Scale the Summit: Texas Instruments

Originally published in Guitar World, April 2009

The Texas instrumentalists sheds some light on their latest album, Monument.

"I feel like, in most bands, the singer is the weakest link,” says Chris Letchford, one of the two guitarists in Houston, Texas–based instrumental prog-rockers Scale the Summit. “There are some guys I really like, but it doesn’t matter how good they are—it wouldn’t work over our music.”

You can take Letchford’s opinion with a grain of salt, but he’s right about one thing: Scale the Summit’s music is too intricate for vocals. The quartet’s second album, Carving Desert Canyons (Prosthetic), is full of tightly woven guitar interplay, irregular time signatures and tasteful licks. (This month’s CD-ROM includes a finger-tapping lesson from the album track “The Great Plains.”)

“On our last album, Monument, we played as technically as we could,” says Letchford. “On the new one, we decide to just write good songs and not concentrate so much on making it complex.”

Of course, making music sound simple is often harder than it looks, especially when you do everything you can to test yourself. Letchford, for instance, plays a custom made eight-string guitar (tuned, low to high, B E A D G B E G) after seeing jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter play a similar instrument. His co-guitarist, Travis LeVrier, plays a seven-string on Carving Desert Canyons. They keep track of their instrumental acrobatics by writing out the songs in standard notation on the fly, something each guitarist learned to do while attending GIT.

It’s this knack for discipline that lets them fine-tune their music so it can stand on its own. And as LeVrier says, “We’re not about to change how we write our music just to fit in vocals.”

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