Interview: Guns N' Roses Guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal Discusses Gear, GNR and Surviving a Serious Auto Accident
Guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal has had his hand in almost every aspect of the music business.
Not only has he toured with Gun N’ Roses since 2006; he also been a producer, engineer and writer.
And more recently, a survivor, having walked away from a serious auto accident last May. Thal used Twitter to thank Toyota for the "functional seat belt, air bags & crumple zone, you saved my skull ... ." But Thal says performing since the accident has been a challenge, since he must deal with the throbbing pain in his shoulders and neck as holds his double-neck Vigier guitar.
But he says he’ll play until he can’t do it anymore.
Thal also is recording with Poc, a Mexico City-based singer and actress who has opened several shows for Guns N’ Roses. While recording at his studio in Princeton, New Jersey, the band encountered several obstacles, including Hurricane Irene, which flooded the studio, and an earthquake.
“It was one crazy thing after another," Thal said. "It was the most intense two months, the most intense recording experience ever.”
GUITAR WORLD: You’re touring with Guns N' Roses, which is only one of your many projects. What’s it been like touring with such a big-name band?
In general, you just deal with it. You just do what you do. You play, you sleep, you play again and repeat. It’s like any big tour. You take it show by show, you do what you can, you play some gigs. But it’s been real good. This tour in particular has been the most difficult thing I’ve done in my fucking life. I was in a car accident a couple of months ago, and I fucked up my neck pretty bad, and it’s hard to have a guitar around my neck. And to be wearing a 30-pound, double-neck guitar while running around stage for three hours a night, it’s been really difficult, and I’ve had to resort to a combination of pills and booze and anything else I can get just to try and numb the pain.
Was it a head-on collision? Were you hit by a drunk driver?
Some lady in an SUV was doing 50 mph up the road behind me and not paying attention. She drove into a line of cars stopped at a red light. I was in the back of the line, so she smashed me and the car in front of me, and she turned my car into an accordion. I was brain damaged for about a month, I couldn’t speak right, I couldn’t raise my arms. I went to physical therapy.
Will you be able to make a full recovery?
No. I’m not recovering, and I probably never will. I’m just going to have to deal with it until I can’t deal with it anymore. That’s life. What are you going to do?
You mentioned your double-neck Vigier; is that your favorite guitar to play? At least, was it?
It’s definitely my favorite. You can get a lot done with it. I’ve been using my Vigier since early 2009. I was playing fretless, but when it came time to play the songs live, I needed a way to be able to play all the guitar parts on my own and do every song. So I really needed a guitar that I could switch back and forth doing most of the Chinese Democracy songs and play all the parts in the songs on that album. I need more than one guitar at once.
So that’s really what brought it on. Before that, I would just play, hoping it's just one way or the other. Before that, I didn’t need to have a double-neck guitar. I need it for some of the old songs, too. I need it for some sort of slide guitar that comes in before something, so I can jump to that and do other stuff, too.
What about your Gibson Flying V?
I don’t know where that went. It’s not in my road case, and I don’t who has it (laughs). I do have my old ’89 Les Paul.
There's a story behind that Les Paul. I know you won it in 1989 and you played it in 2006 on the Guns N' Roses tour. Is that basically the guitar you always keep with you?
The only thing I can say about a Les Paul is that it’s such a fucking good guitar. It can give me really nice single cutaways.
Any thoughts on your acoustic Parkwood?
During the show, I just bring that out for the song "Patience." If I’m going to play acoustic, that’s the one I play.
You’ve done engineering, performing, writing and producing for a lot of bands and artists. You’ve been in the industry for such a long time. Have you noticed a change in the industry comparing today to the '80s or '90s?
Talent is never going to disappear, and good bands are never going to disappear. They are always going to be out there. I think there’s more diversity in the music that’s available out there now than there was in the past. If anything, there’s just so much of it that it’s harder to find because there’s too much of it. It’s like going to Cheesecake Factory. I was just there a few days ago, and the menu is like a fucking novel. And there’s so much food that it’s almost hard to find what you’re looking for because there’s too much.
How did you get your background in music. Did you study it in school?
I picked up my first guitar when I was 5, and that’s what made me want to do it. I immediately started doing it myself, put a band together and recorded, did some shows. I started taking guitar lessons when I was about 7 and learned a whole bunch of stuff from jazz and classical. I got into guitar instruction and got into recording more, and everything has evolved. I recorded, engineered and wanted to produce.
So I’m not doing anything different now then when I was 6 -- I’m just doing more of it.