Questions answered by Alex Ferguson

Questions answered by Alex Ferguson
Ask Alex a question and he will answer it here. Most questions will be answered unless they are deemed invalid. Click on Submit Question (above) to submit your question. Questions and answers will appear below.

San Diego
Hi Hugh,
Allan has been known to give some of his guitars away. Years ago he gave his red Charvel to Glenn Alexander back stage. then he traded his Red Charvel back to Glen for the White Charvel. Was this the Guitar he was supposed to give to you in the trade? Apparently Allan was drunk when he gave the guitar away. 

Hi Richard, I am not sure which one but I believe it was a Charvel.

Steve Ruckman
New Hampshire
okay…this goes back a long way. i saw your band (Mr. Wizard) open for Allan Holdsworth at Jonathan Swift’s (i think it was in 1985… that’s one of the few shows i attended that i don’t have a solid date for…no ticket stub). anyway, you played this BEAUTIFUL white Les Paul double cutaway. later on, when Allan played the second house that night (i was at both performances) he was playing that guitar. did you let him play it or did he buy it from you? i know it probably seems a silly question but i was always curious about that. also, would you happen to remember the date of the show?

I think we opened for Allen Holdsworth in 1984 and 1985.
Allen really liked my maroon 61 Les Paul SG.
So I gave it to him and he was going to send me a Charvel guitar after his tour. I heard that he made it white later.After the tour, I think he was low on cash and had to sell some of his guitars.

He asked if I wanted the SG shipped back, and I told him to hang onto it and he could send me a guitar when things got better.

Still waiting……….?

Hi Hugh love your playing and have a question for you. What exactly do you use in terms of FX when playing the fluid legato lines that you do. Besides a tube overdrive how do you set up the delay unit. Sorry for the hack question but I just wanted to know.

Hi Floyd,When I play live I usually will tap the delay on the Tonelab so that the delay is in time with the song.
When I record, I usually record dry so that I can adjust the delay during the mix. If you record with the delay, you can’t adjust it later.

Also I set delays to the BPM

1/4 note = 60,000/BPM if the song is at 120 BPM

1/4 note = 60,000/120 = 500 milliseconds
now 1/8 = 250 dotted 8th = 375.


Joe Licitra
Vox tonelab unit
Do you think the original desk top 20 bit Vox tonelab unit without the pedals would give the same sonic results as your se, for the 2 fusion tone examples you gave.It has 16 amp models, 10 cab models, 22 effects, 96 programs, and a tube. I think it also has a partridge in a pear tree.

Hi Joe,I am not sure but I assume that the circuitry would be the same. Especially the partridge in a pear tree knob!!!.

Hi Hugh
Joe Licitra
Love your fusion sound and talent… Is it the guitar, or is it the effects box that does it? I’ll buy a fatboy tommorrow if the guitar is the answer. I have a gibson les paul, but cannot recreate the tone I hear you play.Your advice would be appreciated.

Hi Joe,Thanks..

I recorded the whole -ADD- CD with the Vox Tonelab, direct.

I used different guitars on different songs.
300 miles – Fat boy
ADD – Pittillo Guitars – one for the chords and another for the solo.

Some of the other solos I used the Steinberger. The clean solo on Pneuma was also done on the Steinberger.

The dirty solo on Pneuma was done on a Traveller Guitar – Speedster.

There are some tonelab settings I listed on an earlier post.

I am still working on my sound and It is an ever-changing, ever learning process. I think that I will be mixing speaker miking and direct on my new stuff.

Gibson les pauls are great guitars too.. I used to use them
and I used to have 2 61 Les Paul SGs. I would like to get another one someday!


US of A
Hi Hugh,I notice that in your live videos you seem to have pretty much the same fabulous tone you have on A.D.D. – do you use any boost/EQ pedals with the Tonelab SE when you play live? FWIW, looking at the videos from Rosalie & Alva’s Performance Gallery it doesn’t look like you’re using the Tonelab, do you have something else there?

Rock on …ciao!

Hi Steinny,I have been using the tonlab for a while now and I still like it. I don’t have any other pedals connected to it. The latest video from alvas I had the tonelab going through 2 Vox AC 30s. Usually I run through the Carvin SX-200 with the 2-12 extention cab. On the CD I used the tonelab right into the mixing board with no amp. I do like the miked amp sound but I live in an apartment so I can’t get too loud!

brian haley
hugh let ‘ s have a mr wizard reunion!! don’t ever forget those days @ the channel and scotch’n’ sounds brother

Wow! that’s a blast from the past. Those gigs were really fun.

Matt G.
North Carolina
Dear Hugh,
I am sixteen years old and I play guitar for my high school jazz combo. I am a big fan of all types of jazz, wether it’s straight ahead stuff or contemporary fusion, like your music. My biggest problem right now is probably improvisation. I have a pretty good repitiore of licks and scales and chromatic stuff, and sometimes I can play really awesome solos. There are other times, however, when I tend to play the same handful of phrases over and over again. My instructors just simply tell me to sit at a desk and transcribe for a few hours a day, and I will get better…but I doubt I have the time (or intention span)to just sit there transcribing John Mclaughlin tunes for three hours. What would you suggest?

Hi Matt,Well I can’t read or transcribe…so that’s out!

I practice scales and try to jump around and combine segments of several positions. I also practice a lot of unusual (un-musical) patterns to breakup how I use my fingers. I do this so that when I am playing I can try to just let it happen off the top of my head without the physical ability getting in the way. I also play some notes that may not be in the actual key to give it tension. This is by trial and error. If you are playing in a structured key like Cmaj7 and there are other instruments playing chords, then this will not work, but if the bass is grooving in more of a minor key than you can find notes outside the key and experiment. If you are playing through some chord changes then you can also play a diminished, chromatic or what ever from the end of one key into the next as long as you end on a note that is in the next key. I am always experimenting and learning as I go and I try to just let it happen. I also listen to what the bass and drums are doing and try to compliment their rhythms. On the latest video of “Off The Cliff”, Steve Holmes (drums) and Brian Wright (bass) really get into the 3 over 4 groove and this led me to follow them.
Things like that create what I call the magic!

I hope this helps.

Conrad S
Hi Hugh, thank you for sharing some info on how you record with your ToneLab SE. I have a DigiTech GNX4 which came with software consisting of ProTracks Plus and Cakewalk. I plan to record using this software via using the speaker emulator from my Marshall JMP-1 Pre-amp for my tones–>GNX4–>USB–>Computer. I don’t have a power amp to smooth out my tone so I will have to tweak the preamp to make it as smooth as possible. I can re-amp the Marshall tone with the various Cab models in the GNX4. I will also record bass tracks using the GNX4 exclusively for the bass tones instead of any amp. All of this recorded in 16 bit with a sampling rate of 44100 Hz. I will have a keyboardist record his tracks in a studio and I may have to resort to drum sampling for the drums tracks. What software did you use and were the bass tracks and the guitar track by Alex Machacek recorded directly into your computer? I assume the drums were recorded in a studio. Do you know of anyone who has used the GNX4 to record their CDs as well? I may have to invest in somthing better if the GNX4 is not suitable for a professional recording. I would appreciate any help you may be able to give me.

Hi Conrad,I have never used the Digitech GNX4. For recording in the studio I used the cabinet / speaker emulator on the TonelabSE. I also discovered that the different speakers made the sound a lot different. The TonelabSE also has a global parameter for amp or line out.
The amp out seems to be a lot smoother. I�m not sure if you have the same type of parameters in the GNX4.

Also, you might have an amp emulator on the cakewalk and you can set this flat and only use the speaker simulation if the tone is buzzy.

You are right; the drums were recorded in the studio on Sonar 3. My guitars and bass were all recorded onto the computer. I gave Alex a CD of the tune and he recorded his tracks at home then gave me the CD.

For recording I use 24 Bit 44.1K and this seems to make a big difference. I actually learned this from my son Chris. CDs have to be 44.1K /16 bit , but one time I record at 48 / 16 and then dithered down to 44.1, and it didn’t sound very good. At 44.1 / 24 , the word length is longer and the effects seem to work and sound better because there is more data to work with. Then when you go from 44.1 / 24 to 44.1 / 16 after mastering the final mix sounded the same with out any loss.

Hope your recording comes out great!


Hi Hugh!
I’m listening to your music, great sound, compliments!
I’d like to have your opinion about Spirit by Steinberger, I have one like yours and I feel very well with emg’s sound ect… but I have some problem with Rtrem bridge.
I don’t use tremolo bar very much but, when I use it (with the perfect setup of bridge), it’s seems like the bridge doesn’t return in the perfect state and the strings aren’t tuned perfectly.If I stretch the tremolo I also hear some noise from the main spring.I also tried with lubricant, but it doesn’t seems a very fluid system.
I don’t know if this is a limit of the R-trem and the guitar that is the cheaper version of the GL steinberger or it’s beacuse I use 010 strings?What’s your opinion?
thank you very much, bye!

Hi Fabio,
I bought my Steinberger Spirit on for just over 300 dollars. It needed good frets so I took it in to have big frets put on it. As far as the tuning goes, I don�t have many problems with it. It�s not the best tremolo in the world, but it works. I will have a string or two go out slightly but not very much and if I bend it down or up it stays in tune.Things I would check:
1. There is a really small allen screw on the top pointing towards the saddles and this should be loosened before adjusting the intonation and saddle height, then tightened after.

2. Check the truss rod and make sure that the tension is not to loose. When holding down a string on the low F and the High E 24th, there should be a slight space at the 12th fret.
I have very little space, as the neck is almost completely straight.

3. Check the clearance between the trem and the wood to make sure that it�s not rubbing anywhere.

4. I have had this problem with other locking systems and most of the time it has been the pivot point where the trem meets the posts.

I use .009 strings but I don�t think that should make a difference.

Good luck and let me know what happens.


I just want to thank you for sharing your personal patches like this, it’s extremely generous of you and they’re awsome! Just what I was looking for. When I have any patches worth sharing I’ll definetly post them here. Hang in there and keep up the good work!

Hi AndreasI’m glad you liked the tonelab settings.
I have been experimenting with turning the cabinet simulation off when playing live through an amp since there are real speakers connected.
I’ll keep you posted on how it works out


Hi Hugh. I think your sound and playing is awsome and since I have a tonelab myself I’m a bit curious what you do to make it sound so great. If it’s not a big secret I really would like to know what amp models and cabinets you use for your lead and your clean sounds? Do you use any of the stomp boxes?

Hi Andreas.
The TonelabSE is pretty cool, and its great for gigs because you can just plug and play and not have to set up any racks and cables.
I use one or two banks for recording direct and I have other banks for live when I’m playing through an amp.
In the global page I alway leave the output select to AP, the other option (LN) sounds buzzy to me.
Here are some of my settings – – –
LiveClean Sound
compressor with Sens 4.5, level 4.3, attack 4.8
Amp Boutique – – cab UK 175 – – CL chorus – – speed .48 , depth 5.5, manual 2.2, mode 3,
Delay: Analog – – Time 533 (adjustable with the control button), feedback 4.6, tone 4.9, mix 3.9
NR – presence 5.9
Reverb: spring2, time 6, lo damp 16, hi damp 2.6, pre delay 0, mix 3.6
Amp / tone settings: gain 4.0, VR gain 8, treble 6.5, middle 7.2, bass, 8.3, CH volume 8.0

Solo Sound
Pedal – – – Boutique, drive 7.7, level 3.8, tone 7.9,
Amp:UK 80s, Gain 5.2, VR Gain 5.0, Treble 3.8, Middle 10, Bass 4.4 CH volume 6.6
Cab: vox AD 4-12
Delay: Echo plus, time 560, feedback 4.4, tone 5.4, low damp 1.8, mix 3.4
Reverb: spring2, time 6, low damp 3, high damp 4.1, pre-delay 18, mix 3.2

On my clean sound I also set up the B channel the same as the A channel with a little boost on the compressor level and a little more delay.
Remeber, If you adjust channel B make sure you go back to channel A before saving because when you click on the switch, your B sound will come up first.
That took a little getting used to.

When I setup sounds on the tonelab, I usually turn everything off and play with the amps and cabinet settings to find a good tone.
then I’l add a little reverb. Some of the older style amps sound good but they don’t have enough drive for my style, (unless I want a great blues sound), so I will add a pedal overdrive to it to give it a little more power.

There are only 2 things that that I don’t like about the tonelabSE.
1. I wish that the clean amps would allow you to have more input gain without distortion.
You have to keep the input gain down low and the output gain up pretty high.
When you set up a solo sound you have to turn down the output gain so that the leads are in relation to the clean sound.

2. When I switch from one sound to the other, all the effects cut off. So if I am soloing and I go back to the clean sound the change can be abrupt.
I have to make sure that I end my playing a few seconds before I switch sounds.

I hope this helps, keep me posted on your sounds and if you find some cool ones, send them to me.

Chester Wright
Roanoke VA
Can you tell me the best way to tune my Steinberger Spirit guitar correctly? I have had a lot of problems with mine. Maybe some web sites to check out? Thanks

Hi Chester,
When I got My Steinberger Spirit I was surprized that there was no manual on how to use the tuning system.
I had to Google a few sites to figure it out.
1. There is a small lever next to the big tuning knob on the back of the guitar. push it towards the bridge till it locks in place. Now your bridge should be locked into position and the vibrato arm will have no movement.
2. Tune the strings leaving the bridge in the locked position.
3. Once the strings are tuned, move the lever back, away from the bridge. At this point, all the strings will be flat or sharp and the vibrato arm will function. Now tune the guitar with big knob on the back. This will tune all the strings at the same time. When the strings are new, you may have to do this several times as the strings stretch.
Once it’s in tune, it seems to work pretty good.

Hector Rodriguez
Dear Hugh.
Your sound is genial!. I want it!!
You can tell me that equipment and effects you use in the song 300 miles
Thank you

Hi Hector
On the song 300 Miles I am playing a Carvin Fatboy guitar for both the clean and solo sounds.
I used the ToneLabSE directly into the mixing board for the whole CD.
On the songs A.D.D. and Cairo I used the Pittillo custom guitars.
I used the fatboy for all of the clean chord sounds and I used the Steinberger for many of the solos.
I also used the Steinberger for the clean solo on Pneuma and I used the Traveler guitar for the last solo on the same song.

Tom Howland
Way back East- Ma.
Hi Hugh,
Long time?
Have not seen you since the nite you played Swifts, and opened of Allan Holdsworth. Ya, I was there when you gave Allan you SG. Glad to see your back playing music you love.
New stuff sounds great.
Will you be touring back East for the new CD?
Also, Your a great singer, are there vocals on new CD?
Or your Live show? Keep Rocking,

Hi Tom, wow, a blast from the past.
That was a long time ago when I was opening for Allan Holdsworth. I think it was 1984 – 1985.
That guitar I gave Allan was a 61 Les Paul ( SG ).
I hope to be able to set up some gigs on the east coast, I am looking into it right now.
The fusion jazz has no vocals on it, but I do have some other types of music that have vocals on it.
I am still writing for those projects. Great to hear from you, Ill keep you posted on any east coast gigs.

Hugh when you’re soloing what is going through
your mind. I’m learning In my soloing don’t think
so much. I know when I try to clear my head I play
so much better. Thanks again for all your advice.JAZZ FUSION FOREVER!!!!!

I think a small part of my thought is on where I am in the song and being conscious of up-coming key changes. But when I really let go, I am not really thinking anymore. Its more of a feeling or an emotion coming out. This ends up being the best stuff. I guess you call this being in the Zone.
Sometimes the ugly self-critical monster will come into my brain too, and I will start over-analyzing what I am doing and this will mess me up every time. If this happens, I try to focus on the drums and bass and get back into it until it goes away.
It is also hard to get into the zone when I am recording. I think its hard to let loose when you know the record button is pushed. I usually will do lots of different takes at different times of the day until I get into the zone. I also try to do solos all the way through as I hate the sound of cut solos.
So, to answer your question, I try to play with a clear mind and just let it happen.

Can you please tell me how Pittillo guitar works? Looks like Allan Holdsworth one. Where i can buy one ?
Thanks !!

Hi Robert
The Pittillo Guitars play and sound great. They are custom made and if you want one, you can order directly from Pittillo Guitars. I have two of them here that I am currently using. They are both the prototypes before they made one for Allan Holdsworth. The lighter colored one has a f-hole opening and it has 1 seymour duncan humbucker near the bridge, 1 seymour duncan mini humbucker near the neck and the bridge also has a pickup in it. The guitar has a stereo output jack that allows 2 seperate outputs, one for the humbuckers and one for the bridge.
The other Pittillo is darker in color and has no f-hole. Same seymour duncan pickups without the bridge pickup and it has a Wilkinson bridge (vibrato) .
To order one, just call the guitar doctor (714) 437-9607 and talk to Doc Pittillo or Pavel Maslowiec. Then you can also specify the neck width, radius, fret type and pickup configuration you want.

Jonas B
In your Gear section i see you only have the Vox Tonelab SE listed as your only resource of effects, on the A-D-D clips is that really DI recording using _only_ the Vox Tonelab, did you do any post mixing like adding some VST effects?By the way i really dig your playing, really fresh and hip combined with some awesome abilities, keep it up!

Hi Jonas, thanks for the compliment.
I have been recording my tracks at home in my apartment with the Vox ToneLab and it is working out nice.
I record direct from the tonelab to the mixer, then into the computer. The majority of the sounds including delay and reverb are from the tonelab.
There are one or two solos that I recorded dry then added delay on the computer. I also set verbs for the snare and toms and a room verb.
I do add a very slight amount of my guitar into the room verb with the drum overheads and bass so that we sound like we’re in the same room
but this is a very slight amount and hardly audible even when I solo my track.
When I play live through amps I have to use different settings as the studio presets don’t sound as good through the amps. At some point I want
to build my own cabinets that sound more like a home stereo. Something very clear and crisp with no amp distortion.
There are two things that I don’t like about the ToneLab.1. I wish there was a super loud clean amp selection. I have to keep the input volume down on my clean sound so I don’t get any input distortion.
Then I have to turn up the output volume.
On my solo sounds, I have to turn the output volumes way down to get a good balance between the clean and solo sounds.
I had the same problem with the valvetronix.

2. If I am doing a solo and I switch back to my clean sound, the delay and verb from my last notes of the solo end abruptly.
Each sound on the tonelab has an A and B channel and it seems that if I switch between these, the delay and verb will not cut out from the previous sound.
I will at some point set up my live sounds to have an A and B (clean and solo) on one preset.

Note: on the global settings there is a amp or direct option. The direct option sounds really brittle direct or through an amp.
I set it for the amp for everything.

The nice thing about the ToneLab is that it is plug and play without all the racks of
gear and midi controllers. Sometimes there is very little time to setup for a gig and I know that I will have my sound. One cable for my guitar, two cables to the amps, I am done!

Los Angeles
In your years of playing how did you recover from a bad playing experience. People probably told you you were great, but you knew you sounded like s_ _ _ t. I played at this big conert yesterday and every thing went wrong. My tone really sucked, my solos sounded like trash. I wanted to hide under a rock after I was done. My wife told me that I sounded great. If my sound was right I would’ve played 1000xs better than what I did. Hugh I need some wisdom on this matter. I don’t even want to see my guitars. I left all my gear in the trunk of my car. I’m still upset but not as musch as I was yesterday. It’s a horrible feeling.

Hi Al
Oh man! been there more than once.
When I have had really bad gigs I usually go for a long walk or hide in a stall
in the mens room untill the crowd leaves!
I always try to get a soundcheck before the gig, but sometimes it’s not possible.
I am not sure what kind of equipment you are using, but I try to keep my amps
close to me so I can hear it good even if the room sound or the monitors sound bad.
You might also get a small monitor amp to put on the floor facing you so you can make quick fixes on stage.
I also spend time in our rehearsal room by myself and I work on my sounds and I stand close and far away from my amp and try to find a happy medium.
If I am not loud enough I will play to hard and if i’m too loud I will freak myself out.
If your on stage and things are going bad, try to think about other things like the bass part or the drum part and try to get back into the groove.
Don’t get to down on yourself, It happens to all of us.

Cyril Toulotte
Montreal, Qc
Hello, i was wondering if you could add some more patterns and playback tracks because theyre very useful. Especially since you explain things as they are and not with all the elitist musical language. Thank you and keep up the good work

Hi Cyril
I will be adding some more patterns soon, there are 7 total for the basic minor/major scales.
I am glad you like my simple teaching method as I have no formal training and I can’t explain things with the correct musical terms.
Make sure to practice the patterns in all keys major and minor.

Hugh in your playing I here you
do explosive legato playing. What tips
can you give on long legato phrasing.

Hi Bryan
Legato playing and phrasing has endless possibilities.
For instance, if you are changing keys during a legato run you can think ahead and find a way to blend one key into another by switching the pattern at the chord change or use chromatic or diminished patterns to connect the two.
Maybe a bar or a couple of beats before the change you can use a diminished, whole tone or chromatic pattern to blend one key into to another.
Good sax players tend to do this really well. Phrasing to me is what makes people sound different and unique. I think of phrasing as how the notes are played
and the empty spaces in-between. Miles Davis was great at phrasing and he never started or stopped where you think he would.
Thats cool. I like to focus on the space somtimes. I also listen to the band and get caught upin their grooves.
If my drummer starts doing fills and accenting in an odd place, then I try to add to that feelling during my solo.
If my bass player plays some notes that are outside the relm…. then I will go along for the ride too.
Basically playing and phrasing is in the ears and what ever seems right at the moment is what jazz is all about.

nathan k
Now i understand if your not interested in answering this particular questions due to superstition reasons or the like but im at this moment not able to do much with my left arm because of RSI and im wondering what im doing wrong in my playing that is causeing it and how you avoid it and also if i was to make a short clip of me playin if you could look at it and see if you notice anything im just really lost at this point and i live in a small town and the doctors answer was oh well just find a new hobby and you will be fine any help would be appreciated.

Hi NathanSorry to hear about your RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury).
Sounds like you need to find a better doctor who has more experience in RSI.
I am not a doctor so I am not sure what kind of advice I can give you.
I wear my guitar kind of high to keep my wrist straight and I don’t have any
problems with my left hand. I do get some twitching in my right hand sometimes, but
that is beacause I do a lot of computer programming. I have to change my sitting distance
and arm placement to avoid this problem.
Keep me posted on you situation.

Bryan L.
Hugh what is your take on harmony of scales?
What tips can you give a young guitarist on

Hi Bryan,
I started learning about scales after I had been playing for a while and
I think of minor keys most of the time. Even if the key is in (C-major) I think
of the relative minor key (A-minor). I learned all of the scale patterns (7)
using 3 notes per string so the patterns are a little diagonal.
These patterns work for all major and minor keys.
After learning the patterns I can then play across patterns and
see larger playing areas.
By playing several notes in the pattern I can create chords,
this is always trial and error for me
because I have no music theory training, but eventually I find
notes that sound cool.
There are many scales that are not major or minor and some
have only five notes per octave.
I’t good to practice some of these scales too.To me there are several different things to think about when improvising.
1. where to play
2. physical ability
3. listening to what is going on around you (most important!)

Some music will allow you to play outside of the scale pattern
and this gives tension to the sound.
There are other times when the chords are strict and playing
outside them sounds really bad.

The most important part for me is listening to the music around me.
If I feel the drums and bass and focus on them I find that my playing
comes out of me in a natural way with very little thought. This Is when
the best playing happens.

Jim Paplaczyk
Hugh,What is your opinion of the Carlo Robelli semi-acoustic arch top guitars?

Hi Jim,
I haven’t played a Carlo Robelli semi-acoustic arch top guitar.
I would like to try one.
Maybe I’ll see if thay have any at the local music stores.
I have a regular acoustic and a Carlo Robelli frettless bass that I really like.
I was surprised by the inexpensive price because they play and sound great

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