Paul Gilbert Digs The Dirt

Originally published in Guitar World, December 2010

The shred virtuoso indulges his overdrive addiction on Fuzz Universe.

Paul Gilbert is experiencing an occupational hazard: tinnitus. It’s what happens when you’ve made your living for the past 25 years standing in front of monster amp rigs and playing music at ear-crushing levels. He suffers from a mild buzzing in the ears but is quick to discount the malady. “I can still hear my guitar,” he says, and on Fuzz Universe, his new instrumental record, Gilbert and his Ibanez create a world of sounds no one has ever heard. “It is the universe where all rock players live,” he explains. “We all use distortion, overdrive, gain and saturation. I call it ‘fuzz.’ The first time I heard ‘Mississippi Queen,’ my fuzz addiction was permanent.”

Fuzz Universe is populated by all manner of strange effects coaxed from weird stomp boxes. A company called Majik Box even built the guitarist his own signature overdrive pedal called, appropriately enough, Fuzz Universe. Gilbert’s challenge was not so much to uncover these sonic textures but rather to adapt them to styles ranging from warpspeed single-note picking (“Olympic”) to complex layers of rhythm (“Blowtorch”). “Having distortion, or fuzz, added a lot of harmonic excitement to the sound, but I had to play very accurately, or the string noise would become a mess,” he says. “I had to use my technique to retain the clarity of the notes.”

Gilbert admits Fuzz Universe was not an easy album to write but says it contains “my best vibrato ever, chord changes I’ve never used before, and longer songs than I’ve ever written.” He even ranks the title track as a contender—along with “Scarified” and “Technical Difficulties”—for his best instrumental ever.

“This is the closest I’ve gotten to my ultimate guitar sound,” Gilbert says. “There’s emotional vibrato, chunky rhythms, groovy riffs, face-melting solos, phase-shifted chords and the ability to control the guitar when it’s clean or distorted.”

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