Talking Tone With Glen Drover
By Martina Fasano
It’s easy to introduce Glen Drover as the former axe-slinger for influential bands such as King Diamond and Megadeth, but as a guitarist, Drover is more than just an encyclopedic entry listed under “past members.” When iconic metal band Testament needed a quick study to fill in for Alex Skolnick due to his commitment to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in 2008, they called upon Glen Drover to step into his shoes and play the gigs that Alex could not. In fact, Drover has often gotten the call to play some shred-filled, intricate guitar leads that would make others sheepishly turn down the gig. This is in addition to Eidolon, the band he started with his brother Shawn Drover and released eight albums on Metal Blade Records with. All of that talent, and he’s one of the most down-to-earth people in the business too. We had a chance to talk with Glen about his upcoming projects and he graciously answered our questions.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us with the upcoming commitments you’ve got lined up. You’ve done quite a few lessons/instructional type work for various websites, in person, and in print. Tell us about the guitar clinic you’re doing together with fellow Canadian Jeff Waters in Ottawa, Canada. How did that come about and what’s your favorite thing about doing clinics?
Initially it was a part of a fundraising event that they had going on, and there’s a lot of stuff going on there that weekend, we were asked to do this kind of thing, and even though I know Jeff I haven’t done this kind of thing with him before. But it makes sense – we’re both Canadian, we both have a similar history, with a lot of things actually. He almost wound up being in Megadeth, so we have a lot in common and it should be an interesting thing to do together. I always liked doing clinics because it’s an easy format: question and answer, then I play some current stuff, some earlier stuff that people want to hear, all that good stuff. I just enjoy it and always felt comfortable doing it.
We had some fans ask online if you yourself took lessons. How would you describe your guitar journey in terms of learning how to play?
GD: No. To be honest with you, I grew up in small town outside of Montreal and it was the late 70’s, early 80’s. There were no teachers around, there was no internet as we know, and if there was a teacher somewhere in town, he’d be teaching you something you didn’t want to learn anyway! Basically the kids that were heavily into music like me, and wanted to play guitar…there were a couple of guys in the town that were really good, a little older, so I used to bug them to show me stuff. I was like the pest. We’d be exchanging stuff like “hey this guy knows that riff of that song, and show me that and I’ll show you this…” that sort of thing. So that’s the way I grew up playing. That initially, and then one of those guys, Robert, who was a really great guitar player, and still is, he’d be at the odd party that I’d be at where there was a record player he’d put on an album and just start playing along with it. Not necessarily playing the exact content, but he would just start ad-libbing, free form soloing – whatever you want to call it – and I thought that was very cool and very inspiring, so I started doing that with my albums at home. All my favourite albums, I’d try and learn all the stuff as well as once I had built up a big enough inventory of licks and little things like that, I’d try to free form and kind of just jam along with it, which seemed to come fairly natural. There’s two kinds of players: the person who has to know what’s coming next, and the person that can jam. I’ve played with both and it’s all gray, but I guess I’m the jam guy initially. I’m really a street player and that’s really my background. I still do that to this day, just playing along to music.
Being from Canada myself, I’d like to know what you think of the current Canadian music scene and are kids having that opportunity to see people play? How does it compare to the scene that you experienced while you were growing up as a musician?
GD: Hmmm. That’s a loaded question. (Laughs) It’s different world, as you know. When I was growing up, in the mid to late 80’s when I really started becoming a lead player, getting into my later teens and early twenties, there weren’t five million bands. Now you don’t know where to turn. Back then there was a certain amount mystique. Whatever you’d learn about your heroes or whatever was from magazines, so it was inspiring. When Yngwie (Malmsteen) came out and changed the face of guitar, and my opinion is he’s the last guy to have really changed the face of guitar playing. You had Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, and then Yngwie. There’s really been nobody that has come out and totally played something completely new. He was the last one I think. So it was a really inspiring time. Plus there were all the other guys I was heavy into like Randy Rhoads, Jake E Lee, and all these other players that were out there. It seemed to really be a healthy, competitive thing that was going on. Everyone was getting better at a very fast rate so it was an inspirational time for me in music, and it was fresh and new at that point. Today there is still a lot of great stuff out there, obviously, and all those old albums are still available, but I think it’s just different. I mean YouTube is a really good thing becomes sometimes I get in a slump and I’ll put on an old Yngwie video, you know? That will get me going a little bit. There is so much content on YouTube, as you know, and there is a lot of great instructional material out there. You can look up who’s your favorite player and you can learn some stuff from them. These kinds of videos came out in the 80’s – Vinnie Moore put a couple out, Greg Howe, Michael Romeo…all those things are cool because they break stuff down and it’s quality stuff where you get to learn from great guitar players. Well rounded guitar players. So when you try to learn from these guys, that’s the way to do it, because it’s not just all about the speed thing. My dog can play fast doesn’t mean he’s good. That’s not what it’s all about. People want to drive fast, and I get that. But I’m lucky, because I grew up with certain guitar players like Kim Mitchell – I love Max Webster – and listening to that stuff, that guy is so smooth. Great vibrato and feel, choice of notes, good choice of notes: all those things that make up a well-rounded player – not that I am, but – I was well aware that it’s cool to do the technical stuff, but you have to have a good vibrato, a good sense of whatever the music is calling for, for whatever you’re doing whether it’s live or in the studio. It’s like vocalist – if he’s pitchy, his vibrato sucks, horrible tone, even though he’s got range, they’ll still say he sucks. That’s my message for people when they ask “Where should I go, who are the people I should watch or learn from?” I always say work on your pitches – your bending – obviously, like a singer. Vibrato. And inject part of yourself into that. Everyone’s got their own DNA so try to inject your personality into your playing. Don’t be a robot. Don’t try to be exactly like someone else, which is a robot. I was in a situation where it didn’t matter what the guitar player sounded like they just wanted them to sound like so-and-so, and that’s difficult to do because you’re not that player.
You’ve been in some very influential bands – King Diamond, Megadeth – which means that you’ve played to huge audiences. How do you go about preparing for a role of that magnitude, especially when you’re dealing with intricate guitar parts or in the case where you’re learning someone else’s guitar parts?
GD: It’s a lot of homework. Music is my thing and what I’ve been doing since I was about 11, learning stuff from listening to music, so I’ve developed a bit of an ear for that sort of thing over the years. Whether it was Megadeth or any other band, I approached it the same way. Just do your homework – here’s the set list, here’s the songs we can try or whatever, and I’d just learn them to the best of my ability by ear, and then I get into the actual situation with the other guitar player, and go “Oh okay, that’s how you’re playing that” and then you re-program, and go back and practice that to death. I hate reading (music) because my fingers and my brain, my eyes they don’t all connect very well, so I get frustrated with that, but it wouldn’t matter anyway because there is nothing official out there – for instance for Megadeth – there is the Hal Leonard stuff. Which is basically just somebody interpreting the riffs that are being played on the 4th and 5th fret as being played way further up the neck than that, you know what I mean? And I know that for a fact because the album that I was on and some of the stuff I wrote, when I’ve seen the transcriptions I’m like “What is that?” So there is nothing that says exactly how to play it. And that’s actually one of the things that while I was in Megadeth, Dave and I were going to do an anthology of all the songs, but it would be very difficult for me to do that – to say that something is right on because all of the guitar players that have been in Megadeth are very different from each other, especially the first few. Comparing Marty (Friedman) and Jeff Young, they’re very different players. Try and emulate these kinds of styles and feels and play some of their solos, would be hard to do that note for note. So a lot of it is just physically getting ready and playing, playing, playing. The more you play the more you get confident. Because initially you hear the music and you think “How am I going to play that?” But then you get there and you’re more confident.
As far as when I’m playing in front of large crowds and stuff, that never really bothered me that much. It’s usually just the first few shows, and it doesn’t matter at that point how many people there are, really. Because you’re at the beginning of trying to put this together. But once you get out there and you’re playing a few tours, it’s not like you’re going to freak out because there’s 2000 more people at this gig than there were last time.
How did you choose Seymour Duncan pickups and how do they work together with your current rig/setup to help you achieve the tone/sound you’re always looking for?
I’ve been with the company about 20 years now. It’s my longest running endorsement. It’s quite simple really. I’ve experimented with a lot of pickups, and with something like EMG’s for example, for me they just kind of have a flat response to them and don’t really get color out of stuff like that I do with Seymour’s. The first couple of tours with Megadeth, me and my tech Willie went through tonnes and tonnes of models from Seymour, until I found the ones that worked for everything – clean tones and not – and the combo of the Distortion (SH-6) in the bridge, and the ‘59 in the neck are what I use. They’re a great, well-rounded set.
In terms of guitars, I’m currently using Schecters. Of all the ones they’ve sent me the Solo-II is my current favorite. In terms of strings, I use D’Addario NYXL’s, in a .09-.46 or .10-.46 gauge, depending on the guitar.
My studio rig and live rig are a bit different. In the studio right now I’m using the Kemper, which is phenomenal. Live I use the Digitech GSP1101 unit, and Randall or Mesa Boogie heads. I run the GSP through the effects loop and bypass the preamp so that I can use all the tones on the GSP. When I do the Testament gigs I use the Kemper – that’s how I was first introduced to it – because Eric is using the Kemper as well and they asked if I could use it just so it would be a bit more consistent. I was blown away when I first used it and thought wow, I’ve got to get one of these! So we’ll see. I might start using those live as well. The great thing about it is that you can just load your preset or profile into it and you’re good to go. It’s an amazing thing when you think about it. You’ve got your setup done in 3 seconds.
In terms of pedals, I really like the Seymour Duncan pedals I’ve used. The new one, the Killing Floor is a good pedal – really smooth. But my favorite overdrive that I’ve ever used – and I’ve used quite a few in my lifetime – is the 805. It has become a staple for my live setup because the tightness of it is great. It doesn’t color the tone, gives me exactly what I want, and it has the 3-band EQ on it. When you kick in an overdrive it tends to kill the bottom end a bit – tightens it up but kills the bottom end. With the 805 it allows you to compensate for that, so I just crank it, so you get the best of everything. That’s my favorite pedal. I also use the Vapor Trail as my delay which is a great one too.
In terms of guitars, many guitarists have a go-to or a favorite, and some are also collectors that buy ones that they’re not necessarily going to play all that much. Are you a collector or do you see it more as a tool that you use and keep only what’s essential?
It’s cool to have a few kicking around, but for me I’m not really a collector. I actually start feeling bad because there are certain ones that will sit in the closet collecting dust sort of. I would rather have them in the hands of someone who is going to spend more time with them and play them. I realized this one day when I still lived in Mississauga (Editor’s note: a suburb of Toronto, Canada) and was playing in Megadeth at the time. I was using ESP guitars at the time, and I was organizing this closet I had all the guitar cases lined up. I pulled one out and I couldn’t remember when I got it or where exactly I got it, so I just thought this is silly, because I’m not really appreciating the guitars. That was when I realized I’m not really a collector because I’m in favour of really just having them there. I’d rather somebody make use of them, for sure.
We had another fan ask what kind of pick you use. I know it’s often a neglected piece of gear but it’s one of the ones that really helps define one’s playing or tone, so they wanted to know what kind of pick you use.
Right now I’m using the jumbo jazz from a company called InTuneGP. It’s a 1.14mm. I used to use the Dunlop Gators when I was in King Diamond because of the chalk grip on them. Then I switched to the Dunlop Tortex, still in 1.14mm when I was with Testament and I liked it because it was bigger and I wasn’t missing as many notes (laughs). But I like this one now (InTuneGP Jumbo Jazz) because I can pick more accurately with it and it’s my new favorite.
Where can fans look forward to hearing and seeing you next if they can’t make the clinic on March 11?
I’ve got some exciting stuff coming up soon, and all the announcements will be getting posted on my official Facebook page.