„Electric Guitarist of the Year 2020“ according to Guitar World magazine. That’s a tagline which was globally associated lately with a guitarist Igor Paspalj. It was a needed impulse, which a great talent from Bosnia & Herzegovina waited for. He is active already for a number of years, especially on YouTube, blowing viewers’ minds with speed and feel on his solo works, as well as on interesting covers of well-known tracks. In our interview you will learn more about the recent award, his roots and also future plans.
This interview came out in July 2021 issue of Czech magazine Muzikus.
Guitar tech advice: Jaroslav “Jerry” Ondráček (Screaming)
Hello Igor, how are you these days? How are you keeping your mind positive and busy? Did I reach you in Dubai?
Hi Dan, all good on this end, thanks for asking, I hope you’re doing well also. I am actually pretty busy these days, so no issues there. Right now I am in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I would like to congratulate you for the title “Electric Guitarist of the Year” by Guitar World magazine. What does it mean to you and please give us an idea what was the process of the competition? Especially, what were the criteria and how many players were in the finals?
Thanks a lot. This really means lot to me, especially on a personal level, since I grew up reading Guitar World magazine. And now 20+ years later to be featured there and get their recognition is mind blowing. As far as process of competition is concerned, I am afraid I don’t know much. As far as I know Guitar Player and Guitar World magazine editors, staff, etc. goes through applications and narrow things down to – this year – five finalists. Then they publish it and last step of competition is including star jury (John Petrucci, John5 and Tosin Abasi this year) readers and fans along the magazine editors, journalists, and staff.
Next to a feature in Guitar World you received also an option to record a performance video. Do you already have an idea, what you will be recording when the situation calms down?
Yes, I already received a guitar (PRS S2 McCarty 594 worth $1699) and I am featured in this year’s Guitar World (April edition). For now, its plan to go there at beginning of 2022, if pandemic situation allows it. Still haven’t decided which song I am gonna do, because there’s still lot of time to think about it. (Laugh)
You released many great videos with a high quality of the footage. You also have master classes. What are your desires to progress in this field? Is somebody helping you with your own videos?
No, I am doing everything by myself. Beside music, photography and videography are my little hobbies, and I invested in good camera in lenses few years ago, and figured how to make decent lighting in a very small space, so all my videos in last 2 years or so are done in similar fashion.
People don’t want to hear pure virtuosic exhibitions and at the same time, they are bored when a track is dragging.
Who was your main support in learning how to play a guitar? Older friend, inspirational teacher or you learned alone?
I mainly learned alone. It was time before internet went largely available, so main sources were some old music books, audio and video tapes – basically anything I could put my hands on at those times. I also had a teacher at one point, but it was really just a few lessons. He mainly provided me with guitar lessons video tapes.
Next to a technique you also have a great feel. Where do you believe you acquired that? Was it part of the early studies/part of your DNA or were you getting it step by step?
Thanks a lot, I always tried to make some kind of balance between technique and feel and kind of using those two approaches to work together, not against each other. I haven’t thought too much about it, I guess it developed this way by me always trying to balance between fast lines and more melodic approaches.
In general, how are you trying to find a right balance between speed and feel?
Hard to say, but I am always trying to incorporate both – some catchy melody as themes, and more technical approach in improvisation sections.
What are your main inspirations within fast playing? I thought of Yngwie Malmsteen as the first, but I can see you have a big respect for a classical music as well.
At first it was Yngwie, for sure! But later, there was vast variety of players – Eddie Van Halen, Paul Gilbert, Greg Howe, Ritchie Kotzen, Steve Vai, etc…
Young viewers, especially my younger cousin, they love fast playing, but I am glad you have a taste for guitar emotional feeling. What are your main inspirations in this field next to Gary Moore and David Gilmour?
Yes, I really like David Gilmour, also Slash, Eric Johnson, Andy Timmons, which are more leaned toward that emotional aspect of guitar playing.
Being featured in Guitar World magazine and get their recognition is mind blowing.
Thank you for mentioning Eddie Van Halen. When one checks your cover versions, one of the first is Eruption, quite good even now. However, you seem as a perfectionist. Would you change from today’s perspective anything on that version?
Yes, that version is truly old and therefore we prepared three years ago with JTC Guitar new version. I am fully satisfied now. (Laugh) We did that as a part of the promo campaign for a company providing impulse response for Fractal Audio. We were testing mainly Eddie’s EVH 5150 MKIII, which I was building and with this video, the whole process was finalized. The latest version of Eruption is enhanced with drums and everything works great there. I am really proud of it and it also has great number of views, sth around half a million.
Naturally I have to ask, if you feel, you are adding some aspect of your Balkan heritage? You were born in Zagreb, but if I understood correctly you spent most of your life in Bosnia before you moved to Dubai. Plus “Professor of Harmony at the Academy of Arts of Banja Luka” speaks for itself. With all the respect, taking an inspiration from this video lower, as a half Yugoslavian myself, I feel the Bosnian aspect speaks out the most. Huge emotion and flowering of the arrangements.
This is amazing, great representation! Lately, I am trying to play around with some scales and motives that are common for this geographic space, so it’s possible I am gonna came up soon with something that really shows these influences.
Next to covers, you have a number of successful tracks. What approach did you choose in the case of Into the Blue?
I simply came up with the main line, which I was expanding step by step. Funny thing is I added the beginning as the last item. I didn’t want to write anything complex. Intro, main line supported by an additional one and an improvisation. When I managed to build the body of the track, I let it end freely. I understood people love, when tracks are based on lyrical melodic line, which are supported by a few virtuosic climaxes. It’s a sort of compromise between two extremes. People don’t want to listen just to virtuosic exhibitions nonstop and at the same time, they are bored when a track is dragging. In that case, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani are a huge inspiration for me. They offer an ideal balance between virtuosic experiments and sticking to a strong melody line. On the other hand, it’s always a bit of a lottery. Sometimes I invest a lot of energy and time into sth and the effect is small. Then I release sth where I didn’t have any ambitions and turns out to be a huge success. (Laugh)
I am looking forward to see what effect the award from Guitar World will have.
Give us please an idea about a gear, you are currently relying on.
I use Kemper amps and Fractal Audio 99% of the time – both live or in studio. Besides that, I am also using some analog pedals like Talk boxes, drop pedals etc…
What are the main benefits of combining Fractal Audio and Kemper amplifiers?
When we are talking about sound, I must say I didn’t have a chance to test a massive amount of vintage amplifiers, in order to have a perfect idea about what I can get. On the other hand, comparing Kemper sound and tube amplifiers, I like playing both. But there is also a practical point of view. Imagine playing six times a week in Dubai and traveling a lot. Carrying massive amount of gear was always a total nightmare. Next issue shows up when you are playing in some international cover band. First track you play is from Rage Against The Machine. Then you do U2, where you need a couple of delays and quickly afterwards a song, where you need a fast solo. Without Kemper I would have to bring a huge number of pedals and additional gadgets. Having a variety of simulations in one machine is very practical. It’s also interesting to see that even those who can afford an army of roadies and technicians use Kemper a Fractal Audio. Metallica went that direction, even though they had a huge team. Not mentioning a variety of plugins whose quality grew up rapidly lately.
I could see, you own a number of guitars, but why does a Guthrie Govan’s Charvel model works for you the most?
Well, it’s really super versatile “Super Strat” type of guitar, made beautifully, vast variety of tones, great neck, simply a real workhorse. I am mostly “Strat type” player, so this one really shines in that area. Beside that one, I am really enjoying playing my original YJM Fender Stratocaster, and also my custom “ZS guitars” made by my friend and great luthier from BIH – Zoran Simic.
Any recent gear discoveries?
Yes, guitar that I got from Guitar World and PRS – PRS McCarty 594 is a beautiful instrument! I am not LP type of player, and never played those kind of guitars, but this one is such a beautiful instrument with great sound and build quality. Also, software called Gig Performer 4. Amazing software that let you use favorite plugins when playing live with ease.
Good question helps me, as well as my student.
The Balkan connection
How does your daily schedule look like? Did you use this phase for further development?
In that case, I am going through a phase which lasts for a number of years. When I was younger, I used to practice a lot, but not anymore. I concentrated on the technique for years and now it is enough to do a maintenance. I am quite busy and I have a daily contact with a guitar due to my lectures and masterclasses for JTC Guitar.
Recently, I did an interview with a jazz pianist, where she said that she sometimes comes across things she didn’t know or she was happy to remind herself about. Does it happen to you as well?
It happens. Sometimes I am positively surprised by an interesting question from a student. I get excited and go dig around the topic after the class. Now I cannot remember exactly what it was about, but there were definitely a couple of cases when I said: „What a good question. I will check it out.” (Laugh) Good question helps me, as well as my student.
Where are your students from and what age group do you mainly teach? Younger?
It’s a quite an interesting spectrum. I am mainly fascinated by a boy who is also having our Yugoslav roots, but lives in Florida. He is fifteen and I was positively surprised how well he is playing. He is playing with a school band and win one award after another. Next to many young players I also have older players which want to work on their technique, whether they are from Peru, USA or Germany. I also have a number of students from Dubai which I acquired, when I was active there before pandemic. Honestly, I am looking forward to see what effect the award from Guitar World will have. I remember having the biggest rise of students when I started releasing videos for JTC Guitar. It reached a point where I had to refuse the requests as I simply too busy with teachings and recordings.
If you imagine being in your students’ shoes, what technique took you the most time and energy while learning it?
I must say, I was quite young, when I started with a technique called alternate picking. To be honest, I would recommend it to everybody. I am happy to see many self-learners digging into it. When you start playing it is definitely pleasant when you start hitting the right notes, but people often forget about the right hand. Inconsistencies show up and it has an effect on the technical quality of your playing. You simply need to have an exact and precise hits of the strings. You practice for two hours and you simply play differently every time. That’s a road to hell. It’s extremely important to work on your muscle memory. There are many players that like to play fast, but any sort of arpeggio or phrasing has to rely on an identical base, in order to progress with speed and quality.
What are your other plans for future? I hope to see some of your works soon on Spotify.
Spotify among other things and publishing some of my music. Other than that, there is JTC Guitar where I am publishing tutorials, masterclasses, etc…then online lessons, recording sessions, and hopefully – live performances, depending on pandemic situation.