Jan. 23 2013 03:16 PM

San Diego musician and instructor takes a holistic approach to shredding

smoking1
Greg Vaughan, aka The Wizard
Photo by Peter Holslin

Greg Vaughan shreds like a motherfucker. A veteran San Diego guitarist nicknamed The Wizard, he has the skills of a kung-fu master, pulling off gnarly solos and heavy riffs with lethal precision.

But Vaughan, 42, knows the power of his weapon. Only in the right circumstances, he says, must a shredder attack with all his force.

"Music is a form of communication, so think about what you're trying to communicate," The Wizard counsels. "If you're going to back up a gospel singer, you need to be strumming chords and backing up some amazing vocalist in that spirit. Don't do anything inappropriate."

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, Vaughan pulls up a chair in a cozy practice room at his North Park home, which he's dubbed the Temple of the Sacred String. A longtime guitar teacher, he's spent 10 years working on his own teaching approach, funneling his wisdom into a book of lessons he's working on, Way of the Sacred String. He's given most of his techniques animal names: "Dragon Whips His Tail"; "The Crane Kick"; "The Seven Steps of the Slippery Penguin."

With his custom-built, black-and-gold guitar, Vaughan shows me one particularly complex technique. It starts with "Baby Monkey," a slow, seamless trip up and across the fret board. It then moves to Buddha Monkey, in which he goes faster and smoother. Then it's Science Monkey, incorporating harmonies and new intervals. Then, Angry Monkey, an extended, high-speed run fit for a thrash-metal band. And finally, Escaped Mental-Patient Monkey— notes flying, fingers flailing across the fret board, the ultimate state of guitar-shredder awesomeness.

"You shouldn't have to stop and think," The Wizard says about this final Monkey stage. "You should just be able to fly and not play any wrong notes, ever. And you can go in any direction."

Vaughan takes a holistic, philosophical approach to his teaching. It comes from his hero and mentor, Uli Jon Roth, guitarist for German hard-rock pioneers The Scorpions and founder of Sky Academy, a series of guitar seminars and concerts. Like Mr. Miyagi or Yoda, Roth extends his teachings into a personal realm. At Vaughan's first Sky Academy seminar, Roth counseled Vaughan to harness his intense, almost overwhelming personality, which matched his playing style. To master one's music, he learned, one must master oneself.

Vaughan doesn't shred for his main gigs: He plays electric sitar and saz (a stringed folk instrument) in the belly-dance group Danyavaad & The Shimmy Sisters and does a Michael Stipe impression as frontman for the R.E.M. tribute band Murmur. But he'll be shredding more soon: His newly reunited, Led Zeppelin-loving hard-rock band, Phantom Cargo, are playing with Roth at Brick by Brick on Sunday, Jan. 27, and they're releasing a new album, Doorway to the Sky.

Though Phantom Cargo's reunion is keeping him extra-busy, The Wizard needs to shred.

"For my sanity," The Wizard says, "I need to get up, plug into a Marshall stack, rock out... and have fun."


Email peterh@sdcitybeat.com or follow him on Twitter at @peterholslin.

Calendar

  • Visit one of the 70 participating restaurants, bars, coffeehouses and nightclubs in town on this night and 25 to 50 percent of sales will go to local HIV/AIDS services and prevention programs. 
  • Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward, who are vying to replace Todd Gloria on the San Diego City Council, will discuss urban issues, such as parking, homelessness and new developments
  • The new exhibition designed by Dave Ghilarducci is made from hundreds of rolls of packing tape and bound together by layers of plastic shrink-wrap. Visitors can navigate their way through cocoon-like passageways...
  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • The San Diego County Bike Coalition hosts this monthly bike-in happy hour event to get biking residents involved in their communities and discuss bike projects planned for that specific community
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • So Say We All's monthly storytelling night features stories about those jobs we took because we had to take a job. Featured readers include Allison Gauss, Annmarie Houghtailing, Cecile Estelle, and more
  • Artists from the all-abstracts group show will talk about their work and techniques. Artists include Edwin Nutting, Danielle Nelisse, Leah Pantea, Lenore Simon, and more
See all events on Thursday, Apr 28