“Clarke talks about his journey as a guitarist and his liking of the POD interface.”
Leigh Lim: Hi Clarke, thanks for giving your time to do a Q&A. After having a quick look at your YouTube feed, I noticed you checked out a couple of Paul Gilbert videos. Have you been keeping track of him since his days with ‘Mr. Big’?
Clarke Robinson: Good question. I’ve been into Paul’s playing since hearing “To Be With You”. His guitar work on “Lean Into It” became a lifetime goal to aspire to. The intro to the song “Alive N’ Kickin’” still makes me smile. It’s actually one of my YouTube videos.
In the last few years I’ve discovered through the internet & YouTube just how good a teacher Paul is as well as a player, so much so that last year I signed up to his online Guitar School at Artistworks.com. I’ve learned lots since then plus I get to interact directly with one of my guitar heroes!
LL: Can you give me a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with your playing?
CR: I started playing at 16. My brother got a guitar and went to lessons and used to bring home little scraps of paper with chords written on or whatever he had been shown that day. I used to try to learn a little from those.
I was also big into Elvis so once I had figured out a few chords, I watched the Elvis 68′ special on video (Black Leather suit show) and tried to copy the chords from that. I also remember watching an old BB King concert from Africa and studying from that. Then I graduated onto tab books for my favourite bands and it grew from there.
LL: With your recording equipment, what are the current specs you use?
CR: To keep it simple for youtube, I tend to plug my guitar into the computer and use software called “Pod Farm” which can produce realistic sounds without the need for a real amp. So I tend to use that for all my recording purposes at home. I also have a POD HD which I’ve used. It’s similar to Pod Farm.
LL: What would you say to POD users who struggle with the Accompanying software for the POD?
CR: Hard one for me to answer. I haven’t struggled with it but if I did I’d probably turn to google or YouTube for answers
LL: How’d you end up going with a POD? What was your rig like before incorporating it in your playing/recording?
CR: I always liked the idea of a POD as I’d like to get the variety of sounds that different amplifiers without needing the space or money to own all those amps. A pod is an effective way of being able to capture the sounds of certain classic amplifiers in the studio without breaking the bank or having to own a warehouse full of gear.
Having said that, A POD is just part of the gear I use. Lately I’m using just some of the effects (like overdrive etc) from the pod and bypassing the amp simulator stuff as I’m using a real tube amp. I’ve always had a Marshall of some sort, starting with a valvestate from the 90s. So, often it’s a stomp box into the front of a Marshall.
LL: Do you mix the audio for your videos?
CR: Yes. I record the audio separately from the videos. So far the video has been done through a digital camera, whilst at the same time recording the guitar audio straight into the computer. Then I sync the two back together by replacing the camera audio with the guitar audio.
LL: What software do you use to mix the audio and finalise the video?
CR: I use Camtasia at the moment. I’ve just downloaded the latest free Movie Maker for windows 7 so might try that in future if it’s easy to use.
LL: Do you have a specific picking style?
CR: Hmm, I think it’s a combination of different styles. I use what’s called Hybrid Picking quite a bit. So for certain notes, rather than use the pick, i’ll use the middle finger on my picking hand.
People like Zakk Wylde do this a lot, and that’s who inspired me to try this technique a few years ago. More and more these days I play quite a bit with just my fingers, which is a little smoother sound than a pick.
LL: not planning to keep the nails on your right hand a bit longer for more sound flexibility?
CR: Nope. It feels funny to me to use the actual nail for picking as opposed to the flesh on my finger. Granted, at first, the nail won’t give you pain, but I’ve now built up some calluses on my middle finger on my picking hand so that’s not a problem.
It just feels more natural for me to use the finger rather than the nail. If I grew the nails on my right hand I’d have to worry about protecting them day to day. Not for me.
LL: Are you working on something specific at the moment to expand your technical ability? (or musical exercises that you tend to do)
CR: Always! My theory and chord knowledge has always been lacking, so I’m learning more chords at the moment, and beginning to figure out what notes go well with certain chords when soloing. Lately I’ve also been trying to learn vocal melodies on guitar too. It’s challenging!
I’m also constantly also playing little scale patterns. I want to be able to play really fast runs (shred type runs), but have never been that good at it. So in the background, I practice that stuff a lot as I want to be able to play faster than I can sometimes!
I find there aren’t enough hours in the day to practice, but I really love it so much, it never feels like practice, just fun.
LL: What’s part of your guitar arsenal at the moment?
LL: Did it take awhile for you to settle on the kind that you like?
COG: Strings, not really. I’ve used D’Addarios for as long as I remember. Always been great for me. I remember trying a couple of other brands many years ago, but always kept coming back to the D’Addarios.
Picks, I change those sometimes. 2 years ago I was using really heavy 2mm picks. Now, I’m using really light ones. The light ones are great for big rock slides!
LL: You mentioned earlier that your main guitars are a Tele, Strat and Les Paul. Were they purchased at the same time?
CR: I wish! I can’t afford to rush out and buy 3 good guitars at once lol. I’ve bought those 3 over the years. I owned a Les Paul for many years, then the Strat came next, and the Tele is a relatively new addition (3-4 years).
LL: with your consumables, particularly the strings. How long do they last?
CR: I’m not gigging at all right now, so all my playing is done at home. I don’t change my strings often at all. If they feel good and sound good, I’ll keep ’em on there until they break (which is rare anyway). If they begin to feel rough on my fingers, then I’ll change them.
It’s more tricky in the summer months as my fingers sweat that little bit more so the strings might need changing more often. But for sure, I only change strings when I really have to. If I were gigging, I’d probably need to change them every gig or two. I should really change them more often, as I love new strings on a guitar. Makes the guitar feel new every time.
LL: Any specific schedule for guitar maintenance?
CR: I’m quite lazy about cleaning. Some of that dirt might be adding something to my tone (ha!). I normally give the guitar a real good clean when changing strings, and rarely after playing. Occasionally I’ll wipe the strings down, but honestly not much.
LL: During a gig, do you keep some notes as a guide?
CR: I haven’t gigged for many years, but as a band, we had a setlist written so we wouldn’t forget what to play next!
LL: What is your warm-up / practice routine like?
CR: It varies. Perhaps learning a song, some 3 note per string picking patterns, jamming with backing tracks, it really just depends on the mood of the day. I don’t have a strict schedule to adhere to.
LL: Are there artists that you absolutely dig, and are surprised that others haven’t heard of?
CR: Loads of them. Guitarwise, my big inspirations growing up were the likes of Slash, Jimmy Page, Angus Young, Paul Kossoff. Those Gibson blues based rockers! I had to have a Les Paul because it was what Slash played. I also love Paul Gilbert’s playing these days.
Another big influence would be perhaps less well known, Audley Freed. He has played with the Black Crowes and had a band of his own in the 90’s called “Cry of Love”. Great Southern Blues-based rock music. Audley uses hybrid picking too, and inspired that style of picking in me.
LL: What are your favorite sites at the moment?
CR: YouTube! Other than that, I don’t have particular favorite sites. I like to shop so Amazon is good! Ebay for strings.
LL: Are there websites that you like to visit just because you like the design?
CR: No, not really. I’m more interested in content, style helps, but I’ll put up with bad style if the content I want is good.
LL: Also, I’d like to link to one of your videos. Which one would you say is either your favorite, or the one you’d regularly send if you were asked for a video?
CR: Hmm, not sure. For some reason, the first video I put up, the Floyd Blues one, seems by far the most popular video. So I guess if that’s the one people most watch, then that one. In all honesty, I’d say my favourite will always be the next one I’m working on!
* Clarke Robinson is a guitarist based in London. You can find his YouTube videos here, and can reach him through his YouTube channel, either via messages or comments. If in any case he is blessed to receive an offer to jam with Paul Gilbert or Angus Young, YES will be the next word out of his mouth.
Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (May 2014) between Clarke and Leigh. Content has been edited for length, and the final version has been reviewed and approved by the interviewee.
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