1. Valley Arts-
You have been playing with a Valley Arts T Series. Is this your first introduction to Valley Arts guitars?

 

Martin Cooper: I've been playing Valley Arts guitars for about the past 8 months or so. I was looking for a versatile 'Superstrat' type guitar as well as some well built Tele style guitars. I bought the Custom Pro (H/H pickup configuration) guitar with a Wilkinson trem first. I've always been a big fan of Steve Lukather and first really got into wanting to play guitar around the time that I used to see Lukather playing one of the Valley Arts guitars that Mike McGuire had built for him, so the reason I first decided to check out the guitars was because I figured the Custom Pro would be a good all round guitar that I'd be able to get a lot of different tones out of for different styles, playing for different people and so on. One of my favourite things about the guitar is that it has a volume control for each of the pickups and one tone control. With a push/pull pot I can split the coils of each humbucker, and also because each has a dedicated volume control, I can dial in the exact amount of volume for each pickup.

This way I can get a wide range of tones out of the guitar as I can have any combination of single coil or humbucker set with any amount of volume.

Plus the Wilkinson trem stays in tune really well particularly with the locking machine heads.

2. Valley Arts - Describe the feel and playability of the Valley Arts T Series guitar you have been using?

Martin Cooper: The T Series is basically a very, very well built 'T' type guitar if you know what I'm saying! I've played a lot of Tele's in the past and the Valley Arts T Series is definitely right up there with the best of them. It has a really solid feel, with that real kind of hand-made quality to it. It doesn't feel mass produced or 'impersonal' at all. It also has a lot of the looks and feel of a custom built guitar, with the bird’s eye maple neck and fingerboard and a really attractive translucent finish and gold hardware. They're the kinds of things that you usually pay a lot extra to have on a guitar, so it's cool that they come as standard. The sound is also really full, retaining the classic 'Tele' sound but with more depth and a very 'woody' sound.

I think the sound of a Tele type guitar is my favourite guitar tone and the Valley Arts T Series definitely has that!

3. Valley Arts - Did you use the Valley Arts guitar for your new CD and on the DVD?

Martin Cooper: Unfortunately I didn't. I got the Valley Arts guitars very shortly after the album and DVD were finished. In fact I got two of them after the DVD was filmed, but before the edit was finished so there are photos of the guitars on the DVD gallery in the 'extras' section but not on the actual DVD shoot. I've been using the Valley Arts guitars ever since the CD and DVD project were finished but it's a shame that I didn't have them in time for the recordings. Still, next time I'll be able to use them on there. In fact I'm looking forward to doing more filming as both the sunburst Custom Pro and trans black T Series are really attractive looking guitars so they'll look good when they're filmed in HD!

4. Valley Arts - How long have you been playing the guitar and who first inspired you to pick one up?

Martin Cooper: I guess I've been playing about 20 years now, although I didn't really start to spend quality time practicing and playing until about 15 years ago. I did the one-year full time diploma at the Guitar Institute in London in 1996 and started doing sessions and lessons as soon as I finished studying in 1997. I was first inspired to pick the guitar up when I heard an old Marillion song 'Heart of Lothian' on their 'Misplaced Childhood' album when I was a kid. I loved the melody and sound of the guitar on that song and then for by next birthday I hassled my parents to buy me an electric guitar! Then I started to have lessons in the late 80's when all the big rock bands were in their heyday. One of my favourite players has always been Richie Sambora as I love the way that the solos on all the old Bon Jovi tunes are singable. You get the big catchy choruses and then you get a really catchy guitar solo for 8 bars or so. I mentioned Steve Lukather earlier, and as well as Luke I've always loved listening to all the session 'A listers' like Michael Thompson, Brent Mason, Mike Landau and Dann Huff.

I've always really liked the way that those guys can take a pop tune by Shania Twain or Cher or whoever and really add something to it. Often you only really hear 15 or 20 seconds of guitar on those tunes, but they're always great moments, really tastefully done. I love all the little guitar licks on those songs like Landau's solitary fill on Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera's 'Nobody wants to be lonely' or Michael Thompson's licks on the bridge of Celine Dion's 'Power of Love'. When I started out working full time doing music I was very inspired by all those guys, and still am today.

5. Valley Arts - How would you describe your style of guitar playing?

Martin Cooper: Hmm, good question! The funny thing is my first 'solo project' is an instrumental CD called 'State of the Union', which is something that I kind of fell into doing rather than planned to do. I guess that CD has the kind of shredder mentality to it, but I was always thinking of melody rather than flash when I wrote and recorded the songs, you know? People used to hear some of the sessions or gigs that I did and would always say things like 'that solo was cool, but why don't you do LONGER solos?' I had some time off a while ago so I recorded an instrumental album as it's something I'd never tried to do.

I pretty much just wrote and recorded one song at a time over about two weeks and then spent some time mixing it. There's a lot of pretty speedy solos and stuff there which is ironic as that's not really the way I play naturally! As I said earlier I've always been more into the pop-rock type of playing like Sambora or the session’s kind of guys. I like Satriani and Vai and that kind of thing and spent time practicing my scales and picking exercises and so on, but never planned to do an album like that, but to be honest it did come out well I think! I definitely tried to get real melodies onto it and then limited myself to a solo section rather than just shred over the whole song! The album's called 'State of the Union' and is available at the itunes store in the UK. There are some of the songs on my my space page www.myspace.com/martincooper750 as well. There's some mellow stuff on there and some real up-tempo rock tunes as well as some acoustic stuff and one song which is just 32 seconds of shredding before it segues into the next track, which was fun to do! As happy as I am with having done an instrumental album, and it came out well, I'm looking forward to the next project which will be vocal stuff, so I'll approach the playing in more of a layered, session kind of way rather than big rock guitar riffs.

6. Valley Arts - Tell us about your new instructional guitar box set (book/CD/DVD) and where can people purchase it?

Martin Cooper: The product is called 'Guitar Anthology' and the first one is for intermediate/advanced players. The book is nearly 200 pages and has lots of theory, scales, arpeggios, chords and so on plus a big section of interviews that I did with some of my favourite players. I interviewed Michael Thompson, Steve Lukather, Steve Vai and loads of others and I'm very honoured to have produced something that all those guys contributed to. The CD is my own 'State of the Union' album. It has an itunes download release but also comes as the CD portion of the 'Guitar Anthology' product, so it's nice to have it released on CD as well as a download. The DVD has me playing through some scales, arpeggios and chords as well as breaking down some of the solo ideas from my CD so people can see why I played things the way that I did and what scales the notes are related to and so on. There's also an 'extras' section on the DVD with some of the backing tracks from the CD with just drums, bass and keys so all the guitars have been removed and people can jam along with them, plus there's some nice little touches like a jpeg of the 'State of the Union' cover artwork so people can put the artwork on their mp3 players if they want the album on there and some metronome click tracks to practice to and that kind of thing. The product is released on the Survivor Records label and they just gave me freedom to work on it until I was happy that it was done. Funny story...

I played the final mix of the CD to the A&R guy at the label and he said, 'yeah it's good Martin, the guitar is very well represented...!' I wasn't sure whether I should translate that as 'There's WAAAYYYY too much guitar on this' but I took it as a compliment anyway!! It's available a number of places but probably the easiest way is from www.schoolinabox.co.uk which is the record label branding for what will hopefully be an ongoing series of this kind of material, or from my website www.martin-cooper.com or www.survivor.co.uk.

7. Valley Arts- Are you planning a UK tour with your rock band Chasing Stars to which you are also the lead singer?

Martin Cooper: Actually Chasing Stars in on 'indefinite hold' right now. To cut a long story short, I have always fronted the band and played guitar as well as written the songs. It was me and some of my friends that I used to play gigs with for different people and we were just all so busy doing other things that it was very hard working it all out to make it happen. Mark Prentice who was Chasing Stars bass player actually played bass on my instrumental album for the most part.

I'm pretty busy now doing gigs for other people and with the 'Guitar Anthology' released I'll have my hands full for a while! As far as Chasing Stars as a band goes, we still get gig offers, but I've got other musical irons in the fire that I'm much more interested in at the moment. The good thing is though that I have loads of songs backed up that I'm waiting to do something with, though I think that will be a solo project rather than under a band heading.

8. Valley Arts - You now have two Valley Arts T Series guitars and a Custom Pro, are you planning on adding any more to your collection?

Martin Cooper: Actually I have three of them now...I have a Bent Top T Series. It's a really interesting guitar as it has a humbucker and two single coil pickups, mahogany body with an F-hole and a Tele  shape, so it's kind of a bit like a hybrid of lots of different types of guitars. You can get quite a Strat-like sound out of it, but with more depth because of the mahogany body and humbucker in the bridge position and a bit of a semi acoustic vibe with the F-hole. It's a nice sounding guitar and very light to hold as well, so it's good for longer gigs! The one I really want to get is the Brent Mason signature guitar. I'm actually doing an interview with Brent soon so I'll be able to ask him in detail about it, but I really like the look of it and it seems very versatile with the different pickup and switching combinations, so I'll definitely try and check one of those out as soon as I can. Brent's an  incredible player as well, so I'm guessing the guitar is pretty cool! 

Also if I ever manage to track down the old Lukather model, I'll try and get one of those too...

9. Valley Arts - What next for Martin Cooper? Tell us about you as a guitarist and educator of the instrument.

Martin Cooper: I teach at the Brighton Institute of Modern Music or BIMM for short (www.bimm.co.uk) It's a really good music school and You can study to any level there from diploma to masters degree. They're really geared towards helping people really get ready for a proper career in music. The Kooks came up through BIMM as did bands like Rooster. There are some great players that teach there like Guthrie Govan and Paul Bielatowicz so I'm very honoured to be part of the team.

I've also been playing again recently for a guy called Paul Oakley. I toured Canada and Europe many times a few years ago with Paul and this year am doing more gigs with him again. He also has a sideline band called 'The Shoots' who I've been playing guitar for as well. It's really nice to be playing with Paul again, he's a good friend and good songwriter so I'm excited to be doing that again. His website is www.pauloakley.com and there's a link to 'The Shoots' site there too...I'm also planning a second volume of the 'Guitar Anthology' product for Survivor Records. I've started getting some interviews together with people (Brent Mason included) and have a whole load of instrumental  and vocal songs written for the next CD. It'll be nice to spend some quality time recording another CD...The first solo one was all done in a short space of time and when I finished it I didn't really have a plan for it to end up being released as an album, I'd just done it for fun, so it'll be nice going into the next one knowing more about the plan!! Other than that, I do TV stuff every now and again as well as various other things and just figure it all out as it comes!

10. Valley Arts - How about a few key tips for anyone thinking about taking up the guitar?

Martin Cooper: I went to a seminar while I was at the Guitar Institute given by a session agency in London and the person doing the seminar said that the most important thing is to have a great  attitude. More important than playing or anything like that ,and it's true. If you're a good player with a great attitude, you'll go a lot further than a great player with a bad attitude. Also have other things that you do, like singing or studio engineering as well as playing guitar.  I probably do almost as much singing or songwriting as I do playing guitar and it really helps.

Martin Cooper website is www/myspace.com/martincooper750 and  www.martin-cooper.com