In honor of his newly launched company Tonemission, Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment guitarist John Petrucci sat down with Killer Guitar Rigs for an interview. Apart from discussing his first product, an impulse response pack named The John Petrucci IR Collection: Vol. 1, he reflected on a few other things, including his decision to start shifting to digital, as well as his reaction to Nuno Bettencourt’s solo in Extreme’s song “Rise.” You can read the fourth part of the interview below.
You are well-known for your mess, Mesa Boogie JP-2C, which is one of the “holy grails,” let’s say, of guitar amps today. And you weren’t into like really digital amps and digital stuff that much in the past. And you changed your mind. You mentioned what changed your mind. But was there one moment when you realized and you played something when you heard a specific tone? Or did it just change over a few weeks, months, years? How did that exactly go? Did you have that one moment when everything changed for you?
“Well, yeah, I did. Getting into sort of the modeling hardware side of it, I think that’s been going along great for a long time thanks to Fractal [Audio] and what they’re doing with the Axe-FX. I mean, it’s an amazing unit. There’s a lot of incredible sounds. It’s been for many, many years, and it’s been only getting better.”
“But anytime I tried a guitar plugin, you know, if I just had the DAW open, ‘Let me try this.’ I don’t want to mention names of this one or these amps. [It] never ever did it for me. It always sounded like… I don’t know, just like a toy amp or something.”
“But I was hearing a lot about Neural [DSP] stuff. And they sent me the Plini Archetype. And I remember we set it up, we had my laptop and speakers just like anybody else. I started playing and I was like,’ Oh my God.’ That was the first time I had that ‘Wow, this actually sounds amazing, this sounds like a usable amplifier, creative tool, somehow coming out of my computer.’ [Laughs]”
“And that’s the first time I had that experience. So I knew that if I were going to do this at all and get involved in this space, it would be with that company. Because I think Neural DSP is just doing it really right on all levels.”
“And sure enough, when we decided to work together and we worked on my Archetype, they just went all out to come out with like the greatest guitar production suite in the plugin world that I’ve ever experienced. And I know a lot of people enjoy it. So I know we did a great job. They did a great job.”
“But yeah, that was the moment probably playing through that Plini one where I was like, ‘Oh my God, that sounds really cool.’ Because usually, it’s the opposite. I hear all this hype and I’ll try something and I’m like, ‘Eh, I don’t think so.'”
As years go by, there’s this ever-present discussion between digital and analog. And you mentioned moving air and exact microphone positions and what you did with the impulse responses and everything. But apart from that, do you think there’s anything where digital modelers and profilers still cannot fully replicate the actual thing, the actual amplifier?
“Here’s the problem with it. I think that it has gotten so incredibly good that nobody could probably even really tell. Right? But it is a type of thing, where an IR, just for example — it’s capturing a moment in time. But the guitar amplifiers and cabinets in a real physical space — it’s a random occurrence of what’s happening.”
“So unless there was some sort of AI involved that, like, randomly created that… [Laughs] I feel like it’s always going to be… You’re going to be able to get it as close as you possibly can. But just that randomness of something actually happening… I don’t know, maybe one day, they’ll be able to get that. I’m sure.”
“But until then, you can get a digital representation of a person as close as you can possibly get. Like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s so real.’ But the actual person standing in front of you is always going to be way more convincing. So it’s kind of like that.”
“But having said that, some of the stuff I find when I talk to guitar players — it is a taste thing. Because there are guys that like, just prefer physical amplifiers and speakers, always. And there’s other guys that are like, ‘No, I actually like the digital stuff more because it allows me to do this,’ or ‘It fits better in my application to what I’m doing,’ whether that be live or in the studio.”
“Some of it does come down to taste, because the great thing about all of it, is that at all really starting to sound really good. [Laughs] So it’s not like when this stuff first started, and it was ‘Ugh, I don’t think so…’ And now, this does sound really good. So it’s a matter of like which way you’re going to go with it.”
I don’t know if you heard Nuno Bettencourt’s solo in “Rise,” Extreme’s new song. Everybody was blown away. How did you react to hearing that solo?
“Well, Nuno is an awesome guitar player, let’s just say that. [Laughs] I remember when Extreme came out, it was kind of like around the same time that Dream Theater did with our first record, or maybe with our second record. It was really in the same sort of era, like the early ’90s, I guess.”
“And I remember hearing like Extreme and hearing… I almost said Yngwie… Nuno’s playing and just being like, ‘This guy is unbelievable.’ He’s a nut. He’s like, an amazing guitar player. And I remember learning some of that stuff and just being so impressed.”
“So I’m not surprised at all that Nuno came up with a solo like that. The guy’s just a monster player. And what a great one for the ages, man. Hats off to him for that, that killer, killer solo.”
“And I love that everybody’s talking about that and talking about him and talking about guitar and talking about shredding. That’s a much better conversation to have, then, you know, ‘Oh, guitar solo shouldn’t be in rock music.’ I love that we’re having a conversation about how awesome Nuno’s solo is. [Laughs] I think it’s killer.”
Photos: Andreas Lawen, Fotandi (Dreamtheater – Wacken Open Air 2015-1619 (cropped)), Public domain (Nuno Bettencourt (cropped))