Steve Howe: Ultimate guitar interview

You are known for having quite an impressive guitar collection. Were there one or two guitars that you stuck with most of the time during recording?

I tend to show up with about 25 guitars or so. Those are the things that I know I might need. What I like to do quite often is record the acoustic guitar parts first. Then we’ll have the acoustics where we want them. Then I’ll move on to the electrics. There are times when the Telecaster will provide the nice chord sounds or chunky rhythms. Then occasionally I’ll say, “I think that should be a Gretsch guitar or something.” There is always an opening to widen out the sound or add slightly different textures to the track. Sometimes a Strat is great for that as well. A Strat is a rhythm guitar that has one of the most familiar sounds in the whole world. When it comes down to lead work, a few different things happen. When I had done lead work – unlike past Asia records – I used my Gibson ES 1964. I can basically get parts going, so I did use that on quite a bit of it. Again, the ES Artist that I use onstage, it’s a guitar that I like to play. On Phoenix I was using the ES-5 Switchmaster on a few tracks. On this one I was using the 175. There are always contingents of full bodies, semi-acoustic electrics. There are the ES Artists, Les Pauls. It’s a wide family and interesting collection of sounds that I think are appropriate given the material.

Do you write your initial ideas on acoustics?

To even set up the electric and play, you’re usually thinking about something specific in mind. I do a lot more improvising and writing on acoustic guitars just because it seems to be what a pianist might do with a piano as opposed to a symphony. There are times when you get a sound or a certain tone on an electric guitar that gives you that sound you want. On this album there are a couple of places where the steel guitar comes in. That’s one of my favorite parts of the family of the guitars, playing the steel. For example, I used it on “Light the Way.” There is some steel, just like there was on “Alibis” on Phoenix. So the steel comes into play because it’s one of the noises or sounds or textures I can bring. Also, I have up my sleeve an autoharp. I like the plunky stringy sound of it. Basically I like to think the guitar as a colorful instrument. full interview