Interview: Monte Montgomery Redefines Acoustic Guitar
With his beat up ‘80s model Alvarez, Monte Montgomery has the ability to wail on an acoustic like any of today’s best electric guitar shredders.
Hailing from Austin, TX, Montgomery has earned his place as one of the city’s best guitarists, winning seven consecutive Austin Music Awards.
And while Monte’s acoustic playing is surely impressive, this talent is matched with an innate ability for songwriting, which is showcased on his latest LP, Tethered.
Recently, Montgomery took a step into an entirely new musical territory, writing the music for ABC’s Last Man Standing, a job that lead character Tim Allen hand selected him for.
Find out more in our interview with Monte Montgomery below, and keep up with him at montemontgomery.net.
You take a non-traditional approach to acoustic guitar. What took you in that direction?
I started on acoustic, but then when I was younger, I got into electric too. I was in a band where I would open up the show with my acoustic. Then I’d pick up my electric, plug in and play the normal set.
And honestly, over time, I just got tired of carrying around so much gear, and I started playing more and more acoustic. It was just a preference, really. I found that I could do all the softer stuff on the acoustic, plus, I could pull off electric-type stuff as well. It’s just something that kind of happened, you know?
Watch Montgomery perform "The River" live at the Peavey booth during the 2014 NAMM Show:
It’s great to see someone be so versatile on an acoustic guitar – one song can be softer and sweet, while the next can be a little distorted and pushed more.
Yeah, exactly. Someone who recently saw me at a club said that when they first walked in, they couldn’t see the stage but they heard me playing. I was doing all this rocked-out stuff, and when they turned the corner, they were surprised to see that I was doing all of that on an acoustic. That’s what I like to do. You wouldn’t know I’m playing acoustic necessarily, unless you’re looking.
Some of that stuff might be harder to play on acoustic, right? I find electric’s easier, at least action-wise for lots of soloing.
Well, it certainly is. When I play electric, I fly all over the fingerboard. I feel like I have weights attached to my hands when I play acoustic.
Do you feel any pressure to showcase your technical ability on your records?
Not really. I just try to make everything a little different. I don’t really play a song the same way twice, you know? Some guys are real structured – they sit down and write out their guitar solos note for note, and know exactly what they’re going to do. But I’m more of a feel guy. I don’t think about it – I just play.
I’ve been asked to break down my playing before – I was doing an interview with a magazine a while back. I sat down in front of this guy with a guitar and he asked me technical questions about one of my songs. I’m like, “Dude, I don’t know!” That’s just the way it is for me. I’m not a technician; I’m more of a soul guy.
Can you tell me about your songwriting process?
I’ve written every different way. Normally, I’ll pickup the guitar and just start doodling around and something will just click, and then I’ll start to sing a melody over it – that’s really the start of a song. It’s a feel and vibe thing.
Other times, I’ll have a title or a hook idea and try to put it that together that way. But most of the time, I just sit down with a guitar and it inspires me.
What’s your go-to guitar?
A beat up old Alvarez acoustic. It’s a 1987 CY62-C. I bought that guitar in 1988 brand new.
I call that guitar Excalibur because I had this crazy Excalibur-type moment with it – I had been searching around for that particular model and I couldn’t find one with a neck that I liked. But when I plucked this guitar off the wall, I knew immediately that I had found what I’d been looking for. It’s been my main guitar for all these years, and I still play it.
Do you use it in the studio, too?
What do you plug into?
I use a Buddha Twinmaster and my AER. AER actually just came out with a signature model amp for me called the MM200. It’s really clean, like super hi-fi clean. Then the Buddha is more of an electric amp, like a low wattage tube amp. It has a darker sound and it’s warmer on the high end.
I sort of stumbled onto that amp combination at a rehearsal studio a while ago. One of my amps blew and they brought in a Buddha Twinmaster. We were all like, “Oh my God, that sound is amazing.” So my regular rig is the Twinmaster and an AER MM200.
You compose music for Last Man Standing too, right? How did that come about?
Well, I played on Austin City Limits back in ’99. Tim Allen was in a hotel room in California, flipping through the channels and happened to see the performance, so he got a hold of me. From there, we just became friends.
When he came up with the TV show, he called me up and asked if I’d be interested in doing the music. I’d never really had done anything like that before, but I took a shot at it for the pilot. They loved it, so I got it! It’s really fun.
So he was flipping through channels and he saw you on TV. That blows my mind. You never know what can happen!
Yeah, it’s true. He’s always wanted to work with me in some way – he’s put a couple of pieces of my songs in his movies over the years – but this was the first time he could really make me a part of a project.
Have there been any surprises working in TV that you didn’t anticipate?
Well, for the most part, they like what I do so they give me free range. But every once in a while, they’ll request something that can be pretty challenging, too. Like, they’ll ask me to re-create some big song with horns or something like that. It’s fun though, because I don’t really get to do stuff like that often.
Are you working on a new album?
I’m writing. I’m not currently recording anything yet but yeah, I’m always writing and out there performing.
Will you be touring this year? What’s coming up next for you?
I’m looking to step out to do more touring this year, but really, I’ve taken a break from any lengthy runs, especially now that the TV show has came around. It keeps me busy for half the year. But I’m going to get out and play more this year, for sure.
Find out more at montemontgomery.net.