Siam Plaza (Thailand)

1. Where did you study your formal music education and private instruction?

Tom Hess: I started with several private guitar teachers in the Chicago area when I was a teenager.
The first teacher who really introduced me to great guitar players was a guy named Randy Pierce, I studied with him from 1987-1989. I later searched for a professional teacher and found a great teacher, Jack Wilson, he helped me a lot and we are good friends today. I studied guitar with Jack Wilson from 1992-1994. From 1993-1998, I studied virtuoso guitar instruction with the master, George Bellas. George inspired me very much and helped me to refine my technique, improvising, composing and general musicianship. My formal training didn’t really start until 1994, I attended William Rainey Harper College starting in 1994. I majored in music and studied classical guitar there. After graduating from there, I transferred to Roosevelt University, in Chicago, as a classical music composition major. Both of these schools gave me the musical depth that I needed. What I learned from my private, college and university teachers/professors is priceless to me.

2. Where are you living now?

Tom Hess: I live in a suburb of Chicago (USA)

3. What are you doing for a living now?

Tom Hess: I teach online lessons for guitar and mentor musicians to start a career in music

4. Is Opus 1 your only release?

Tom Hess: Opus 1 is our only release, but we are on a Compilation CD of some very good guitarists, it's called: Guitars at an Exhibition - Volume 1.

5. Please tell me a little bit about your next project.

Tom Hess: The next HESS release will be called Opus 2. It will be finished by the end of 2001 or early 2002 Opus 2 is a continuation of Opus 1. Both releases are like chapters of a book. Opus 2 will be even more refined in the guitar/compositional techniques. There will be 3 main styles: 1. Neoclassical 2. Progressive 3. Dramatic/emotional/Romantic, similar to Opus 1

6. What guitars did you use to record Hess Opus 1?

Tom Hess: For all of the electric guitar parts (lead and rhythm), I used my Carvin V220 with Seymour Duncan Metal Live Wire pickups. For the acoustic guitar parts, a 1970’s Washburn acoustic. For the Nylon string parts, a Takamine classical guitar. Mike Walsh used his Washburn Diabalo guitar for his improvised solos.

7. What amps did you use?

Tom Hess: I have a bunch of things that I run through in my set up, but the main things are:

  • Digitech T3 (for preamp distortion)
  • BBE 462 sonic maximizer Digitech TSR24S (for multi effects)
  • Tube Works Power amp (Mosfet power)
  • Peavy 4x12 cabinet with 75 watt Celestian Speakers

8. What strings do you use?

Tom Hess: Dean Markley, GHS or D’Addario brands. I have been using 10-46 gauge strings for a long time, but recently I’ve been experimenting with a hybrid set that consists of: high E, B and G strings from a 11 gauge set, D string from a 10 gauge set and the A and low E strings from a 9 gauge set. This adds more depth and warmth to the high strings and gives the lower strings more clarity when using the neck pickup, this makes the guitar more difficult to play, but it's worth it to get a better tone.

9. Did you use a lot of effect processors on Opus 1?

Tom Hess: I used a little of the Digitech TSR24s. I used the effects that are inside of my Yamaha Promix01 mixing console more than the TSR24s though.

10. Do you prefer multi effect units or separate units?

Tom Hess: It depends. Sometimes it's good to use a machine that is great at only one function, like the BBE or a preamp. For delay, chorus, reverb and effects like that, it helps to have it all in one. It's important to me that the gear is midi controllable.

11. What kind of picks do you use?

Tom Hess: I use Clayton 1.26 rounded triangle shape picks. The model number is RT126

12. What is your favorite kind of guitar and pick up?

Tom Hess: I love Carvin guitars because they are just great quality instruments, my favorite model is the Carvin V220, unfortunately, Carvin does not make this guitar anymore, I hope that they will make this guitar again in the future. I like it with and without a Floyd Rose. As for pickups, I use Seymour Duncan pickups, usually these models: Metal Live Wire, Invader, JB and I always put 2 bridge pickups in the guitar, one by the bridge and one by the neck. I don’t like single coil pickups. Humbuckers have no hum and the tone is warmer, thicker and hotter.

13. What do you think about the difference between a set neck and boil on neck?

Tom Hess: I actually don’t prefer either one, I like neck through the body necks best, like on my Carvin guitars, but I do own other instruments with bolt on necks and set in necks.

14. Who influenced you?

Tom Hess: Here is a partial list of my most substantial influences:
Yngwie Malmsteen, George Bellas, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Andy LaRocque (from King Diamond), King Diamond, Dream Theater, Fabio Lione (Rhapsody), Gustav Mahler, J.S. Bach, Johannes Brahms and Fryderyk Chopin.

15. What do you think about the difference between a set neck and boil on neck?

Tom Hess: I actually don’t prefer either one, I like neck through the body necks best, like on my Carvin guitars, but I do own other instruments with bolt on necks and set in necks.

16. Do you consider your style to be neo-classical metal?

Tom Hess: Neo-classical metal is one of 3 styles that make up our sound, the other two are progressive and dramatic styles.

17. Did you use a lot of 3 notes per string scale fingerings on Opus 1?

Tom Hess: Yes. The 3 note per string scale fingerings are the main way that I play scales.

18. What are some of your favorite scales/modes?

Tom Hess: There are a lot of cool modes, but the one’s that I like the most are The 5th mode of Melodic Minor, Lydian, Harmonic Minor, Aeolian, Ionian, Hirojoshi.

19. Do you think that playing fast (shredding) is very important? Many young Thai guitar players are always trying to do fast runs more than other things, often overlooking the use of chords and melody. What advice can you offer them?

Tom Hess: This is a tough question. I think, in general, that technique is very important. If one is not interested in playing fast, then excellent technique is not as important as it would be for someone who really wants to become a fast guitar player. This is a choice that each guitarist will make for himself/herself. I strongly feel that the study and use of non technical things are critical. A lot of young guitarists here in America overlook these things too. The only advice that I can offer to people that I have never met (and don’t know anything about) is, learn as much theory as you can and work on how you can better apply it. Improvising is also a critical area, I would advise everyone to strive for the best improvising skills possible. And the last thing is, listen to classical music and study it. If you are interested in neo-classical metal, listen to a lot of Bach and others.

20. Can you give some advice as to how you play so clean when you are playing so fast?

Tom Hess: Practice everything slowly first, then gradually increase speed. When I play a note on any string, I mute the lower strings with the thumb of my picking hand and the higher strings with the index finger of my fretting hand or with the middle finger of my picking hand. Also, I recommend using an extra heavy pick. Keep the picking hand close to the strings at all times and use directional picking (also known as: economy picking or inside picking) When changing strings, pick the next string in the same direction that your hand is going.

21. Please tell me about the concept of HESS Opus 1.

Tom Hess: Opus 1 is a collection of instrumental pieces that express specific and significant events in my life. Its sort of like a diary or journal expressed in music rather than words.

22. Who, or what, was the inspiration for each song?

Tom Hess: None of the individual pieces were written for anyone or anything, instead, each one was a recording of my reaction to a person, feeling, event or situation. I like composing instrumental music because words tend to limit concepts, ideas, thoughts and feelings. Music is more vague but, in a big way, much more accurate. An explanation for each song would limit my concepts for each piece. Some of the tracks I can tell you in words because the concepts are pretty simple so here is a few of them. 'Homage' This is a tribute to all of my guitar inspirations, Bellas, Malmsteen, Becker, Friedman, etc. 'Palette of Shades' This one was based on my reaction to a Polish poem written by a friend of mine. After she translated it to English, she gave it to me to read and it affected me.

23. All the songs of this record were written and produced by you, right?

Tom Hess: Yes. Mike (Walsh) improvised some really great solos throughout the CD as well.

24. Did you ever think to change your style?

Tom Hess: My style has evolved a bit over time and I'm pretty happy with where it is at right now. I have been influenced by Mike Walsh's guitar style over the last few years and you may start to hear a little of his style in my playing on Opus 2, but there won't be any major style changes for me in the foreseeable future.

25. What are some of the differences between you and Mike Walsh?

Tom Hess: Mike’s guitar style is very unique. If I heard 200 guitar players playing the same melody, I would easily know which melody was played by him. Mike’s solos are so exotic and often unpredictable too, you never know what’s coming next. His style adds a lot to the band’s sound and we are very fortunate to have him. We want Mike to play a larger role on Opus 2.

26. What is the first thing you like to do after work?

Tom Hess: Spend time with my family.

27. Do you think that it is necessary to go to music school to become a good musician?

Tom Hess: I think someone who wants to be a good musician should do whatever he/she can possibly do to help achieve that goal. Going to school for music can only help.

28. Why did you choose to play a guitar?

Tom Hess: When I was young, I listened to Def Leppard albums a lot, "On Through the Night", "High and Dry", and "Pyromania". I really wanted to either play guitar or sing. It didn't take long to realize that I couldn't sing so it was an easy choice.

29. How much is the cost for guitar lessons in the United States?

Tom Hess: The average cost for 1 guitar lesson at a local music store is about $15 for 30 minutes.

30. Do musical institutions in the United States test students before accepting them?

Tom Hess: Most universities do test students before accepting students, but most community colleges don't test or if they do, the standards are not very high. Local music stores that offer private guitar lessons almost never test students and almost always accept beginners.

31. How much does it cost to take private lessons from you?

Tom Hess: My private lesson rates are pretty substantial, and I am very selective about who I accept into my most intense private lesson program. However, Correspondence Lessons are much more affordable (and accessible) and there are several investment options for students to choose from. 

32. Would you consider teaching foreign students?

Tom Hess: Yes.

33. And last, please say something to your Thai guitar fan and tenderfoot guitarists.

Tom Hess: To all the great guitar fans in Thailand, I’d like to say thank you for supporting me and other good guitarists from around the world. Unfortunately, in the United States, high caliber guitarists are not as popular as they are in Thailand and the rest of the world, so your support is greatly appreciated by all of us. For those of you who play guitar in Thailand, keep playing!!! Always strive to be the best that you can be and express yourself through your instrument. Learn as much as you can and focus on your goals and desires, it is a long term process but each of you can achieve your own greatness with perseverance, patience, principal and passion.

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