Mitch Merrett

“For me it’s a real working band’s guitar,” six-string daredevil Mitch Merrett says about his  Blue Silverburst Robot Guitar, Gibson’s futuristic self-tuning update of the classic Les Paul.

“It feels, sounds and plays like a Les Paul,” Merrett said, “but it’s made my life as a touring guitar player much easier.”

We caught up to Merrett on a rare day off at his Vancouver home ? a break in the constant road work he does supporting country artist Aaron Pritchett on stage and in the studio, where Merrett’s co-written twangy radio hits with Pritchett like “Big Wheel” and “Hold My Beer.” Before regrouping with Pritchett for a series of dates opening for Toby Keith, we asked Merrett about his experiences playing his go-to instrument, the Robot Guitar.

How easy was it to get started with the Robot Guitar?

It took me about five or 10 minutes to learn how to use it, which was good, because I was asked to do a tech TV show in Vancouver and I wasn’t able to get my hands on one until about an hour before the show. I was a little nervous. I’d read about them, but that was it. Gibson had shipped one to the TV studio, so I grabbed the manual, barely read through it, plugged in, and it was surprisingly easy. I could immediately sit back and enjoy playing it.

Mitch Merrett and Aaron Pritchett

Why did you then get your own Robot Guitar?

We do a lot of fly-in dates in Canada, and I had been taking three guitars on the road with me. With airlines restricting baggage allowances, using one guitar that can tune itself on the fly when I’m onstage sounded perfect.

For our songs, there’s a lot of going from standard tuning to flat tuning [a half-step down] or dropped D, so the guitar’s ability to have six tunings I can program available at any time is perfect. I can go from a song in standard tuning to flat tuning or dropped D in about 20 seconds ? which is just enough time between songs to keep the set fast paced. I’m the first one out of the gate on a lot of songs, kicking them off with the guitar part. So it was a little scary at first. I thought, “What if the guitar’s out of tune?” But the Robot Guitar has never done me wrong.

How does the sound feel compared to a classic Les Paul model?

The weight is pretty much the same, or maybe even a little lighter. And the neck feels great. The headstock looks a little bulkier because of the automated tuners and the electronics. But whether I plug into a backline that’s been provided or into my own rig, which is usually a Peavey Classic 50 combo or a Penta head live, and a Dr. Z in the studio, it sounds awesome.

The bottom line is my Robot Guitar looks, feels and plays like a Les Paul. It has a great finish, a big tone through every kind of amp, a great neck, and even when I play it acoustically it rings exactly like a Les Paul should.

And it fits into your stylistic bag?

Well, that bag’s pretty big. I came up playing KISS songs just like everybody else. And then I wanted to be Stevie Ray Vaughan … just like everybody else. But I knew in the back of my mind — no matter how long my hair was or what I was learning in music school ? that someday I was going to hold down a cool country gig. When I got my first country gig I moved from playing 30 minute sets of bad rock songs with local bands to traveling and playing four or five sets a night. I had to learn 60 songs in a week.

And after two years of doing that I got together with Aaron, and it's been great. We've played together for 10 years.

What I love about playing country guitar is that it encompasses all musical styles, so you can really sink your teeth into jazz, blues and rock, too. What could be more fun?

Click here to check out the Robot Guitar, now available in a variety of finishes.