By Strings Direct – 29 August, 2023
“WHO THE FUCK IS THAT GUITAR PLAYER?!”
- JON BON JOVI
Under the microscope in this edition of the Stringsdirect Player Spotlight we take a closer look at this outrageously exciting, aggressive and truly satisfying to musician to absorb, an outstanding player. 🎸
Every once in a while we come across a player that is adored by fans and fellow musicians alike, a player that is literally from another level and the sounds, techniques, and levels of ability feel as though they are above the clouds. In a way an almost spiritual level of energy poured into the instrument produces a mind-blowing experience for both the listener and the player.
Now fully engaged, the connection has been made, we are ready to embrace this hard-working genius, guitar hero and rock 'n' roller... the extravagantly phenomenal Phillip Sayce.
You know It’s Your Calling… 🎸🎼
Looking into a player and what formulates their early development is always a key detail: upbringing, family, and musical history are all massively important factors that shape and imprint on a musician later down the line.
The journey began for Philip Sayce in Aberystwyth, Wales. He was born on 3rd June 1976, and was only there until he was two years old until his parents moved back to their hometown of Toronto, Canada 🇨🇦.
His very brief experience on Welsh soil was of course not long enough to imprint on his later life, but definitely something he still lays his roots with. 🏴
The love of music and appreciation of great musicians came early on as his parents had an incredible roster of music and they were really into some great artists. Phillip recalls that listening to his parents heists really influenced his mind to be later and become a staple blues player. 🎼
Parents Kenneth and Sheila listened to music by Eric Clapton, Ry Cooder and Dire Straits, amongst others. His parents' love of music inspired his love for the guitar, but he also played the piano and trombone for over 10 years.
Sayce and his best friend, drummer Cassius Pereira, played in bands together throughout high school, holding band practice in their basements. Sayce's style is influenced by Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, whose death in August 1990 really affected the young guitarist and both broke his spirit and added to his drive like a double edge sword ⚔️ .
The level of this guy's playing is absolutely off the charts, the techniques utilised along with the energy are just exhilarating. 🔥 If you really appreciate and understand his influences here worn heavily on his sleeve.
Sayce is a real guitar player's player; he's got everything in his arsenal, his playing and expressions draw from the golden era of rock 'n' roll and guitar playing.
His first live music experience was an Eric Clapton gig at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens. This groovy version of ‘Crossroads’ had such an impact on me,” he recalls. “It was that musicianship that laid the foundation for me. What Clapton did was very different from what many younger artists do today. It was about spilling your heart out.” -(https://reunionblues.com/pages/philip-sayce)
By the age of 16 there was absolutely no stopping the progress that the young and impressionable Philip Sayce was having on the local scene.
A regular candidate on Toronto's bar-scene Sayce followed in his heroes' footsteps and frequented the clubs: Grossman's Tavern, The Silver Dollar, Blues on Bellair, The Horseshoe Tavern, and Albert's Hall in Toronto, known for their jam sessions with artists such as Robbie Robertson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bob Dylan and Jeff Healey.
Sayce would of course embrace other musical influences heavily blues based including B.B. King, Albert King, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, and Robert Cray.
Through chance meetings and activity on the scene Sayce met and became acquainted with the great Jeff Healey. At the age of 19 Philip was taken under the wing of the legend and was part of his touring band for many years, this was of course incredible experience to gain as well as mentoring.
The fact that Phillip Sayce is perceived as a blues guitarist is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his depth and appreciation of music.
“Interviewer - I’ll admit that I am a bit confused though. The Blues are a Southern Thang. You’re from Toronto. How on earth did you find so much soul and such a spirited playing style in Canada?
Sayce: Well, I don’t necessarily look at music only as a geographic thing… it’s a language, a Universal language that speaks to everyone, if you let it. We all feel things, and my music is my personal interpretation of what excites me & makes my heart beat faster! There are a lot of super deep cats in Toronto…the winter is long, and there’s lots of time indoors to practice. Go out on any night and you’ll find some crazy musicians all over town. Same thing for Los Angeles… or Timbuktoo… But we all have feelings, and that’s open to everyone where ever you live! It’s about being connected to inspiration, energy…”
On every level this man's guitar playing rips with such excitement it always draws you in no matter what! He's gone on to play sessions with the very best and very varied catalogue of musicians, but a pinnacle point in his career came 2013 a truly magical experience well deserved and long awaited.
Philip’s musical life hit a high point in 2013 with his unforgettable performance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival at New York’s Madison Square Garden. “It was a special experience that reinforced my love of music and commitment to honour the musical integrity of my heroes,” Sayce says. “I’m going out there in the studio and onstage to do my best and perform from my heart every time.”
The Reincarnation Of Tone… 🎸
There is absolutely no doubt that Sayce is a connoisseur of both style technique and of course Tone! 🤘 A self-confessed guitar geek he has an extremely loyal and fascinated following of fans and tech heads that continually cross reference and examine his set ups.
The initial part of his rig that engages the most attention is of course his exquisite collection of vintage instruments. But let's focus on those two Fender Stratocaster’s that are the forefront of his identity.
These two guitars literally look like they have been run over and dragged along off the back of a truck and fallen down a mountain ⛰ …
... but simply they have just been played to death ☠️
Philip is a seriously hard hitting player and hits it like you wouldn't believe both the strings and the guitar itself take a real hammering.
It’s this level of expression that gives his playing such depth and integrity, he's truly awe-inspiring to listen to and mind blowing to watch!
Here we can check out a little overview of his beloved number one Guitar known as “Mother”.
“What’s your favourite era for the Strat?
’59 through ’65, when they transitioned to rosewood – the Strats I have right now are both from ’63. My main one is called Mother and I’ve had that guitar for 19 years. I saved up for my Mother Strat and it became the criteria for good tone. It’s had between five to 10 re-frets. The original ’63 pickups went south about 10 years ago – I played a solo with a beer bottle and ended up getting beer in the pickups. About a month later, all three pickups said good night.
I called a buddy who lives in Edmonton and said, “Dude, I need some pre-CBS pickups.” He said, “I have a great set that just came out of a ’58 hardtail.” They’re glorious-sounding! So, Mother is a ’63 with ’58 pickups but otherwise it’s pretty stock other than the frets.
The other ’63 is a sunburst, and I first played it many years ago when I lived in Toronto. A good friend was selling it but I didn’t have the bread at the time. Years later, another friend said, “I came across this ’63 Strat and it made me think of you.” He sent a photo and I knew it was the same guitar. It had a unique finish – almost entirely black but with a little sunburst right around the bridge. I ended up selling some things to get it. It’s 100 percent stock.
Those are my two guitars. I play them hard, love them a lot, and I’m glad to have them.”
“The 1963 “Mother” Stratocaster
This guitar is old enough to be a grand mother. Born the same year as the Kennedy Assassination and Martin Luther King Jr‘s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech, this guitar is packed with history. Sayce himself purchased it in 1998, and he’s put his fair share of mileage into this instrument as well. The original pickups were destroyed after Sayce decided to play with a beer bottle, so he replaced them with a set of original 1958 pickups. One look at Mother’s chipped paint and worn down fretboard and you can really see the history in this guitar, but once you hear it in action you know she hasn’t lost her bite, making this the perfect guitar for some electric blues.
Sayce is a really organic player and adores the tones of legends such as Hendrix Clapton and Stevie Ray amongst many others. As much as he utilises classic playing techniques in a flamboyant manner, he has a real love for effects pedals and amplifiers.
Again he is just one of these players that can get the best out of any pedal or amplifier creating a wall of sound that is mesmerisingly spectacular 🎆.
In this little run down below you can really see him getting some really tasty tones and expressions from his rig. What people love about this guy is the fact that he will explain his rig, go into detail, and educate others towards ways of achieving the tones they are looking for… But if you're looking to sound exactly like Phillip …Good luck! 😉
Strings To Rip On 🤘 ⚡️
As we draw in on the conclusion here we look to focus on the string choice of such a monster player, now of course we're expecting no hard and fast rules here as Phillip is a player of ever-changing moods. 😎
Analysing many interviews and open discussions along with quotes we find that his string gauges are very much interchangeable and he looks to adapt this continually to suit his mood, how long he's been on tour, the guitar’s scale length and just generally changes as and when.
The main detail he does echo is that he has been a lifelong D’addario user and really does rate them as great strings and lets us know the company have been good to him.
You can check out some of the string discussions below within the quotes, we get an idea what types of sets he is using, all very custom of course and all all very inventive 🎸
"I use D'Addario strings and I can't speak highly enough of them. Gauges, I've been using 11-59 for the longest time, but another thing I've been experimenting with is that Hendrix used nines, and I actually prefer the sound of lighter strings with a Fuzz Face, which is really weird. There's like a slinkiness that just seems to suit me - theirs is definitely a different sound with 0.009s than there is with 0.011s with a Fuzz Face. That's sort of philosophical!"
Don't 0.009s just go like rubber bands at Eb?
"A little bit, and you have to be careful with over bending and so on. But Hendrix tuned down with light strings. That said, I love the tone of the heavier strings. It depends. If you're on the road 250 days a year and you're using 11s or 12s at E and big bends all night… I mean Jeff Healey's one of my favourites and would always do these wicked bends and things, so coming from that place you can get tired and you have to listen to your body.”
Finally one piece of literature to look at here is an incredible read by Jamie Dickinson, this online article is spectacular and the interview gets very detailed with Philip Sayce and his opinions and feelings on string choice.
In classic style Sayce overviews string choice from a technical perspective as well as a physical perspective and then moved onto an almost spiritual perspective.
What a player and what a personality a true guitarists Guitarist, Rock 'n' roll is best kept secret one of the very very best. ⭐️
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