Dear Guitar Hero: Steve Rothery

He’s the sole founding member of British neo-prog rockers Marillion. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is…

What one track from your catalog best represents what Marillion is all about, and why? —Idris Bell

I’d probably have to say “The Great Escape” from the Brave album, because it’s got four very different sections of music that flow seamlessly together, some of my best guitar work is on it, and it’s a great song.

What piece of gear is most crucial to your sound? —Sonja Greggs

I suppose it depends which era. I’ve used so many different sounds. I’ve been primarily a Strat guy over the years. Originally, I played a Strat with EMG SA pickups and a locking tremolo. In more recent years, I’ve used a Blade Stratocaster and, more recently still, a series of guitars made for me by Jack Dent. He’s making my signature guitar. It’s just a phenomenal instrument. He made a superstrat for me, which I’d intended to be my signature guitar. But then he made another guitar with a more unusual shape. It’s got the Ghost Pickup System [a modular system that allows acoustic tones and MIDI capability on electric guitars]. The idea of using that guitar is what excited me about working on the new Marillion album we’ve just started writing. That’s the future direction, I suppose.

What instrument did you play on Less Is More, and why did you want to do an acoustic album? [The 2009 album contains acoustic remakes of Marillion tracks from 1989 forward.] —Matt Vanian

I mostly played acoustic guitar on the album—a Santa Fe. I also used a Cort acoustic on a couple of tracks and my Jack Dent guitars on a couple of electric tracks. We did the album to give us a bit of creative breathing space. We’ve been pretty busy making records over the past few years. The last studio album, Happiness Is the Road [2008], was a double album, so rather than go back into the whole routine of trying to write again, we decided to make an acoustic album of our older material. We used some weird and wonderful instruments on it. We thought that would be more interesting than making an MTV Unplugged–type album where we just strum the songs on acoustic guitars.

What’s your fondest memory of working with Marillion’s original vocalist, Fish? —Jeff Pecci

We played some shows with Queen in the mid Eighties. One particular festival we played in Germany had about 120,000 people in the audience, which is just a mind-boggling amount of people. It was just horizon to horizon. That was a great show. Queen was such a fantastic live band, and we could have very easily been intimidated by it, but we were at the height of our powers at that time, and I think we came across really well.

Fish was and is a very complex guy. He’s a brilliant lyricist and performer, but sometimes he’s not necessarily the easiest person to work with. Well, we’ll probably leave it there. [laughs]

I’ve always wanted to attend one of your Marillion Weekend fan events. What happens at them, and what can I expect to get out of it? —Dino T.

The most fun you can have with your clothes on. [laughs] Really, they are amazing things. The ones in Europe have about two-to-three thousand people in attendance. The place is full of Marillion fans who’ve flown in from all four corners of the planet. It’s like a huge family; it’s like a celebration. They’re all great people, and we make great friendships. They have amazing parties until the early hours of the morning, and there’s never any trouble. And it’s the best possible audience for your music you could ever have, because these are the people who are the most dedicated fans.

What’s the best gift a fan has given you? —George Hoek

Probably a Portuguese guitar that was given to me by our Portuguese fan club when we were over there about a year and a half ago. It’s just a beautiful instrument, and there are only a couple of places in the country that make them. And it sounds great.

Why did you start the acoustic music project Wishing Tree [the band has released two albums, the more recent of which came out in 2009]? —Fred Reifert

It’s a chance for me to create music that’s comparable to some of the older Marillion stuff, back when I used to write a higher percentage of the music. Working like that lets me take an idea and really develop it.

You joke on your MySpace that one day you’ll get a real job. What would that real job be? —Jake Collins

I’d probably a photographer—either that or something still within the music industry. Actually, this year I’m launching the British Guitar Academy. I’ll be lecturing and doing clinics at some of the music universities in the U.K., and I want to create a video archive of in-depth interviews with a lot of the best English musicians, too, because a lot of these guys won’t be around forever. I think it’s a real shame someone hasn’t done something like this already.

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