Terry Syrek: Laurie Monk gets inside the mind of the Machine Elves

Terry Syrek at National Guitar Workshop
Terry Syrek is a guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, session musician, producer, instructor and author, known internationally for his passionate virtuoso  soloing and instrumental and vocal compositions.

As a recording artist, he has released three full-length CDs: Obscura (2001), Aum (2005), and Machine Elves (2012). His previous release, Aum, debuted on the Guitar Nine sales charts as the top seller in all four categories in which it was placed, including Best Overall Sales. Terry’s compositions have also appeared on numerous compilation CDs, alongside such respected guitarists as Steve Vai, Marty Friedman, Paul Gilbert, Guthrie Govan and Bumblefoot.

Terry has performed with such esteemed artists such as: Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big, Racer X), Allan Holdsworth, John Petrucci (Dream Theater), Marty Friedman (Megadeth), Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne), Brett Garsed, Alex Skolnick (Testament), Reb Beach (Dokken, Whitesnake, Winger), Vinnie Moore (UFO), Ty Tabor (King’s X), Jon Finn (Boston Pops, Berklee Faculty) and the multi-platinum selling Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Paul Gilberts song to Terry Syrek National Guitar Workshop

His session work includes numerous television commercials (Dairy Queen, Disney, ESPN, Kool Aid, Max Factor Cosmetics, Olive Garden) and shows (Highlander, PBS programming).

Terry received his Bachelor of Music degree from the prestigious Berklee College of Music, and has over 26 years of private and classroom teaching experience. He is currently a senior faculty instructor at the National Guitar Workshop, where he has taught for more than twenty three years. His credits include the creation of numerous week-long advanced seminars, including: "Shred,” "Rock Fusion," "The Big Fat Guitar Extravaganza of Doom," "Rock Star," "Lord of the Strings," and the "Art of Metal" – all of which are in the current curriculum.

His writing credits include the Alfred Publishing video “Shred Is Not Dead,” followed by a book of the same title. He also released an instructional CD-ROM for www.ChopsFromHell.com entitled “Unearthed Arcana.” In 2012, he began a monthly column entitled “Diary of a So-Called Shredder” for Premier Guitar magazine.

Terry has been featured in Axe, Guitar, Guitar One, Guitar Player, Guitar for the Practicing Musician, Guitar Techniques, and Premier Guitar magazines, as well as the New York Times newspaper.

He currently resides and teaches in the Westchester, NY area (right outside of New York City), and is available for private lessons at his studio or Skype lessons online.

Matt Williams of Liquid Note Records spots Terry Syrek
[Laurie Monk] Terry is quoted as saying 'Shred to me is sort of a derogatory word, used by guys who can't play, for guys who have some level of technical proficiency.' This quote was captured by my longtime friend and CEO of now defunct Liquid Note Records Matt William in his extended essay on the State of Guitar back in the early 1990’s (The Modern Guitarist: A History of Rock Guitar Since the Seventies, Mad Matt Music Publishing 1995). Many years on and a lot of water under the bridge, it’s now time to catch up with Terry again and discover if he feels the same way about guitar now as he did in the heady days of the second wave of neo guitar players.

Terry, you recently released a classic DVD and paper back Shred Is Not Dead [Paperback] http://www.amazon.com/Shred-Not-Dead-Terry-Syrek/dp/0739030191 Described as a rock lead-guitar virtuoso’s dream, packed with monster chop-building exercises and mind-bending, super-fast, sweep-picking licks. So I’m guessing that your comment in “The modern Guitarist” still holds true, or do you think about music differently now and can you give us a little more insight into this release?

[Terry Syrek] Yeah, I'm in a different place in every way, now, than I was ten years ago. Music is inseparable from the person, to me. We all become different people as we age and so, my musical mind, naturally, changes with me. I never really set out to be a “shredder” when I first started guitar. I don’t know that I am now, but I see the word used sometimes with my name.

Growing up, I liked bands more than anything and songs. That’s what moves me, most. But that’s not to say I don’t enjoy someone that has technical proficiency. It’s really all about balance, to me. It starts with awesome song that moves me, then, if it’s the right thing to do... a great solo can be the icing on the cake.

The problem for me is that many people that get to a certain level technically stop there and want to display it all the time. That kinda thing I just can’t listen to anymore. But by the same token, when someone does it in a musical way, and someone else comes along and badmouths it just because they can’t do it... I can’t really deal with that attitude, either. It’s all about balance and serving the music, first.

Early Terry Syrek Demos that were doing the rounds in cassette tape format back in the day. Terry's were notable for having great guitar playing and good tunes too.

[Laurie Monk] I’ve included you in a basket of killer players back in the 1990’s players like Todd Duane, Derek Taylor, Brett Stine, Scott Stine, Rusty Cooley, Michael Romeo, Derryl Gabel, Scott Mishoe, Rich Kern, Ron Thal, Guthrie Govan, Mario Parga and Buckethead to name a few. I know I was often in receipt of the stunning, circulating demos tapes from these guys. Each one was just as impressive as the next, state of the art licks, even today the chops stand up. This was a very exciting time for me in terms of over the top guitar driven creativity. Can you recall what those times were like for you, did you feel part of the guitar arms race?

[Terry Syrek] Those were great times to be a guitar playing teenager. At that age, you always felt a need to prove something and find your place. I used to read Varney’s Spotlight in Guitar Player each month and write a bunch of the guys to get their demos. Back in the area I grew up in, we had all these amazing players. I mean... Paul Gilbert lived like 40 minutes away, so you can imagine the talent pool.

Every gig I'd play, we'd have like 3 other bands on the bill with guitarists that were totally over the top. It was so inspiring to have all that going on, in terms of making me practice tons and strive to be as good as I can be. Then, of course, when I went to Berklee, there were even more terrifying players. You'd walk down the hall and hear these guys and even if you didn’t feel like practicing, you would within a minute. Now, that said, things have changed over the years, haha. I’ve kinda hermited myself off and am really only concerned with how good I can be and not how good I am in relation to someone else.

Paul Gilbert And Terry Syrek Jam

[Laurie Monk] I guess the train came off the rails with the growth of riff driven college bands like Nirvana, whose songs were sparse, with little or no guitar solos. The rise of so-called "Grunge" had displaced the ripping progressive guitar, very much in the same way that punk had dethroned the progressive bands like Yes in the late 1970’s. You must of seen this happening, what did you decide to do, did you continue or modify your style, or just go with the flow?

[Terry Syrek] Yeah, it really did totally change things overnight. I just kinda kept doing what I always did. I like to think of my music as timeless... because in no time was it ever popular!

[Laurie Monk] laughs...

[Terry Syrek] So, I just kinda do what I do and hope some people like it, despite whatever is popular. I think the closest I came to conforming back then was that I grew a goatee like 3 years after it wasn’t popular anymore, haha.

[Laurie Monk] laughs... I think I was lucky, I didn't have the ability to grow a beard!

[Terry Syrek] I’ve always been the not-cool kid and not really cared so much about how or where I fit in.

Terry Syrek taken from the Berklee College of Music supergroup SHREDFEST rehearsal footage. about 1991

Terry Syrek amazing shred guitar!

[Laurie Monk] In terms of practice, it takes a massive amount of effort to get to the level of capability you have. It is said that you have at least twelve years of continuous development to get to the level of guitar master. How did you set about the task of getting to this level of skill and did anything get in the way of your natural progression?

[Terry Syrek] Thank you, but I'm far from a master, Laurie! I feel like I really struggle with the instrument. I knew what I wanted to sound like, though, and I also knew that my brain never wanted to settle down to do anything. So, I had to devise ways to learn discipline. And I practiced obsessively, all day, every day. Like 12 hours + worth. I knew this was the only way I’d be able to achieve anything. Seemed like so many guys I knew just picked the thing up and like magic, they wailed w/o much effort.

And since you asked, I'll mention a few things about the dystonia. I hate talking too much about it, because I don’t want it to seem like I want a pity party.

[Laurie Monk] No, I've just heard a number of top line guitar players who practised a lot got either RSI or Carpel Tunnel Syndrome and also the problem you have.

[Terry Syrek] Yes, I have something called Focal Dystonia, which is a remapping of your neural pathways that affects specific tasks that your body performs. In my case, because I was predisposed to it and because I practiced repetitive things for hours at very rapid speeds... I lost the use of my little finger on my fretboard hand.

It happened in 1989. I still remember when it first appeared. Each year it spreads and gets worse. In many cases, it is a career ender. I’ve been fortunate that it has spread slowly, over the years. It affects my third finger slightly, now, too.

Basically, I’ve had to relearn most things with different fingerings and in many cases, I use my right hand fingers to act as the missing ones on my left. I’ve come up with a few things I do to compensate, in other words. The thing for me is... I love to play and make music more than anything else this world has to offer, so I HAVE to keep doing it. I don’t mean I want to... I mean i HAVE to. There’s a difference. Whether people dig my stuff or not, whether I suck or not.. I HAVE to do it. So.. I keep on going and figure it out each step of the way. Anything is possible if you have the mind to think it so. I believe that. This has applied to other areas of my life I struggle with as well.

And beyond that, the constant threat of losing the ability to play really makes you think differently about things. There have been many beneficial aspects that may not have appeared to me, otherwise. The absolute love and awe of this power we call music not being the least of them. I feel like I’ve been afforded a small glimpse into what it actually is. That may sound like bullshit and all flowers and rainbows but it’s not. At all.

[Musicians With Focal Dystonia self support group]
[Laurie Monk] No not at all, I often wonder whether music it's self has some form of addictive quality. You get so hooked in buy it all, for me you just want to hear something new all the time. All power to you for sticking with it and delivering such great music.

Dave Martone and Tery Syrek at the National Guitar Workshop

[Laurie Monk] Moving on to the structure of your core writing. I would describe your music as quite progressive, rather than straight ahead rock. Who were your major influences, and what did they add to your playing and writing style?

[Terry Syrek] Man.. soooo many people and bands. Guitar-wise... I'd have to say early on it was Angus and Gary Moore and Randy Rhoads. The it went to Yngwie and Gilbert. Then Holdsworth. But there were so many other guys along the way, too. Ty Tabor, Neal Schon, Doug Aldrich, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, McLauglin, John Sykes, Gilmour, Brian May... I can’t even think of them all.

And then there were bands... Sabbath and Deep Purple, early on. Then Kiss and AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Zep, early Genesis, Yes, ELP, Tull, Kansas, Tool, Meshuggah, Chopin, Bach, Andreas Vollenweider, Shakti, Rush, Michael Hedges, Kings X, Tori Amos, Soundgarden, King Crimson, Queen, the national Bulgarian women’s choir, Dead Can Dance, Radiohead... man.. i dunno. And the list continues today as i pick up new things and get turned on.

[Laurie Monk] Now steady on "national Bulgarian women’s choir" now that's a head turner! Never thought I would here an answer like that... laughs... But it's clear that you listen widely rather than just listen to guitar players.

So what is your writing process, do you approach the task in artistic way or are you more methodical? To explain by methodical, you have a pattern of song writing an approach that you know, that you can reuse the steps or maybe it is more organic than that, it just happens spontaneously?

[Terry Syrek] I think it happens in various ways. I do this thing (and this is gonna sound really cheesy, but it’s absolutely true) where I ‘open’ myself. What I mean by that is, I sort of say to myself "ok, i want to write a song, and this is how I’m feeling right now in life". Then everything I do during each day, whether it’s walking down the street or actively holding the guitar and writing, I let it all be a writing experience. It's weird how things will start to happen. I may hear a washer and dryer as I pass a laundrymat and the way the machine goes through a cycle gives me an idea for a rhythm. Or I may be having a conversation with someone and they say something that sticks out and becomes a lyric. It all happens differently, but being ‘open’ helps.

And when I have a few ideas I’m kicking around, I try to get the right vibe where I am working. I really believe in vibe. Which is to say, I kill the lights in my room, light some candles, etc... that sounds really cheesy, too, but putting yourself in the right frame of mind has always been a big deal to me. I’m a firm believer that everything is in your mind and if you can bring yourself to specific states of awareness, it will make the thing you’re going after easier to get in touch with. It starts with the will. And the will starts in your mind. There are other things I do, too, but I won’t get into it, because they may be too weird or occultish for some people, haha.

[Laurie Monk] Laughs... OK up to you Terry, may be we could save those bit's up for a TV series then... Laughs...


How do you go about recording your music, what equipment do you use? Are you the sort of guitar player who likes the new computer based tools and virtual players for recording or do you prefer recording live in a studio with real players?

[Terry Syrek] Well, ultimately I love being in a studio and playing with people. Unfortunately, I struggle to pay bills each month so booking studio time is kinda out of the question. So, I do use alot of computer based stuff, yeah. But if I’m doing something I really care about, i.e. my own personal CDs, I will use real musicians always. There’s a huge difference, to me, in having the interaction of real musicians coming together to create something. My own music sounds totally different when I have a different drummer, for example. What’s on my CDs is, not only my songs and such, but a sum total of the personalities and energy of all people involved.

[Laurie Monk] I one hundred percent agree with your sentimentality. If you can work together you bring something bigger to the table, and you just can't beat real drums!

Terry Syrek "Machine Elves" Drum Recording Session

Listening to your albums, it is clear you are a musician and a multi-instrumentalist. What other instruments do you play and how did you go about learning to play those instruments?

[Terry Syrek] Well, as I said before, I’m still struggling with guitar, so... hahaha. I dabble a little with drums because I love rhythm so much. I sing, I play bass and I can do mediocre new age white keys playing on piano. Most of these things just arose out of a combination of necessity at having no one else around at my beck and call to do it and also an interest at learning more. Drums were probably the most concerted effort, in that I bought a kit, sat down behind it and begin to teach myself. That reminds me how much I need to start practicing them, again. AAAA!

Terry Syrek plays Allan Holdsworth In The Dead Of Night Solo

[Laurie Monk] This is a question I always ask for myself, it’s kind of a checklist to makes sure I haven’t missed any great players of influences. I’m guessing that this will be a broad brush of material rather than straight ahead guitar records? So can you let us know some key albums that you would recommend guitar players to have in their collection (it is a given that they need a copy of your albums)

Terry Syrek with the master Allan Holdsworth
[Terry Syrek] Haha, thanks! Well... guitar-specific albums? I’d say AC/DC “Back in Black”, both Ozzy albums with Randy Rhoads, “Victims of the Future” by Gary Moore, “Gretchen Goes to Nebraska” by Kings X, “Rising Force” by Yngwie, any Holdsworth (particularly the Heavy Machinery with Jens Johansson for rock-based newcomers), “Aerial Boundaries” by Michael Hedges, “Street Lethal” by Racer X, “Shakti with John McLaughlin” by Shakti, “Master of Puppets” by Metallica, “Destroy Erase Improve” and “Chaosphere” by Meshuggah, “Hemispheres” by Rush, any Led Zep, particularly “Houses of the Holy” and “IV”, “Darkside of the Moon”, by Pink Floyd. Again, it’s tough to think of all the awesome stuff that has made a difference to me over the years, but I can say all those discs have absolutely had a direct impression on me and transformed my playing, specifically.

[Laurie Monk] Awesome list of music, you'll be welcome over my house any time for a listening session.

You are very well known for your teaching abilities. What can a player expect if he’s getting lessons from you? (A chance to add links to any lesson opportunities that you can give, like Skype, etc)

[Terry Syrek] Anyone can go to the Internet tonight and find just about any licks and tricks they want. Sometimes even from the person that they’ve heard actually do them. i.e. someone hears Paul Gilbert do some crazy solo and lo and behold, there he is on Youtube going through the solo note for note for them.

So, teaching for me, is all about who i’m teaching. What they like or want but also what they need from my perspective. It’s not about licks, it’s about the student. That’s my number one concern. With advanced students, we get into more esoteric stuff; the intangibles that are difficult to teach and difficult to learn. Such as a broad topic like how to solo, for example. I mean, I can spoonfeed you licks but I think it’s way more valuable to try and dissect the esoteric elements and put them into some concrete and specific things to work on. For example, we could cut up the soloing thing into categories like phrasing, technique, devices, fretboard awareness, hearing, rhythm, contrast, inflections... etc. Then we take a look at each category and develop specific exercises and such to work on. That’s really a super brief example. It’s tough to articulate properly.

I am also infinitely patient. As I’ve mentioned, nothing ever came easy for me so I really get how much of a struggle it can be for others. I will spend years doing something over and over and be totally fine with that, if the student needs that. I also care alot about my students. ALOT. My goal is not to show you how much crap I can do or how fast I can do it and intimidate you. It’s not about me... it’s about you, the student. I want YOU to be a better player and be happier with yourself at the end of the day. I try to put myself out of the equation as much as possible. I honestly want to guide and support my students, and it gives me great joy to see them overcome things and shine. And they do!

And I make sure they learn all the ninja practice techniques I came up with over the years and how to control the mind and get the discipline you need to play at a higher level.

Now, that said, if the student isn’t really on that level, I’m totally OK with having some fun and learning a cool song or something. Again, all depends on the student.

Terry Syrek displaying his incredible two handed technique
[Laurie Monk] Are there any new people you’re teaching or have taught that you think have a great future?

[Terry Syrek] Well, there’s lots of guys over the years. I’ve been doing this for like 26 years or more so I kinda space alot. That’s why these kinds of questions are dangerous. I mention one person and 10 others are like "dude.. what about me?" and get hurt. I don’t want that. I think the vast majority of my students over the years have a great future. :)

[Laurie Monk] That's a good point, I'd not really thought of it that way.

OK after teaching we'll move onto the gear section. What guitars are you currently using and are you using 7 and 8 guitars, as they would appear to support your incredible playing style?

[Terry Syrek] Well, for the Machine Elves disc, I tracked all rhythms through an Engl 530 pre/ Marshall 9000 power. And the same power with a Marshall JMP pre for leads. All of this through Marshall 4x12s. As for guitars, I used a 7 string soloist Jackson built for me last year for all rhythms and my excalibur, a custom Rhoads they built for me back in 2001. That is kind of my main guitar for a while, now. I have a scalloped Stratocaster (not an Yngwie model) that I used for the Winternal solo and some of the clean guitars. I also used my first real guitar, a Jackson stock Rhoads I got when I was 17 for a song called Moth to Flame.

[Laurie Monk] Good to see you sticking with some of your earlier guitars. What gauge strings do you use on them and are you a one man pedal person or Alex Lifeson, every pedal under the sun and the kitchen sink?

[Terry Syrek] I use 9’s. Always have. I like to bend and the dystonia makes larger strings harder, too. And as for effects... I wish I could use more or learn about them, haha. I’ve always been a one sound/ one channel guy. I like to be able to plug into an amp, have minimal controls and have it sound good. My live clean sound is rolling my volume down ala Van Halen or Ty Tabor. Which I think is a cool sound. I have a delay pedal and an overdrive pedal and that's it.

[Laurie Monk] Do you use the same gear for the studio as you do live?

[Terry Syrek] Pretty much. But like I just mentioned, I have no real clean sound live. In the studio, I use a lot of the amps in Logic Audio for clean sounds.

[Laurie Monk] What is you amp arrangement for recording and for playing live?

[Terry Syrek] It’s the Marshall pre/ power combo I mentioned previously. For both. I like a little darker sound for leads and a little more aggressive sound for rhythms, so I tweak the EQ depending on which I’m doing. Live, I can’t do much tweaking (yeah, I know the thing is midi) so I just kinda find a happy medium.

[Laurie Monk] In terms of recording, did you record your latest in your own studio, or in a pro studio and what recording gear did you use?

[Terry Syrek] We did it in several places. My drummer, Greg Kalember, tracked his stuff at his own studio. I did all the guitars here at my studio. We did vocals primarily at Greg’s place and some aux stuff here at mine. We all have pretty pro gear, so there’s not much need to go somewhere and pay. I use a Mac with Logic pro. My interface is an Apogee and I also use a Neve pre. Other than that, it's pretty much all in the computer. For guitar mics I used a 57, of course, and a Rode condenser; can’t remember the model.

[Laurie Monk] I was looking at your YouTube channel


You have some great videos on there. Now that you can add shop functionality to YouTube, is this an avenue of promotion and sales that you plan to work, much like Derryl Gabel has to sell lesson based DVD’s?

[Terry Syrek] Thanks, yeah, i’ve thought about doing my own video lessons. I'd like to do it for sure. We’ll see. I have got to figure out the logistics.

[Laurie Monk] Are you the sort of player who is never happy with their playing, or are you more pragmatic, knowing that you need to finish songs and move on as there is is always a better song to come?

[Terry Syrek] By nature, I'm never happy with it. I've had to learn to turn that thought process off in my brain to some extent, though, and just kind of roll with it. If I can get things to 85%, I try and let them go. If I don’t do this, I never finish anything. Having some time constraints helps with that, too.

[Laurie Monk] Finally can you tell us about your plans following the release of your new CD?

[Terry Syrek] I’d like to get this out to as many people as possible. I need to find all the magazines, websites and radio stations I can. I sent it out to a few people, too, in hopes that maybe they dig it and say something publicly, hehe. It helps so much when someone is in a position where people listen to what they say, and then they say "Hey, check THIS out!", you know? I mean, look what happened with Vai pimping Satriani, right?

Needless to say, I appreciate deeply anyone that spreads the word and I certainly don’t expect anything. Beyond that, I’d love to do some kind of video for one of these tunes. I need to raise some money, though. And of course, it'd be awesome to play this stuff live. We’ll see on all counts. In the meantime, I’m working on a project with Nicolas Moulard, the guy that wrote the texts in Machine Elves, and possibly keyboard super moster Lalle Larsson.

[Laurie Monk] Wow that would be cool, I'm a big fan of Lalle Larsson, and I managed to catch him playing live with Richard Hallebeek in Amsterdam earlier this year.

[Terry Syrek] And I’m kicking around ideas for my next disc, as well. I have three weeks of seminars to get together for the NGW in a month, too. And of course... the Hobbit is coming out in December. Epic event. I need much preparation. That’s what i’ll be doing this year, haha.

[Laurie Monk] Ha Ha, yeah sure to be an epic event indeed, the world needs more dwarves from under the mountain... a two parter as well, so twice the fun!

Machine Elves Tracking part one

Well thanks so much for your insightful replies I really appreciate and thank you so much for spending time answering these questions, it’s been an honour for me to catch up with one of my top players on the planet and we wish you all the best for the future, you deserve it!

[Terry Syrek] I’d like to thank you, Laurie, for having me. And I’d like to thank you for being so cool and helpful to all the guitarists out there and being such a strong and positive force in the guitar community. For years! Great questions, Laurie and thanks for asking them!

Merchandise Links:
CD’s, DVD/Book, Chops from Hell.

Laurie Monk: "I seriously, 110%,  recommend these releases, great music and guitar playing from a master musician."

main web site www.Terrysyrek.com

Terry Syrek: Machine Elves

Machine Elves

Terry Syrek: Aum


Shred is not dead

(Shred Is Not Dead)

Unearthed Arcana

(Unearthed Arcana)

Web Contacts:


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