Artist Spotlight: Chris Buono - Multi Media Guitar Madman
Chris Buono’s name can be found on numerous book titles such as Alfred, Cengage Learning and Hal Leonard, he’s also a contributor and columnist for a host of guitar magazines including Guitar One, Guitar Player and Just Jazz Guitar.
You need only watch one of the thousands of videos of Chris Buono to witness his immense knowledge of complex chord progressions, scales, impeccable timing and his mind numbing soloing techniques.
His own best selling tuition books, DVDs and online courses, have earned him respect all around the world as one of the finest teachers on the subject of intricate guitar playing, especially jazz.
“I would never call myself a jazz player,” says Chris surprisingly, in his strong New Jersey drawl. “I’m just using my knowledge to do what I do, and that’s teach. Many players will tell you the same thing, I’m passing on the guitar skills I’ve learned along the way.
I graduated from William Paterson University in New York in ’95 and immediately moved into a house with a lot of musicians who were signed to the Warner/Chappell record label. I met a lot of important people through those guys, this helped me get my first real band together called Burgundy which played around New York’s East Village club circuit.
I also met the guys from D’Tripp which was my first touring band and we gigged constantly, fitting in getting married in ’99 and having my first child in ’02. So I had to step up the earnings as I had another mouth to feed. I quickly established myself as a teacher within New York and New Jersey as well as performing.”
It has been quite a journey, as Chris explains, “I’ve had many great teachers from my childhood until now, including Vic Juris. As a teacher myself, I can relate to that, as I know what an influence it can have on a student, that’s why I’ve taken teaching very seriously. When I wrote one of my books I was so pleased a lot of well respected players and teachers signed the cover, including my buddy Dweezil Zappa, to have all these guys give me their blessing was really cool.
I loved jazz in the early days, but I didn’t know how to play it, so I started to study with Vic and the amazing American jazz guitarist Dave Fiuczynski. I got all my harmony knowledge from Dave as well as all my reckless abandonment. He was so inspiring when it came to playing, as if it was going to be the last thing you ever did.
I still have so much admiration for these guys who are still out there doing it, their sense of timing is so incredible. Back then my timing sucked, they told me and said I needed to practice more. It was New Jersey, the East coast, people tell you straight out, it’s not sugar coated.
Dave was a huge help back then, although I didn’t quite have the confidence when he threw me some stuff to play live. I just said I wasn’t ready and he said “What do you mean no, nobody says no.” He took me to the next level and later when he asked me substitute for him I said “Ok I’m Ready.” His recommendation was a big boost for me as a jazz guitarist and how it all took off, to walk through the door of a gig or session and be his sub even without playing a note, was all I needed, I ran with all the opportunities that came from that and I’ve been going ever since.”
Whilst Chris has the knowledge and guitar dexterity that a lot of players can only dream of, he actually didn’t qualify at college, as he clarifies.
“Whilst I was working with Dave Fiuczynski, I was also studying at college... unofficially that was. Technically, my degree says Music Business Studies, that’s what it says...” laughs Chris. “Let me tell you, I was the youngest of five of children in a Brooklyn Italian family and the only one who went to college. My depression era parents, were more than a little wary of the fact I wanted to study music, until my older sister who is an educator, looked at the syllabus. She told them it was ok for me to learn the music business, which they were happy about.
But there was a catch, to learn about the music business, you had to apply as a performing artist. Until this day, I don’t know why they did that. I also noticed this later when I was teaching at Berkeley College, in New York. Back then though, I wasn’t good enough to just play jazz guitar, I had just come out of high school, so I didn’t get in to college as a student. So I continued my work with the likes of Dave Fiuczynski and I unofficially took in as many classes that I could by sneaking into the college.
My adviser was Hugh Atkins, such a nice guy, the classic 20th Century composer that you can see in your head, big white hair, the turtle neck sweater, the type that would sit in the corner of the music room. He had to sign-off the classes I wanted to do. Luckily, he was more interested in telling jokes and would sign me in without looking and then go into a joke that usually started with..... “Ok, there’s a Polish guy, a Chinese guy and a Jewish guy who walk into a bar”... all he wanted to do was tell jokes. So I took advantage of that and picked my own classes.
It all went well until it came to the fourth year when I was having this graduation interview with the dean of the department. He said he couldn’t let me graduate as he knew what I had been doing over the last three years, but he’d let me carry on because my grades had been so high. Unfortunately, he had to stop me applying for the Honours degree as that was for the people who where there legitimately.
He said I’d be getting my business studies degree, but not to worry as he assured me I’d do well in the music business and I was like...”Ok, fine, I’ll take that.
“I was 19 years old, the cool guy who could play jazz and all the Van Halen licks at high school parties, I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I started teaching.
I moved to Massachusetts from Berkley in 2006, where I had been teaching players aged 6 to 66 on a one to one basis and at any level. I was starting to get checked out by extremely good students, so I decided to go up a few levels which is really what I wanted to do. This opened up new doors as I was still in touch with a lot of the students I left behind, so teaching on-line was born which totally changed everything.
Now the whole world was my oyster, and it meant that I could get choosy, the students were looking specifically for me to teach at a more intricate level. I’ve taught students on-line from every continent now except Antarctica and Africa.
Payment is tough because of the currency exchange. For example, I toured with an Indian guy called Karsh Kale, a fusion player who gave birth to a style of music called Asian Massive which was a mix of Indian classic and electronic. Because of the exposure I had playing with him, people from Asia started to seek me out, but the rupee in India is so far below the American dollar, that I lost out. I was almost working for free.
Music of any style is more accessible now. In some ways, I miss the excitement of walking through a record store and thumbing through the albums or just looking at the artwork on the cover. I compromise by going into a liquor store and looking at the labels on the craft beers, there’s lot of good beer out there to choose from, but sometimes it just comes down to the artwork on the bottle.” he laughs.
“There’s also a lot of very good independent artists who are putting their music out on YouTube. The playing level is ridiculously high and it seems to be getting better all the time. We had Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen, up the level in the 80’s and 90’s when you could name 20 really good players. Now, I could point you towards a hundred kids that are just jaw-droppingly good, but unless you go to Austin or Nashville, there are very few cities in the USA that have a music scene, not even in New York. It’s not like that anymore, but there’s an army of students willing to learn on-line.”
Whilst Chris has a lot of guitars and recording equipment, it’s his new studio he’s excited about right now.
“I’ve fitted the final piece of the puzzle here in the basement today with the last piece of curved cut pine. I live just 5 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and when hurricane Sandy blew through here in 2012, it wrecked my house and I’ve been re building ever since.
All the tuition videos for my books, tuition web sites and live on-line lessons, are produced here, hundreds and hundreds of them. I’m working on a new book and accompanying DVD which has 101 guitar licks, I’ll have to film 202 videos, as each one is also recorded and shown at a slower speed. I recorded nearly 700 videos for my book called Music Reading alone in my studio. It’s very intense, I’ll put a hundred thousand percent into a tuition video, I’ll give you my blood sweat and tears and then that’s it, it’s finished. I don’t have to do it again. It’s not as though I have to do it over and over.
There’s still so much to learn, fretless guitar for example still gets me back into that giddy kid feeling for the guitar. I’m using Vigier fretless guitars as they have metal fingerboards instead of the popular rosewood or maple.”
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 are fairly light, which helps dexterity and speed” says Chris, “I have to say a big thank you to D’Addario, who support all my string needs which are fitted on all of my guitars including my number one Strat, which I tell everyone I’m going to be buried with.
I’m teaching different styles on a variety of guitars for the Hal Leonard and TrueFire tuition videos, so I need sets of 9, 10 and 11’s in coated, phosphor bronze, electric, acoustic, and nylon. I don’t play any lower than a 9 gauge. The only guys I know who play lower are ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Alan Holdsworth, and Rusty Cooley. I did a product video for Steve Toone’s range of ‘Ultimate Shreadmachine’ guitars, and the guitar was loaded with 8’s, but it was like getting into a Lamborghini. I couldn’t believe how big the sound was from such light strings, I plugged it into a Fender ‘64 deluxe and it sounded like God and with no sound effects!”
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 really had any pockets, and as I always work with two guitars, I’m a double bag-guy. Fusion had all the answers with their F1 guitar bag. Man, I rocked that bag everywhere, and I love the Fuse-On System where you can attach extra bags, and I’m loving my Fusion Urban Double bag.
I often have to leave the hotel with a laptop or just to get something to eat, so I just grab one of the smaller Fuse-On bags. I gave them a lot of feedback with some new ideas, which they included within the new Urban Series, this included chest and back straps and all the padded supports. For anyone who just uses one guitar, there’s so much room for clothes inside the double bag and they’ve taken the pockets and accessory compartments to the next level.
The genius thing though, is the interior design and the way you can shape the inside for different guitars, everything is snug. I have about 15 different guitars which include Gibson, Taylor, Vigier and Novax and they are all different shapes and this system is perfect to mould everything the way I want it.
I also work with an AXE-FX pedal board but the foot controller is heavy and far too expensive to put below in the aircraft, when Fusion came out with the DJ Workstation bag, ... oh man, I freaked out, it was perfect for the controller.
I love the whole product line, I have put those bags through the mill on and off planes, in cars and zipping those zips, there’s not even a rip or a loose thread, this sh*t is built like a tank and so robust, I’d be so lost without these bags, I use every single pocket.”
For more information about Chris Buono, his books and DVD’s visit his website :
Interview by Lars Mullen