Monday, April 3, 2017


There are many amazing players who can play rockin' rhythms and rip out blazing solos, but it takes a whole different breed of guitarist - of musician - to play authentically across stylistic boundaries. It requires knowledge of music AND of the fretboard, but also (within each style of music) the "tendencies", the techniques, the aesthetics, the sound, and more. 

It also takes a special kind of musician to be able to then communicate to others how to do it, too.

And it takes a special kind of player to find, amid all of this, their own unique voice with the instrument (as players and composers).

Jon Finn is just such a guitarist. And just such a musician.

Jon began playing as a child, ultimately attended (and graduated from) Berklee College of Music, and then (in the same year: 1988)  both formed the Jon Finn Group and joined the faculty at Berklee. Since that time, in addition to teaching hundreds of students, he has played with such a diverse array of top-flight performers as the legendary Debbie Reynolds, progressive shredder John Petrucci, the jazz vocal ensemble New York Voices, country star Colin Raye, rock legend Dweezil Zappa, and many more.

In addition, he's toured with musical theater productions such as "Rent", "Aida", "Mamma Mia!", "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat", and more. 

If that weren't enough, he's also been guest guitarist with The Boston Pops (including playing on the Grammy nominated "The Celtic Album" in 1997), written 4 best-selling books for Mel Bay, wrote a column for Guitar Magazine, and released 3 albums with the Jon Finn Group.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired just reading about everything he has done...and that's only the quick highlights!

You can learn more about Jon at his web-site (where you'll find a band bio, photos, music samples, shop, free lessons - including the "daily chord" - and much, much more)...and be sure to check out the video at the end of this interview!

I had a chance to chat with Jon recently. Check it out!

1) What are your current projects?

I’ve got a few things going on. I’ve working on a new video instructional package for Truefire. I’ve done two already, and I really like working with them. I’ve been kicking around ideas for a new music release. Nothing is set in stone yet. But some of the prospects are very exciting. It’s time. The last one I released was back in 2010! The one thing I can promise is that new release will be very different than anything else I’ve done. Also, hopefully more gigs with Boston Pops. But I’m back to doing some musical theater pit work. I’ve been gigging out with a 70’s classic rock cover band called “The Experts”. That’s been a blast because I’m playing with some of the best musicians I know, playing music we all love to the best of our ability. My girlfriend Juli Morgan and I sometimes do acoustic duo gigs together. If you know about Juli, look her up. She’s a force in the universe!

2) How does this (do these) differ from your past work?

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve done cover tunes, so that’s really different. When I did play in a cover band years ago, we learned the tunes well enough so we could get by. But the circumstance didn’t always encourage high quality musicianship. “The Experts” is different in that it’s a group of world-class players and singers doing the best arrangements possible with the tunes we choose. In this case, it’s the musical excellence part of it that inspires me. I always want to keep doing a little better every day. The duo gigs are fun too. It’s a challenge to find ways to make it sound good with just two guitars and two singers (or, one GOOD singer… Juli Morgan, and an average singer… me)! The original music project is always under revisions because I’ve never written music quickly. So by the time I’m ready to release another work, my musicianship has evolved a pretty fair amount. Therefore every subsequent release is quite different from the previous. A few years ago, I did some serious soul-searching when I was asked the question, “If your musical life had a mission statement, what would it be?” After thinking about it for some time, I came up with, “Sound Good.” Simple, but not always easy.

3) Do you have one project that you are most proud of as a guitarist?

I’ve been staring at this question for a long time, and I really don’t have a clear answer. I try not to involve myself in music projects I wouldn’t be proud of, so part of me can say I’m proud of everything. At the same time, when I look at everything I’ve done, I also know the flaws in every project. Or at least my flaws. I’m my own worst critic. If I had to pick a single project, it’s probably my first full-length CD “Don’t Look So Serious” (Legato records, 1994). It’s not the best, or most successful. For me it represents the moment when I put way more “skin” in the game of releasing original music. At the time, I had sent out hundreds of demos to hundreds of labels and no-one wanted it. One label told me he didn’t really hear any new shredding techniques. For me, that wasn’t the point of the work at all. It was more about the tunes, arrangements and band chemistry. I’m proud of the fact that I stuck to my guns and released the kind of CD I wanted to make rather than pay attention to trends and whims of label heads. Finally, Mark Varney of Legato records heard the CD and understood it immediately. He did an amazing job getting it out in to the world. Of course, Don’t Look So Serious was released on the same day as a Pearl Jam record that went multi-platinum! Yikes!

4) Can you give our readers a run-down of your basic gear (live and/or studio), and do you have a favorite piece of gear?

My basic gear these days is an Ibanez Custom S-Prestige model outfitted with Seymour Duncan pickups. Rather than a pedalboard, I went with Fractal Audio’s Axe FXII+ with the foot controller and a few expression pedals for things like wah, delay, master volume and a few other options. That goes to a Mesa/Boogie 2:90 Power amp that goes to either to 1x12 cabs or 2 4x12 cabs (depending on the venue size). If you’re willing to spend time programming, the Axe FX unit is incredible. You can really dial in the sound you want. It’s the first time I’ve played through a digital modeling device that sounded great and feels good to play through. But you have to spend the time.

5) Who would you cite as early influences, and who are you favorite new players?

Early influences: Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana, Terry Kath (from the band Chicago), Duane Allman, Dickie Betts, Randy Bachman, Steve Morse, Tom Scholz and Barry Goudreau (from the band Boston) George Benson, Al McKay (from Earth Wind and Fire) and many many others.

Current players I like: Mishka from Periphery, Guthrie Govan, John Petrucci, Andy Timmons, Tosin Abasi (from Animals as Leaders), Matheus Asato, the band Plini, and (dare I say it) John Mayer!

6) Can you give a few tips to aspiring players?

A few things:
1) Learn your instrument. Learn everything you can about knowing where all the notes are. Learn scales, arpeggios, chords etc. but don’t let yourself be bound by that.

2) Move away from thinking about “shapes” and toward thinking about which notes you play, when to play them, why, and the relationships of those notes to the context you’re playing in.

3) Listen to how you’re playing influences the big picture. Don’t just play in order to play. Think about playing in a manner that advances the story you’re trying to tell.

4) If you’re really good, good things will come to you. If you’re main concern is to “put your name out there” you may find this business awfully frustrating. For as good as you are, there are hundreds out there who are better than you. Maybe thousands. Instead, focus on being the best version of yourself. If you genuinely love to play music, people can connect with that.

5) When writing or practicing, give yourself permission to try anything and everything fearlessly.

6) Don’t get caught up in the opinions of others. Trust your own gut first.

7) Don’t give up.

7) Can you give our readers a quick explanation of your Warp Refraction Principle?

The Warp Refraction Principle is simply an explanation of the fact that the G and B strings are tuned a major 3rd apart, where the rest are tuned in 4ths (assuming you’re talking about standard guitar tuning). The quote itself is a ridiculous sci-fi sounding paragraph that makes it sound way more complicated than it really is: “The Guitar’s Fretboard is divided in to two universes. The lower universe is strings 6543, and the upper universe is strings 2&1. Both universes share the same laws of physics. These universes are divided by an anomaly known as the Warp Refraction Threshold, which is located between the 2nd and 3rd strings. Crossing the Warp Refraction Threshold causes the optical illusion that fingerings are offset by one fret.”

I wrote it to deliberately sound ridiculous. Why? so that the reader will stop and think about the idea. I played for many years without understanding how that small change in tuning can adversely affect one’s ability to “see” the fretboard. Instead, we resort to “shapes”. This material is fully explained in a book I wrote called “Advanced Modern Rock Guitar Improvisation” (Mel Bay publishing). Even though it was released in 1999, it’s still on their best-seller list!

8) Now, you've played with rock bands, jazz bands, and more, but you've also toured with theater productions ("Rent", "Aida", "Momma Mia!", and more), and even performed with the Boston Pops. Can you elaborate on some of the unique challenges of such varied performance environments?

With theater productions, it’s all about consistency from one performance to the next. Even when there’s improvisation involved, you have to bear in mind that guitar plays a supporting role for the singers and actors onstage. Once you learn the book, it’s a challenge to work it to perfection.

With Boston Pops, there are quite a few challenges. With the Pops, these are some of the best classical musicians on the planet. Every single musician is capable of amazing tone, feel and accuracy. Further, their sight-reading ability is downright scary. When bringing an electric instrument in to that environment it’s important to understand that they won’t understand anything about the complexity to dealing with that. They just expect me to play when the conductor (either Keith Lockhart or John Williams) points at me. To pull that off takes a lot of preparation. Because I’m not the best sight-reader on the planet, I ask for the music ahead of time when it’s available. Sometimes, it’s not available until the day of the show. One of my strengths is working effectively under extreme pressure.

9) You've played in ensembles, recording studios, written books & magazine articles, taught at Berklee since 1988, shared stages with everyone from Debbie Reynolds to NY Voices to Colin Raye to fellow guitar gods like Steve Morse and John Petrucci, and so much more. Instructor, composer, performer, mentor.....What do you see as the Jon Finn legacy?

I’ve never though about that question. Maybe I should refer back to my mission statement. Maybe my gravestone should say something like, “Here lies Jon Finn. He was a good guy. He sounded really good too."

10) What are your future plans?

My future plans? Well, I just turned 59 years old, so I’m starting to think about what my retirement years might look like. I know that I’ll continue to write and play music. Probably more music releases, live shows, tours, maybe a few more instructional videos, more teaching. These are all things I love doing. I’ve got it stuck in my craw that I want to learn how to fly a plane; maybe get a pilot’s license. I’ve gone flying a few times already and it’s just amazing. Someday, I’d like to buy an island on a lake in the New Hampshire Lakes region.

11) Thanx for talking to us, Jon!

Are you kidding? Thanks for asking me. It’s an honor to be counted among some of the folks you’ve interviewed. Keep up the great work!

1 comment:

  1. Jon graced us by sitting in with us at the Decades Concert in Colorado Springs a couple of summers ago. He was pleasant, humble and very talented. It was a joy to share the stage with a man who is such an amazing talent and great guy ! Thanks for your contribution !!