Interview: Filmmaker Robert Radler Discusses New Guitar Documentary, 'Turn It Up!'

The creators of a new film dedicated to the electric guitar — and all the magic and/or mayhem that comes with it — need tens of thousands of dollars to buy music clearances for the clips in the film. And they've turned to a crowd-funding website,, for help.

Turn It Up! is, simply put, a celebration of the guitar. The film, which is hosted by Kevin Bacon, includes performances by and interviews with Les Paul (one of his last interviews), Slash, B.B. King, Nancy Wilson of Heart, Carl Verheyen, Robby Krieger, Paul Stanley, Rick Vito, Steve Lukather, Albert Lee, Jerry Cantrell and many others.

The film's campaign page doesn't just ask for donations. Contributors also can help out by buying any of these extras:

  • A pair of Seymour Duncan pickups
  • A James Tyler Variax Guitar from Line 6
  • A weeklong guitar internship with Lance Lerman of LsL Instruments
  • A private tour of Fretted Americana and jam with Phil X
  • SuperSessions (in-person or via Skype one-hour guitar lessons) with Krieger, Verheyen, Vito, Lee or Baxter
  • A signed, numbered Giclee print of an original piece of artwork, "Four Guitars," created by Rick Vito (unframed, high-quality acid-free paper, 11-by-16 )
  • A guitar from Skunk Baxter's personal collection
  • An on-screen co-producer credit for the film.

Click here to learn more about Turn It Up! Check out the film's funding campaign (or make a donation) here.

If this project seems intriguing, be sure to check out the video below and read our chat with Robert Radler, the director and co-producer of Turn It Up!

GUITAR WORLD: Where did the idea for Turn It Up! come from?

ROBERT RADLER: I used to play in bands for seven years in the late '60s and early '70s. I gave up the guitar to become a filmmaker. About five years ago, my son started playing, so I pulled my 1968 Gibson out from under the bed, and it all came flooding back. Then my dad was in town for the holidays (also five years back), and I played for him and told him all about my little guitar collection. He said, “You need to make a film about the electric guitar!" I realized at that time that my whole career consisted of works for hire — nothing for myself. This one was personal and I had to do it. I wanted to share the joy of rediscovering the electric guitar.

I called my agent (at the time, now manager), Richard Arlook, and he agreed it was a good idea. He put us in touch with Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and the original financier, and the rest is history.

Why do you think this sort of film hasn't been made before? I don't recall seeing anything similar to this.

Documentaries don't make much money these days. The difficulty of pinning down major rock stars to work for free and acquiring the rights to archival material is very, very daunting. Just the rights acquisition for the archival clips and music has taken two years! I wanted to make the film that I wanted to see on the electric guitar, and I did. The closest film to this might be It Might Get Loud, but that was about three individuals. Turn It Up! is about the entire world of the guitar and mankind's obsession with it.

How did Kevin Bacon get involved?

I knew we wanted a star to be our host, but the host had to be credible. I had a short list of folks who fit the bill. Then I was driving past (Los Angeles concert venue) The Canyon and I saw the Bacon Brothers advertised and had an epiphany. I asked Richard Arlook to see if he could contact Kevin first. He was able to do so through Kevin's wife, Kyra Sedgwick, at the time a client of The Gersh Agency, where Richard was head of the literary department. Kyra presented the idea to Kevin, who felt this project could be fun.

Exactly what do you need money for?

The money is for three things — the licensing of historic clips and music, the final color correction and the final sound mix. The vast majority of the money being raised, though, is going toward paying for the licensing fees of the music and clips that have been negotiated.

How would you sum up this film?

The film is about human beings' obsession with the electric guitar. The guitar is the star, and the players are the supporting characters.

Does it trace the guitar's history or basically deal with our obsession with the guitar?

I explain it this way: Turn It Up! is the story of the guitar as well as a series of guitar stories, detailing more than 50 different folks' infatuation with the instrument. The film has a lot of music and a lot of heart, and it's designed to work for guitar nuts and civilians alike. It's a free-form immersion into the world of the electric guitar.

Is there anyone you filmed during the making of the movie where you thought, "Zoinks! I didn't know how incredible a player he/she really is”?

This happened a few times, actually. Some of the participants were so good that I had visions of converting to the tuba myself! But one incident is memorable. Our director of photography is Ilan Rosenberg, an old friend that I did the Power Rangers show with. When Carl Verheyen played for us in his garage, I remember Ilan taking his eye off the viewfinder and whispering to me in his Israeli accent, "This one is the best, no?" I tend to agree.

Another personal favorite was working with Robby Krieger again after many years, which is always a thrill as I'm still a major fan of his. Other magical moments were the four-day-long buzz the entire crew felt after spending time with the wonderful B.B. King on his tour bus, and the six to eight hours of interview footage we shot hanging around with Les Paul. This was one of his very last interviews and the memory of it remains very special to us all.

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Damian Fanelli
Editor-in-Chief, Guitar World

Damian is Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World magazine. In past lives, he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor. He's written liner notes for major-label releases, including Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'The Complete Epic Recordings Collection' (Sony Legacy) and has interviewed everyone from Yngwie Malmsteen to Kevin Bacon (with a few memorable Eric Clapton chats thrown into the mix). Damian, a former member of Brooklyn's The Gas House Gorillas, was the sole guitarist in Mister Neutron, a trio that toured the U.S. and released three albums. He now plays in two NYC-area bands.