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http://erato1.wordpress.com/ Back To The Future When it comes to guitars, Muse’s Matt Bellamy designs, loves and destroys. Story by Matt Reekie, Photo by Peier Van Velihoven Englishman Matt Bellamy (born 9 June, 1978) is a guitar innovator, not only for his playing with alternative trio Muse but for the crazy guitar designs he has helped pioneer in collaboration with legendary UK guitar builder Hugh Manson Australian Guitar catches the Muse main man as he and band mates Chris Wolstenholme (bass/vocals) and Dominic Howard (drums) prepare to head back to Australia again this November. Their first headlining visit in support of their fifth album, 2009s The Resistance, Muse are bringing every light, laser beam and video screen of their elaborate stage show for the first time ever. And Bellamy will be packing a full arsenal of mind-blowing Manson creations. Is Hugh Manson a significant secret to your success? MB: I’m certainly very lucky in that we came from a fairly remote part of England. Devon – which is in the southwest – is like a rural place by the sea; there are not really any major cities nearby. So to have been brought up in the place where Hugh Manson was based was a stroke of luck. He was always known as having the best guitar shop in the area. I think he used to be Led Zeppelin’s guitar tech in the ’70s and when he retired from touring he retired to that part of Devon. When I was growing up I couldn’t afford any of his guitars. It wasn’t till I was around 20 or 21, when Muse started touring on our first album ['99s Showbiz], I thought, well I’ve got a bit of money now, for the first time I can go and buy one his guitars. The first one I bought was a seven-string that I used on ‘Citizen Erased’ on our second album [2001s Origin of Svmmetrv] but when I met him he explained to me that he could make any guitar that I wanted, any shape or any design. So I went away from that and I thought, well if I’m going to spend a couple of thousand quid on a custom-made guitar then I might as well make something unique. Let me guess, The Delorean? MB: Yes. I think because it was the first expensive thing that I’d ever bought in my life, I put a lot of effort into making sure it was something unique and interesting. I went back to the drawing board and started going through various guitars that I’d played and I always liked the body shape of the SG but also the Telecaster. And I prefer the sound of P-90 Gibson guitars. So I was kind of looking for something that looked like a Telecaster but sounded a bit more like a Gibson. So I sketched out a guitar shape, which is basically similar to a Telecaster but it has a little hook on it, a bit like an SG. Then I thought to myself, instead of getting a standard wooden guitar I might as well get something unusual. I was a big fan of Back To The Future and I loved the car, the Delorean. I found out it was made of aluminium or steel or something so I thought it might be cool to get a guitar that had a rough metal finish, not a shiny metal finish. As I was putting more thought into it, I decided to get some effects put in there as well. Because I’m a singer I can always move away from the pedal board and still do some special effects on the guitar. That’s the reason I put effects in there. Was the in-built effects addition something that Hugh was already doing or was that your idea? MB: I don’t think he’d ever done anything like that before. He had done certain unusual things but nothing to do with putting electronics on guitars, or at least not the amount of electronics that I wanted. So he had to get assistance from someone else to help him with some of those bits. Especially when I started getting involved in [Korg] Kaoss Pads and ribbon controllers and proximity sensors and all these kinds of effects. Some of them were quite difficult to get mounted into the guitar. That was definitely new for him. The designs become more hi-tech after The Delorean, right? MB: Yeah, the Delorean was pretty straightforward. It had a [MXR Phase 90] phaser in it and [Z.Vex] Fuzz Factory in it, which is like an extreme distortion pedal. Then the one I did after that had a proximity wire and it also had a ribbon controller which was taken from a synthesizer so I could get Theremin -type sounds. Since then I’ve done various other things. The most common one has a Kaoss Pad inside, because it’s so versatile, you can connect it to any MIDI device. Obviously you can connect it to a MIDI Kaoss Pad but you can also connect it to any MIDI synth and you’ve got X and Y controllers, so you can do effects or samples or anything. One of your latest inventions is the “Keytarcaster”, a guitar with strings but no pickups and a two-octave keyboard built into the body, tell us about that? MB: It’s not even technically a guitar. It’s a piano keyboard on one side and stringed contact MIDI controller. So it looks like a guitar but it’s actually a keyboard. We had a song on the new album [2009s The Resistance] called ‘Undisclosed Desires’ and the recording has actually got no guitar or piano on it but it’s got a lot of keyboard parts. It’s got deep bass-synth parts and also some high-synth parts and I wanted to be able to play those things live without Sitting down or without being stuck behind a keyboard. So I came up with the idea of keeping my guitar shape but where the right hand would be I’ve put a two-octave keyboard with full size keys, then on the fretboard where my left hand would be I’ve got a stringed contact controller. It’s stringed exactly like a guitar only when the string makes contact with the fret it sends out a MIDI signal. So technically I’ve got two separate keyboards, one for the left hand, one for the right hand. The left hand plays deep bass-synth sustaining notes while the right hand does the high-pitched, sort of rhythmic stuff. Also, the most recent one I had made was for a song called ‘The Resistance’, which starts off with lots of guitars doing harmonies together and also some synthesizers all mixed together creating a sort of choir of Theremins. That was something I couldn’t really do properly live so I decided to get my first double-neck made. The top neck is a standard six-string guitar but the bottom neck is a fretless six-string with an EBow built in. So when you touch it, it sounds very similar to a Theremin. Because there are no frets you can just slide your fingers around and get any tone you want, quarter tones or micro tones and you can do that whilst holding down chords or sustaining notes [on the other neck] at the same time.