The Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal Appreciation-thread
I'm getting sick and tired of some gunners who systematically downsize Ron when the comparison with Buckethead arises. The ease with which some people say things like: "Buckethead is technically so much more advanced" or "Buckethead's music is much more sophisticated", is of encyclopaedic ignorance. Don't get me wrong, I love Buckethead too, since 1992 (longer than I know Ron: 1995). I own almost every album the man has released and was personally told
(by Bucket's friend Bill Laswell
) that Buckethead was planning on leaving GNR, while attending one of his solo shows in early 2004.
That being said, I firmly believe that there's a whole lot more that deserves to be heard as well in the virtuoso scene. That's of a similar or, in Ron's case, even greater quality. Moreover, there always has been and always will be a loud neophobic and ill informed crowd in these surroundings. A part of the fan community which religiously hates everything "new", for everything (they think) it stands for. Just for the sake of it. Unless the new guy evokes heavy associations with former members, then all is forgiven. There's just too much irrational nostalgically challenged hating going on. Knowing that with Ron GNR added one of the most talented players/musicians of our time to the band. I felt the time was right to start the Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal appreciation-thread.
It might be a long read that contains more praises than the average gospel song and English certainly isn't my first language. Tempting stuff for the average troll, I know. However, I would really like the future contributors to this thread to oblige to the positive intentions of it. So, no player X vs player Y- bullshit (praise your own favorites in your own threads) and/or other secondary (offtopic) bullshit. There's a whole board out there to be an ass on.
Btw, everything in "orange" is clickable...Genius: Composer, Virtuoso and Producer
Among the few true virtuosos of today, Ron
probably is one of the most genius composers and producers. Mixing contemporary rock
with Zappa-esque sophistication, satire, lounge, metal, punk, rock, jazz and blues (and then some), Ron always portrays an eventually optimistic perspective. Eventually, because the road traveled towards optimism always contains many detours in the form of pain, surrealism and the bizarre. It's the result of Ron's generally drastic outlook
on life. This approach, revolving around contrasts, makes his music as much a glorious
rollercoaster for the mind as it is for the senses. His eight
) albums are widely heralded as the pinnacle of skill, depth and taste.
In his music Ron experiments effortlessly with incredible instrumental
harmonies, rich arrangements, theory manipulation, non diatonic concepts and technically unlimited chops
in a vast array of styles. As a matter of fact, Ron's music contains some of the most mind-bending
technically proficient guitar playing ever recorded: Thimble tapping
(up to 8) sweep-tapping sequences, absurd speed (tempo changes) and accuracy, flawless timing, a perfect hybrid picking
style, odd rhythmic groupings and highly syncopated lines, intricate double handed polyrhythms
, Holdsworth-like Legato. These are just a hand full of examples of Ron's immense technical vocabulary on the instrument
. Judging by the comments fellow virtuosos like Satriani and Petrucci made, Ron's discography contains some of the hardest (to replicate) solos in the "business".
There’s a guy who’s coming up, this kid Ron Thal, "Bumblefoot," who’s out, out of his mind. Absolutely out of his mind. Like he does this whole thing where he takes a thimble on his finger and he taps on the neck and slides it. He does this whole thing with tapping and sliding, it’s complete, unmitigated insanity. (laughter). —Vernon Reid
I just heard Ron Thal for the first time. This guy is really different; he's playing some whacky stuff. What impresses me is hearing something I can't immediately understand or recognize, and Thal's Adventures of Bumblefoot (Shrapnel) really impressed me. —John Petrucci
The ultra-technical type of playing, I try to stay away from – unless there’s a real spark there, unless there’s something beyond the technique. Like someone like Bumblefoot; yes, there’s a lot of technique there, but there’s this deeply disturbed mind, and I mean that in a beautiful way. I love Ron’s stuff, but the thing that turns me on about it isn’t the phenomenal technique, it’s the thinking behind it. Players like Mattias Eklundh, Shawn Lane and those guys – they were special. Most of the people with metronomes with nine octave sweep arpeggios don’t have that extra x-factor. You know who the special technical players are...—Guthrie Govan
Ron Thal is fantastic, he's a legend in the pop/metal, you know it's him when you hear a solo, he's Bumblefoot, out of control. —Jordan Rudess
Thal's demo tape is among the most impressive I've ever received. It contains elements of classical, blues and jazz, and at times reminds me of Frank Zappa. His transcriptions are most impressive and detailed, so fans of hot transcriptions may be interested in seeing these musical masterpieces on paper. With its clever melodies, contrapuntal lines, intricate rhythms and ultra complex ensemble section. Ron's sheer musicality will surely gain him much acclaim. —Mike Varney
Technically it's clear that Ron is one of the most well versed players of our time. However, if you just focus on Ron's dazzling technique
, you are missing out on 75% of his brilliance.
Not only is he better than most technique wise, he writes really original
and powerful songs
. The composer in Ron never fails to let the abundance of technical proficiency only exist in support of the song. Never resorting to meaningless egocentric guitar gymnastics
. He is responsible for some of the most critically acclaimed (exceptionally creative
) songwriting ever to come forth out of the virtuoso scene. Complex enough to appeal to the most technically demanding guitar geeks and accessible at the same time for the casual
(rock driven) listener.
Ron Thal …Yes, isn’t he amazing! I had this thing going with Ron “Bumblefoot” after I played with Deep Purple, I recommended him to Axl Rose. He is a great writer, engineer and player.—Joe Satriani
As far as songwriting goes it's also evident that Ron doesn't confine himself to a particular genre and/or concept. Like the musical equivalent of an alchemist
, he blasts
through practically all of them. Varying from jazz
to nouveau flamenco
, via blues, loungy
, grunge, (Russian) classical, opera, spaghetti western
, rock, prog, (Jamaican death-
, metal, punk and neo classicism. Laced with hints of Queen, Faith No More, the Beatles, Zappa, Mr Bungle, Sex Pistols and Hendrix. Frankensteining it all into something totally new and unmistakably Bumblefoot
Completely overlooked is Ron's very versatile singing voice
, timbre and technique. In fact, his voice is so far develloped he can even use his "whistle register"
(illustrated in this
clip). Therefore the vocals on his albums always live up to the all that instrumental brilliance and open yet another unique (not many virtuosos sing that exceptionally good) dimension for Ron to ventilate his genius mind: intelligent
, original, hysterical, emotional and witty lyrics
My Achilles Heels as an electronic artist are Ron's greatest strengths - knowledge of audio software, patience, perfect pitch, the ability to play a stringed instrument. I've fancied myself more of a bricklayer when it comes to songwriting - quality ideas, lyrics, and melodies, a little keyboard and vocal flash here and there, but if I lay the bricks, Ron decorates the place, and makes my tidy little house look like a palace. It still bugs me that he's not as heralded as a producer as he should be. You can blame part of it on his guitar skills, as people probably can't imagine a guy being so masterful at two separate things, but he is. Most producers hide behind thousands of dollars worth of gear and reputation, Ron does so much with just his ears, his brain, and his two hands.—Ron Scalzo
He records his stuff in his studio
, relying on his own production-skills
. As a producer and engineer Ron is greatly respected
and able to let his and other people's talent materialize optimally in the recordings he makes. Ron shares
as a honorary faculty member at Raleigh Music Academy
along with Greg Howe, John Petrucci and Andy Timmons. He also teaches
at SUNY Purchase College.
Ron executes everything he sets his mind to with the impeccable intonation his "active absolute pitch"
gives him. Popularly known as "perfect pitch", absolute pitch is the opposite phenomenon of tone deafness. The musicologist Richard Parncutt and the cognitive psychologist Daniel Levitin introduced the following distinctions in their entry on Absolute pitch
in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
Absolute pitch - Passive absolute pitch. Persons with passive absolute pitch are able to identify individual notes which they hear, and can identify the key of a composition (assuming some degree of musical knowledge). Not all of them are always capable of singing a given note on command. Those who can are known to possess "active" absolute pitch.
An ability shared by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig von Beethoven and Brian Wilson. Having perfect pitch will not only allow you to identify single notes, but multiple simultaneous notes as well. Which means you can immediately identify chords and the key of a piece of music. These musicians
can truly play by ear and are free to focus entirely on playing music instead of struggling just to hear it. This is especially useful when playing with other musicians as, for example, jazz improvisation depends on the ability to anticipate what tones are about to be produced. Offcourse all of this makes transcribing music relatively easy.
Absolute pitch isn't the only evidence that in Ron's DNA the typical double helix is substituted by staffs and notes. He also has a photographic memory that, over the years, allowed him to build an encyclopaedic inner database of musical context and endless possibilities. Paul Warren
, the founder of the aforementioned Raleigh Music Academy (a great guitarist and a keyfigure in the online Petrucci fan community), shared these interesting testimonies about Ron's amazing abilities on the Petrucci messageboard:
I've heard this quite a bit but I only have one reservation about whether it's true. I've seen videos of him (Vai) playing really out of tune where it appeared that he could have adjusted and intonated better on the single notes etc. Of course, there could always been monitor problems etc. that we don't know about, so I'm not really claiming anything definitively. But every time we played with Bumblefoot, he asked to have his monitors turned off (vox and guitars) and he just relied on what he could hear in the hall or his own inner sense of where the pitch was. That's pretty confident to do that AND play fretless guitars while singing, lol.
He has perfect pitch and a photographic memory for music, so playing back a song (any song) and trying to include the other parts (bass, other guitars, keys) at the same time is second nature to him. He's the only player I've ever seen (other than Guthrie perhaps) who has the ability to play anything, of any genre, and make it seem like he's been doing it for years. His abilities transcend technique. He could listen to the most insanely difficult piece and play it back. It's unreal.
I was in a music store one time with Ron and a guitarist was testing out an amp. He was a fairly advanced jazz player and was playing some very cool walking jazz chord stuff, with a bit of improvisation thrown in. Ron wasn't plugged in, but was playing a guitar and played EVERYTHING note for note which that guy played. Chords, improvised melody lines - everything. It sounded like a one second delay was turned on. Ron wasn't playing loud enough for the guy to hear him and he wasn't making fun of his playing. He was simply repeating everything because he thought what the guy was playing was cool. When somebody has that quick and perfect of a musical ear AND there is no technique that holds him back, the door is wide open to any possibility.
Another omnipresent aneckdote, that has been roaming the net for years, comes from one of Ron's childhood friends:
I grew up in Staten Island NYC and lived on the same Block as Ron Thal (aka: Bumblefoot). Him and his brother Jeff were Phenoms at a young age. Just sick players. Their bands whould cover material note for note ......all Prog rock when they were in their early teens. Ronnie was a homebody and played and played and played all the time. There is really Nothing he can't do on the guitar. No Genre he can't master. Back in 1984 There was no You Tube, Internet, CD's.......Nothing. TAB was scarce. People everywhere where still trying to figure out EVH Eruption. Ronny could literally play it backwards and forwards because it was so simple for him. Learning Van Halens New Album on the date of its release note for note was too easy for him. It was like Telling Evil Knevil To Jump the curb. He would do these whacky things not to show off but to push himself. He was really a driven guy. All of the teachers in the area would send him back to his mom with an apology note........nothing I can teach this Young Man. He always had a really great sense of Humor too. In Hebrew School he could do voices and throw his and really piss off the teachers. You had to be there to see it but he was a funny Bastid! And his Brother Jeff was a sick sick drummer. They would do RUSH tribute shows Note for note as well. I wonder what happened to his Brother...
Seeing Ron excel (identifiable) in all styles and never drowning in ambition, you realize that the term "unique style" is very appropriate, yet incredibly hard earned. It's difficult to remain both authentic and unique at the same time, in such a broad musical spectrum. It’s this multidimensional approach of writing, composing, singing, playing (everything except drums), producing and engineering that gives Ron an avenue of expression on all levels (unlike most artist). It’s testimony to his musical talent
and the deep emotional quality of his music. Deep, because most music you will hear is rarely as truly personal as Ron’s. He's personaly involved in every step of the creative proces.Fretless Master
Severely underrated in our community, is the fact that Ron is one of the few world-wide virtuosos on fretless guitar
. Which many professional players regard as a big challenge and an entirely different instrument. The fretless guitar allows the player, rather then the luthier
, to completely control intonation. This might seem a rather superfluous and unnecessary complicated characteristic, compared to it's practically fretted (predefined pitch reference points) alternative.
However, the "Pythagorean comma" and "equal tempered" vs. "natural" -tuning have shown that there is no such thing as playing a fretted guitar perfectly in tune, this is merely an illusion. Albeit a rather unnoticable and nearly perfect illusion in the context of modern western (harmony driven) music. Fact remains though, that once you remove the frets
you are no longer restricted by them. You can play perfectly by ear and place your fingers slightly lower or higher than where the fret would have been, thereby playing with much more potential tuning accuracy.
I like Ron Thal's playing. I don't mean this to sound too harsh, but to me, most fretless players sound like average guitarists playing terribly out of tune. Most have a long way to go in developing good fretless tone. That's why I like Ron- he sounds like Ron. I recommend players to listen to our tracks on the "FRETLESS GUITAR MASTERS" CD. A lot can be learned from tunes like "Ambiguity" and "Children of Sierra Leone".
is very difficult because the instrument requires much more training
of the fretting hand and concentration (for exact positioning and shifts) and more ear training to be able to differentiate the minimal differences in intonation that fretless
instruments can express. Since fretless stringed instruments have no predefined pitch reference points, they rely on a player's ability to play an accurate pitch on his own. That's where "perfect pitch" comes into play. On a fretless
you don't bend the strings, you slide to the desired pitch, while keeping your fingers intonated. The pay-off of being able to play the fretless guitar is grand. The instrument allows immense musical freedom not only in terms of tuning accuracy, but other unique possibilities as well: micro-tones, sliding harmonics and unconventional chord shapes.Humor in Music
Thal's incorporation of humor into (a fair share of) his music, doesn't mean he's goofing
around. Humor is one of those essential human qualities that's probably most difficult to be expressed in music, in a sophisticated manner
. Incorporating humor
means a musician is able to do something shocking, surprising, unexpected, absurd; putting two things together that don't belong together, which are incongruous. It's indicative for a well developed sense of contrast and an intelligent mind. Why should music harvest every other human quality, except one of the most essential and elementary ones, especially when it's that inherent to someone's personality as Ron's? To Ron, incorporating humor in music isn't synonymous to having some sort of half assed approach to making art and greats like Zappa, Bach and Mozart would wholeheartedly agree.
Bumblefoot is probably the most accessible member of GN'R. At times he's too nice and has to be reeled in from signing autographs in order to catch a bus or a flight. His six-string wizardry is of the highest level and the man literally knows every song ever recorded or if he doesn't only needs to hear something once. The walking Ipod entertains his brethren by playing the most obscure AM radio hits of the 70's, cheese metal, or TV theme songs. The band often tries to stump him with a request and rarely can.—Del James
It's because of this versatility to do just about anything technically, compositionally and emotionally Ron has become a real musician's
musician. Earning praises
from virtuosos, fans and critics all over the world. Just because he's this badly shaven, approachable
, ridiculously humble
and nice guy
, doesn't mean he can't be that extremely gifted person as well. It's this rare mix of essential human qualities combined with an exceptional degree of talent that makes Ron such a breeze of fresh air in a scene that's otherwise full of cliché driven stereotypes.