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A conversation with the King Of Heart

Abi von Reininghaus

Ok, here is my second interview in a series of conversations with guitar-players from Germany ( if you do not count in "Shred Talk!", which is a bit older by now... stay tuned, surprise coming up soon ! ). I hope you did enjoy the conversation with Thomas Blug.
This time, I have the honor to present you an interview with Abi von Reininghaus.

This interview was done in early 2006. Unfortunately, due to changes at ibreathe, a lot of time passed before it was eventually published. I thought it would still be a very interesting read, hence I published it, and for current information on Abi, you can visit his website, his blog or his portal (leading to his websites)
I hope you'll enjoy this interview...

All throughout the 90s, while I was growing up and developing my playing, I read his "In Vivo Guitar" columns in a german guitar mag, every single month. Those columns were not only extremely entertaining, but also extremely educational. At first, there was a focus on technical stuff, but later on, it moved to other topics interesting to every musician...philosophy, gear and the vintage-market, and, "TONE"
When I heard his "King Of Heart" album in 1997, I was very much impressed by it. Not only did it have some very well-written songs ( and no "showcases for the sake of showing off" ), it did have a chock full of great guitar-sounds and tone ( if youīre unsure about why I am separating those two terms, check my "The Quest For Tone" article ).
I eventually started writing to him, and we soon developed a friendship. Nowadays, we are good friends, and I do consider him a mentor and an influence. A lot of the things I teach ( and employ in my own music ) I did learn from him. So it was an extra pleasure to do this interview with him.
I hope you will enjoy it...

Abi was born in 1959. After playing the acoustic guitar for a few years, he picked up the electric guitar at age 18. In his early 20s ( around 1982 or 1983 ) he attended the Guitar Institute Of Technology in North Hollywood / USA.
After his return to Germany, he started working as an instructor, and also was conducting workshops, presenting gear for several different companies. On top of that, he was working as a session-musician.
In 1991, he started to write a monthly column ( "In Vivo Guitar" ) for a german guitar magazine. He continued to do so until 2001. In the mid-90s, a book with the same title was released, and continues to sell quite well.
In 1997, he released his first solo-album, an all-instrumental release called "King Of Heart".
Nowadays, Abi is playing live as a solo-artist, is a member of the german formation "Jazzmachine" (they released their most recent album, "Moongroove" , in 2007) and has his own music school, the A Team Music Academy, in Munich. Just recently, he started writing columns again for the german magazine "GUITAR"

External links:
His official website - Go here for more info on Abi, clips from the "King Of Heart" album and much more
A Team Music Academy - The website of his school
GUITAR magazine Germany

The Interview

The Present

Eric Vandenberg: What are you currently up to ?
Abi von Reininghaus:
I am trying to find more time for playing live. Aside from JAZZMACHINE - don't let the name fool you - I have several project bands. We play the songs from King of Heart side to side to my new material. We come up with wonderful spontaneous ideas as we go along. The response is encouraging and my guys insist we do more. Studiowise there is a strong focus on Jazzmachine II which we are producing right now. Parallel to this runs a project with the working title "Audio Morgana". I also sat down and laid out a concept for an acoustic album. I figure if I plan more than just one thing chances are some of it will come to life and be it just coincidently... ;O)
All of this is an evolutionary process that taps into each and every inspiration I ever received - Spanish guitar, steelstring open-tuning, Jazz, you name it...
It is highly satisfying seeing all the music I grew up with falling into one of these projects projects I am involved with right now. There is flamenco, resonator slide, open-tuning steelstring, some bluesharp, all alongside with the electrics.

EV: Itīs been a few years that King Of Heart has been released. It seems though as if that record still is rather popular, as I hear quite a few musicians mention it a lot. Are you still getting feedback on it ?
You are right, I get a lot of feedback on it. Surprisingly over the course of the last six months it is even picking up and I made an effort finding out why that is. Since there is no apparent reason, like a tour, or a new CD or anything like that it may just be the swinging pendulum of time - more songs, more melody, less placent shred.
Here is what s really funny about it: the most radio-unsuited song gets the most airplay. "Don't Wait For Love" is a 7 minute 40 affair and it gets significant airtime in late night shows as well as use in TV productions. I was right to give King Of Heart a sort of a "timeless" feel. It seems to not sound 'old' in a good way.

EV: Any plans for new recordings in the near future ?
Aside from what I mentioned above I would love to do a keyboard/guitar album, preferrably with B3 organ. I am writing songs for it right now and I hope that time will allow me to realize it.

Q: Youīre the guitarist for the german band Jazzmachine now. What made you decide to take that job ? What is the challenge about it ?
I have always had the greatest repect and deepest appreciation for strong gutsy jazz. Montgomery, McLaughlin, Benson, Martino, Metheny - their sounds have alwas driven me. When I was first approached by Stefan Zaradic to get Jazzmachine on track I had almost forgotten how great a part of my musical development Jazz had been. (Despite all bad jokes I keep making about poor jazz...) The recordings for "Radio" were spanning almost 2 years and I grew deeper into it with every session we did. I added equipment that went a totally different direction. Gibson L-5 Wes Montgomery, Ibanez GB-5, original '65 Blackface Twin, speakercabs with Naylor 50 speakers, ... Very much old-school-jazz, as you may notice.
Now is a similar process of change. I sell some of the obsolete gear and steer into acoustic instruments.

EV: How important do you consider a website for the promotion of a musician these days ?
Vital! I know the difficulties as musicians tend to be more audio oriented and less interested in the visual aspect. But audio and visual is inseperable these days. So we better accept it and act accordingly.

EV: Do you try to stay up-to-date with the instrumental guitar scene ? Any new players you really like a lot ?
This may not be a name anybody waited for but John Mayer has been a major surprise. Check his live DVD and CD "Any Given Thursday! Barely ever have I heard a player with better time and tone. This goes for is acoustic as well as his electric playing. On top of that you get a funny guy with some pretty astonishing thoughts and comments about the world.

EV: What are you listening to a lot these days?
Vincente Amigo, Gerardo Nuņez, old Santana, Greg Howe, Richie Kotzen, Audioslave...

The Past

EV: How did you get started?
A guy strumming an acoustic by the campfire - it struck me right there. It was so pure and strong.

EV: What made you decide to go to the Guitar Institute Of Technology ( GIT ) back then ? After all, without the web and everything, I am sure it wasnīt easy to find out about that school in the first place ?
It had a legendary reputation reaching all the way to Germany. From the 70's on I had gone great length to get ahold of Guitar Player Magazine and read about GIT and who teaches there etc... It slowly built up in my head and after many different and unorthodox developments in my life I ended up at the place of my wildest dreams.

EV: How was your time there ? I think you mentioned seeing some really great performances.
Toto was there with the full rig, Allan Holdsworth, Joe Pass was there weekly, Robben Ford was a constant, it was breathtaking. 83/84 was one of the best years at GIT ever, I was told.

EV: Tommy Tedesco was "teaching" at the GIT back then. What did you pick up from him, and how was he as a person ?
He was such a sweet man, took me to sessions, introduced me to Henry Mancini and a number of other legendary artists. I speedlearned around him. He had a great sense of humor and his view on music was so refreshingly practical. A great counterfit to the brainiacs and the selfindulged crazyness of 80's fusionjazz.

EV: Whom do you consider your influences, who were the biggest influences in the past ( guitarists and non-guitarists )
Oh, that age-old question. Growing older clears your view and so I can finally say Carlos Santana - despite the fact that what I learned from him took me in a whole different direction. But he sure told us all how to sing with our sorry axe. *laughs*
But lets see. John Denver, Stephen Stills, James Taylor, John McLaughlin, the aforementioned Santana, then Jeff Beck, another love of my lifetime George Benson, Robben Ford, Eric Johnson, Satriani, Greg Howe, Richie Kotzen, VanHalen, Pat Metheny, the great Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer, definitely some Clapton Actually, get this: "Further up on the Road" from the concert movie " The Last Waltz" made me abandon my acoustic and go buy my first electric at age 18)
Oh, you also asked for non-guitarists. Singers, singers, singers! Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Elton John, Ray Charles, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, Anastacia, Barbra Streisand, Richie Kotzen, Frank Sinatra, Josh Stone, Anastacia... And composers/songwriters like Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Elton John, Marc Cohn, Sting...

The work

EV: You also used to write a series of instructional columns, and published a book based on that. I am sure you got plenty of feedback from those columns... did all that help you to reconsider certain aspects of playing, and if yes, could you elaborate a bit?
I just picked up where I left. I started writing my new "Abilities" series for German "Guitar" magazine last december and again the feedback and attention it gets is just wonderful.
From a teacher's point of view I collected some of the more frequent problems that were seeking a solution.
"I keep playing the same stuff over and over."
"I don't know what to practice."
"Is there a correct way to become a better guitar-player?"

It seems to me that what is needed out there is less information and more reason. To put it like this. "Know Why" instead on "Know How"

EV: I know you have been involved in research and development with some companies... how did you get into that ? How important was the factor "gear" back then, and what did you bring to the table for those companies ?
I underestimated gear in my early career. We used to pick certain gear for its reputation, by what was depicted in songbooks and on album covers.
It changed when I got more concious about tone. And I realized that tone needs certain gear to work. Ultimately your tone is independent from your hardware but realistically it is much easier to sound yourself with adequate trusted hardware.

EV: We all know that the gear market sure has changed a lot. What do you consider the most important changes, and what are some of the low-points in your opinion ?
On the up-side: harddisc recording
On the down-side: modeling amps (good at home, terrible on stage)

The Music

EV: How would you describe your music or your playing to someone else, without having him or her listen to any ?
I would try like this: the attitude of Blues and Rock and the songstructure and melodies of a dedicated songwriter. A tone, sound and phrasing as close to the human voice as possible.

EV: How long did it take to write the songs on KOH ?
Years! "I Thank You" is from 1991 and it spans to "Southern Steel" in 1996

EV: Are you rather quick when it comes to songwriting, or do you need a lot of time?
Often Ideas spring to mind but the actual songwriting is a long and sometimes painful process. But what a triumph when you get finally there.

EV: How much of your playing on KOH was improvised? Did you pick certain parts you played on the demoes and played them again when you were recording ?
"Seven Friends" was a complete first take without any punch-in all the way through. I added a second track, using a wicked Marshall-sound to the rhythm guitar in the C parts where it sustains those sus2 chords. On the opposite the most preplanned and prearranged playing is on "Movin' Out". All but the end solo with harp and slide is been a minute kind of playing-correcting-soundtweaking process.

EV: A few years down the road, do you consider KOH a good "business card" ? What I mean by that is: a lot of artists release albums and a few years later they go "Man, I was way different back then, so that album doesnīt represent me anymore". How do you feel about KOH these days, and do you listen to it occasionally ?
That is a great way of looking at an album! I still consider it a good business card. The playing is still on my taste-radar, the chops still kick me in the ass when I cover the songs live but I would pick slightly different sounds today. Which is goo because it showss me I am still evolving - for better or for worse... :O)

EV: If youīd decide to record a new album, what could we expect from that ? What would be different ?
Hard to say. I guess to be recognizable, but surprising at the same time. Which may sound like a contradiction. My main concern would be songs, songs, songs! That said I would write singable melodie - in fact that is what I am doing right now. Songs without words.
In order not to get caught up in the administrative hassles that record making brings I will pick an outside producer. It would be just wonderful to have a strong personality with taste behind the console to bounce ideas off.

The Teacher

EV: I know you have a music school in Munich ( link ). In a nutshell, what is the school about ?
First "KNOW WHY" then "KNOW HOW". This is the recipe for motivation and inspiration. We try to be a decent counterforce against all the information/theory overkill. One must realize the great number of undereducated but highly successful players that are recognized and respectetd for their style and tone. We can't keep dancing along neglecting the strength of selftaught structurs. Our goal is to add a solid fundament without breaking down already built artistic uniqueness. We want to add to the artist that comes to us rather than tear him down and rebuild him from scratch.

EV: I know that youīre instructional columns were rather inspiring for many guitarists in germany ( i.e. myself ). I take it that lots of the philosophies in those columns are being taught at the school now ?
Thank you very much! Yes, that is our focus and I would hope all of them are covered. But I never stand still, all will be in a process of updating.

EV: What are some of the things you have to offer to students, and what is your main-focus ? Variety ? Technique ?
The 3 T's are our primary targets: Tone, Time, Taste. Next come variety, openness, strengthening unique and individual abilities. The past 10 years have taught us what a dead end street complacent virtuosity and sheer tempo have run into. I am a great fan of virtuosity (see for instance Greg Howe) but it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. And tone, and taste and time!

EV: Is there anything that stands out when it comes to the skills and expectations of players who apply for the school ? I know you have been teaching throughout the years, and Iīm interested to hear whether you think that the "overall skills" have changed due to the net and all the other new resources ?
Information is no longer the need of the day. It seems to me we have a problem with information these days. We have too much of it. We're overfed. Options are ddemotivating us. Anything we decide to gets diminished by the thought of options and what we could be doing instead. this runs parallel and keeps us from really leaning into a certain execise. Becaause while we do it our mind is already off to the next thing.

EV: What kind of student should apply for the school ? What kind of student would get the most out of attending the ATMA ?
Itīs stylistically very open

EV: I saw some really wonderful feedback on the website of the school. When you hand a student a diploma, what do you want him to know or be able to after that year of being at the school ?
Our contact has not ended with this moment. I try to tell them that music is never a learning and then doing, it is always a learning by and learning while doing.

EV: Was it hard to get into that system of teaching ( teaching a large group in a workshop-type setting etc. ) ? And was it difficult to make up a "masterplan" and distribute all the information you want to teach over one full year?
Yes, I admit it was. You understand that your knowledge becomes a product that needs to be constructed properly, tested thourogly and presented respectfully.

Thanks Abi !

Phrase Syncopation

In addition to doing this interview with me, Abi has sent me a bit of instructional material to include this feature for all our visitors, and we hope itīs gonna be interesting for some of you. This is actual material from the lessons at the A Team Music Academy.


Abi writes:
This may not be the ultimate fun but it is a key to independance of the right hand. This exercise deals with the rhythmical variations that are taught on vibraphone. But it makes a lot sense for guitar as well. You must hear what is possible with it.

Additional comments by Eric Vandenberg:
This is a great example of something that often seems to be neglected by many players, and an aspect of timing. Basically, you can alter the sound of a lick ( or melody or whatever ) by "moving it back", starting it on the offbeat etc.
When you look at the TABs, you might think "Oh well, thatīs not exactly crazy shredding-stuff".
It is not, yet itīs an important thing to work on, and might help you to come up with all new stuff. Listen to the Powertab-files, and pay attention to how the licks sound different when you move them back ( make sure the powertab-metronome is activated, as that is essential to grasp whatīs going on by listening to it )

Itīs not only neck-breaking runs and stuff that make a great player, itīs also little details like these...

Part 1

Part 2:

Part 3:

And here are some "results". A very basic lick, and then the same lick shifted by different note values. Try to do this yourself... take a jam track, a simple drum track or maybe just a metronome, take some licks you like and then apply this phrase syncopation concept to it.

Thanks to Abi for providing the examples above. All examples Đ 2004 A Team Music academy

The files
Here are the powertab files for the syncopation:
Syncopation 1
Syncopation 2
Syncopation 3
Syncopation 4

And here are the pdf-versions of the files above:
Syncopation 1
Syncopation 2
Syncopation 3
Syncopation 4
This article can be read online at http://www.iBreatheMusic.com/article/186
Eric started playing the guitar at age 10. He attended GIT and studied with Scott Henderson, Brett Garsed, Dan Gilbert amo. Eric is involved in several bands and recording projects and his instrumental debut - Hidden Creek - plus his instructional book Talking Hands - A Guide To Contemporary Lead Guitar Techniques is available HERE
Visit his website at www.ericvandenberg.net

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