Matteo Mancuso

Journey Into the Future
Matteo Mancuso
Matteo Mancuso: Paolo Terlizzi.
Matteo Mancuso: Paolo Terlizzi.

Emerging as a social-media sensation several years ago, Matteo Mancuso is changing the way we see and hear guitar. Using a radical fingerstyle attack, the Italian ace handles his electric with the fire of a flamenco player, weaving-in staggering clarity and precision. Better yet, his instrumental debut, The Journey, promises to be the beginning of a long, fret-burning career.

How did you start playing fingerstyle on electric?
I’ve been playing with fingers since the beginning. I’d see my father playing classical at home when I was a kid, so I thought every guitar was meant to be played with fingers. It felt natural.

What’s the sound you’re after on guitar?
When I’m playing long phrases, the sound I chase is a very uniform and elegant stream of notes. I try to mix legato and staccato techniques to create a cascade effect where all the notes are distinguishable from each other. I play lightly with my right hand, so I pay a lot of attention to the articulation and accent of the lines.

When we talked five years ago (October ’18), you were a breakout internet phenomenon. But instead of starting a professional career, you went to a music college. Why?
Because I had the chance to play a wide repertoire, from big-band swing like Benny Goodman to modern jazz-fusion of Yellowjackets and Snarky Puppy. I also began to transcribe more and expand my vocabulary; I listened to a lot of sax players, like Michael Brecker, Cannonball Adderley, and Bob Mintzer.

As for the online fame, I didn’t really care about it at the time. Being active on social media and chasing numbers wasn’t my priority, mainly because I was surrounded by incredible musicians in my band and at school. My goal was to improve, musically, and continue learning from them.

Your jazz chops can be heard on “Polifemo.”
“Polifemo” is one of the jazziest songs from the album and it’s heavily inspired by a Frank Zappa song called “King Kong.” I always play it with a clean jazz tone, but for the album, I wanted a less-traditional approach. So, in order to do some contrast with the first piano solo, I chose to record the solo with a distorted tone, then come back to the main theme in unison with the clean guitar.

You play a Yamaha Revstar solidbody, which has been something of a guitar-industry secret for a while.
Mine was custom-built in 2019, and it’s my favorite guitar. I’ve used it for every concert and recording since I got it. It’s really similar to a Revstar Professional, but the body is slightly smaller and has different woods; it’s chambered mahogany with a maple top, and has a gorgeous pau ferro fretboard, stainless frets, and an oval, C-shape mahogany neck. The pickups are Lollar Imperials with a five-way blade switch. I rarely use the in-between positions, but they sound really good.

What other gear did you use on the album?
For “Time To Leave” and other classical parts, I used my Yamaha GC42S; that’s it in the outro from “Silkroad.” I recorded almost everything with my Line 6 Helix. For effects, I used plug-ins from Universal Audio. The sitar-sounding solo is a Yamaha Revstar 720B with an old Roland VG-88 pedalboard. In order to use some of the sounds from the pedalboard, I mounted a piezo hexaphonic pickup by Roland; I think it was the GK-2.

I have all this gear thanks to my father; the VG-88 was one of his favorite units back when he was playing!

You’ve jammed onstage with fusion great Al Di Meola. What was that like?
Jamming with Al was an unreal experience. Imagine walking up to the stage with him and playing his most-iconic songs, like “Mediterranean Sundance” and “Spain.” It felt like a lucid dream, and he is such a nice person. We talked a lot about music and guitars, and he gave me some really good advice. Overall, it was one of the best experiences of my life and I can never thank him enough.

What’s with the hoodie? Is that your signature stage outfit?
I don’t really have a signature fashion (laughs). I just like to be comfy, so hoodies and track suits are my favorite clothes. I almost never use elegant stuff at gigs, unless there is a dress code; I like to go onstage with casual street clothes because that’s what I wear every day. I’m just a regular guy who loves to play guitar.

This article originally appeared in VG’s October 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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