Guthrie Govan Explains How Going Digital Affected His Performance, Talks How He Approaches Improvisation Live

Modern guitar virtuoso Guthrie Govan recently caught up with Total Guitar to discuss his work, as well as his band the Aristocrats. During the chat, Guthrie was asked about “touring amp-free once again” and going out there on the road with his Fractal FM9. When reminded of it, he confirmed his choice and said that it’s also accompanied by two expression pedals. He then added how going digital affected his performance:

“It felt like going fully digital would force me to think in new ways. I still use my Victorys [Victory Amps] in the studio. I’ll have two of my signature Charvels, one in standard and the other in dropped D, going into the Fractal and coming out of one or two monitors. That’s something I’ve learned over the last year.”

Fractal Audio: FM9 Amp Modeler / FX Processor

“Sometimes we’ll play and the world’s biggest guitar fan will get there three hours early, standing right by my spot where the guitar amp should be but isn’t.”

However, as Guthrie also adds, despite going digital, he’s not up for losing some of the qualities that a guitar player gets from using actual amps, like “moving air” with the sound from the speakers. He added:

“Now I have a wedge behind me so I can feel air being moved and another for the audience. No one should lose out just because I’m having fun in my digital playground!”

Why Guthrie Govan Went Digital | The Aristocrats Rig Rundown Trailer

During the interview, Guthrie was also asked about his band Aristocrats and their tendency to improvise at their live shows. When the interviewer asked “how much would be too much” in terms of improvised music during their live shows, he replied:

“That is something we’ve always strived to get right, that balance between writing songs with recognizable choruses versus extended stretches using ‘the force’. If we just did the jamming thing it would get old. But if we just wrote songs and played them the same every night, the audience would miss out on what makes this trio so fun – the natural chemistry we have.

That “balance,” hower, comes with its responsibility. The band needs to communicate and know when they should cut back and when they should just go for it. He continued:

“We can be spontaneous and fearless because we trust each other. We like to go off the rails, get lost and explore new territory, but we’re also there to help each other if it gets too bewildering.”

The Aristocrats - Bad Asteroid (Live) 2023

Well-known for his instrumental pieces, Guthrie Govan is often considered to be one of the most proficient and expressive guitar players of all time. In an interview from late 2022, he explained how he prefers instrumental over vocal music. When asked about what he finds so appealing with instrumental guitar music, he replied:

“Well, a guitar was the only instrument available in the house where I grew up, so naturally I spent my formative musical years learning how to operate it, simply because it was there.“

“However hard I might try to think like a ‘musician’ rather than specifically as a ‘guitarist’, there can be no denying that the guitar will always serve as my main interface with the musical world in general, so I suppose it’s the voice I know best.”

“Perhaps I naturally relate to guitar instrumentals in a more detailed or informed way, due to my familiarity with the range, timbre, and capabilities of the instrument.”

The Aristocrats The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde live at Newcastle University Student Union 13/06/2023

To double down on this, Guthrie also explained why a guitar-based piece can often be more interesting than your conventional vocal-based one:

“In a sense, it can offer a more universal appeal – when there’s no lyrical content in a song, the language barrier ceases to be a problem!

“I have fond memories of having performed instrumental music in some unusually far-flung and exotic locations and one thing I’ve consistently taken away from such experiences is that the challenge of connecting with people suddenly feels refreshingly effortless as soon as I’m on the stage.”

The Aristocrats, live Glasgow, 12/06/23

“Having spent the day dismally failing to explain to someone that I’m trying to exchange currency, figure out how the launderette works, order food, or whatever, it somehow comes as a huge relief to start playing music and instantly feel a much more direct line of communication.”

The Aristocrats, featuring Guthrie Govan, drummer Marco Minneman, and bassist Bryan Beller, were out on the road earlier this year. They’re planning to continue their run in the Netherlands this month on July 10 and then on August 10. There are also dates planned for Germany, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, and many other European countries. You can get all the touring info at this location.

Photo: ArtBrom (Guthrie Govan)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.