Artist Spotlight: Chris Buono - Multi Media Guitar Madman
Chris Buono’s name can be found on numerous guitar instructional media. From book titles published by Hal Leonard, Alfred and Cengage Learning to myriad bylines as a contributor and columnist for Guitar One, Guitar Player and Just Jazz Guitar to his industrious output with TrueFire and Guitarinstructor.com, Chris Buono is everywhere.
You need only watch one of the hundreds of videos of Chris that have been viewed millions of times over on YouTube to witness his immense knowledge of comping techniques, complex harmony, neck visions as well as his mind-numbing soloing techniques.
Along with Chris’ tenure as a Berklee professor his best selling books, TrueFire courses and Guitar Gym online classroom and course series have earned him respect all around the world as one of the finest teachers on the subject of high-level guitar playing.
“I graduated from William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey in 1995 and soon after moved to a place known as “The Mother Sound House,” which was named after the band that resided there,” says Chris, in his strong New Jersey drawl. “ I met so many great musicians during that time that played important roles in my development. These new connections helped me land my first real gig with a band called Burgundy led by Sharief Hobley. This was my way into playing in and around New York’s East Village club circuit.
From Burgundy I went to D’Tripp – my first touring band – led by the amazing Freedom Bremner and legendary East Village bassist Shyndigg. My audition was a three-week stint throughout western Germany! By 1999 I was married with my first child coming in 2002 and my youngest soon after in 2004. It was after my oldest was born I knew I had to step it up. I was already teaching and gigging a lot, but I knew I had to start building towards something more.”
It has been quite a journey, as Chris explains, “I’ve had many great teachers including Frankie Cicala, Vic Juris, Gerry Carboy, David “Fuze” Fiuczynski, Wayne Krantz and Mick Goodrick. As a teacher myself I can relate to the impact one can have on a student. This is why I’ve taken the art so seriously and so thankful for what it has given me back. One instance where it all came full circle was when those who taught me so much gave me their blessings on the back cover of my Hal Leonard debut Guitarist’s Guide to Music Reading.
It was my teachers who exposed me to so much starting with Frankie Cicala who would make me tapes of Joe Pass, George Benson and Wes Montgomery. The complex harmonies, the sophisticated lines and the overall idea of improvising completely enthralled me. This was a very different world for a kid growing up in a shore town weaned on Yes, Van Halen and Led Zeppelin. I worked hard to learn the language and never let anything stand in my way including the Holland Tunnel and parking tickets when trucking in and out of New York when I was studying with Fuze and Wayne. Fuze took my harmony knowledge to the next, next level while Wayne opened up doors I never knew existed. My time with Vic really got my reading together as well as a deep appreciation for transcribing and solo guitar arranging – no one is better than Vic! All the while Gerry was grooming me to become a complete musician on so many fronts. It was an incredible time.
Fuze was a huge help back then. Before I had the confidence in myself he already had enough in me to put his name on the line and recommended me for everything from sessions to gigs to my post at Berklee (along with Wayne). I ran with all the opportunities that came from these encounters and I’ve been going ever since.”
Chris has the knowledge and guitar dexterity that players can only dream of, but he actually didn’t qualify at college as he clarifies.
“During my time working with Vic and Gerry I was also studying at college. While my degree says Music Studies there was much more going on,” laughs Chris. “I was the youngest of five of children in a Brooklyn Italian family and the only one who went away to college right out of high school. My depression era parents were more than a little wary of the fact I wanted to study music until my oldest sister, who is an educator, probed into what more WillyP had to offer. She eased the tension by convincing them it was OK as long as I learned the music business. But, there was a catch…
To get into the music business program you had to apply to study in a performance tract with a concentration on jazz or classical. To this day I don’t know why they did this. I had just come out of high school voted “Most Talented,” but I quickly learned being able to play “Eruption” at parties was only get me so far. Back then my straight ahead jazz chops were not there and as a result I didn’t get in to the actual music business program. While I continued my studies with Vic and Gerry I proceeded to find my at William Paterson with every audio class they offered and sorta figuring out a way to sorta unofficially take music business classes, too.
The key to my success was my adviser, Hugh Aiken. Picture the textbook 20th Century composer: Big white hair, turtle neck sweater, etc. That was Prof. Aiken. On top of being brilliant he was a nice guy. In order to register for classes you had to meet with your adviser and they had to sign off on your paperwork. Luckily, he was more interested in the hang and telling jokes than probing into exactly what classes I was signing up for. In true music business fashion I took advantage of the situation and picked my own classes. No one ever found out and I never let on to ensure I could continue as well as protect my asset.
It all went well until it came to my final semester when I was called into Dr. Marcone’s office who was the Director of Music and Entertainment Management Programs. He eloquently let me know he knew exactly what I was doing all these years, but let me carry on because my grades had been so high. He then informed me he had to stop me from applying for the final Honors Intern program I was zeroing in on. I thought, “fair enough.” On line to receive my diploma Dr. Marcone took me aside and confessed in light of the fact I was getting a Music Studies degree, I shouldn’t worry as he assured me I’d do well in the music business. I thought that was just fine and off I went out into the world.
Towards the middle to end of my time at college I started teaching. Starting with a single student coming to an off campus house I was living in with my fraternity brothers I moved on to a small store in Pompton Plains, NJ called Grider’s School of Music. Jeff and Leslie Grider had just opened and I was their first hire. They were wonderful people who gave me my first job and I will forever be in their debt. At the same time my private teaching was expanding by way of recommendations. By the time I left school and Wayne altogether I had a solid day of teaching that I maintained for some time after while living with The Mother Sound all the way to the first few years of my marriage as we bounced from renting to becoming homeowners on the Jersey Shore where my wife and I are from.
In the transition from post-college life to married life I landed a teaching gig at another burgeoning music lesson shop called Clarizio Music Studio in Point Pleasant, NJ in 1996. I stayed at that post for 10 years and would make lifelong friends as well as teach hundreds of wonderful students while starting to build my arsenal with the encouragement and guidance of storeowner Giovanni “John” Clarizio. In those years I started a nine-year run with National Guitar Workshop, which led to my first publishing deal with Alfred. At the same time I started teaching all around the NJ/NY area privately and in shops further building my outreach in the tri-state area. All the while I was building my player profile via Fuze’s recommendations and my own hustling throughout the New York scene as well as starting to write for national guitar magazines including Guitar One and Just Jazz Guitar. Those 10 years set the stage for what was to come next.
In 2002 I was holed up in upstate NY recording a record for a newly signed Lava/Atlantic artist called Tony C. & the Truth. Fuze lived close by and came up to visit to meet my son who was only four months old. It was there he put me on alert for the ultimate sub gig: Berklee College of Music. In the spring of 2003 I got the call to teach for two weeks while he was on tour. This was the grand slam of guitar teaching. This was it. As always I ran with the opportunity and met everyone I could. I was called back later that year to teach at a summer program Guitar Sessions. It was there I got to sit down with the Chair of the department, Larry Baione. After assuring me this was a meet & greet only and that he was not hiring me I got a call about a month later that I was indeed hired making me the youngest faculty member of the Guitar Department at the most famous music school in the world. I was on my way!
To cut down the weekly commute from NJ to Boston my family and I moved to Massachusetts in 2006. Up until that point I would drive on Monday morning and come home late Tuesday night. The rest of the week was teaching, article research and writing, rehearsals, gigs and fly dates on the weekends. It was nuts, but the grand plan was coming together. By this time we left the Shore I was teaching more and more high-level students, the guitar magazine jobs were more consistent and I was moving up the ladder at Berklee at a quick pace. The problem was the weight of it all was taking its toll on my family and me. We needed to tweak things and we did to great success with the move and all that came with it.
With all that was happening something I never saw was on the horizon. I got a call from a good friend who was an industry insider saying he had an artist who wanted guitar lessons and that he had recommended me. The catch – there’s always a catch – was he was back in my home state of NJ. In comes Skype lessons and my first student who was, by the way, was Steve Pedulla of the pioneering emo band Thursday. Once again I ran with the opportunity and blew open the doors to whole new world. Literally. This opened the world market and I was all about it. The combination of the exposure that comes with teaching at Berklee, the increased frequency of my byline in the magazines as well as my first book with a major publisher (Alfred) now put me on the world stage. That was perfect timing with starting to teach online as every guitar player on the planet now had easy access to me via Skype and, soon after, TrueFire.
While Berklee was a game-changing opportunity that indeed changed things on myriad levels I never acclimated to living in Massachusetts. Also, my initial quick ascension in the ranks at Berklee came to a peak far sooner that I was ready to accept. I had already started my time with Course Technology (later bought by Cengage Learning), but I wanted to write more guitar-centric books, too. I also was really into the prospects of internet based teaching and video in general with the success of my work with Guitar One where I played all the musical examples in each issue for the accompanying CD-ROM. All this culminated into one of the most challenging decisions I’ve ever made. Leaving Berklee was insane, but if I wanted to move forward I had to do it. So, once again we moved. It happened quickly and before I knew it we were back on the Shore and I was starting over, this time with TrueFire and some very bold ideas.
It was 2008 when I started my work with TrueFire. Normally an artist takes weeks to months putting together a course and wouldn’t do another for months afterwards. I did 10 in my first two years and started work on what would become my calling card: Guitar Gym. In July 2011 the TrueFire “Guitar Sherpa” program was launched with ten online classrooms with Guitar Gym becoming an immediate standout. So much so TrueFire went ahead and branded the idea into a course series that’s 15 titles strong and counting. Add a few more titles including an addition to the groundbreaking In The Jam series featuring Steve Jenkins (bass) and Keith Carlock (drums) and my total TrueFire catalog is nearly 30 titles strong only second to pioneering TrueFire artist Brad Carlton. Combined with my jumping on board with Hal Leonard as an author and video clinician for their Guitarinstructor.com mega site, the jump from Berklee back to freelancing was a success. Scary at first, but ultimately one of the best moves I ever made.”
Whilst Chris has a lot of guitars and recording equipment, it’s his new studio he’s excited about right now.
“I’ve recently fitted the final piece of the puzzle here in my basement with the last piece of rough cut pine. I live just five miles from the Atlantic Ocean and when Superstorm Sandy blew through here in 2012 it wrecked the house we bought after coming back from Massachusetts. We made some bold moves and were able to move into a new home and have been re-building ever since.
These days all the writing of my books and production of the corresponding videos, song lesson videos for Guitarinstructor.com and even some TrueFire courses are produced here in my home studio. I also do beta testing and product videos for guitar makers and pedal companies such as Rick Toone, Kieran Downes, Source Audio and Pigtronix to name a few. I just finished my second Hal Leonard book called How to Play Outside Guitar Lines | Mastering the Symmetrical Diminished Scale that’s slated for release this spring. In the book there are 101 guitar licks to which I filmed nearly 200 videos. My next book is about to be contracted and it will be on a subject I’m notorious for! On the TrueFire front they just released the first two of my homegrown courses I shot here as part of a new TrueFire initiative called “Foundry Courses.” I’m off to TFHQ in February for a double shoot adding to their 30 Licks series. Upon my return I’ll dive into producing more than a half dozen more Foundry courses.
The overall vision is royalty-based jobs that make compounding revenue while I work on the next one and the next one. It’s the world I decided to create in order to build a legacy while being home for my boys and making it to all the sporting events and everything else that goes along with being a husband and a father.”
The Brown Plant Hopper is the second fastest moving insect in the world which, to get pole position, should take lessons from Chris’s fingerboard gymnastics.
“My strings gauges are all over the map” says Chris, “Big thanks goes to D’Addario who support all my string needs. They’re on all of my guitars including my number one Strat, which I tell everyone I’m going to be buried with. It’s a ’73 that’s unusually light and just plain awesome. I modded the crap out of it, but the mojo is in the original body and neck.
I’m always playing and teaching different styles on a variety of guitars and thus I need sets of .008, .009, .010, .011’s and even .012’s for fretted and unfretted electric and acoustic guitars (that includes nylon, too!). I don’t usually play any lower than a .009 gauge, but I recently did a product video for one of Rick Toone’s Ultimate Shred Machine six-string models and the guitar was loaded with .008’s. Straight up: It was like getting into a Lamborghini. I couldn’t believe how big the sound was from such light strings. That’s the genius or Rick. I plugged it into my Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II XL and it sounded like God!”
Chris carried a lot of guitar related gear in several bags before he gave Fusion a call.
“I’d been looking at other gig bags, but none had the storage space I was looking for. More importantly I often travel with two guitars making me a double gig bag kind of guy. Fusion had what I was looking for with their F2 guitar bag. Man, I rocked that bag everywhere most notably when I started touring with Karsh Kale in 2009. I also fell in love with the Fuse-On System where you can attach extra bags. When travelling I like to have a laptop or just a small backpack for my personal items. The Fuse-On bags are perfect for this when I’m on the road.
These days I’m loving my new Fusion Urban Double bag. For double bags this is the bag to beat! The ladies of Fusion and I discussed the pros and cons of the F2 double bag quite a lot where I gave them feedback based on my extensive use as well as some new ideas to consider. I’m very excited to see they included a lot of my wish list within the new Urban Series. This included chest and back straps and the padded supports. They’ve really taken the pockets and accessory compartments to the next level, too. What’s more for anyone who just uses one guitar there’s so much room for clothes inside the double bag.
The genius thing though is the interior design and the way you can shape the inside for different guitars making everything snug. I have about 15 different guitars, which include Fender, Gibson, Taylor, Vigier and Novax guitars. They’re all different shapes and this system is perfect to mold the interior the way the shape of the guitar demands. I also work with the Fractal Audio Systems Axe-Fx and the MFC-101. The rig is heavy and far too valuable to put in the belly of an aircraft and the cost of flight cases is just silly on every front. So, when Fusion came out with the DJ Workstation bag I freaked out as it was perfect for carting the entire rig. Incredibly it fits in the overhead!
I love my Fusion gear and the people who make it. I have put those bags through the mill on and off trains, planes and automobiles. I’ve tirelessly been zipping those zippers with nary a rip or a loose thread. Straight up: This sh*t is built like a tank. I’d be so lost without these bags.”
For more information about Chris Buono, his gigs, books and digital courses visit his website: