Bumblefoot a.k.a. Ron Thal
Guitarist, solo artist, writer, producer and engineer. Bumblefoot speaks with us about technique, sounds, and a whole lot more.
September 9, 2004
Guitarhoo!: Have you figured out what rhymes with orange?
Bumblefoot: Many words rhyme with orange – just pronounce “orange” like “kite”
G!: yeah, that works… What kind of strings do you use?
BF: Guitar strings.
G!: *Rimshot* – *Canned Laughter* (oh, this is the internet – *barump – bump… chuckle, chuckle, chuckle*) Where were you born?
BF: In a hospital. More specific? Mom’s crotch.
G!: hahaha… Were there other musicians in your family that had an influence on you becoming a musician?
BF: Nope, no other musicians.
G!: Were you attracted to guitar from the get go or did you take on learning other instruments first?
BF: I wanted to be a drummer, but it didn’t work out – I was always on time for appointments, I didn’t live off my girlfriend and I didn’t quit bands at their most inopportune moments, or keep my thoughts a secret and then blow up every few months without warning. So I tried bass, but that didn’t work out either – I didn’t do drugs, often smiled and had goals. I thought about maybe playing keyboards, but I wasn’t an only child with an input/output brain malfunction that made me answer any question people asked with “Hey, check out THIS patch! [sswoooooossshhhhhhaaaaaaahhhh]” That was a keyboard sound by the way. A swooshing noise that faded into a choir of aaaah’s. Did ya like it? So I thought about maybe just being a recording engineer – but I had friends, didn’t fear daylight, and half my vocabulary wasn’t model numbers of rack gear. By the way, my X12 had a dirty WXP board so I called the people that fixed my 94K3 to see about trading it for the new C9, which I should add sounds great if ya put an AFQ10000 on it running through a TX7B!! So eventually I went with the guitar – easier on the brain – guitars and amps had people’s first/last names instead of being named after spaceships [keyboards], buying a new set of strings didn’t mean having to skip paying a month’s rent [bass] and there’s a volume knob [drums].
Yeah, I started learning guitar first.
G!: haha.. I understand… Did you take any formal training early on or did you learn mostly by ear?
BF: Took private lessons for 8 years, then dug deeper into music theory my on own after that.
G!: Which areas of guitar playing would you say you had to work hardest on and which areas came to you instinctively?
BF: Picking technique – seemed my right hand wasn’t as developed as my left. Which is surprising since I did so much more stuff with my right hand.
G!: haha… Which was the first album you bought in your life and what did it mean to you?
BF: Kiss Alive. It meant I was a douche.
G!: hahaha… Were you freaked out later on knowing that the Kiss Alive record was doctored in the studio?
BF: Nah, I wasn’t freaked out. It was probably a good thing.
G!: Which was the last CD you bought and what did it mean to you?
BF: I only ILLEGALLY DOWNLOAD. I don’t buy CDs. The last one I ILLEGALLY DOWNLOADed was The Beatles “Let It Be Naked” – no wait, I didn’t ILLEGALLY DOWNLOAD that one, I bought it. OK, never mind about all that I said about ILLEGALLY DOWNLOADing stuff. Never happened. Really. Never.
G!: hahaha.. You’re not alone on that, man… NOT illegally downloading, that is!
Did you ever meet Frank Zappa?
BF: No, sadly, he passed away a few years before I was born.
G!: You have some of the sickest designs for your guitars, which rival the brilliance of Rick Nielsen. Can you reflect on what you were going through to inspire the creation of the Pensive Penguin guitar?
BF: I was thinking the guitar had too much wood and not enough pictures of penguins on it.
G!: hahaha.. The Mutant Cow guitar?
BF: I don’t have a mutant cow guitar.
G!: The Swiss Cheese guitar?
BF: For this one I was inspired by Swiss cheese.
G!: Fascinating! The Hand Guitar?
BF: For this one I was inspired by a hand. Actually, I don’t have a hand guitar.
G!: Your signature “Bumblefoot” guitar by Vigier, (is cool with the wings coming out the sides when you press down on the whammy bar). How did that design come about?
BF: Glad you like! That guitar was inspired by Swiss cheese.
G!: You use a “thimble” on your right hand (on solo’s such as “R2” off your “9-11” disc) to hit some unbelieveable high notes, and the way you incorporate it in the context of the solo is way out there yet musical. How did you come up with it?
BF: Well, I needed more notes. The string keeps going and I needed a way to get to them without the limits of the fretboard. Needed something metal for sustain, but easily accessible. It seemed like the right thing to do. Until my finger turned blackish-green.
G!: Another style of playing you don’t really hear a lot of is the use of Fretless guitar. When you pick up the fretless versus your regular axe, do you find you view music in a completely different way?
BF: I don’t really view music differently, but I have to view the physical way of playing it differently. On the fretless, ya don’t bend strings – ya slide to the pitch instead of bending it. And ya have to keep your fingers intonated , which gets tricky when playing chords. So yeah, there’s a challenge, but challenges aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
G!: About halfway through the solo on “Swatting Flies” off your “Hands” disc, sounds like you’re working the fretless there. Are you sliding your fingers up and down the neck or are you actually playing individual notes quickly (cool sound!)?
BF: Nope, those are individual notes. Just a whole lot of ’em. I put some videos on Bumblefoot.com – you can see what’s happenin’ in the Hands solo on one of the videos.
G!: Also, around halfway through the solo on “Chair Ass” off the same disc, what effects are you using there and are you playing a combination of harmonics and chromatic notes?
BF: Ah, that was played with a can of soda pressed against the strings over the pickup.
G!: How many takes did you go through for the photo’s on “Uncool”? (that’s a lot of Martini glasses being chucked, must have been a soggy day for ya,haha)
BF: Somewhere in the 30s – it was kinda fun. A few bruises, but what is fun without bruises?
Bumblefoots Uncool CD. Be sure to check it out!
G!: No pain no gain… Who are some of your favorite comedians?
BF: Greg Morton’s a funny guy. Perhaps I may be so bold as to call him a friend.
G!: As a writer and producer there are so many directions you can take a song or an entire album. You have to tap into your intuition and have the flexibilty to maneuver in and out of ideas while keeping a clear mind of where you feel the music should be going. You are very skilled in this area obviously by the sound of your work. Do you ever look back at some of your compositions and think, “ah, I should’ve zigged when I zagged there”?
BF: Yes, always. Within a month of recording something it feels like the music isn’t representing what I’m sayin’ anymore and I’ve grown to a different place. So ya have to know when the cut-off point is where you have to accept the thang and live with it and treat it like history instead of the present.
G!: Are you typically flooded with ideas when writing a piece of music and it’s just a matter of time to get all the parts out, or do you periodically go back to small bits and pieces and see if they fit together?
BF: It’s either tidal-wave or drought.
G!: Do you ever record a few versions of the same song, live with it for a bit, then figure out which one has the right vibe you want to express?
BF: Usually I go with the gut instinct.
G!: When you compose some of your more detailed songs, which feature wind and stringed instruments, percussion and piano, do you transcribe all of the parts for your players or do you play them rough ideas and verbalize everything?
BF: I play almost everything on guitar synth. Anything else, I’ll write out for the players.
G!: Having your own studio must be awesome. Did you build it from scratch and what kind of gear are you using?
BF: It’s an old house that I’ve been slowly rebuilding with the help of some quality folks. All-digital HD, great sounding drum room… I just might like putting up drywall at the studio more than recording.
G!: You’ve done some unique covers (Lounge versions of Eminem’s, Outkast’s and Ozzy Osbournes music, to name a few). Were you ever contacted by those guys with their comments on your concoctions?
BF: Fortunately NO. Actually, it wasn’t me who did those CDs – it was a guy named Herbert “Ruffles” Lovecraft who did all that shit. People think it was me, but I had *absolutely nothing* to do with any of those recordings. Really.
G!: I believe you… Do you find your creativity peaks at a certain time of the day (where you find yourself right there)?
BF: 11pm – 6am EST.
G!: When you are finished a project does it take you some time to unwind from being close and submerged in it all for so long?
BF: It used to, but these days I’m working on at least 6 different albums at any given time and it’s more of just one big endless thing that goes on for years…
G!: Do you find your fans are predominately guitarists or are you seeing a different crowd seep in, as you are covering a lot of different styles?
BF: Most people that come to the shows are guitar-players. If there’s a lady present, she’s usually with one of the guitar players. Or she’s a guitar player. Damn guitar players…
G!: When you play live, do you and your band mates stay fairly true to the original recordings or do you all use it as an opportunity to mess with the music and try new arrangements?
BF: We definitely mess with the music live – add parts, change arrangements, all that good stuff.
G!: What does your live set-up usually consist of?
BF: I just plug into the Vetta amp – real simple. For bigger venues it gets mic’ed or we run a direct-out to the PA. The last tour was like that – what an odd tour – 2 hours a night of people stage divin’ and crowd surfin’ to loungy guitar music. Haha, gotta love it 🙂 When I do guitar clinics type stuff, it’s the same deal – plug into the Vetta. Those shows last just as long but we do under 10 songs and I insult the audience and throw things at the band the remaining time.
G!: You just recently jammed with Joe Satriani live, with Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy. How did it all go and what did you perform?
BF: We did that ol’ blues jam “Goin’ Down” – that was the first time we played together. Man, Satch is a great guy to jam with. I hope he enjoyed it as much as I did. 🙂
G!: Cool! What would you say has been one of your more memorable musical experiences in your life?
BF: Probably eating breakfast this morning. I had a waffle.
G!: haha… Who are some musicians you admire and you’d like to work with?
BF: So many… most are dead unfortunately. I work with people based on their personality and what’s in their hearts, more than for what they do musically. There are people I wouldn’t have expected to be working with until I got to know them and really admired them on a non-musical level. I’d have to say top of the list would be Ethel Merman.
Ethel with Bumblefoot Live at the Apollo!
G!: What do you find is the most challenging aspect to being a working musician in this day and age?
BF: The hardest part for a working musician today is to be a *working* musician – lol. With the music industry in transition, not knowing how to fit into the ever-growing digital side of things, the key is to NOT be part of the music industry. Be independent, make your own rules, make your life the way you want it to be, and be DIVERSE! If we learned anything from the Crash of ’29, it’s to *not* put all your eggs in one basket. Teach music, get yourself hired for studio or live gigs, write songs, whatever – just have as many open avenues as possible so your life doesn’t hinge on one thing. The mistake a lot of bands make is they act like gigging is everything, they do nothing else to keep the band active, and lose morale when they play the same clubs for 3 years straight with the same size crowds, losing energy (and money) on promoting the shows. Bands need to get off their asses and stop waiting for a fukking savior to take on all their responsibilities – be your own label – you’ll care more and give more attention to your band than some label with 50 other bands. And don’t fukking say ya don’t have money to make merch or record an album – ya have money for beer and cigarettes, right?? Just do what ya gotta fukkin’ do – less talking, more doing. So yeah, be diverse.
G!: You are also a very giving individual. I notice you do a lot of charity gigs etc. Is there any particular connection in why you choose certain charitable organizations over others?
BF: My best friend was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis a few years ago, and he started a nonprofit organization that arranges dinner/comedy shows and donates the money directly to the researchers. We’ve gone together to the labs and checked out the work they’re doing, and I help with arranging the shows and whatever I can do. His name is Ralph Rosa, the site is http://www.msrf.org I donate profits from the “9.11” CD to the Red Cross, specifically to help those affected by the attacks on the US in 2001. Just wish I had more to give.
G!: What are some of your future recording and touring projects we can all look forward to?
BF: Mattias Eklundh and I have been planning to make an album together for a long time but we’re both so damn busy… after I finish up – actually I just counted and am working on 11 artist’s albums right now! – so, uh, after I finish that stuff I’ll be doing my own stuff. Definitely overdue… slooooowly working on an instructional DVD… some tentative big stuff in the works that I shouldn’t mention unless it happens… 🙂
G!: Do you have anything outside of music you’d like to tackle?
BF: Christina Ricci.
G!: What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of music?
BF: Carpentry, photography… been getting into video-editing lately – mostly video-taping bands at the studio getting beat up by their girlfriends with Sock’em Boppers.
G!: hahaha… Thanks for taking out some time for this and bringing something different to the site. We all look forward to your future projects!
BF: Thank you sir. Good bless.
Interview © 2004 Guitarhoo!