Hi there! This week, we're back to talk to someone special. Whether you're a Guitar Tricks Full Access member or a first-time visitor, Mike Olekshy is someone you probabaly recognize. Mike is a prominent instructor here at Guitar Tricks and teaches a variety of lessons in rock, blues and more. I got the chance to understand just a little bit about his background with music and his methods for teaching guitar. Read on and get to know one of your favorite guitar coaches!
GT: You're more or less the face of Guitartricks.com and with that, a lot of the guitar learners on the website are curious about your history with the instrument and how you got started playing. When did you start playing guitar, and who inspired you to pick it up?
Mike: I have two brothers that were quite a bit older than me, so I grew up hearing their taste in 60s and 70s rock music at a very young age. I started with the drums, and formed a group with two of my friends. Around that time, I also took a guitar class at school. That gave me a bit of the basics. But everything changed when I heard the intro to Van Halen “Aint Talkin’ Bout Love” for the first time. I had never heard anything like that before! From that moment on, I ditched the drums and became obsessed with the guitar.
GT: Was there ever a point where you thought to yourself: "Maybe guitar isn't for me"?
Mike: No. I realized early on that guitar was the perfect instrument for me to express myself with, regardless of how “good” a player I was.
"I remember my guitar getting hit by an apple core at one point!"
GT: Can you tell us a little bit about the first time you played in front of someone, whether it was a small crowd, or a big crowd, etc? Were you nervous? Do you still get nervous playing in front of people?
Mike: The first time I played in front of a crowd was at a lunchtime concert at high school. Yes I was nervous, since there were hundreds of students there. I remember my guitar getting hit by an apple core at one point! I guess we weren’t really that great of a band haha.
Over the years I’ve gotten very relaxed and comfortable playing live, but still do get a bit nervous right before hitting the stage. I get especially nervous if I’m playing in some specialized situation - like playing on live TV - that can be nerve-wracking!
GT: You mentioned playing on live TV. Which show or program did you play for on TV? Is the biggest difference just the cameras, or is there something else that makes playing on TV nerve-wracking?
Mike: I’ve done a few TV things over the years, but playing the first one was the most nerve-wracking due to the completely different environment. I was playing guitar for an artist a few years back and we played a song on a live morning show in Atlanta. The cameras are indeed intimidating, but it is also the whole experience being on a set (which is always much smaller than you’d think), and the hosts chit chatting with you as the crew is buzzing all around preparing to go live in 3 … 2 …. 1 — suddenly you’re on! Plus, it was really early in the morning! Even though I was nervous, I was able to focus and the performance went great.
GT: When you are playing live, what’s your setup like? Which amp do you like to use and do you have any favorite pedals or effects that you can’t play without?
Mike: I’m not doing much live work at the moment, as I am mostly doing recording sessions, so my pedalboard is a little bigger and more flexible. I have a Marshall JCM 600 2x12 combo that ROARS, and an extensive pedalboard that features both digital and analog gear. I also have a small pedalboard that is a great grab n' go option. I couldn’t live without my killer sounding Atomic Firebox pedal! It’s an amazing little box that lets you switch between 2 amp models and effects. I used it live recently without an amp and it sounded huge!
GT: Before we jump into some other questions, I have to ask. The Guitartricks users are pretty familiar with your teaching style and playing style, but they're always curious about the gear you use. With that being said can you tell us a little bit about your very first guitar?
Mike: I got my very first electric guitar for my 13th birthday - a red Aria Pro II ZZ. It’s a super cheap guitar that had kind of an explorer shape. For 15 years, that piece of junk was my main guitar! Since it was such a cheap guitar, I had no fear making all sorts of modifications to it - and it was my own little “Frankenstein” guitar that served me for quite a long time!
GT: Do you still have that Aria guitar?
Mike: Yes I still own the Aria guitar - but since it’s in storage up in Canada, I haven’t been able to play it in many years!
GT: On the majority of the lessons, you're rocking out on a Les Paul. Is that your go-to instrument? What makes that Les Paul special to you?
Mike: Ah the Les Paul! I’m a rock player at heart, and you can’t get any more rock and roll than a Les Paul. The sound, the feel, the look — it’s got it all!
GT: You lead a couple of live sessions through Guitar Tricks Full Access Plus and through that experience, what are the most common questions you get from your students and what do you say to them?
Mike: You have to realize that everybody is different, so we all have our own unique challenges when it comes to the basic mechanics of playing the guitar. There is going to be some discomfort in learning those skills along the way. You are trying to train your fingers and muscles to do things that they find very unnatural at first. Keep at it!! It’s all about the repetition of fretting, picking, strumming, etc that will eventually wear down all the resistance your body is giving you. With practice, those muscles WILL loosen up, and it will become easier and easier.
Just a note that it is common to have sore fingers after long periods of practice, especially when you’re first learning, but that discomfort should fade relatively quickly. However, if you experience any kind of pain while you are trying to play - stop immediately and try again the next day. Never play through pain!
GT: I've heard through the grapevine that you recorded a video where you played 25 Rolling Stones riffs in a single take. How many takes did you do before you nailed it? And what was the process like recording that? I've seen videos like that before online, and have always wondered if you're recalling these riffs from memory or do you have some type of notation or tab in front of you?
Mike: That was a blast! It was a last minute thing, so the night before we recorded it, I only had time to come up with the list of 25 riffs and arrange them in a way that I thought flowed the best. But I didn’t reallly have any time to practice it! So I printed out the list of songs, and had it on the music stand beside me. Luckily, I’m a huge Stones fan, so I already knew how to play those riffs, but putting them all together into a medley that flowed was a bit of a challenge. I was actually working out the whole thing while we were filming! It took about 10 takes or so before it really came together - then maybe a few more takes just to get one that was “the one”!
It was a lot of fun talking with Mike. What did you think? Let us know in the comments below and share this if you're fans of Mike!