By Strings Direct – 29 August, 2023
"I was playing guitar since I can remember. It's almost like a language, something you grow up just knowing."
Homage is a great thing, I find it’s somewhere between love and respect and a historic gesture of influence. In this episode we look to get nostalgic both musically and with fashion, but most importantly the spirit of rock 'n' roll regenerated and revamped for another generation to dive into.
We look to uncover the myth and the secrets behind an incredible young guitar player who almost feels like he’s come from a time warp, his playing his razor sharp, outrageously exciting and full of rampant riff energy.
Epically the player we are looking at this time has an exquisite tone! Really making his guitar playing… Guitar Hero-worthy 🤘
Striking lightning on six strings - Jake Kiszka ⚡️
Riff-Centric Youth 🎸
"People say that rock and roll is a minority, and I’m sure it is. But it can cut through concrete when it needs to."
Jake Kiszka - Guitarplayer.com
We journey to Michigan in the 90’s, April 23, 1996 in fact, Jake Kiszka (a twin no less) was born into an extremely musically rich family environment.
His father a chemist with a strong musical back bone consisting of an extensive collection of 70s and classic rock accompanied by an exquisite appreciation for the Blues. Jake's father also a musician himself had a good collection of instruments around the house and favoured the harmonica.
His mother was also a great influence in regards to music as she was very much devoted to music outside of her job as a science teacher.
Being brought into such a vibrant musical home life it was inevitable Jake would follow suit and curiosity at a young age would turn into normality in regards to musical instinct.
"My dad was mainly a blues harmonica player, but he was into guitar, too. He'd leave them on the ground, and I'd crawl around and play with them. My mom would tell him to pick them up so we wouldn't break them, but he thought we would just get sick of them. I never did. It was a fascination. The mystery of it."
Jake kiszka - Fender.com
At the age of three Jake found his way to the guitar, or the guitar found its way to him; in such musical surroundings it wasn’t a matter of 'if', but 'when'.
Jake has a twin brother along with a younger sibling, all are currently driven by music from pre-school days to the present day, they collectively form the band they are venturing presently, but more on that shortly 😎…
Driven to succeed and progress he grew attached to the guitar and fully invested himself in it mind, body, and soul, his father of course encouraged this but also drew lines of discipline in conjunction with development.
“Jake: "I had to learn a certain number of songs before my dad knew I was worthy of possessing an actual electric guitar."
"I played on this little acoustic that I grew up with forever. I got to learn a handful of Hendrix songs and a Bob Seger song, Gordon Lightfoot and some [Bob] Dylan tunes before I could upgrade. I was like 10 or so. If you think about it, it was intentional. It's the subtlety of how to go about really learning how to play. Now, I think that if I had gotten an electric guitar back then, I'd have just cranked the gain all the way up and beat the hell out of it. There would have been no subtlety to it."
"It seems like the acoustic guitar is the most primitive thing. It's made of wood, it's strung with steel. That's how most blues guitarists started out. Seeing as how my father was a blues musician and had a respect for it, he really wanted me to learn from that. We listened to old blues records, like Robert Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy, stuff like that. I'd just try to emulate what they were doing on the acoustic using my fingers, not with a pick. I learned arpeggios at a young age and all the plucking that Dylan and Joan Baez did. Those lessons made me a better guitarist."
Jake Kiszka Interview for fender.com
The kind of positive discipline that was set in place by his father really pushed the boundaries in regards to his level of playing, Jake was becoming an outstanding player swiftly, studying his dad's record collection and refining his techniques via his heroes.
Jake has described how he studied Jimmy Page obsessively for at least a solid year to the point where he could not only replicate his style but almost predict what Jimmy Page would play in an ad lib passage or free form at the end or in the break of the song live.
This level of incredible and intense progression really saw Jake along with his brothers develop into something of a devastating rock 'n' roll force to be reckoned with at a very young age.
“Jake: "Growing up, there's a certain point where you hit a wall and you don't think you're getting any better. You are, but you don't know it because you're not making drastic improvements.
The point where I decided I needed to learn how to solo, where I wanted to show my voice in my licks, to speak that language, my dialect. That was a challenge I gave myself. I studied a lot at that point, especially Eric Clapton. As soon as I figured out what it was that I wanted to do, the whole world exploded. The floodgates opened, and I found my own approach to it.”
Jake Kiszka Interview for fender.com
Just as spirits were high and everything was developing between these musically rich adolescences there was a big fork in the road, in the eighth grade Jake unfortunately broke his arm during wrestling practice at school.
For an everyday person this is a bad thing but for a guitar player or musician this is a tragic thing and can really send somebody one way or the other…
Some help with great inner strength and the world to succeed Jake actually became arguably a better guitar player after the break!
As you see him described here he actually gained access to another fret due to his injury and the plate in his arm, the power of guitar and the desire to play it at all costs never surprises me to this day. 🤩
Jake: "I broke my arm wrestling around the eighth grade, and I was definitely scared I would never play again!
There's a plate in there. I got surgery about three days after I broke it and had a cast for about six months. I would go down in the basement and try to play, and I went to my dad's shed and sanded off the underside of the hand but kept the back of the cast on. My doctor said it would help strengthen the muscles. They let me keep the cast that way and by the end of the surgery, when they took off the cast, I gained an entire fret (Editor's note: At this point, Jake displays the extended range between his thumb and pinkie finger). So, the moral of the story is if you want to gain another fret, break your arm.”
Jake Kiszka Interview for fender.com
Greta Van Fleet 🎶
Now every guitar player from almost any genre cannot resist a great riff, a brilliant hook, a simple but melodic powerful line that invites you in and never lets you leave.
Greta Van Fleet are a sibling fronted rock 'n' roll machine that literally dispenses killer riffs at will: brothers Jake, Josh, Sam along with drummer Daniel Wagner (previously Kyle Hauck).
The siblings wear their influences very much on their sleeves and hold no reservations in the form of mind blowing homage to their heroes.
The band almost feel like a reincarnation of a moment in time they seem to encapsulates every great detail of the great bands of the late 60s and early 70s and formulate them into one consecutive ball of energy and vibe, this is the sound of a Grammy award-winning classic rock outfit in a modern day setting.
Boom 💥 ! 🤘
What we find here is absolutely mind-blowing in regards to songwriting ability, technique and overall performance, you can see why these guys have been awarded a Grammy at such a young age their sound is almost impossible and the production of their recordings is really setting a standard!
“My first electric guitar was an SG with P90s, and I haven’t gone back on it since,” says Kiszka. “The ’61, this particular model, has defined me as a player and I think I’ve defined it in return. Moving forward with Greta Van Fleet and the SG allows me to be more dynamic and create sounds that are more outside the realm of conventional.”
Jake Kiszka - RocknLoad.com
Retro Tones & A Relic Axe 🎸
Listening to the sound of this guitarist the first thing that comes to mind has got to be what guitars, amp and of course strings is he using to get such a ripping sound.
So we are here for the strings right ✌️ and of course in the background for the guitars 😉…
In his first rig rundown interview in 2018 Jake tells us that he started out on 12 gauge strings, madness! We are used to hearing this from the much older original players from the early 60s who didn't have as much access to variable string gauges as we do now in the modern day, so I can only think that Jake was on .012’s due to the fact of his early days spent hammering away on an acoustic with a great discipline.
Just a quick note on his number one guitar which is of course a 1961 Gibson SG Les Paul, it's an absolutely phenomenal instrument that he bleeds tone from and is the forefront of these outrageous riffs and the driving tone Greta Van Fleet!
As a young player his first point of call was D’Addario in regards to choice of brand but since developing as a player he has explored various other options and now settled on Cleartone gauge 10-46.
“Jake uses Cleartone .010–.046 strings on all his electrics, plus Dunlop .60 mm picks and brass slides.”
Quote Via rigrundown.com
There is no clear statement as to why he has chosen to adopt Cleartone as his go-to brand but we can only imagine this is due to string life and overall longevity from the strings, as you can see by the wear on his guitar he clearly has relic grade sweat, maybe the guitar makers at Gibson and Fender should definitely jar his acidic perspiration and use it to relic their guitars in the custom shops just a thought 💭 …
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