A young impressive guitarist who puts musicians twice her age to shameI did read that the good ol’ mobile phone, which none of us can do without, was about to be classed as an instrument in its own right, along with laptops synths and samplers… Oh pleeeease, noooo! Can you imagine, “Hey, what phone do you play?”
It wasn’t that long ago, well, maybe it was, that the guitar was the first choice when someone thought about learning to play an instrument. I’m so pleased to say though, that there are still many extremely talented young musicians willing to carry the guitar into the future and Abigail Zachko in the USA is one of them.
Abby has only been on the planet a mere 16 years, and is already at a level many old school players would love to be at, achievements so far include being hailed as one of the most exciting new guitar players in the industry, a recording artist and runner up in Music Radar’s Young Guitarist Of The Year 2018. Envious? Yes, we are.
Abigail (Abby) doesn’t copy a blizzard of fast notes, grooves or riffs parrot-fashion…oh sure, she’s fast, you better believe that, but only when she wants to let rip. In between, she performs intricate chord structures whilst swapping fingerpicking with speed picking, with a mix of heavy overdrive and the most delicate sparkling clean sounds.
Many young students get impatient within the learning process and want to run before they can walk, but from the word go, Abby picked up the guitar, bolted, ran and won all the races, as she explains,
“It all seemed so natural from day one, I started to have lessons at a 5 week summer course at the Berklee School of Music in Boston I got to play with other musicians from around the world, it was an opportunity to audition for a position at the college which I’ll be doing later this year.
Back then I had a lot of time on my hands, I was just 11 years old and we’d moved from Hoboken to Tenafly both in New Jersey. Hoboken is on the Hudson River across from New York itself and very, very busy with so much happening and a lot of independent kids. The move was mainly for better school education for me, but while Hoboken was less than an hour away, there was a huge culture clash and I felt so disconnected living in Tenafly. I really didn’t connect with the kids there, everything I said seemed completely foreign to them. I did try, I joined art classes and sports classes but I was bad at both, so I kinda leant towards music for something to do in my spare time.
My dad went to the Juilliard School of music and my mother played the piano and I’d been through the violin lessons earlier at school, but I really wanted to do something different. I can distinctly recall driving with my parents and heard some old-school rock guitar playing on the radio, I think it may have been Aerosmith. I’d never heard this before and wanted to know more about that guitar sound.
Then I heard Jimi Hendrix, the way he fused his lead and rhythm, playing and pic scratching will never date, it was so musical and really hard to match even today. I can listen to the main riff he plays in Spanish Castle magic for hours on end, some of those songs still sound so new. Music can seriously reflect the mood I’m in, if I’m up, it’ll be a lot of Steely Dan and a lot of ice cream with smashed up Oreos on top, if I need a lift I’ll listen to Hiatus Kaiyote from Australia.”
(Photo: Andrew Bisdale)
Abby was just 14 when she was runner up in Music Radar’s 2018 Young Guitarist Of The Year, it was all a bit of a surprise though, as she describes,
“I really didn’t know anything about the event when I was selected, my dad had actually submitted a video that we recorded while I was at the Berkeley summer camp. It was like my own hybrid versions of some cover songs so I really wasn’t expecting much. Then I get an email saying I was shortlisted, and I’m thinking to wait, shortlisted for what? The next thing I know is that I’m in London for the competition. I wasn’t sure who the judges were or what it was all about, but I thought hey, I can play the guitar in London, this is fun. It was such an experience for me and everyone was so nice and helpful and we recorded a cool video. I got to see around London and experience the food, I had what they call a Scotch egg, which was like an egg inside a hash brown or something, either way, it was really nice,” she laughs.
Still only 16, Abby is already an accomplished player of many styles, having been influenced by so many classical guitar players, she continues.
“I’ve listened to a lot of bands and covered so many styles within my playing, there’s been shred, rock, progressive rock, r&b and jazz fusion which I’ve mixed within my own playing style and how I approach the guitar. I think there is also a trend right now where young guitar players blend a lot of styles rather than concentrate on one.
I was in a band called Lunatic Fringe back home which ran for about 3 years. The other members were a lot older than me but I learnt a lot and it was a great experience. At the time, I still wasn’t sure in which direction to go with the guitar, having listened and played so many styles, but this band was a great outlet for me to play metal guitar and gain confidence as a performer on stage. All the influences were there and I enjoyed playing metal, but I also wanted to play R&B, then rock, I really didn’t know what road to take. I just learnt all the styles and as I mentioned, mixed them into my own style of guitar playing.
Even now all the influences are still there, but I’m not putting them in a box, I don’t want to blatantly ‘copy’. When I play live, I use a lot of complex, open chord structures which I may play clean or with overdrive, it’s whatever feels and sounds right at the moment and of course, what the audience will think sounds good. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t and that’s where a lot of these structures come from.
It’s the same with solo note patterns which work the same way, where I’m trying to get down what I hear in my head. A lot of which can be heard on my band’s latest album ‘This Was Planned’ where the band gets its name from with Mike Caminiti on drums and Joey Caride on bass.
(Photo: Andrew Bisdale)
I wanted to record my own songs that were more in my personal style of playing rather than the ‘hair metal’ style that I played in the Lunatic Fringe. I had a lot of songs that I been writing for a long time but I wasn’t sure how to get them out there, then Mike said he could help me out and Joey got involved and we recorded the new album ‘This Was Planned’, which came out in June 2019 from which came the single called ‘Seafoam ’which was incredibly well received by the media.
Again, we kinda recorded the songs how we heard them in our heads without worrying about what actual genre they fell into. We’re really pleased how it turned out and worked so hard on the promotion which included gigs in the area. The music scene in and around New Jersey is really vibrant with a lot of great vocal bands. It’s not the bands so much as getting gigs in the venues as I’m underage!
Live gigs for Abby aren’t just plug in and play, she’s very conscious about her sound onstage and is also a self-confessed tone head as she explains,
“I’m really into all the hardware and electronics, I’ve tried a lot of amps, but right now I’m happy with a Victory V30 MK11, which has a really nice overdrive and crunch sound. I have far too many pedals on the floor, a big contender at the moment is Maxon OD-808 overdrive.
All my guitars are set up with pretty slick action and I prefer slim profile necks, I particularly like the smooth feel that an ebony fingerboard can produce, especially for fast solo work. For a lot of shows, including the Guitarist Of The Year event in London, I’d been using a vintage white XSC-2 Strat-style guitar made by Xotic with a flame maple neck which I bought at Carter’s Guitars, in Nashville.
It is of course based on a Fender, but I really like the appointments that differentiate it, like the super slim neck profile for example. I spent ages in that store trying that guitar and eventually, my Dad said ok ok, and bought it for me.
(Photo: Andrew Bisdale)
All my guitars have a different sound and purpose and can be heard on ‘This Was Planned’, including my D’Angelico DH-6 in a matte blue finish and my custom made Kompakt T6, built by Scottish luthier Alan Cringean at Reiver Guitars, based in Moffat, Scotland in Great Britain. It’s perfect for my playing style. I love this guitar, it has many fine specifications like an alder body and an ART maple burl top with a satin lacquer finish. I chose a 3 piece paduak neck with an ebony fingerboard and I’m using Reiver Classic Igneous Series Alnico pickups which Alan designs himself.
It’s my first headless guitar with a small body and, as I’m a small person, it all works for me” she laughs. “The body shape is quite angular and I was concerned about protecting it in a gig bag, but I have a Fusion Urban bag which is a brilliant design which, not only offers amazing all-around protection, it also has an inner suspension layout that you can mould around any body shape. The choice of back straps and handles make commuting with a guitar so easy and all the compartments hold all my books and accessories.
I actually have a new Reiver model in progress called a ChubstRR6 with a swamp ash body, masseur birch top, a pau ferro fingerboard and a wenge/maple neck. I’ve chosen alnico pickups again and a Schaller 3D bridge. I’m going over to Scotland later this summer to collect it and record some promotional videos, I really can’t wait…I also need to check out those Scotch eggs once more.”
Interview by Lars Mullen
Photography by Andrew Bisdale (https://andrewbisdale.com/)
Abigail's Instagram https://www.instagram.com/abigailzak
Reiver Guitars http://reiverguitars.co.uk/abigail-zachko
About the Author
With over 30 years in the music business, Lars Mullen does indeed wear many hats, as a writer, journalist, photographer, press person for his own company Music Media Announcements. As an extensive traveller, he's a familiar figure reporting from music trade shows around the world. Spending many years touring as a professional guitarist, Lars has also interviewed a host of top bands and artists, continues to write articles for magazines globally and still finds time to track down Fusion artists for our Artist Spotlight column.