AXEMEN SERIES | Bobby Tufino, Dialogia

1. Who are we speaking with and what band do you play with? And how did you get in the band? I.e. did you start the band, audition for the band, was the guitar tech and advanced?

I’m Bobby Tufino, and I play guitar in Dialogia – our debut album, Nostrum, comes out on October 2 – as well as in the currently-hibernating death metal band, Hypgnostic.  I suppose that I co-founded Dialogia with Alejandro Nogales, although it was 100% his idea to make an album.  No, Dialogia was never about being particularly technical.  It was all about dark atmosphere; anything technical that we ended up writing was in service of that.

2. Tell us about your first guitar and how you have advanced too what you play today, and is what you are playing your final destination guitar, or will you continue to evolve?
The first guitar I played was my father’s Yamaha classical guitar (which I was trying to play Slayer riffs on), but my first electric guitar was a (formerly) black Yamaha RGX-321P (now heavily modified and featuring a Dimebucker and an Air Norton), which was kind of an RG copy with a Floyd Rose.  I had a black NJ BC Rich Warlock soon after; after I saw Sepultura’s Under Siege concert film I had to have one.  I think that’s the only guitar I’ve ever sold; I needed the money to buy a drum machine for songwriting.

I got my first Ibanez Universe in 1996 (the classic black and green one that you see in the Where the Slime Live video — this one is featured on FearBlack RedEscape on the Dialogia album, Nostrum).  That one was modified by Marc Bertone of SaviorSkin/Ikon Customs as a tribute to Morbid Angel, and has an EMG 81-7 in the bridge and 707 in the neck (I plan to reinstall the original DiMarzio Blaze II pickups soon). Somehow Invisible Oranges came across it and called it one of the most metal guitars ever, and Trey Azagthoth himself has had his hands on this wonderful instrument.  

I remained a 7-string player until around 2008, when I switched to 8-string guitars.  I had an RG2228, which I threw some Duncan 8-string Blackouts into and loved, but it’s a 27″ scale guitar and I have pretty small hands – it was fine for riffing, but some of the stretches when soloing were no longer possible for me, so I ultimately gave it to Jeff Storm, the other Hypgnostic guitarist.  Eventually I got a beautiful fanned fret (27″ – 25.5″) custom from Elysian guitars (Elysian is now in the pickup business and I urge everyone to check them out); all the Hypgnostic material thus far is 8-string death metal.

I got back into 6-strings when I started helping Alejandro to write the Dialogia album.  Most of my rhythm parts on Nostrum were written and recorded on an “exotic series” Warlock (EMG 81) that used to be owned by Phil Fasciana of Malevolent Creation.  Since then, I’ve gotten a really nice 6-string Ibanez RG Prestige (the only maple fretboard I’ve ever had) which also appears on Nostrum, and then most recently a 6-string fanned fret Ibanez (loaded with Fishman Fluence Modern Ceramic pickups) which I’m planning to write new Dialogia material with.

I don’t know about a final destination, but I’ve tried 9-string guitars at NAMM a couple of times and think that I’m good with eight strings at most.  I guess the biggest game-changer for me was discovering multiscale guitars.  I really love the way they play.  I think I’d want fanned frets on any guitar tuned lower than D or maybe C#.  The great thing is that I benefit from the increased tension on the bass side of the neck, but since the higher strings are shorter, I can actually handle those stretches when doing arpeggios and whatnot.

3.Same question as above with amplification.

Much simpler road!  I started with a little Fender Princeton 112 combo + a Digitech Valve FX rack unit, then I got a Marshall Valvestate 100W combo.  I studied Music Engineering Technology in college and have always been into new tech, so I got the Line 6 Flextone HD head really soon after it came out and played it for years until I got the Fractal Axe-FX Ultra about 10 years ago.  These days I don’t even use an amp; I go from the Fractal to my PA system (QSC K-12s + a Yamaha mixer).  Little 15W Line 6 Spider IV amp for practicing wherever.

4. Are you a terribly complicated guitarist? Are you a cord to amp player or do you have a rig that confuses the average joe? And why? Did you set out to sound like somebody or were there just possibilities you wanted to explore and started trying to find the sounds, tones you wanted?

Nah, not particularly complicated.  I was just really impressed with the tones that guys were getting out of the Axe-Fx, both live and in the studio.  I loved the idea of having everything in one box, and the consistency of being able to go direct into a PA or recording interface with a consistent result.  I remember encountering Tymon Kruidenier, who mixed the Dialogia album, on the old Axe-Fx forum years ago.

5. Who did you see that made you want to play guitar and was it because they looked cool or sounded cool or both? And then later when you started to understand the guitar did you discover that made you just say WOW!?

Not a guitarist – Cliff Burton made me want to play.  It was the Cliff ‘Em All video.  He was so INTO it, and just one with the instrument (although I never got the urge to wear bell-bottoms)…but I tried a friend’s bass once as a kid and it did nothing for me (likely because it was unplugged).  Once I discovered Trey Azagthoth of Morbid Angel, that changed everything for me.  I wanted to learn guitar right away.  What made me go “wow” was just the weirdness of his riffs on the earlier Morbid Angel material.  They were very different from anything else, and later on I started to pick up on his use of certain chords in strange contexts – any time you hear me use a sliding octave chord or throw a major third into a riff, that’s all Trey.  I read an interview in Bardo Methodology with one of the members of black metal band Ascension, and he described Morbid Angel in the early days as “a band possessed.”  That about sums it up for me – whatever possessed them to make such evil, sublime music, I wanted to welcome into my consciousness.

6. Do you believe looks are part of the guitarist? To put it differently, would you feel comfortable watching Angus Young on a Fender Strat or Lord Iommi on a Les Paul?

To some extent, I suppose.  Cliff Burton or Bill Steer in all denim are just as cool to me as Watain wearing rotting clothes and blood.  Obviously, aesthetics contribute to the atmosphere of a live performance.  If a band sounds truly evil, I instinctively want them to look the part.  If you want a good example, check out footage of the live stream that Atroce played earlier this year.  The performance was vicious, but I can’t deny that the visual presentation added a lot.

And looks are NOT everything as far as the instruments themselves!  These days I care a lot about ergonomics.  Although the BC Rich Warlock is THE death metal guitar for me, and the one that I recorded Nostrum with actually plays incredibly well, I don’t find it nearly as comfortable to play for long periods of time as I do my Ibanez guitars or my custom 8-string.

As an aside, I suspect that no matter what guitar Angus plays, he’s gonna sound like Angus.  As a kid in Chile, I ended up being the interpreter for AC/DC’s tour manager and got to see Angus play from REALLY close up (I’m talking barely a foot away from him) as he did his Angus shuffle in front of the barrier.  Even got to meet Malcolm briefly after the gig….total legends.  Their shuttle pulled up to the venue not even five minutes before they went on and they just destroyed the place.

7. What is more impressive to you, watching Jennifer Batten 8 finger tap or listening to BB King squeeze the emotion out of 3 notes?

Jennifer Batten for sure.  I’ll take John Petrucci’s more lyrical moments over David Gilmour’s any day, but in recent years I’ve definitely found a greater appreciation for things like really perfect vibrato, moreso than crazy technique.  The really good players can do it all.  

8. Do you feel technique and tone can get in the way of playing? In other words, when listening to a djent player like Pilini do you wish you could just plug him straight into a Fender Twin and if you did would it have the same effect on you?

Technique, no – fundamentally, that can only add to your playing, although if you’re primarily trying to wow everybody, THAT can get in the way.  Tone, however, can definitely get in the way.  Sometimes the most brutal rhythm guitar sound just doesn’t cut through a mix (live or on an album).  Sometimes you have to turn the gain down and crank the mids a little, even if it doesn’t sound as cool when you’re jamming by yourself.

9. Who is the guitarist you love that you hope nobody ever finds out AND do you have a guitarist that nobody knows about that you just love?

Hmm. I love Reb Beach from Winger and I don’t give a shit who knows about it!  I never liked them as a kid, but later on discovered how well-written their stuff is (you just have to pretend never to have seen their old videos).

My favorite unknown player is a guy named Kelly FitzSimons.  He used to play in a metal band called Magistral with another phenomenal player I know, Dani Vargas.  Kelly now plays in an instrumental ensemble called The Steve Satchel Band, but my favorite work of his is on the EP called i/E by Carry the Storm.  He’s just so versatile and melodic, and makes really interesting use of exotic chords in the context of heavy metal.  There’s stuff on that EP that is bring-you-to-tears beautiful, and just blow-your-brains-out technical.  That’s the guy that I want the world to know about.

A guy that’s finally getting the recognition that he deserves from the metal world is Bobby Koelble.  He’s always been my favorite lead guitarist in Death, and that is saying a LOT.  He has such a unique style, and I was incredibly happy that he was willing to play a solo on the Nostrum song, FearBlack RedEscape.  We plan to release an awesome video of him performing that solo once the album is out.

10. Ok here we go from pick brand to cable brand and on down the line until the noise hits the air we want the definitive rundown of everything you use and WHY.

I think I’ve mentioned most of my current gear.  I was a Dunlop Jazz III guy for many years until recently, when the great Uncle Ben Eller started talking up the Dunlop Flow picks.  I experimented a bit and landed on the 1.5mm version.  I recently started working on economy picking and sweep arpeggios and for whatever reason, that pick seemed to make everything smoother in those transitions to adjacent strings.  And all the other riffing stuff also went really comfortably.  So…I have a ton of Jazz IIIs sitting in my studio going to waste!

Cables I’m not that picky about.  I mainly use the ProLine cables that have the lifetime warranty, although I’ve never had occasion to use it.

Still on the Fractal Axe-Fx Ultra.  All the solos and lead parts that I did on Nostrum came from the Axe-Fx, although the rhythm tone was sculpted by Tymon.

Axe-FX goes into a Yamaha mixer and a pair of QSC K12-s, if I’m jamming with other people.  It’s always connected to my Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 interface in the rack.

I’m playing my 6-string Ibanez guitars a lot lately, but my Universes and my Elysian 8-string Skeptic are always within reach.

Thanks so much for the interview!  Nostrum is out on October 2, and I hope you’ll all give it a listen.  The guitar playing is pretty diverse, and we scored great guest solos from Bobby Koelble as well as Barre Gambling from Daylight Dies.  For those of you that get into bass players, Johannes Zetterberg played fretless for us on a couple of tunes and just gave superb performances.  The first couple of singles are out now, and the second one, Stratagem, features both Barre and Johannes.