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Guitar Mastery Workshop With Periphery’s Misha Mansoor, Mark Holcomb and Jake Bowen

Guitar Mastery Workshop With Periphery’s Misha Mansoor, Mark Holcomb and Jake Bowen

On April 27, an energized throng of players and metal fans descended on Guitar Center Hollywood for a two-hour master class with Periphery’s powerful guitar trio—Misha Mansoor, Mark Holcomb and Jake Bowen. The progressive metal pioneers sat for an interview with Guitar Center’s Steve Lynch, played five songs (“Make Total Destroy,” “Wildfire,” “Prayer Position,” “The Way the News Goes” and “Wax Wings”) and took a number of questions from the audience.

Mansoor, Holcomb and Bowen also detailed the rigs they brought to the workshop and dug into their signature Jackson, PRS and Ibanez guitars. There was a lot of creative intel to unpack for the crowd, as the ambitious and prolific band members make music beyond Periphery, such as composing for video games, voice acting, gear development (guitar pedals, pickups, strings, music software) and launching various side projects in a number of different styles.

The entire event was livestreamed, and you can watch it below, but here are some selected highlights.

Periphery's Signature Guitar Lineup

The Periphery guitarists dug into their collections to showcase a few of their signature guitars at the Guitar Center Hollywood workshop event. Misha Mansoor brought four models to the stage: the Jackson USA Signature Misha Mansoor Juggernaut HT7FM (both colors), Jackson USA Signature Misha Mansoor Juggernaut HT6, Jackson USA Signature Misha Mansoor Juggernaut HT6FM and Jackson Pro Series Misha Mansoor Juggernaut ET6.

Jake Bowen carried a trio of his signature guitars: an Ibanez JBM27, Ibanez JBM9999 and a one-of-a-kind Ibanez Custom Shop model based on the JBM9999, but with an Evertune bridge installed.

Mark Holcomb brought three of his PRS signature guitars: a PRS SE Mark Holcomb SVN, PRS SE Mark Holcomb and a custom PRS SE Mark Holcomb with a factory-installed Evertune bridge.

Misha Mansoor Playing Jackson Misha Mansoor Signature HT7FM Electric Guitar

Pictured: Misha Mansoor Playing Signature Jackson Juggernaut HT6

The Signal Path for the Livestream

Each member of the trio plugged into a Fractal Audio FM9 floorboard loaded with their sounds. The output of the FM9s was split—one cabinet-emulated line was sent direct to the house sound system, and a non-cabinet-simulated signal was routed to a Peavey invective.120 amp head (codesigned by Mansoor) and speaker cabinet for each player. The amps were used to fill out the stage sound for the performers—they were not miked.

Misha Mansoor Signature Peavey Invective Guitar Amplifier

Pictured: Peavey Invective.120 Tube Guitar Amp

How Periphery Designs its Signature Guitars

Mansoor: As musicians, we usually have that special instrument we always reach for. Being given the opportunity to design that instrument for yourself is a special thing. And it was really cool to find out other players dug our signature models, because they are all very selfishly designed guitars. They were not made with any consideration for what anyone else might want. They were purely designed for our purposes. They needed to be our perfect guitars. 

Holcomb: Our gear is made to inspire us. We play heavy metal—that’s our bread and butter, and the music that makes us happy—so, from the strings to the bridges, pickups, knobs and other elements, these guitars are part of one cohesive intent to create the music we play and write.

Mark Holcomb, Misha Mansoor and Jake Bowen of Periphery Playing at Guitar Center Hollywood

Left: Mark Holcomb, Middle: Misha Mansoor, Right: Jake Bowen

How Periphery Started Out Playing Guitar

Holcomb: At 13, I saw an MTV special on the Foo Fighters, and I wanted to be Dave Grohl. He had long hair and a Gibson Explorer slung down low, and he looked so powerful. I thought, “Man, I want to embody whatever he is feeling right now.”

My dad bought me a cheap guitar, and I played that first Foo Fighters album from start to finish. You could play those songs sloppily and still feel cool, and that’s what motivates you. Otherwise, it’s a very demoralizing uphill battle when you start playing guitar. The failure is backbreaking, because not being able to pull off a section or pick fast enough really sucks. But the consolation prize is getting to feel cool—like you’re emulating your hero. That was big for me in the very beginning.

Bowen: Everyone in my family is a musician, so there were always instruments all around the house. It was this natural thing to start playing guitar. I was given lessons—and my family tried to show me things—but I never took it seriously until I was about 18 years old. It was a harsh realization that I “pretended” to play guitar all this time, and now I had to figure out the instrument. I was in a couple of local bands that didn’t teach me anything, but then I met this guy [points to Mansoor], who really pushed me to get things together quickly. I went from not knowing how to count to four to being able to play [Periphery’s] “The Walk.” I kind of willed it to happen, and it was really scary, but the work showed me I had the tenacity to figure it out.

Guitar Center Hollywood Periphery Event Audience

Periphery Workshop at Guitar Center Hollywood

Breaking Through Challenges When Playing Guitar

Mansoor: It’s kind of like video gaming. It’s the same part of your brain where you know there’s a Bloodborne boss you can’t beat, but the next day it sort of clicks. With guitar, there are certain things you practice, but you just can’t get them. Then, for some reason—maybe after a good night’s sleep—it makes sense and that’s pretty empowering. You think, “If I just chip away at it, I’ll get the hang of it.”

When Is a Sick Riff Good Enough for a Periphery Song?

Bowen: We’ve been asking ourselves that question our whole career [laughs]. I have an abstract answer. A good riff usually gives you this specific feeling, and all of us need to have that feeling at the same exact time when we hear it. If it doesn’t, then the riff goes in the garbage. If it does, then we see what we can connect to it.

Holcomb: It comes down to our democratic approach to songwriting. If a riff doesn’t sit right with one of us, then we have to change it. I know a lot of bands don’t work that way, and it would be easier if we didn’t work that way. But the beauty of Periphery is that a riff or song has to pass five checkpoints—that’s each member of the band.

Jake Bowen Playing with Periphery at Guitar Center Hollywood

Pictured: Jake Bowen playing his signature Ibanez JBM9999

The Periphery Approach to Songwriting

Mansoor: “Wildfire” is a good example of my approach. It’s a weird song with a lot of riffs shoe-horned in there. “Wildfire” is everything you should never do in songwriting. It breaks a bunch of rules, but it actually follows the most important rule for Periphery—which is we thought it was cool. We were making all the right faces when we created it, and it worked. So, we’ve learned not to fight it when something comes together. We trust the process. If a song feels right to us, then it doesn’t matter if it’s disjointed or weird. If it works even if you don’t understand why it works, that’s what matters.

How Periphery Battles Writer's Block

Mansoor: Just move away and work on something else. It’s best not to force it. We found that when we force something, nothing really good comes out of it. Sometimes, try something completely different—stop writing music. Go play a video game or something.

Holcomb: There are times when I go through long slumps of not writing music. I don’t want to look at a guitar. It feels like the sky is falling every time I find myself in that place. I don’t know if it’s a depression thing, or if I just need a break from the guitar. But I learned to lean into that feeling. I try not to guilt trip myself over it. It's important to realize it’s okay to take a break from your instrument. You don’t constantly have to be working on your craft, because then you end up in this burnout mode that’s counterproductive to everything you’re trying to accomplish. Once I feel healthy again, and my relationship with the guitar feels like it’s firing on all cylinders, the music reflects that—the music says I’m feeling good.

Mark Holcomb Playing PRS at Guitar Center Hollywood

Pictured: Mark Holcomb playing his signature PRS SE Mark Holcomb

Mark Holcomb's Prank for Covering Mistakes

Holcomb: I have a trick. If there’s a part where I’m playing sloppy, or if I trainwreck a song, I’ll pull out my guitar cable and act like it was the cable’s fault. Instead of someone thinking I’m a horrible guitar player, they’ll go, “Oh, I feel bad that his cable malfunctioned on him.”

Misha Mansoor on Being Original

Mansoor: We don’t care about being original at all. That is the most boring thing in the world. Why? It’s not fun. I just want to have fun writing music with my friends. We don’t care about sounding modern. We don’t care about sounding original. We just do whatever we want. If the people you write with—people you trust—go, “Yeah, I like that too,” then that is what really matters.

Misha Mansoor Playing Signature Jackson Electric Guitar

Pictured: Misha Mansoor playing his signature Jackson Juggernaut ET6

Mark Holcomb on Bringing Emotion Into Songwriting

Holcomb: I don’t have emotions [laughs]. But seriously, I don’t think there’s any effort to it. Everything comes out—your emotions, how you’re feeling, your health. All of that is reflected in your art, whether you’re a musician, painter or filmmaker.

Misha Mansoor on Mastering Syncopation

Mansoor: A lot of people ask if I’m counting. If I had to think of it that way, I would never play a live show. You have to feel it. As far as composing with syncopated parts, I won’t always have the exact idea, but there’s a feel I’m chasing, and I need to trust my instincts to determine where the rhythms need to be. I usually start with a guitar riff, but I’ll always have the drums in my head. It’s important to know what the feel will be and where the accents are, so I might drum on my thigh trying to capture the vibe I’m going for.

Misha Mansoor and Jake Bowen Playing at Guitar Center Hollywood

Pictured: Misha Mansoor Playing Signature Jackson Juggernaut HT6FM

How Periphery Plans Setlists

Mansoor: The biggest difference between the first Periphery album and every album since is that we had touring experience. We need feedback from the audience to see what works and what doesn’t work in a live context. There have been so many times when we think a song is going to be great, and it simply falls flat when we perform it on stage. With time, you get more experience, but we’re still not experts about knowing which album songs translate best to live performance. It’s an ongoing experiment.

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