In this section of our interview, Mike gets more in-depth about his creative process when building guitars and discusses the difficulties he has with valuating is creations. With the time, effort, and passion he puts into these projects, it’s not only difficult for him to let go of his creations, but he also finds it challenging to put a price tag on the finished product. His is an iterative process where getting the project out of his head and into the shop is the most important step. He leaves refining his output for later. A true free spirit and artist.
We talk a little about the difference between solid body guitars, semi-hollow body guitars, and hollow body guitars. Mike says there isn’t too much difference in effort between a solid body flat top and semi-hollow body flat top, but the real crucible of creativity would be to conquer the challenge of someday producing an archtop guitar out of a solid piece of wood. He says however, that the production time for that would be way longer than 80 hours, involving many hours of carving.
Mike then talks about the project he undertook recently to restore a 1982 Yamaha Turbo motorcycle, something that harkens back to his youth. He explains that he did all the bodywork himself but didn’t do much mechanically in this restoration project. Although, he is trying to rebuild the carburetor, which he taught himself to do – a testament to his can-do attitude. He learned how to do the bodywork from his experience building guitars, especially the finishing process, which he explains is the hardest and most intricate part of building a guitar. Mike explains that his can-do attitude is a family trait
We then get into quite a technical discussion of the different shapes of guitars and the different components of a guitar, and how they combine to make a whole. Each component counts as they all play off each other to create the tone a guitar produces. Mike states that the “three most iconic shapes are the Telecaster, Stratocaster, and Les Paul.” Throughout the video, Mike lauds the tremendous contributions to guitar and rock & roll history of Leo Fender – the inventor of the solid body electric guitar.
We also cover a brief history of three of the most popular guitar amplifiers in rock history: Fender, Vox, and Marshall. For a great history lesson on the creation of Marshall, check the Marshall website and the 2022-2023 issue of Guitarist Annual magazine, pp 114 – 133, as discussed in my recent article:
Mike then gives us a great lesson on the different kinds of pickups, including an overview of how each is made and how each sounds. I loved the part where he describes how humbucker pickups actually work and how one can achieve the same effect with a combination of single coils on a Stratocaster for example, depending on which position you place the selector switch
Mike says that he “engineers his guitars in a certain way,” and is very picky about his pickups (sorry for the pun). He only uses Real-tone pickups made by Real Beregeron of Montreal. He says they are better than any other pickup he has tried and that Real will make them to Mike’s exacting specifications and standards. To him, they make a big difference in the tone of the guitar.
He then pulls out his modernized version of a Hendrix Strat, complete with upside down headstock, inverted bridge pickup and reverse string mounting. All of these unique components combine to make a very particular tone. No challenge is too big for Mike, even going so far as recently performing two neck transplants and one truss rod transplant on two of his guitar creations.
Mike then gives us a captivating lesson on the history of the pickup selector switch. Who knew that a switch could that be that interesting and have such a storied history? He goes on to tell us how the tone of the guitar gets “rounder and fatter” as you approach the neck pickup.
I ask him what he looks for in musicians that he plays with, and much like what he said in Part 1 concerning famous guitarists that influenced him, he looks for “originality and individuality” that combine to create the signature sound of different players.
For drummers, he likes those that have “feel” and “groove.” He likes those that have “the Bonham slur,” as he puts it, referring to the late Led Zeppelin drummer, John Bonham. He says it’s the kind of drummer “that plays behind the beat…just by a millisecond.” This led us to our mutual admiration of Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden and how we both enjoy listening to the various rock channels on Sirius XM.
Talking more about the about the originality he looks for in musicians, he talks about a few Canadian guitarists he really admires. One of them being Jason Hook. Upon hearing a song that features one his solos, Mike says:
“What respect for the song. Guy goes into the solo; climbs…gets in and out, without overtaking the song.”
For more info on Jason Hook, check out his website: https://hooksguitar.com/ and for a decent write-up of his time with Five Finger Death Punch, go to Wikipedia.
We conclude with Mike talking about another one of his favourite Canadian guitarists, Pete Lesperance, formerly of Harem Scarem
“He’s a mode guy” and a very “melodic player.”
Mike’s reverence and respect for the instrument and of those who play it well is palpable.
Please click the link below for a link to Part 1 of this interview.
All photo credits in this article to Amarendra Ghanekar.