The Six-String Interrogation: Nuno Bettencourt

Nuno Bettencourt

Twenty-five years on from the release of Extreme’s classic Pornograffitti album (an occasion marked with the release of a new DVD of the band performing the record front to back), guitarist Nuno Bettencourt got down to the serious issues with Classic Rock. We’re talking first influences, the Mount Rushmore of guitarists and being thrown in at the deep end.

The song that made me want to pick up the guitar was…

“The early stuff was Aerosmith. I had Get Your Wings and it was the stuff on there that really inspired me to want to pick up the guitar.”

My first guitar teacher was…

“My brother Luis. He was an amazing guitar player and I watched him play for years. I loved his playing and his tone and he was what really encouraged me to pick up guitar.”

The first song I learned on guitar was…

“You always open up with the easy stuff. As boring as it might sound I think the first one was Nights In White Satin. I think that was the first song I ever played because it was easy. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I can play a song!’”

The first guitar that I bought was…

“I didn’t have a lot of money back in the day so it took me a long time to get a guitar. It’s amazing to look back at the guitars I had in the house owned by my family. I look back now and think, ‘Holy shit, we had a late 60s Les Paul in our house.’ I also had a Strat, but the first one I actually bought was a red Kramer guitar.”

The best piece of advice another guitarist has given me is…

“I wish somebody had given me some advice. I was thrown in at the deep end. I was in a family with ten kids and everybody played something so there was no time, you just got slapped in the face and they would say, ‘Play this fuckin’ thing.’ You just got on with it and did it. At the age of six I was watching and learning, it would all unfold in front of me and then I would go in the corner afterwards thinking I could do what I had just seen. It wasn’t like today with YouTube. The lessons are unspoken. It was just plug in and play.”

The most underrated guitarist in history is…

I would say guys like Neal Schon. I’m a big Journey fan. When I hear Neal Schon play those solos and riffs it is incredible but he never gets mentioned. I think that is because he is in more of a pop-driven band. When you go back to early Journey and some of the heavy stuff they did, man, his solos. I don’t think anyone bends a note like Neal Schon. In his solos the majority of the notes were really awkward bends and that was really unique. Everything he did was really memorable. He was definitely underrated.”

The one thing Nuno Bettencourt can do on guitar that do no one else can is…

“That’s an interesting question, I don’t know if there is anything. Sometimes I try to listen to things other people have said to me about myself and other players. Someone once said to me I was one of those guys that skips strings. I didn’t even know what that meant but when I look back now they were right, I did do that. Like when I played arpeggios I had this weird string skipping thing. I’m not sure if that’s anything to be proud of though. But, maybe guitar wise I have something rhythmically and percussively. With guitar I always connected it to drums. Rhythm and timing has always been big for me. I am perhaps way more obsessed with rhythm, timing and pocket than anybody else.”

On a scale of 1 to 10, I rate myself…

“That’s funny. Look, you have to rate yourself as a ten. If you don’t then you’re not the best that you can be. You’re not saying you’re a ten compared to Jimmy Page’s ten, you can’t even compare yourself to that. But, I don’t think anybody can be more of a ten at what I do than me. You would hope everyone would say that about themselves. In the wider scheme of everyone else maybe I’m a solid seven or an eight.

“I don’t give a fuck how good a guitar player of songwriter you are, if you don’t believe that you’re going to take down even your idols one day then you’re not delusional enough to do shit in this business. It’s not an asshole ego thing, you just need to have self belief that what you’re doing is special. If you don’t think it’s special, don’t do it. There’s all these guys out there now online that will play rings around me, but it’s not about that, this is not the guitar Olympics. It’s all about passion and wanting it so bad.”

If I wasn’t a musician I would be…

“Oh an actor, for sure. I would be in films. That’s what I wanted to do, I didn’t want to play guitar. I was convinced that I would move to New York, study there and act. I was obsessed with films. I was playing a lot of music but that was just part of my life growing up in my family, music is like oxygen in that environment, you just do it. Even to the point of when Extreme got a record deal and it derailed my acting career, I still had an acting coach coming into our sessions once a week. Even when we did Pornograffitti I still believed I would be an actor.”

The guitarist I’d most like to do battle with at The Crossroads is…

“Oh it would have to be one of my all-time favourite guitarists. It’s funny, every once in a while I meet up with Tom Morello and some other guitar players sometimes come down and we have roundtable discussions about guitar players and questions like this. We have these amazing debates. One of the questions was, ‘Who is your Mount Rushmore of guitarists? Who are the guys that changed the game?’ We had six guitar players around the table and all of us had the same first three guitarists for our Mount Rushmore – Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen. The fourth guy is where it got funky, I had Brian May. Some people had crazy ones like Yngwie. So, when you say who would I like to battle and trade off with, any of those guys would be fine with me.”

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