Vintage Guitar - July 2018 - open - 24
or close to 45 years, Al Di Meola's career
has brimmed with guitar virtuosity,
taking him from red-hot fusion to enchanting
Latin and world-music textures. After a few
years touring with a full-on electric show, he's
now mixing acoustics and solidbodies on his
latest, Opus. We caught up with the master as
he prepared to venture out again, still revealing
astonishing chops at age 63.
Fans of Di Meola's early acoustic work will
notice he favors nylon-string classical on the
new album. But he misses that old Ovation
"Steel versus nylon guitars are really like
apples and oranges - I love both," he said.
"The nylon was an instrument I needed to
graduate to because it's far more difficult
to execute on, technically. Once I got used
to it, I felt more and more that the sound
was better suited for the type of music I was
composing. Recently though, I've come back
to the steel-string little by little, and now I
more or less switch back and forth depending
on the composition. To be honest, I missed
playing my Ovation."
Di Meola has the same yin/yang between
his Les Paul and PRS axes. Why does he grab
one over the other?
"For me the difference is that the Les Paul
has a slightly more growling bottom-end,
while the PRS has a smoother and cleaner
sustain with an incredible neck and a vibrato
arm. Those are tonal differences, but I've been
using more of the black single-cut PRS that
Paul Smith made for me, commemorating the
40th anniversary of Elegant Gypsy.
"For amps, I used two Fuchs Overdrive
Supreme 100 heads - one main, one backup -
through two of their Feiten 2x12 cabinets with
Warehouse ET-65 speakers. The pedalboard is
based around a GigRig G2 Switcher running
multiple effects loops. My pedals include a
Hilton Pro Guitar volume pedal, Xotic Effects
SP Compressor, MXR Phase 90, Fulltone OCD,
Diamond Halo Chorus, TC Electronic Hall of
Fame Reverb, Skreddy Echo, MXR Carbon
Photo: Ben Wolf.
AL DI MEOLA
Copy Delay, Neunaber Wet Reverb, and Xotic
Effects EP booster."
Opus is also full of lush, mesmerizing
compositions, such as "Ava's Dream Sequence
Lullaby," which may bring to mind the rich film
soundtracks of Ennio Morricone. Not surprisingly, the New Jersey guitarist is an admirer.
"I love Morricone's compositions; in fact,
I've been playing one recently, one of his
more famous pieces from the movie Cinema
Paradiso. I take the comparison as a welcome
compliment, as I'm a fan of Ennio's extensive
body of work in film."
One of his most renowned skills is his precise
rhythmic sense and timing, heard particularly
in the dark grooves of "Notorious." Asked
for tips on improving one's rhythm chops,
he said, "While sitting, I recommend that
guitarists tap their foot in time while playing
rhythms on the guitar. If the foot goes out of
time because of a rhythm being played on the
guitar, slow your tempo to the point where
whatever you play on the instrument doesn't
influence the quarter note on your foot. If it's
still an issue after that, I highly recommend
using a metronome."
Beyond rhythm, Di Meola is legendary for
his fast alternate-picking technique, something he developed a decade before the influx
of '80s shred guitarists. How does that speedy
vintage era look to him now.
"I think the emphasis on displaying proficiency and technique in those early days was
vital to what the jazz-rock fusion was all about.
My influences were players with impeccable
articulation and strangely, not guitar players -
more often keyboard players like Chick Corea,
Jan Hammer, or Keith Jarrett. Even drummers
like Steve Gadd had a tremendous influence on
my developing my guitar technique."
While listening to the rhythms of Opus,
you may further wonder about Di Meola's
relationship to a related artistic form - dance.
How does dance figure into his playing and,
dare we ask, does the virtuoso himself dance?
"I've given a lot of thought to collaborating
with professional contemporary dancers,
especially those who fuse the classical dance
with elements of Latin tango and flamenco.
That interests me quite a lot, and I can see that
happening some day," he said, adding with
some amusement, "As for dancing myself,
I don't know of any musician who plays an
instrument and can dance. Singers can dance,
but not instrumentalists. My theory is based
on the fact that, as instrumentalists, we feel
everything above the waist and usually it looks
corny when we actually try it. Now that I think
about it, I don't know of one guitar player that
can dance!" - Pete Prown