Guthrie Govan (born 27 December 1971 in Chelmsford, Essex, England) is an English guitarist and instructor, known for his work with the bands The Aristocrats, Asia (2001-2006), Docker's Guild, GPS, The Young Punx and The Fellowship as well as Erotic Cakes (a vehicle for his own music). He is a noted guitar instructor through his work with the UK magazine Guitar Techniques, Guildford's Academy of Contemporary Music, Lick Library and currently the Brighton Institute of Modern Music. He is the 1993 winner of Guitarist magazine's "Guitarist of the Year" competition.
Despite his magazine success and achievements with Asia and other bands, it was his exposure on YouTube through clips of his playing which has led him to being considered one of the world's best contemporary electric guitar players, and one of the most flexible players in musical scope, although he is primarily considered a jazz fusion player and rock guitarist. As a result, Govan now regularly travels internationally, teaching at various clinics around the world.
Biography and early playing career:
Govan began playing guitar aged three, encouraged by his father but initially learning mainly by ear. His father taught him five chords and introduced him to his extensive record collection. He began by listening to music in chronological order, from '50s rock 'n' roll such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard and then The Beatles, Cream and Jimi Hendrix, and then Frank Zappa and AC/DC etc., working out chords and solos from listening to the records. Half-Scottish, Govan was also heavily influenced by Zal Cleminson of the Alex Harvey Band who he considers to have been "his Jimmy Page". Learning to play the guitar and music was as natural a process as learning to speak English for Govan. At the age of nine he and his brother Seth Govan played guitar on a Thames Television programme called Ace Reports.
At secondary school he was exposed, via older classmates, to "shred" guitarists of the time. He considers himself to have been the "weird little kid" in school who would play in various gigs with older students, but was never in a formal group as a teen. His first decent guitar was a Gibson SG which he keeps locked in his house, not wanting to take it on tour for fear of it being stolen or damaged.
After leaving school, Govan studied English at the University of Oxford, though he left after a year to pursue a career in music. Govan states that he was torn between wanting to become "a clever person" or become a "filthy rock and roll person" and decided to concentrate on music. Around this time (by Govan's own estimation, 1991) he sent demos of his work to Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records. Varney was impressed and offered him a record deal; ultimately however, Govan declined. Regarding his reasons he has explained: "it was as though all I really wanted to know was that I was good enough ... I found I was getting a bit wary of the shred movement."
In 1993, he won Guitarist magazine's "Guitarist of the Year" competition with his instrumental piece Wonderful Slippery Thing (a version of which would eventually appear on his debut solo album); the demo of the track earned him a place amongst several other entrants in the live final, which he then won. The award money allowed him to buy his first amplifier. Govan knew that with a long history of transcribing music from records for his own learning he could do it professionally in an area others find difficult and submitted the most technically difficult piece he could think of (a sample transcription of a Shawn Lane piece) to Guitar Techniques magazine. This earned him a job as a contributor to the magazine, ending a spell working in fast food at McDonalds.
Govan has since worked with Guitar Techniques, including an article providing a transcription of his track Wonderful Slippery Thing. Since the late 1990s, Govan has taught at the Guitar Institute in Acton, Thames Valley University, and the Academy of Contemporary Music; he currently teaches at Brighton Institute of Modern Music, but is regularly invited to teach in seminars and clinics all around the world. In this context, he is known for his ability to teach a wide range of styles. Govan has published two books on guitar playing: Creative Guitar Volume 1: Cutting Edge Techniques and Creative Guitar Volume 2: Advanced Techniques.
Playing career in the 2000s:
Asia, GPS and The Young Punx:
Govan began his involvement with Asia playing on the album Aura. With his work on the album complete, Govan was added to the Asia line-up for the tour to support the new album. Bad Asteroid, an instrumental in the live shows, was a Govan original composition; it dates back to his early 1990s demo. He went on to play on the band's 2004 album Silent Nation.
In 2006, Asia keyboardist Geoff Downes left to reform an earlier Asia line-up; Govan and the other two band members, John Payne and Jay Schellen, along with and Erik Norlander continued as Asia featuring John Payne. Govan left in mid-2009 and was replaced by Mitch Perry. Payne, Govan and Schellen also formed GPS (named after the members' initials) and after the addition of Ryo Okumoto on keyboards the band released the album Window to the Soul (2006).
Govan performs on a number of tracks on Your Music Is Killing Me, the debut album of UK electronic dance music act The Young Punx and is part of their live act. He also appears in the music video for their track Rockall.
Govan has played live guitar for Dizzee Rascal, including a performance on Later With Jools Holland.
Erotic Cakes and The Fellowship:
Govan's debut solo album, Erotic Cakes, was released through Cornford Records in August 2006. In the album's sleeve notes, Govan states the album is a Simpsons reference (From the Episode "Treehouse of Horror VI"); he also explains that when playing live, the band is billed as Erotic Cakes rather than simply Guthrie Govan. In addition to bass by Govan's brother Seth and drumming by Pete Riley, the album features guitar solos by Richie Kotzen (whose Los Angeles studio was used to record the guitar tracks on the album) on Ner Ner and Bumblefoot on Rhode Island Shred respectively. Seth Govan and Pete Riley also complete the Erotic Cakes live band. Previous versions of Waves and Rhode Island Shred appeared on the compilation Guitar on the Edge, Vol 1. no.4 (Legato Records, 1993). A version of his Guitarist of the Year winning piece, Wonderful Slippery Thing appears on the album. While this is his first album, Govan had been collaborating with drummer Pete Riley on the music since the mid-1990s. Govan faced a set back after the albums were produced when several thousand copies of Erotic Cakes were stolen during a warehouse robbery and were never recovered, but the record company said that "if the thieves can sell all of the records they have a job here with us". The album has also become one of the most illegally downloaded records.
The Erotic Cakes band line up, with the addition of saxophonist Zak Barrett, also forms jazz-fusion band The Fellowship. The band used to play at the Bassment club in Chelmsford, Essex, every Thursday night and did so for several years.
Playing career in the 2010s:
Govan performed on all tracks on Docker's Guild's debut album The Mystic Technocracy - Season 1: The Age of Ignorance, released in June 2012 on Lion Music. The project also features some other Asia artists, notably John Payne on vocals and Simon Hanhart, who mixed the album. Other special guests include Gregg Bissonette (drums), Tony Franklin (bass), Jeff Watson (guitars), Douglas R. Docker (keyboards), Goran Edman, Tony Mills and Amanda Somerville (vocals).
Govan has consistently stated that he will eventually record another solo album, but has yet to announced when said album will be recorded and released. He's said "To record the album, I need to carve out a big chunk of calendar and say no to everything else. Some crazy things have gotten in the way..."
In late 2011, Govan announced a new tour with new band The Aristocrats, featuring Bryan Beller on bass and Marco Minnemann on the drums. Their self-titled album was released worldwide in September 2011.
In 2012, TBS began running a TV ad for the popular show "House of Payne" that features part of his solo from his jam track "Les is More." In June 2012, Govan was featured with a guest solo on the song, "Have a Blast" on progressive metal band Periphery's, second album Periphery II: This Time It's Personal.
In 2013, Govan played a series of gigs with Paul Gilbert. He played guitar on Steven Wilson's third solo album and as of October 2013 is a full time touring member of Wilson's band. He is also one of the guest stars on Michael Angelo Batio's album Intermezzo, released in November 2013.
Influences and technique:
Govan is known for his virtuoso command of the guitar, due to both his technical ability and proficiency in various styles. A 2006 interview hailed him as the "virtuoso's virtuoso" and said of him, "Guthrie Govan is recognised by his peers as possibly the scariest guitarist alive. Combining an unparalleled technical ability with a mastery of almost all styles, Guthrie is equally at home comping in a trad jazz combo as he is performing death-defying 'shred' guitar. Coupled with some seriously funky grooves and an encyclopaedic knowledge of popular music styles, a wonderfully developed slide style and improvisational abilities to match anyone, he may just be the most complete guitarist out there. "
Govan's earliest influences were Jimi Hendrix and Cream-era Eric Clapton; as such he describes himself as coming from a "blues rock background". While he is "wary" of 1980s technique driven guitar music ("shred") he cites the imagination of Steve Vai (as well as Frank Zappa, with whom Vai played) and the passion of Yngwie Malmsteen. Jazz and fusion elements are an important part of his style: he cites Joe Pass, Jeff Beck and John Scofield as pivotal influences in this respect. He also admires a lot of modern guitar players with different styles such as Derek Trucks and Alex Machacek. Although a very able player in a diversity of styles, Govan has a distinct playing style typically characterized by long, smooth runs often using chromatic notes to "fill in gaps", his fast and fluid tapping up and down the neck, funky slapping, and occasional use of extreme effects. Govan doesn't consider himself a guitarist but a musician, and states that the guitar is simply a "typewriter" for getting the message across. Due to his experience in listening to music and working out riffs, Govan states that he is often able to visualize playing in his head without even playing and said that he pretty much has all of the notes in his head before writing something or learning to play something to produce the sounds that he wants.
Govan's MySpace profile lists quotes from various guitarists; elsewhere, fellow virtuosos Joe Satriani and Paul Gilbert have praised Govan's playing. Satriani said "What sets Guthrie apart, is that no matter what he's doing--picking, tapping, slapping, playing legato, whatever--he mixes everything up gracefully and absolutely nails each approach. And all the while the music sounds natural." Gilbert said "Guthrie Govan gives shred a good name. It's absolutely heartwarming to hear someone play super fast and have musical depth to match. What a breath of fresh air."
He used various Suhr guitars: three different Guthrie Govan Signature Model guitars, three custom Standards, a Modern 24-fret model, a Classic and Classic T. He plays Vigier fretless guitar. Govan also has used Cornford amps: the sleeve notes of Erotic Cakes state he has used an RK100, MK50 and Hellcat. In the last European tour of 2010 and 2011 he played Brunetti amplifiers (CustomWork Mercury 50) like his friend Dave Kilminster, and he recorded live his last CD/DVD during the Lapsus (Torino, Italy) show on 8 December 2011. With "The Aristocrats" he was using Suhr Badger 30 amps live as well as a CAA PT-100 and the Badger 30 on the Album. In 2013, Govan has started using amplifiers designed and produced by Victory Amplification for both Steven Wilson and the Aristocrats tours.
On 17 December 2011, Govan and the Erotic Cakes band had their gear stolen after a show in Rome. Among the equipment stolen were Brunetti Mercury heads, a 1989 Warwick Streamer bass, and yet-to-be-edited footage from the show played at Lapsus, Torino in Italy.
In October 2012, Govan was seen using Charvel guitars on tour, however it was confirmed to be a prototype and will be used throughout The Aristocrats' current tour. Govan recently stated that he and Suhr parted ways, and that Suhr would no longer carry his signature guitar, however, he also mentioned that he did not have an endorsement deal with any brand.
In July 2013, Charvel made it official that they had joined forces with Govan, who had been using their guitars for a few months. Govan's latest prototype sports a basswood body, birdseye maple top, a caramelized maple neck, Sperzel locking tuners, custom pickups by Michael Frank-Braun and an original Floyd Rose bridge without fine tuners. In January 2014 at the NAMM Show, Charvel officially introduced the Charvel USA Guthrie Govan Signature Model in two versions: one with a Birdseye Maple top and one with Flame Maple top.
In 2013, Govan has started using amplifiers designed and produced by Victory Amplification for both Steven Wilson and the Aristocrats tours.
Erotic Cakes (2006),
America Live in the USA DVD,(2003), Muze Europe Ltd,
Silent Nation (2004),
With The Aristocrats:
The Aristocrats (2011),
Boing, We'll Do It Live! (2012),
Culture Clash (2013),
With Steven Wilson:
The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) (2013),
Window to the Soul (2006),
With Docker's Guild:
The Mystic Technocracy - Season 1: The Age of Ignorance (2012),
Periphery - Periphery II: This Time It's Personal (guitar solo on "Have a Blast") (2012),
Various Artists - Jason Becker's Not Dead Yet! (Live in Haarlem) (2012),
Marco Minnemann - Symbolic Fox (2012),
Richard Hallebeek - Richard Hallebeek Project II: Pain in the Jazz, (2013), Richie Rich Music,
Mattias Eklundh - Freak Guitar - The Smorgasbord,(2013), Favored Nations,
Nick Johnson - In a Locked Room on the Moon (2013),
Lee Ritenour - 6 String Theory (2010), Fives, with Tal Wilkenfeld