Scott Henderson Uses Variax to Record with Jazz Fusion Supergroup

“Instead of borrowing an archtop… I decided to use my Variax.”At first it might seem strange that one of the most innovative and influential jazz fusion guitarists of our time is actually a blues player—but there’s more to Scott Henderson than meets the ear. From his work as founding member of Tribal Tech to collaborations with Jean-Luc Ponty, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul and others, Henderson has developed a unique style that combines the progressiveness of jazz fusion with the soul of the blues.

Over the years, Henderson has garnered countless accolades from Guitar Player, Guitar World and other publications while developing a dedicated worldwide following. For his latest project, he teamed up with fellow veteran musicians Jeff Berlin (bass) and Dennis Chambers (drums) to form supergroup HBC—and took to the studio with Variax in hand.

In the Studio with HBC
HBC album coverAt first, HBC focused exclusively on performing. “Live gigs were definitely the priority,” explains Henderson. “We did three tours before ever deciding to enter the studio. When we finally did, I thought it would be cool to cover tunes by keyboard players like Joe Zawinul and Herbie Hancock—but without a keyboardist. It was challenging to make the songs sound as big and textural as the original recordings without the help of synths and keyboards.”

It turns out that HBC’s experience as a performance-focused group spilled over into the studio. “We recorded the record in one day,” relates Henderson. “For us it was just like playing another gig. I took the tracks home and spent about a week on each of the tunes that needed the most layering. It took a while to find the right guitar tones for the parts, especially when trying to come as close as possible to the keyboard sounds. I used lots and lots of pedals.

“My friends who play hollowbody jazz guitars… were quite surprised it was a Variax.”Variax—Just What the Tone Doctor Ordered
HBC’s self-titled debut album features a wide range of guitar sounds, from the high-gain blues vibe on “Wayward Son of Devil Boy” to the funky clean tones on “Actual Proof.” When recording the Wayne Shorter classic “Footprints,” Henderson wanted to approach the track as a traditional jazz tune—problem is, he doesn’t own a traditional jazz guitar.

“Instead of borrowing an archtop—which I’ve never really enjoyed playing—I decided to use my Variax,” he relates. “The Jazzbox model provided great tone, and the guitar was very easy to play. That tone made me play much differently than usual, so the song sounds completely different from the others, and I got to be a traditional jazz guitarist for one tune. I received some nice compliments from my friends who play hollowbody jazz guitars—they were quite surprised it was a Variax.”

The Road Ahead
Tribal Tech album coverSo what’s next for a guitarist who’s spent the better part of four decades on the forefront of the fusion scene? “Tribal Tech is touring Asia in March, and hopefully Europe in the summer, and then I’ll be touring with my trio right after that,” explains Henderson. “I’ll also be doing a recording project with Alan Hertz on drums and Travis Carlton on bass. My number one priority is to finish writing songs for that new album and get into the studio.”

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