Guitarist of the Month: Renton Harper

If you know me, then you know this man – my man. My coffee bringer, my rock and inspiration at times, frustration at others. 😀 What else could I possibly say about Renton without going into a biased long story? When we 1st met, we bonded over our love of Joe Stariani and overall passion for guitar. That passion then grew and now we’re in a happy marriage which filled our home with more guitars than probably any sensible household 👀 In the month of our 4th marriage and 9th relationship anniversary, I thought it would probably be good to introduce him better to all of you. Or better yet – let him do that below. If you’re interested in nerding out about guitar, you’ll definitely enjoy this read!” – Neli

How would you describe your journey as a musician so far – where it started and how you got where you are now?

The way I got to where I am today was a bit profound! I had a guitar teacher where I grew up who was a nice guy but only played blues and kept on telling every student that they’re amazing. It was nice to be told things like this and I got used to getting told that I’m really good at guitar, but I knew I was far away from where I wanted to be.

I then started guitar lessons with a different teacher who also taught my uncle how to play bass. He was (at the time) the best guitar player that I’d ever sat next to and he made it very clear from the first lesson that I am (in his words) absolutely shit!….. Motivation done properly! It was obviously not “nice” to hear but I liked the change from being praised all the time and it gave me a push to take it more seriously.

Then basically I went to music university, met my wife, met loads of other fantastic musicians who are all better than me, made a few friends, moved to Bulgaria, and here I am!

What equipment do you use for your varied projects and how do you choose what gear to invest in?

Get a coffee, or a snack, or some popcorn for this answer please. We’re gonna be here for a while…

I started playing guitar to primarily play rock music, so every piece of equipment I have would be useful for that in some way. Even if it means that I don’t use it for rock music, it’s nice to know that it is possible.

Investing in a piece of equipment is actually quite easy. There are four factors I look for, plus a “secret” fifth factor.

  1. Does it sound good?
  2. Does it feel good?
  3. Does it look good?
  4. How reliable is it going to be?

The secret factor is basically, do I feel cool using it and does it make me look good?

That kind of leads me on to what equipment I use. I have quite a lot of guitars, but my main ones are my Warmoth custom strat and my Fender american standard strat (both of which have a low output PAF-style humbucker in the bridge position). These are the two that I play the most as I’m very used to the strat shape and the neck profile. They also have vibrato bars and that means I can do silly tricks and add some nice flavour to chords. It’s also fun to play Joe Satriani music with these guitars.

I also have a double-cut hollowbody Gretsch in green, Which I got because it was pretty and it was a kind of wedding gift from my in-laws. I play that a lot for heavier styles of music because it has this unique clarity and quality sound to it. It’s not very typical to use a hollowbody for metal but I think it works well.

I have a very nice amplifier and speaker cabinet. I have a Victory V30 The Countess MKii (now just called “The Jack”) which has two channels and five available gain sounds. I plugged into one for the first time at my previous job in a guitar store in London (Hello GG Camden if you’re reading!). I couldn’t stop playing the amp as it has huge amounts of gain and distortion available, yet still sounds very unforgiving. I like playing equipment that tells you if your playing sounds good or bad. Some equipment will help you out no matter what, but this amp just punishes you if you’re having a bad day, which I love! The speaker cab is an “Orange 112” with a “Celestion Vintage 30”. Again, this speaker is unforgiving.

I’ve also got a few effects that I use occasionally: wah wah, a nice delay pedal and a couple of distortion and overdrive pedals. I don’t really use the overdrives or distortions much now because the amplifier gives me everything I need. Sometimes, I’ll use a “Tubescreamer” type pedal just to help out the Gretsch, because the pickups on that guitar are very low output.

Recently, I got a “Two-Notes Captor X” which really helps with recording because it means that recording guitar is faster and there is less post-production and processing to do. I use Logic Pro X for recording everything I make. It’s fast and easy to work with and the in-built sounds and the plugins are great.

I also have a Taylor acoustic which I use mostly for just personal enjoyment at home.

To be honest though, there is such a vast amount of equipment out there to explore and try, but I’ll only buy anything if it’s going to help me in some way.

How do you maintain your equipment?

With a lot of care and attention. It takes patience and a little bit of skill to do repair work to any of your musical instruments or amplifiers. I only do basic work on my amp, such as changing the valves, re-biassing the power-valves and changing a fuse every now and then if it’s needed. I don’t understand electronics so if I’m out of my depth, I’ll just take it to someone who knows about that stuff and ask questions if I get the chance.

For my guitars I do everything that I can myself. For example, my Fender recently had a new neck put on it, so I did the fret-levelling (getting all the frets to an even height for the best playability), crowning (reshaping the frets to a nice dome shape) and polishing so that they feel much smoother and better to play. I don’t recommend everyone does this as it does take a lot of time and patience, and it is very easy to get it wrong and ruin your guitar. If you would like to learn about this stuff, check out “Crimson Custom Guitars” on Youtube.

Apart from major repair work, I do guitar set-ups about once every 6 months just to account for seasonal changes to the Truss rod, and general clean and change of strings.

Honestly, the maintenance that I do is because I play every day. Because of the constant use, even tiny changes to my equipment are noticeable.

Recently, you started streaming guitar. What inspired you to get engaged in this activity?

Basically, Neli used to watch a lot of streaming when we were in London, and I always liked the idea, but could never see myself doing it because of the sound quality that I knew was going to be a problem.

Neli helped me set up the streaming software, as I’m a bit of a noob when it comes to computers. When everything was set up I gave it a go and quite enjoyed it, so I carried on.

My goal is to build a community of like minded musicians to chat and hang out. Hopefully me playing guitar and chatting about gear and music will get some people to join in and chat. I’ve always had so many random thoughts and ideas about “guitar tone” everyday. When I wake up in the morning, it’s coffee time and then my brain just hears music and riffs and guitars, and it always leads to ideas about the sound I’m after. I know that there are lots of other musicians who have this kind of thought process (either intentionally or not), so I really want to meet and talk to those people.

I also follow a few musicians on Youtube and other platforms, and streaming doesn’t seem to be too popular with electric guitar players, so I like the idea of helping to popularise it somewhat.

How do you choose what songs to cover and stream?

I don’t really think about it. I have a lot of backing tracks downloaded and a few tracks that I have made myself that I like to jam over. A lot of Joe Satriani stuff is in there. I’ve been trying to play in a style similar to him for years so it’s nice to just play stuff I know.

Generally, if people have a particular request on the stream chat, I’ll have a look at it for the following stream.

Is there something you wish you knew before starting to stream?

Yeah, how difficult it is to be interesting! I do enjoy streaming, but sometimes, when I’m taking time to answer any questions or thinking of a topic to discuss or even just playing the guitar and dialing in a sound, I struggle to fill the silence with something interesting. I’m learning how to deal with this though and often I’ll just put my EP on in the background, just so that the stream doesn’t feel urgent.

Apart from that, I try to advertise when I remember but it’s quite tricky to get over “imposter syndrome”. I’m just not 100 percent sure of how to advertise and where to advertise. I’m still experimenting though.

How do you approach music writing?

Most of the time a song will start with a simple idea, and often the ideas are a personal tribute to a particular artist or something like that. For example, there is a song by a band called “The Winery Dogs” which I love the energy of and the slight tongue-and cheek humour in the lyrics. I basically took the chord progression and the tempo and tried to twist and break it and make something different and new. I find it easier to work this way because the musical ideas flow a bit more freely.

As I have a particular sound that I’m trying to hear and achieve when writing, I often get caught up playing around with sounds and the song doesn’t get finished, because I’ve forgotten how the rest of it sounds in my head! As a result, I have a folder on my desktop with a massive amount of Logic Pro X projects waiting to be finished.

Any new music coming soon?

I do have plans to release a follow-up to my first EP “5” from 2016, but as of right now there are no completed songs. The idea is to explore some of the songs from the first EP and create a “Part 2”. The first EP was an instrumental as well, so maybe I’ll do some singing on this one, or get someone else to sing for me.

I would like to write an album with a band at some point in a heavier progressive rock/metal style. I’ve been listening to “Tool” a lot recently and playing their riffs. I really like the simplicity that they have with the ideas, but the sound and the story that they tell is so unlike anything that anybody else does. I also love the humour and complexities in the music of Frank Zappa, so maybe Tool-ish riffing and bass and drums with Zappa-ish lyrics and improvisational sections would be fun to try and record with a band. Maybe one day…

What is your dream music project?

I love it when I play guitar and look into an audience and see people smiling and laughing with joy at the music and show that they’re seeing. Some shows of friends and also some larger shows with more well known artists have had this effect on me. I remember seeing AC/DC years ago and everybody was dancing and smiling and generally having a great time.

I also had the chance to see Hans Zimmer a few years ago and that was an unbelievable experience. The emotional impact that it had on me was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. There was humour, sadness, fear and also a sense of feeling like you’re on top of the world. All because of the music and the show that was put on in front of us.

I think that my dream musical project is just to be with other musicians who I can call friends, and to make people happy and forget the real world for the time we get to play for them.

Either that or replace Joe Satriani in Chickenfoot for a tour or two!

You can catch Renton streaming on Twitch at 18:00 EET Wednesdays and Sundays.
Listen also to his EP “5” HERE and follow him here:
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