One of the cool things about Facebook is that it helps me stay in touch with friends from many phases of life. One such friend from high school, Eric Miller, reached out to me after he saw the launch of SmallAxeMusic.com. He wanted to introduce me to his bright and talented son, Lenny, 18, who happens to be a budding guitar player and gear lover. I'm all about meeting like-minded guitar fanatics, so I was excited to connect with Lenny (and reconnect with his dad) to learn about his guitar gear journey.
...Lenny Miller: brains, looks, axe. Solid combo...
One thing we should already know about young Lenny is that he is smart. That's because he will be enrolled in the honors program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor next fall, after spending a "gap" year in Israel. I've also seen Lenny play guitar on video a few times, and -- in my humble opinion -- I think he is pretty gifted already, with his best guitar days yet to come. Take a look at this cool demo video (below) that he sent me, featuring Lenny on his USA Fender Deluxe Strat playing through his Fender Excelsior tube amp. If I could have played like that in high school I am not sure I would have ever made it to the University of Michigan (Class of '90, Go Blue!). I'm pretty sure my studies would have, uh, suffered.
After our initial conversation, I thought it would be cool to submit some questions to Lenny about his love of music and guitar gear. Here is what he had to say:
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became interested in playing guitar.
The first time I really put my hands on a guitar was about four years ago while at sleep-away camp. I had always been enthusiastic about music but had never really understood why someone would want to play an instrument. However, that summer going into freshman year of High School was sort of like a renaissance of musicianship for my friends and me. One day, two of my guitar-playing friends decided to play and sing Viva la Vida by Coldplay together (yeah I know, Coldplay) without practice. They just pulled up the chords online and started playing. I was blown away by the music they created without practice, no prior communication, just launching into it, birthing a connection I had never felt and wanted with all of my heart to feel. Once I picked up that first acoustic guitar, I started on a journey that hasn’t really ended since. I’m still finding ways to make that connection deeper and deeper!
How often are you playing and what do you like to do when not shredding?
I play at least once a day for about an hour. If I don’t get to play for a day or two I start to get withdrawals! When not playing guitar I’m playing Ultimate Frisbee or watching other people play guitar.
Who are your musical influences from a guitar standpoint? What is it about these artists that spoke to you personally?
My #1 influence is John Mayer, closely followed by Clapton, SRV, Hendrix, BB King, and really all the blues greats. The thing that really separates the blues from other types of guitar playing for me is that it’s not all about hitting the most notes or expressing the deepest knowledge of theory, it’s about what you do with those notes. It’s a feeling you get in your stomach while playing and a shiver down your spine you get when you listen to it. Blues can be happy or sad, funky or slow. The greatest players know how to incorporate blues into their playing, whether it be metal or finger-style, to give it that raw emotion that just doesn’t exist otherwise.
What is your current gear lineup and how did you acquire it?
My go-to setup is my American Deluxe Strat run through a Fender Excelsior amp, usually clean but sometimes I throw in a pedal or two from my hefty collection of a total of two pedals (a Ditto Looper and an Ibanez Tube Screamer) to spice things up. The pedals I bought off Amazon, but everything else is used! The strat is actually 16 or 17 years old and I’m not sure how old the amp is, but both work like a dream. I also have a used Taylor 310 as my primary acoustic and a used PRS SE Supercut, although my strat has taken it over 99% of the time. All the used stuff came in basically pristine condition, and I don’t plan on letting go of any of it soon!
What was your rationale for these gear selections?
I knew I wanted a strat because nearly all my favorite guitarists are strat players. You really can’t get that strat sound without the real thing. It’s also super durable and looks cooler with the damage, so I don’t stress about a ding or whatnot. The amp was the cheapest tube I could find while still getting that clean Fender tone. I’ve gotten many compliments both on the unique look and the darker-yet-sparkly tone that comes out of it. I acquired the Taylor in my first year of playing. I needed an acoustic to replace my beginner guitar and when I saw how cheap it was I couldn’t refuse. With all of my gear, I didn’t want to spend the extra money to get it new when I could get great gear cheaper just slightly used.
When looking for gear, what are your primary sources?
I mainly look at Craigslist, Guitar Center, and Amazon. Craigslist and Guitar Center for the guitars since I love to be able to test them out before I commit.
What are your guitar gear aspirations?
I would love to own a Gibson ES-335 some day because they are just so versatile. Everything from rock to funk to blues, they absolutely sing! In terms of amps, a two-rock, Dumble, or PRS amp would have me set for life but classic Fenders like a Blues Junior would be awesome as well. A Martin OM or Eric Clapton signature model for jam sessions would also be amazing. In terms of pedals, a Pete Cornish Fuzz, a Q-tron, or a Marshall Bluesbreaker. I could just keep going on and on!
Has there ever been a purchase you wish you made and still think about to this day?
I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got, but looking back on it I might have wanted to look a little harder to try and find a Martin instead of my Taylor because I’m a fan of the bassier sound and thicker neck that Martin guitars sport.
What is the target for your next piece of gear and why?
I’m pretty set in terms of guitars and amps for the moment, I definitely want to expand my pedal selection. A Q-tron or a wah pedal is next on my list, I wanna get that Jam-band sound going!
Thanks for your time and performance, Lenny. It has been great to meet you! Good luck on the road ahead, and stay in touch.
Tell us about your own guitar gear journey in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And check out SmallAxeMusic.com for cool guitar gear.