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Gulfer: “Tapping is easy when it’s the same notes over and over. What we like is some kind of melodic component”

Gulfer guitarists Vincent Ford and Joe Therriault
Gulfer guitarists Joe Therriault (left) and Vincent Ford (right) (Image credit: Gulfer)

Montreal quartet Gulfer create a swirl of indie-rock energy through liberal doses of math-rock rhythms, emo intensity, shoegaze textures and pop melodic sensibilities – plus an unexpected heaping of two-hand tapping executed by guitarists Vincent Ford and Joe Therriault.

That said, the duo’s dexterous tapping excursions aren’t window dressing, shredder showmanship or throwback irony. They’re the core of Gulfer’s entire sound and the engine for delivering their mind-bending melodies, as heard on the recent singles Greetings and Barely, released in July by Topshelf Records.

“Tapping is really easy to play [when it’s] the same notes over and over again, and I think people think of tapping as that,” Therriault says. “What we like is some kind of melodic component. If you can get a chord progression in there, then you feel like it’s moving.”

Founding guitarist Ford, whose jazz background informs the band’s use of unconventional chord shapes, began to experiment with tapping and songwriting after getting into bands like Tera Melos. “Nobody was doing that kind of thing around me,” he says, although “some were doing it in a Steve Vai-type of way, which is cool but was not my cup of tea at all,” he adds.

At early Gulfer shows, Therriault recalls watching from the crowd and being amazed by how Ford could sing while tapping with both hands. When he joined up, Ford showed him the fundamentals and the pair became the band’s driving musical force. In addition to quality guitar technique, their secret sauce for keeping the dynamic interplay lively lies in their use of compression and other stompboxes that color their songs with distortion, reverb and delay.

For tapping you want your volume to be louder, but if we’re playing a quiet part, I’ll turn the compressor off

“Compression helps with tapping,” Therriault says, “because naturally, the volume you’re going to get from strumming versus the volume you’re going to get from hitting one note at a time is totally different. 

“For tapping you want your volume to be louder, but if we’re playing a quiet part, I’ll turn the compressor off so we can reign in that volume and then hit back later. If we were to have the compressor on all the time, you’re not going to get those dynamics.”

Adds Ford, “You need to be precise, tap hard enough, and don’t let notes resonate that shouldn’t resonate. Those are all things I did for an excessive period of time.”

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Jim Beaugez
Jim Beaugez

Jim Beaugez has written about music for Rolling Stone, Smithsonian, Guitar World, Guitar Player (opens in new tab) and many other publications. He created My Life in Five Riffs (opens in new tab), a multimedia documentary series for Guitar Player that traces contemporary artists back to their sources of inspiration, and previously spent a decade in the musical instruments industry.