The last few weeks haven’t exactly been easy for Manuel Gardner Fernandes, the 24-year-old Instagram/YouTube star we recently shortlisted as one of the world’s forward-thinking players.
As the online guitar community has come under scrutiny for its transparency, much has been spoken about the way musicians edit their videos - with some even going as far as to say some performances have been sped up in order to impress the masses and rack up serious hits.
And it’s Manuel Gardner Fernandes who seems to have come under fire most, following a post from YouTuber Jared Dines in which he was accused of the “fake guitar playing” the video warned of. Dines has now pulled the video in question.
He eventually released a response to “clarify some stuff as there’s been a lot of bad things going on with my name and my face all over the internet” and confirm “there was never a video that was sped up”, along with some live performance clips to prove his talents are most certainly real.
Talking to Guitar World after attending college in his native Mannheim, Germany, the virtuoso Ibanez player is keen to move on and get back to what he set out to do in the first place… making music.
When did you first learn you’d been accused of faking or speeding up your performances?
“The thing is… it wasn't Jared Dines who did the first video. It was someone else, but I won’t mention any names because I don’t want to be the guy who does that. There was a YouTuber or a guy who plays guitar that made a video about fake guitarists.
“He didn’t mention me, but he played a piece at the beginning of the video which was clearly influenced by my style. But he’d sped it up in a completely unnatural way to sound like that.
"So all these people started commenting saying he meant me. I thought, ‘Wow, this is bad!’ It didn’t have that big an impact, but some people started messaging me asking if it was true. They were curious and skeptical. Sadly, they were a couple of guitarists I was a big fan of that were messaging me with disappointment or ignoring me.”
And then Jared’s video came out…
“With Jared, I was in the UK on tour with my band Unprocessed. We were on our way to Sheffield and I was in the front of the van. I heard Jared’s voice over one of my videos in the back. Our bass player had just found it and I knew exactly what was happening right there and then.
“We were all pretty silent over soundcheck - I don’t think I said anything for four hours. I was shocked and afraid it would have a big impact on my future because everything started this year - I went from zero to… I don’t know! So I was really afraid.”
Which is perfectly understandable… what did you do next?
“I called some people that I trusted, for example the guys at JTC Guitar, asking what to do because I felt - not helpless, but in need of opinions outside of my band.
"Everyone told me the same: do more live snippets so people can see me in that situation, playing all my hardest and heaviest pieces. I was encouraged to just be myself, instead of calling out names or making too much of a statement.
“Yeah… so… that’s how I dealt with it. Like I said, it was pretty hard because I was worried partners and collaborators might leave. A lot of people I looked up to were messaging me saying, ‘Dude, you’re shit!’"
Considering your reputation was at stake, it’s commendable how you let the music do the talking instead of being dragged into some unnecessarily public war of words?
“After a few days I decided to release my statement, where I said I do pre-record some of my videos but have never sped up a single one. That’s the truth. My goal was never to have the amount of followers I do now; it was to present my ideas from the perspective of a guitarist as well as producer.
“I wanted to do something fresh, something new, something people might not have heard before. I wanted to show the best example for each video, so I pre-recorded some. I can understand the intention behind Jared’s video - because if there are any fake guitarists speeding up their videos, it’s part of a generation where the guitar is not a guitar anymore.
"So there are some good intentions behind it, I understand it and I’m not mad or angry. I just got scared for the future and hope I’ve proved to the people I can play everything live. I will try to bring more live content in the future too.”
So tell us about your musical background…
“I grew up around a lot of music. My dad was the bass player in a German thrash metal band called Cockroach, which is pretty cool. They went to the USA but didn’t make it unfortunately, so he came back to Germany and got to know my mom.
“And on her side, my granddad was a guitarist, too - born in Ireland, then he moved to London when he was pretty young and then he came to Germany in his early 20s, around my age.
“So there were people in my family who had always played music including rock and metal stuff. I listened to bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, The Cure and loads more with my parents, and started playing around three years old!
"And that all led to me studying guitar at the Pop Academy. It’s pretty cool, you learn a lot about the business, from the overall structure to working with other professionals.”
What kind of players would you say inspired your fusion style?
“Up until two years ago, I only played heavy metal. It’s only more recently that I’ve started mixing styles. Players like Guthrie Govan have inspired me, plus a lot of flamenco players like Buena Vista Social Club. I listen to lots of jazz players, as well Instagram guitarists like Ichika and Mateus Asato.
“On the more metal side, I love Jason Richardson [All That Remains] and Marc Okubo from Veil Of Maya, though it was James Hetfield who I first wanted to imitate when I started. He’s one of my biggest idols out of the traditional metal bands.”
You’ve been playing an Ibanez AZ in your more recent videos…
“My main guitar is currently the Ibanez AZ2204F Prestige in blue. That’s my newest one and I absolutely love it.
“Other than that, there’s not much to say - unfortunately, I don’t use pedals and have never had a pedal. I know that’s really uncommon for a guitar player. Even in college, people always talk about pedals and I’m always the guy that’s like, ‘Meh!’
“To record, I use Guitar Rig 5 and for live I use the Fractal Axe-Fx II. Before we’d been using the Ableton 11 rig but the sounds were pretty digital. Axe-Fx is too, but it works better for our kind of music, everything is really processed.”
Over the past year, you’ve become one of the fastest-rising Internet guitar heroes. What’s the secret to growing a loyal following and increasing creative opportunities?
“I have friends who are really shy when it comes to putting content on Instagram, Facebook or whatever. I always tell them they just have to try and be brave, capture themselves through social media. It takes a certain amount of saying, ‘Fuck it, I’m just going to load this video up on Instagram!’ You have to brave, but more importantly be authentic and don’t try to copy anyone…
“Gaining followers is more of a luck game, I would say. When I started, my goal wasn’t to achieve 100k or 200k - it was more of an accident. I think my first video that went viral was the Childish Gambino Redbone thing I did, it got reposted on loads of other channels. People started stumbling across my IG page through that. I didn’t really use that many hashtags.
“My videos ended up on the Explorer feed, where you check out profiles you might not have seen before, so that brought a lot of people to my page as well. I feel it all evolved very naturally but it’s mainly a game of luck. There’s no rule to achieving 5k or 200k followers, but it’s important to be consistent with creating your content.”
A lot of your most popular videos incorporate a two-handed slap kind of technique. How did you develop the technique side of it all?
“I only started fingerstyle a year ago! I was playing mainly bass-ish stuff on my eight-string. Soon I started slapping and experimenting with natural harmonics, using more fingers. Then I started playing the piano and wanted to combine all of these elements in one.
“There are a lot of overtones in my guitar playing. I recorded myself a lot of times to experiment with sounds - I’m a producer too, so naturally wanted to bring out the most experimental sides of my guitar playing.”
There are a lot of ‘hammer-ons from nowhere’. How did you build that kind of left-hand strength?
“I had jazz lessons around the age of 14 or 16. My teacher was pretty unknown but he was one of the weirdest dudes ever. I can’t really explain what he did; it was so weird but I took it as my own and tried to play it like him. He would play one stroke and get 12 notes out of it, using hammer-ons and pull-offs in different pentatonic patterns.
“I learned to keep the same consistency with my left hand for the notes that aren’t picked- he was pretty serious about that and whenever I fucked up, he’d make me restart from the beginning. His exercises would have me starting on the second fret of the lower E-string, going through E minor until the 12th fret of the high E-string. I learned so much from that.”
What have you learned so far when it comes to home recording?
“I can tell you my secret… first I record a good DI signal which gets split with a processed one. More recently I’ve been using the Archetype Plini plug-in because I love the reverb. Then I send only the DI to a return chain, which is then highly compressed so you can really hear every little movement. Then I boost the highs at around 7-9 kHz, so it’s quite top-heavy.
“That’s where the higher frequencies of the strings are and I love that - you can hear everything so clearly, which is important for the tapped harmonics and percussive strumming. You want to hear all those string noises. I also master for Instagram because I love it when videos are loud!”
Like you said, all those overtones are an important part of your sound…
“Yeah! For most of my videos using tapped harmonics I will get the take and add an octave to it, which creates new depth. I do it through Ableton because it has this really clear but almost spooky way to octave whatever you are mixing.
“I actually learned this technique from a vocal producer! I thought I’d try the idea out on guitar and it sounded cool. For some people, my videos might be too produced and I totally understand it. But I like to push things into the extreme…”
For more from Manuel Gardner Fernandes, you can follow him on Instagram.