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Nuno Bettencourt - Extremist

Issue #29

When it comes to gear, Nuno has been a long time endorser of Washburn guitars, releasing a signature model in 1990 and currently having no fewer than 10 models on the market at the moment to cater to various budgets.
Levi Clay

Nuno Bettencourt - Extremist

Levi Clay meets one of GI's most requested interview subjects, back on tour again with Extreme.

One of the perks of living in the London area is that when there's a big tour, it's safe to say it's going to come to town and people will flock from miles around to see it happen. I can honestly say I don't remember a time in recent memory where there was as much buzz that when we heard Nuno Bettencourt and Extreme would be coming to town to play their seminal album, Pornograffitti.

Born in Portugal in 1966, Nuno Bettencourt's family relocated to Massachusetts when he was just four years old. He picked up the guitar relatively late after having a foundation in drums, but the influence of players like Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page and Prince were enough for him to get serious rather quickly. He would take things so seriously that he would skip school and eventually drop out to follow his dream.

Nuno joined the Boston based band in Extreme in 1985, who released their self titled debut on A&M records in 1989. This album featured the frightening guitar showcase, Play With Me which includes a furious neoclassical rendition of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, this piece was even used in the hit film, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure when Beethoven plays keyboards in 1988, because while Beethoven is cool, he's no Nuno!

At this point, it was clear that Nuno was something special, while there was the obvious Eddie Van Halen influence with the blistering picking and legato licks and classical influenced tapping ideas, it was really his unique sense of rhythm that set him apart. Much like his hero, Eddie Van Halen, his rhythm playing is often overlooked because of just how influential his lead playing has been, but as a rhythm player, he's absolutely one of the best and most exciting in the world. The funky syncopations, palm muted legato and slinky dominant double stop ideas really set him apart.

While the response to this album was fantastic, it would be a drop in the ocean compared to the acclaim that came when the group released Pronograffitti in 1990. This album features 64 minutes of flawless guitar playing, compositions, and hooks that you're still singing 24 years on. From the crushingly heavy funk rhythms parts on tunes like Decadence Dance and Get the Funk Out, to the timeless ballads like More Than Words and Hole Hearted, to the terrifying guitar licks on tracks like It's a Monster or He-Man Woman Hater, this album was a classic from the day it was released.

When it comes to gear, Nuno has been a long time endorser of Washburn guitars, releasing a signature model in 1990 and currently having no fewer than 10 models on the market at the moment to cater to various budgets. Indeed, we're giving one away in this very issue! A very simple guitar in concept, the Nuno Bettencourt guitar as a type is known for being a plain instrument with a natural wood finish and hiding all the unique features in harder to spot areas. For example, the Stephens Extended Cutaway which offers incredible access to upper frets, The Seymour Duncan and Bill Lawrence pickups and the Floyd Rose D-Tuna. Aside from that, it's a standard high tech Rock guitar featuring a single volume knob and three way toggle switch - nothing flashy, but something that does the job time and time again.

As for amps, back in the day Nuno was using the ADA rack gear, but he now has a signature amplifier with Randall that's as striking visually as it is sonically, looking more like an old transistor radio than a modern amp, the NB King series is available as a 100 Watt head and cab, a 30 Watt 1x12 combo and as a 15 Watt practice amp, all featuring Nuno's tight distorted tone.

I would like to make an announcement: there has been a delay… …on every Hank Marvin recording and live performance! Well, on the electric guitar side of things at least. Hank discusses his discovery and subsequent use of echo towards the end of the interview and he focuses on what he is currently using: a TVS.

I know that you will probably be one of Hank’s countless fans who wants to know everything about Hank’s echo units and, indeed, I pushed Hank for a referral to somewhere where obsessive types could head, but he politely yet assertively said that he couldn’t help at all in that respect. You can’t really talk about sounds can you? Words may possibly be found to describe something, but all you’re usually left with is just that: words. And I believe that you can’t talk knob settings either - it’s all meaningless unless you have a specific device in front of you and adjusting parameters in accordance with a specific musical context.

However, trying to be as helpful as I can, totally unsolicited by Hank, I believe Charlie Hall, who created Echoes From the Past (a set of painstakingly researched programmes as built into the electronics of certain devices such as the Alesis Quadraverb - which Hank was using during our interview - or the Zoom RFX-2000 or G2) has created a sheet which lists what type of echo was used on which Shadows recording, yet I understand that, as you’d expect, it’s all copyrighted.

I can’t emphasise this enough: Hank Marvin gets his sound because he is Hank Marvin. I forget who told me the story, it might have been Denis Cornell, about how a guitar playing fan was somehow granted permission to play Hank’s gear prior to a concert performance and, guess what? That person didn’t sound that much like Hank Marvin at all, despite having all of Hank’s tools at his disposal. Still, we can dream can’t we?

I’ll leave you with a couple of thoughts: firstly, that a colleague of mine, who is extremely fussy, shall we say, as both a musician and a producer, remarked that he’d travelled around the world and seen a great many “top guitarists”, but only a precious few had, in his opinion, the “perfect sound”. I won’t name the players in question, suffice to say that a certain man individually and collectively influenced them, that man of course being Hank Marvin! My final statement might at first appear rather bland and unexciting, but please read these words carefully: when I went to see Hank live I noticed that he played (passionately of course) in time, in tune and with, as my friend says, the “perfect” sound. What more could you ever ask for?

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