by Ryan Meehan
Felix Martin is an ambidextrous Venezuelan-born guitarist who moved to America after winning a scholarship to attend the prestigious Berklee School of Music. Martin is constantly pushing the boundaries of music into uncharted territory by mixing heavy metal with different styles such as jazz, progressive, Latin, and fusion. Although what he does is most commonly referred to as Progressive Metal, he is often cataloged as Jazz Metal as he sometimes composes straight ahead jazz music mixed with heavy metal. Felix uses self-designed fourteen string guitars, which are two regular guitars molded into one magnificent instrument. These custom guitars have opened up a new and hidden world of the electric guitar for both the musician and the listener. Felix pioneered this style of playing at the age of 13, and is currently the only one in the world who plays in this manner. Martin has shared the stage with acts such as Steve Vai, Mike Portnoy, Tesseract, Animals as Leaders, Scale the Summit, The Devin Townsend Project and has toured most of North America, South America and Europe. We are delighted to have guitar prodigy Felix Martin as our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: What was the first guitar you owned that had more than six strings; and was there something other than having more options for note combinations that really made you want to take things to the next level?
FM: It was an Ibanez Gio, the cheapest Ibanez model. It was enough for me at that moment. Then I got a Fender American Deluxe, and I started playing those two guitars at the same time – That’s how I started with the tapping idea. Later on we worked on a 14 string guitar, which had two 7-string guitars in one.
RM: When was the first time that you heard these eight fingered chord structures in your head; and how shortly thereafter did you come to the realization that you would actually need a custom built instrument in order to bring these visions to life?
FM: It was when I first had a 14 string guitar, but actually these chords could be played using two guitars simultaneously. I believe that each guitar inspires different music or ideas. I spent years playing with an Ibanez in one hand and Fender on the other, it didn’t really inspired me as much as having a 14 string with two 7-strings together.
RM: How many hours a day did you practice the guitar between the ages of twelve and twenty years of age? What kind of methods did you come up with during this period to ensure that you were making the most of every moment that you spent practicing?
FM: I didn’t have a routine for that period nor did I have any teachers. All I did was play guitar by myself every day the 7 days of the week, and I lost count of the hours. Probably 8 hours and even more on the weekends! I used to just sit down and play, without any particular methods since I grew up in a place where access to that wasn’t readily available. It was more difficult to learn, but at the same time it helped me to be creative and develop my own vision.
RM: Your new record is entitled “The Human Transcription” and is a very unique concept with regards to the human voice and the hidden musicality that lies within. What led you to develop the basis of the idea for this project; and what was the biggest discovery that you made about the way the human voice relates to songwriting?
FM: The Human Transcription is a side project. This has been a dream for me to produce. I’ve always wanted to write an entire album from the music that comes from our speeches. As a Prog Metal musician, we like really complex rhythms and our spoken voice is full of them, so I started to have curiosity on this subject when I was about 15. I started this project when I was about 20, where I had more knowledge about general production. Biggest discovery? I’m not sure, but there are many theories and techniques I had to develop in order to transcribe all these speeches. I’ll be doing an article and lesson soon on this!
RM: I notice that you have two different kinds of fourteen stringed instruments in your arsenal: One style features two different seven string necks placed alongside each other, while the other appears to be an eight string neck and a six string neck next to one another…Other than the imbalance of symmetry, what is the biggest difference between playing those two instruments? On the latter model, what is the reasoning behind having the eight string neck on the lower portion of the instrument?
FM: It’s just depends on what music I’m writing. Sometimes I feel the need of an 8 string to play low notes, but not on every song. To be honest it was hard to play the 8 with 6-string model because it is not symmetric, but it’s all matter of practicing. Nowadays both instruments are equally accepted by my brain.
The 8 string needs to go as the first guitar because the bass notes are mostly played using the regular “non-tapping” hand. In other words, lower guitar plays bass, and upper guitar plays higher notes. I play all the strings all the time, but this is the standard view of the technique.
RM: Did you initially build a prototype for these instruments yourself; or did you have someone who is a custom luthier develop your ideas into a tangible super guitar that has all of the perfected specs of a regular guitar but with twice the fretboard space? On a scale of one to ten, how involved are you when it comes to the entire process of the instruments’ construction?
FM: We had a few prototypes, and these were made from a few pieces of wood to fully built “cheaper” instruments. I always work with luthiers, I don’t build the instruments myself. I’ve got the artistic vision and I tell the luthier what I need on the instrument plus some measurements / body shapes, etc. It’s almost like a 50/50 where we both have input, as I don’t deal with cutting the woods and such. Probably a 10! I like to perfectly know that the instrument is being built exactly the way I need it, not too much regarding aesthetics but more so its playability.
RM: There seems to be quite a resurgence of progressive rock music these days, with guitarists such as yourself and Tosin Abasi seeing huge success due to their technical prowess…To what do you attribute the general listening public’s thirst to hear more innovative and intricate guitar work?
FM: Believe it or not, people like to listen to different/new music and they support new artistic ideas. For me it’s not too much about doing intricate guitar work, but more about doing something unique. For example “The Human Transcription” project is a full band playing over a transcribed voice of some guy in Italy, using a 14 string guitar and including styles from death metal to straight ahead jazz. That’s the idea – do something different and people will appreciate it.
RM: Do you ever think that you’ll do a record with a vocalist who appears on the entire program much in the same way Slash has worked with Myles Kennedy? Other than the fact that your playing would not be the primary focus of such a project, what are some of the potential drawbacks that might be present when approaching the creation of an album with the intentions of a “Normal” band?
FM: Not for now. Felix Martin is a band, an instrumental trio and it will remain that way for a while. If I were to do a project with a vocalist, it would be another project with another name.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
FM: Touring the US, The Human Transcription project, a new Felix Martin album and more videos to push these guitar techniques! Some other things too but they are secret for now!!!
Official Website: http://www.felixmartin.net/Felix_Martin/News/News.html
Felix on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/felixmartinmusic
Felix on Twitter: http://twitter.com/felixmartin14
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