By Andrew Catania
There are many guitarists out there, but only a few manage to make a lasting impression especially in a very crowded market. That’s one of the many things that made Paul Gilbert shine, to begin with, as he is a true professional and a great performer which you will enjoy quite a bit. He is known for being an excellent hard rock and heavy metal guitarist. He co-founded the Mr. Big band however he is also a member of Racer X, and he created a few albums with them as well.
Paul Gilbert was born on November 6, 1966, in Carbondale Illinois. However, his family moved to Greensburg Pennsylvania, and that’s where he was raised for most of his childhood. It’s important to note that Paul started to play music at the age of 5 and when he was 15 he had his band. The band was named Tau Zero, and he was touring the local clubs playing various types of music. Soon after that, he was featured in the magazine named Guitar Player with Yngwie Malmsteen.
He contacted Mike Varney in 1981, and he asked to book a gig with Ozzy Osbourne which was already a megastar at that time. As you can imagine, Mike Varney didn’t think that a 15-year old would be ok to couple with a rock megastar. However, he did give the demo tape a try, and in the end, he was more than impressed with the stuff that he listened to. This led to a 3-year period in which they worked together on various musical projects.
Paul Gilbert moved to LA in 1984, and he started to attend the GIT there, a move that was followed by him being hired as a GIT instructor one year after that. He also recorded the Street Lethal record with Racer X very soon after that.
The original lineup for Racer X which was created in 1985 included Juan Alderete, Paul Gilbert, Jeff Martin and Harry Gschoesser. The band had a lot of influence from Judas Priest at that time. Paul did work with them for three years, but he left in 1988. He did come back in 1996 after Mr. Big broke up.
Speaking of Mr. Big, he co-founded this band with Billy Sheehan, and they also added Eric Martin on vocals and Pat Torpey on drums. This made quite an unusual combination, and they did reach initial success in Japan. It was in 1991 when they got a lot of achievement with their Lean into It album. This was when they received an international stardom status, mainly thanks to the single-named To Be with You which granted them a number 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
The music they played was very distinct and unique, something that still entices people up to this date. Thankfully, the style of Paul Gilbert did remain untouched, and you can easily see that nowadays in many of his projects.
The band did break up in 1996 due to personal differences that weren’t showcased to the public. This was the perfect time for Paul Gilbert to launch his solo career. As you can imagine, Mr. Big was reformed soon after that, but Paul already had a thriving career as a solo artist, so the band replaced him with Richie Kotzen. Mr. Big disbanded once again in 2002, yet Paul Gilbert did reunite with the original members in 2009 for a commemorative tour. They even created an album named What If which was released in 2010-2011, an album that was supported by a tour.
Aside from the Mr. Big projects, Paul Gilbert did work with Racer X many times. He did help them record the Technical Difficulties album in 1999, and he also collaborated with them on Superheroes, an album that was mixed by Bouillet.
The band was very successful in Japan, and at that point, they performed to create a live DVD and CD at the request of Universal Japan. They ended up having their first live performance in around 13 years in front of a sold-out crowd in 2001, something that did impress most audiences.
The band finished recording the Getting Heavier album at Paul Gilbert’s house in Las Vegas. The tracks on this album were lighter, and this did upset some fans as they did expect a more conventional, heavier album instead of light tracks. The album did sell very well in Japan. In 2009 they had a massive NAMM show in California, and they performed with Andy Timmons. This is also when Paul Gilbert also had a solo set which was very successful.
Aside from working with Mr. Big and Racer X, Paul Gilbert did end up working with a broad range of other musical projects as well. In May 2003, he performed two different times with Yellow Matter Custard which was a Beatles cover band. They re-formed in February 2011 after many years of breaking up, but in the end, Paul Gilbert was not a part of that reunion. His performance impressed critics, but he did not resume working with YMC at all.
He collaborated with Mike Portnoy on that project, and they also worked on a Led Zeppelin tribute band which was named Hammer of the Gods. At that time, he toured Japan to support that band as well as his solo albums called Gilbert Hotel, Burning Organ and The Best of Paul Gilbert.
He also worked with Portnoy on two other projects named Cygnus and the Sea Monsters as well as Amazing Journey: A Tribute to The Who and he played three shows with the last band. The band destroyed all their equipment as an homage to the show, something that was quite common at that time.
Some of his other projects include an instrumental album released in 2008 which was called Silence Followed by a Deafening Roar; an album named the United States which was published with Freddie Nelson and some collaborations with Richie Kotzen, George Lynch, and many others. He also created two new albums named Fuzz Universe and Stone Pushing Uphill Man.
During many interviews, Paul Gilbert stated that his style was influenced by a wide array of artists. Some of the people that influenced him to include the Ramones, Jimmi Hendrix, Steve Clark, Alex Lifeson, Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen, Judas Priest and Pat Travers among many others.
Aside from that, Paul Gilbert also stated that his uncle did help influence him with the heavy metal addiction as he was a fan of many popular bands at that time. According to Pail, he grew up as a fan of the Beatles, Todd Rundgren, and Cheap Trick. He also said that George Harrison is one of his personal favorites in regards to the guitar styles.
Guitar World named Paul Gilbert one of the world’s 50 fastest guitar players of all time. Paul is known for its hand speed and the fact that he has an excellent stylistic versatility. He is also widely recognized for the staccato style picking technique that he has which is very fast and efficient.
Paul worked and still collaborates with a combination of musical styles. He created metal, funk, blues, rock and pop music as well as a mix of all these!
He is known for using the Ibanez PGN signature guitar series which has some painted F-Holes. He was using whammy bars at first. However, he did end up using a modified version of that model named PGM301 after he stopped using the whammy bars sometime in the 90s. in regards to amps, he opts for the A/DA MP-1 preamps. He also uses many effects like the BOSS DD-3 Digital Delay, the MXR Phase 90 and 100, the TC Electronic Nova Delay and the HOF Mini as well as some Home Brew Electronics effects like the Compressor retro, Bajo Mos, and the Detox EQ.
Paul Gilbert flourished as a solo artist, and his large number of solo albums shows that. The list includes:
- King of Clubs (1998)
- Flying Dog (1998)
- Alligator Farm (2000)
- Raw Blues Power (2002)
- Burning Organ (2002)
- Gilbert Hotel (2003)
- Space Ship One (2005)
- Get Out of My Yard (2006)
- Silence Followed by a Deafening Roar (2008)
- United States (2009)
- Fuzz Universe (2010)
- Vibrato (2012)
- Stone Pushing Uphill Man (2014)
- I Can Destroy (2015)
Paul Gilbert received many distinctions for his work, which includes 4th on the Top 10 Greatest Guitar Shredders of All Time by Guitar One magazine and he also got included in the 50 Fastest Guitarists Guitarists of All Time by Guitar World. His career is filled with incredible performances and the fact that he still is one of the few performers that still have an extraordinary career even nowadays is awe-inspiring. Paul Gilbert is an excellent example for all guitar players that never want to give up. He continues to improve his sound even nowadays, and that’s one of the main reasons why he continues to be a guitar-playing legend that will impress people for years to come!