The Soul of an Artist, Part 1 of My Interview with Mike Tessier

Cover photo by Amarendra Ghanekar

Sometimes you meet someone whose talent is simply awe-inspiring. Mike Tessier is just such a person. Budding luthier, renowned guitar tech, guitarist, cabinet maker, motorcycle enthusiast (who rebuilt his own 1982 Yamaha) and underneath it all, a true artist.

His insights and stories are as entertaining as they are inspirational and everyone who knows him seems to have good things to say about him. He also has a huge social media following and has an impressive number of friends, which points to him being an all-around good person.

In our discussion together, Mike tells us of his early beginnings as a guitar player and mentions cheekily that his motivations in those early days weren’t totally pure. Just like most teenage boys, he was trying to attract girls and chose guitar playing as a means to do so. Lucky for us because he developed into quite a guitar talent. Although mostly self-taught, having had only a handful of lessons throughout his life, he has developed into an impressively good guitarist.

His early influences include Rik Emmett – guitarist and singer of the Canadian band, Triumph. Emmett is a fantastic guitar player, excellent songwriter, and superb singer. His former band had enormous success in the late seventies and early eighties, producing such powerhouse tunes as “Lay It on the Line,” “I Live for the Weekend,” “Rock and Roll Machine,” “Fight the Good Fight,” and my personal favourite of theirs, “Magic Power,” which I’ve referenced before in previous articles.

Mea culpa: I made a mistake during the interview, saying Triumph had played a festival in Rio de Janeiro. The festival in question was instead the Us Festival in San Bernardino, California, where they played in front of over 200,000 people. It would have been too awkward to edit out that portion of the video.

He later went to say that Randy Rhoades was also one of his early influences. It’s hard to argue with Mike’s assertion that Rhoades invented hair metal. He was of the most innovative and influential guitarists of the last 50 years, having played for Quiet Riot and most notably, was Ozzy Osbourne’s lead guitarist at the beginning of Ozzy’s solo career. To get a sense of Rhoades’ mastery, listen to “Diary of a Madman,” especially at the beginning with his brilliant classical guitar work combined with bombastic electric fills, that lead into an incredibly intricate rhythm pattern. The most well-known song that features his outstanding playing is “Crazy Train,” which can still be heard in sports arenas around the world. “Over the Mountain,” and “Flying High Again,” are two more songs where Rhoades’ guitar prowess soars.

Mike also mentions Eddie Van Halen as an influence, but not to the same extent as the two previous mentioned players. If I could narrow it down to three selections to hear how good of guitarist Van Halen was, I would pick “Mean Streets,” “Panama,” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.” But I can’t narrow it down to just three so add in “Erruption,” “Unchained,” and “Runnin’ With the Devil,” plus so many more. HIs place in Rock and Roll history as one of the genre’s best ever guitarists is secure.

He also mentions Jimi Hendrix as one of his inspirations. Hendrix was one of the main impetuses behind the creation of Marshall amps in the sixties, which eventually became the “sound of rock and roll,” as my friend Kelster Von Shredster likes to say. He also popularized the Fender Stratocaster, making it a universal iconic Rock and Roll symbol. “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” “Manic Depression,” and “Crosstown Traffic” are three of my favourites that highlight the genius guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix.

Early in the interview, Mike mentions that he only recently got into Pink Floyd and David Gilmour’s guitar playing. I was quite surprised by that because I’ve always considered Pink Floyd to be one of those rare bands in the pantheon of rock history. Mike plays a really good version of the solo from “Time,” that I feature a little snippet of in the video. Other examples of Gilmour’s stellar playing are found in classics such as “Comfortably Numb” and “Welcome to the Machine,” amongst many more.

Mike treasures originality in guitarists most of all. The five guitarists mentioned so far were definitely innovative and original throughout their careers.

Photo by Amarendra Ghanekar

We talk a little about the strange stage fright we have both experienced when trying to record ourselves on video for public consumption via the Internet. I also get a sense of envy that he feels towards youngsters today that can shred as though they’ve been playing for decades. I’ve seen those videos too and to be honest, sometimes they make me want to give it all up, but I love playing guitar too much to be intimidated by young prodigies. I just do my own thing, as does Mike.

He gets philosophical when he tells us that we must learn to live within our own limitations and lays down some profound advice:

“Do what you can do … dexterity is different for everybody.”

“You are the master of your own destiny.”

“Personal growth is different for everyone.”

He then tells us that he naturally gravitated towards tinkering, being a natural born problem-solver. This is what lead to him becoming a guitar tech long ago. I was surprised to learn that he only started building guitars about three years ago. I’ve seen some of his work and I had always imagined that he had been doing it for several years because that’s how good his work is and how beautiful his designs are. Perhaps his background as a cabinetmaker was a natural steppingstone to becoming a part-time luthier.

Being an artist at heart, his is more of an artistic approach, compared to the more technical and analytical approach of his friend and guitar building partner. He tells us that guitar building and tinkering with guitars centers his thoughts and efforts. They seem to have a calming effect on him.

His biggest reward from building guitars, he tells us, is playing the guitars he makes. Like any endeavour, he has good days and bad days. But his love of the process keeps him from chucking it all away and his ability as a problem-solver help to save his projects that might otherwise be thrown on the scrap heap.

It typically takes him 80 hours from design to final completion for one of his typical guitar builds He says that it is a semi-retirement plan to build guitars fulltime but first, he has to learn to let go of his creations, which he admits has been a struggle for him. Properly valuing his creations and finding inspiration in other people’s demands and wishes have also been difficult for him.

“You can’t force an artist to paint. You have to be inspired,” as puts it.

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