like 8, 9 years old I was listening to like the Rolling Stones and my sisters would have Jimi Hendrix records and that kind of thing. My older sister she used to play guitar, you know just like a folk kind of guitar. That’s where I got introduced into the guitar itself. I used to sit with her and she would show me some stuff on the guitar. Then I started to use her guitar when she wasn’t there. I figure at about 11 years old is when I started to pick up the guitar on a daily basis and kind of mess around with it. Later I started to take some lessons at a local shop where I grew up in Queens and it kind of just took off from there.

Ya know, a unique thing that happened for me as far as the whole music and guitar thing is that I ended up getting juvenile diabetes at the age of 11.

RHB: Really?

Rob Balducci: Yeah, you know it’s kind of a weird thing to go through when you’re a kid. I think having the guitar was almost a way for me to get out of my routine and escape. So at 11 I was diagnosed with diabetes and that’s when I started to get serious about the guitar, so I think they both had something to with one another. I just took it really serious after that. I started practicing a lot. I eventually started to teach at the place where I took lessons when I was about 15 years old. Between 11 and 15 I got good enough where I was doing some solos and songs so, the place where I took lessons asked me if I would start teaching stuff to some of the kids. From that point on, that’s what I have been doing. I’ve been teaching privately for a long time.

RHB: Do you mind touching on the juvenile diabetes a bit? Maybe we can educate and inspire some of our readers about it.

Rob Balducci: Sure. There’s 2 forms of diabetes one they call type 2 the other they call type 1 which they consider juvenile diabetes. Type 1 they consider the more severe and you have to take either daily injections or use an insulin pump. That’s what I am using now and I wish I would have done it earlier. Diabetes is really a whole balancing thing. You have to make sure you balance your exercise and the food that you are eating.

I think that it has turned out really good for me. Not that it’s a good thing that I have it but I think it made me the person that I am. I think it makes you very disciplined. So instead of seeing things as a negative you need to turn things into a positive. When I think about that kind of stuff that’s what I think about.

I think it definitely affected the way I write songs and the names of my records. You know my debut record was called Balance. It was songs that I had written from when I was a kid up to that point in my life. It had a meaning to it because ya know you have to balance your life when you’re a diabetic, like everything that you eat and you have to count your carbohydrates. It’s kind of crazy but you get used to it, it’s like brushing you’re teeth, it’s something that you just do on a daily basis.

RHB: Very inspiring Rob

RHB: You said your sister was an influence on your guitar playing. Were there any musicians that inspired you?

Rob Balducci: Well, do you remember those TV commercials that would come on and they would sell records of various artists, but you could just buy them through TV?

RHB: (Laughs) Yeah

Rob Balducci: I remember I was like 10 years old and the first record that I ever bought, was this Chuck Berry record from the commercial. I told my mother that I wanted this album and she went out and bought it. That was kind of like the first real guitar playing that I liked. I saw him playing it and I was like “this is cool”, ya know and so I got the record, I still have the record to this day. So I consider Chuck Berry my first introduction into that kind of guitar style of playing.

The thing with my sister and her folk guitar, well, I didn’t get into classical because of the music at the time. I was very much into The Rolling Stones because my sister was playing that all the time. So then it kind of switched from the Chuck Berry thing which is sort of a good transition because The Rolling Stones liked Chuck Berry as well, so that was a good connection.

I think this it’s funny because I was just writing something on my forum today. There’s this new Jeff Beck DVD that just came out, which I think is awesome. But I remember going through my sisters record collection and I came across this record and on the cover was a guitar player with a white strat and it ended up being the Jeff Beck Wired record. I had never really listened to an instrumental guitar record like that and that was the first time that I listened to an instrumental record. It was that fusioney jazz thing. To this day it’s still my favorite instrumental record. It was my introduction to that eccentric guitar type playing.

RHB: Beck is out of this world, really.

Rob Balducci: Yeah, he doesn’t duplicate himself, each record is something different and this is the first DVD released by him that has a CD that goes along with it that you can actually see what he is doing, the camera angles are really good. It’s very interesting if you’re a fan of music and guitar, it’s definitely something you should check out.

RHB: Any other influences?

Rob Balducci: Yeah, you know my tastes in music go in all different directions. I got into Keith Richards, I got into Ace Frehley at one point who’s with KISS, Jimmy Page who I liked a lot and I got into Gary Moore, which to this day I really, really like. Ted Nuggent was a killer guitar player. Ya know I remember that that album Double Live Gonzo and he just played his ass off on that. There was a lot of nice vibrato on that album you know, which is what a lot of guys like to learn and why I emphasize the importance of learning vibrato. These are early influences and as I got older I got into different players.. such as John Sykes, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. Michael Landau and Steve Lukather, I love his solo stuff and the Toto stuff is amazing.

RHB: Rob, what was that moment in your career that made you just sit back, take a breath and made you say to yourself that this whole musical journey in your life has been worth while?

Rob Balducci: I don’t know if there’s a shining moment. I just think like we talked about earlier that I’m just as excited about guitar today as I was when I was a 10 year old kid. You know guitar players are weird, I even like the smell of the guitar when I pick it up out of the case. You know, people talk about the new car smell?

RHB: Yeah

Rob Balducci: Well I like the new guitar smell (laughing). You know the big thing for me was that I got the opportunity to release my records through Steve Vai’s Favored Nations Label , and for me I was very honored to be able to do that. If you’ve read about Steve and you’ve read about the label he just doesn’t sign anybody. That was a big moment for me and a big motivator knowing he liked the music enough and my guitar playing enough to release it. This will be my 3rd release on Favored Nations Label and the new CD is called Violet Horizons. That moment in my life gives me so much motivation.

RHB: I think it’s pretty well known that you love tones and effects Rob, how did you get into that and what tones do you like to use?

Rob Baducci: Ya know, I think it’s something that’s inherited in all guitar players. There’s this quest. I think it’s this never ending quest, it’s almost like a disease to try and tinker with all these pedals. I have a serious collection now that’s ridiculous of overdrive pedals and I have favorite pedals that I like, as well as effects. It all relates to this quest of finding the right combination to come up with a tone. When you’re a guitar player we want the sounds of our instrument to be pleasing, we want it to sound good, so I think it all kind of revolves around that.

It’s a piece by piece thing that you put together. Each record that I’ve come up with I’ve used some sort of different equipment. From 2004 up to now I’ve been using these amps called Cornford Amps. They are made by an English company. That’s been the staple now, I was introduced to them when I was in England when I played a show and I met Paul Cornford there. We ended up hitting it off and I used the Cornford Head for the show and I absolutely loved it.

I think that the tone comes from the combination of the amp that you use and the guitar that you use, which I’ve been using Ibanez Guitars, I’ve endorsed them since about 1990. So it’s like putting all of this together piece by piece. Ya know it’s The Cornford Amp, the Ibanez guitar and right down to the strings I use. I’ve been using D”Addario since I was a kid. The importance of the pedals come into play after you have that set up.

I don’t want to miss any steps here but you have to look at the pickups too. The pickups have to have the right reaction to the wood of the guitar and the guitar amp. I’m picky about the pickups I use, I’m using DiMarzio pickups. My favorite pick up from them is called the Steve Special which is designed by Steve Blucher who makes their pickups. It’s not a very high output pickup. I’m not into high output pickups because I think if the pickup is too hot that you are getting just the sound of the pickup. It all goes back to what I was saying about this quest for tone. It has to be a reaction between the pickup, the wood of the guitar etc., it all has to react together. If one of them is out of whack it’s just not going to work.

RHB: What about pedals then?

Rob Balducci: Well I’m always searching for pedals. I’ve been searching for delay pedals for a long time. I think I’ve found one that I really like that I did some Licks Of The Week with. It’s a Maxon AD99 Pro. It’s an analog delay that really warms up the sounds.

RHB: I remember seeing that.

Rob Balducci: Yeah I’ve been using it and I think it gives a really nice warm surround to your tone

What I usually do is use an overdrive, not a distortion, but an overdrive pedal in front and usually what guitar players use that for is to get that extra drive, get that extra push into the tubes on a tube amp. I like using feedback in my songs, even some of the songs that I have written have feedback written into them as part of the song.

So I favor certain pedals, I have this Ibanez TS808 hand wired overdrive pedal, which I’m really diggin’. I’m also a big fan of Keeley Electronics. They mod pedals as well as have their own pedals. The other pedal that I have that I really like is made by Xotic Pedals, it’s called the BB Preamp.

In my rig I basically have a couple of different overdrive pedals that I use because they have different sounds. The BB might be a little bit aggressive, the TS808 is a little smoother and some of the Keeley pedals have kind of a different sound all on their own.

So what I’ll do is take a regular 2 channel amp that has a clean channel and a dirty channel and the clean channel depending on which overdrive pedal I use on it will give me some sort of different characteristic, some sort of different tone. Depending on which overdrive that I use. Then the same thing happens on the dirty channel. The BB will react differently than the Ibanez. So it kind of makes a 2 channel amp into like a a 5 channel amp because you have these different sounds and tones to mess around with.

I use the Wah Wah a lot as well. I have been endorsed with Morley for some time now and I use wah not only in the traditional way you would use one but with the Morley since you do not have to press on it to turn it on you just have to put your foot on it to activate it. I find that I tend to use it for just one note or maybe a phrase and then pop it out etc… I also use the Morley wah in a percussive manner by stomping on it to the timings of chord hits and downbeats etc… It has really become a big part of my playing.

What I also think it’s important for all guitar players and especially for players like me that do instrumental music is that you want to have different sounds and different tones to keep to song interesting. So, these pedals help me in that sense as well.

RHB: I’m interested in the gage strings you use.

Rob Balducci: I’ve always used 9 to 42‘s. You know a lot of people say the thicker the string the better the tone. But, I’ve found that if the guitar I am using has a floating trem on it then I’m using 9’s, if it doesn’t then I use 10’s.

One thing you have to think about especially if your playing for a long time is your hands and tendinitis. For me it’s not like I’m just doing leads or playing certain sections of a song. I’m usually playing for an entire song. If you play that much you have to bring up the gage gradually if you want to use thicker strings because you will end up hurting your hand. So I’ve stuck with the 9’s, I feel comfortable with them.

RHB: Can you talk about the pedal chain a little more? How do you go about figuring out where things go in the chain of pedals?

Rob Balducci: There’s a certain order that I have learned over the years of how the effects should go. There are rules, but well, you’ve heard the old saying that rules are made to be broken? You certainly don’t have to follow them but, you have really got to use your ear. I usually do my pedal chain so that from my guitar I usually go into a volume pedal first, then I go into my Morley wah and then into my whammy pedal. Then it’s usually an overdrive. What happens is that you’ve got to realize that anything that you put in front of the overdrive, the overdrive is going to effect. The rule is that you usually don’t want your chorus, delays and sometimes your phasers to be effected by the distortion so you usually put them after. That’s not to say that you can’t put them before, but the difference would be if you took your phaser and you put it before the overdrive instead of after. When you ignite the overdrive it’s going to bring out the phase effect more. So it really depends on the sound and the effect you’re going for. The best thing is to really experiment.

The same thing goes for a compressor. The compressor if you put it before the overdrive it’s going to affect it in a different way than if you put it after. It just depends on what you really like. As far as reverbs and delays, I feel that those really need to go into the effects loop of your amp because it really surrounds your sound. There’s a big difference, my advise is that if players haven’t really experienced that then they should mess with where they are going to stick the delay. The delay doesn’t really get in the way when it’s in the effects loop, it just sort of enhances it. It gives a nice sound and you feel better playing it in the loop.

RHB: Excellent advise Rob.

RHB: We talked earlier about influences when you were starting to play guitar. Do you have any current influences?

Rob Balducci: Yeah, ya know, there is one player that I was actually into a long time ago. He used to be on Shrapnel and he came out with some records, Richie Kotzen. I was fortunate enough to go and do some shows with him in the UK and then we did some shows in L.A. on the west coast and I was really blown away.

After seeing him play and listening to his music it has really inspired me. He’s just a great player and he has a great voice. He is a guitar players guitar player. His technique is flawless, his phrasing really affected me but more than anything it’s his inspiration and his personality towards playing the guitar that has really helped me. I’m one of those guitar players that when it’s time to do a show I worry about a lot of things. Like is my amp going to sound good, are my pedals going to work. A lot of people get this way when they are about to perform on stage. After seeing how Richie handled these things, I read some books on how a different attitude can help when you’re playing. The thing is you really have to not worry about that kind of stuff and just let the music and let yourself play and Richie is a prime example of that. He would go up to his sound checks. It didn’t matter if it was a 10 minutes sound check or a 30 minute sound check he would just plug in and let the music take over and he would play and not worry about anything. The experiences I have with him inspire me to this very day. I think it’s very important that when you play you have to get into this zone where your not really thinking about anything else but performing and the music that you are creating.

RHB: Not worrying about making mistakes on stage is something we all as aspiring musicians hear about but it’s hard to do.

Rob Balducci: Right. It is very hard to do but I think we’re just generally that way and we worry about that stuff so what you have to do is put a lot of time into rehearsal. That helps put you in that zone you know, where everything feels connected. My minds connected to my hands and when that happens everything comes off perfect. Most of the time that I’m in that state I can notice that my playing feels great and the shows are perfect.

But you can’t just get into that state, that’s what the problem is. Like when I go into rehearsal. It’s a weird thing but you’ve just got to really forget about everything around you. You may not have the best sound coming out of your amp but you can’t let that affect the way you play, you have to just go out and play. But what happens is, you go up in front of all these people and it’s natural for the mind to start thinking about all this stuff. It could be stupid stuff, ya know, anything can come into your mind, what did I just eat, my stomachs bothering me, I’m playing to a bunch of other guitar players and what are going to think about my technique. I mean stuff like that is probably going though all of our heads. But the thing is to not think about all that.

RHB: Can you give some tips about how people can become more comfortable with playing in front of others?

Rob Balducci: One of the things you need to learn is that you don’t want to stop if you make a mistake. You want to keep going through with what you are doing. I can’t remember the musician that said it but he said “there are no bad notes“.

The thing about becoming a good musician is that you learn how to make the bad notes sound good and you make it seem like it was on purpose (laughing). But it’s true, anyone can say that you can’t use this note over that type of chord, but ya know what? There are no rules!

I had a professor at a music college that I went to and I’ll never forget this and I tell everyone about it and explain it this way. When people come to me and they say “Rob should I learn about reading music” and I say of course you should. But the thing is that once you learn all that you need to learn, then you need to forget it. I don’t even use my music techniques or music theory when I’m writing a song. All it is, is what’s coming into my head. Ya know what I mean? I don’t sit there and say I want to write this song in E Phrygian. If you did that it would be so contrived, you don’t sit down and say I’m going to write a hit song because then you never will. You just got to go with what’s in your head and transfer it to your instrument, no matter what instrument it is. That’s the best way to go.

RHB: So to have better practice sessions what can you recommend to the readers?

Rob Balducci: I still teach and I have a lot of students. Whatever I teach I kind of teach through experience from what I used to do. I remember when I was going to high school and going to classes, and you would say to yourself when the hell am I going to practice and do all this when I got homework and I’ve got to do stuff around the home. So what I used to do is like if I got home fromm school and I had homework I would do that but to make up for the time lost I would get up for school 2 hours early and I would play my guitar then.

RHB: Kind of like someone who gets up 2 hours early and works out before they go to work.

Rob Balducci: Exactly, you need to make the time to do this and it can be done. I’m a firm believer that you should be doing your homework first. So if you really want to learn guitar then come home, get your stuff out of the way and then spend time on your instrument. There is some sacrifice that goes with that you know. Are you going to go out and hang out with your friends or are you going to practice. You have to make the time to do it.

The other thing is people listen to all these guitar players who say they used to practice for hours and hours, but that’s something that you have to work up to. I think that small concise focused rehearsal is probably better than a long 2 hour practice session. The reason is that if you are not used to doing that, it’s probably not going to benefit ya.

So what I used to do is set a timer for myself with about 20 minutes on it and I would say, ok in this 20 minutes I’m going to cover my arpeggios or scales. When the time was up I would stop, take a break and then if I had more time I would set the timer again for another 20 minutes and I would move onto the next topic.

I also think you need to make a notebook for yourself and write in it. It’s very important for the next day that you rehearse. You don’t want to rehearse the same thing that you did the day before. You want to make sure that you go to something else so there’s not a lot of repeating. A mistake that a lot of students make is that they will go and start from the beginning again and they practice scales again so they don’t have time to rehearse and cover everything they need to.

So write down what you did and practice in 20 minute increments. It’ll be more beneficial than saying to yourself that you’re going to sit down and practice for an hour because you kind of get lost sometimes without a plan.

RHB: I like the increment learning process, it makes a lot of since.

RHB: I know you’re a busy guy Rob, lets wrap this conversation up talking about your new CD that was just released.

Rob Balducci: Yeah, I have a new CD that’s coming out and it’s called Violet Horizon. You can check robbalducci.com for more info about it. I do have some incredible people doing some guest appearances on it. I have Dave Weiner, he’s another solo artist on Favored Nations and very good friend of mine and is also a guitar player in Steve Vai’s band and he does a guest spot on it. I also have another guest spot with Guthrie Govan who’s a good friend of mine and another Cornford endorser. I’m very excited about this CD, I think it’s my best work to date. It’s my 4th record and I think with each record my song writing gets better. It will be available for download on Itunes and all those kinds of places all over the world. I will be selling CDs off of my website at www.robbalducci.com So check it out, I think you guys will like it. Information on the release date will be posted on my website once it is available.

I’ve also redesigned and will be re-launching my web site robbalducci.com to keep up with the changes of the new CD. There is new forum up on the site right now so people can go on there and check it out.

RHB: So people will be able to talk to you on the forums and maybe get some advise and stuff like that?

Rob Balducci: Yeah, and I’m really good at getting back to people, so please don’t hesitate to sign on and ask questions.

Be sure and check out Rob Balducci at his web sites:

Rob Balduccis Personal Web Site
Robs My Space
Robs You Tube Channel
Robs Rock House Artist Profile

©2009 Curt Moye & Fred Russell Publishing, All Rights Reserved. This article can not be used without permission from the Author. To Contact the Author email curt@RockHouseMethod.com

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Gary Fletcher said...

Thanks Curt for these interviews. I admit I never heard of many of these players, but I enjoy reading about their inspirations and how they learned to play.

Sarge said...

Thanks Gary, I have a ton of of fun talking to them and writing it up.