Interview: John Tapella

Joe Matera: Tell us John about your guitar background such as your influences, education, etc.

John Tapella: I started teaching at 18 for a guitar house call company. I went to SDSU (San Diego State University, where I actually saw Jake.E Lee play with the band Teaser, 5 times before he was with Ozzy. I even watched him play piano!) for awhile and then opened my own guitar lesson shop in San Francisco called Guitar Empire which is now

Joe Matera: You are also a transcriber with many books under your belt, can you tell us a bit about this aspect of your work and what it entails?

John Tapella: The first book I ever transcribed was for Poison, "Open Up....", followed by Eric Clapton "Crossroads" - the box set, followed by the first authorized Stevie Ray Vaughan book "Lightning Blues". Stevie was still alive while I was writing the book, and just before I finished the book the whole crash thing happened. Man, that was a downer. First off, to transcribe, I use the Ibanez Rock'n'Play which breaks easily, (I've been through five of them, but I would not say I use them carefully - full time transcribing for years is tough on any player), but it is easy to use.

Basically to transcribe you need to study the rules of notation, I mean how long stems should be and so forth. Take each tune phrase by phrase or note by note, or even one note at a time and write it down. The more scales and chords you know the better! The whole thing is if you already know it before you hear it, then you just need to transcribe the order of the notes. Speed playing and distorted mixes can be impossible to transcribe because sometimes the guitar notes are covered, they really aren't in the audio.

Joe Matera: What's your gear set-up?

John Tapella: I'm back to basics, Fender amps, Randy Rhoads Jackson guitar, and a rare Clark nylon string (there are probably only 30). I have been through everything, I mean Lab series to Marshall - I might try Line 6, maybe?

Joe Matera: I have noticed that "shredding" and "classical" are back in vogue in the guitar playing world with Satriani, Malmsteen, Gilbert, and the like all releasing new material in the genre, so do you think that it's a natural progression from the "alternative" scene or a backlash from it?

John Tapella: It's almost a seasonal thing. Each market gets oversold or exposed and then fades for awhile returning again sort of like that cartoon "The Goddess Of Spring". The natural state of things, I think, is what happened in the '60s and '70s. You were able to see each band play several different styles in a set and this was great. In the '80s and '90s we have been trained to focus on one sound and one style, basically because it's easier to sell, not better music.

Joe Matera: You also have a new album out?

John Tapella: Actually it's probably the first collection of guitar songs I have ever put together, called "Guitar Knights". It has a great piano guitar piece by Shubert on it called "Erlking", and some moody meditative warrior music, available at I'm also coming out with a new lesson site called

Joe Matera: What has been the highlight of your career?

John Tapella: Today is probably the most happening time for me. The GuitarEmpire web is really happening and I just finished scoring a 20 minute musical for the famous Lido Theater in Paris.

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Joe Matera: Have you any advice to share with guitarists to help them reach their full potential?

John Tapella: Don't get jealous. Don't put other people down for their playing. You have to concentrate on what you want to do and study and appreciate the works of other people. Don't rip off works of your friends, take a little from them and add some originality. I have found that the people who take ideas and riffs from others blatantly without giving credit are usually mediocre musicians and writers. I mean if I use a Mozart riff, I give the guy credit when possible.

Joe Matera: The Internet has made it possible for all unsigned bands and guitarists to get their music out and reach an audience that would have been impossible 10 years ago. This certainly would have to be the most positive thing to happen to music in many years?

John Tapella: Definitely the guitar magazines have become a closed market. The internet is everything!

Joe Matera: Any touring?

John Tapella: I just turned down a two week tour, but I'll get there eventually.

Joe Matera: Thank you for your time, John.

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John Tapella, guitarist, has authored over twenty note-for-note books for such artists as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Yngwie Malmsteen, Rush, Bryan Adams and others. His music has been played on the Los Angeles power house station KLOS, and for the famous Lido Theatre in Paris. He also produced and played on the winning tape for the Lillith Fair contest.

Fellow guitarist Joe Matera discussed Tapella's career and future directions in the following interview.