Funk master and Berklee tutor Tomo Fujita on the gear and players he loves

The Berklee tutor, sessioneer and all-round funk genius on dodgy batteries, the beauty of basic amps and why it’s always important to know when it’s lunchtime.

The moment it all started…

“My relative owned a classical guitar, and he showed me simple arpeggios and stuff like that. I was about 11 or 12. He didn’t really play it that much, so he asked me if I wanted to borrow it. It’s funny, that was 40 years ago, but I can still remember riding home on the back of my father’s motorbike with this guitar on my back! But then when it came to change the strings, I didn’t know the difference between steel and nylon, so I just used the steel, and then one night the bridge just popped off! But that made me more curious about guitar! I was like: ‘Okay, I’ve got this guitar and broken it, what do I do now?!”

What’s the one piece of gear you couldn’t live without?

“It’s hard! Currently, if I have my Kanji [Kawabata] guitar, the sunburst one, that’s all I need! Just because that guitar is a truly amazing piece of work – every detail about it is just what I need. Every time I hold the neck, it’s so perfect!”

The one that got away…

“I’ve sold some stupid things. I had a Strat that had very early EMG pickups in there, but then when I came to Berklee I was really into blues, so I was like, ‘I don’t need those in there, they’re too modern!’ So I sold them to a student and I wish I hadn’t, because those were really, really early EMGs!”

My signature guitar…

“I already have my own Kanji signature guitar, which we’ve made a limited run of 25 of, so in a way, I’m set. But at the same time, if Fender ever wanted to make me one, I’d be so honoured! I have a Stevie Ray Vaughan Strat that I’ve played so much.That was my first real Fender – I played it for many years, from when I first came to Berklee. People always say it just sounds great for funk, so maybe I’d get my own version of that, but with a bit of a different neck shape. That would be amazing!”

Advertisement

The first thing I play when I pick up a guitar…

“I usually play a really simple phrase or just a bluesy melody – I don’t play two-octave scales. I don’t touch that! That’s not a great thing to teach people, either, because students need to learn melody. You don’t want to show people too much information, because then they’ll be stuck in those shapes!”

The best advice I’ve ever been given…

“You have to do one thing really, really well, before you can do three things. People often ask me: ‘How can I become really versatile like you?’ And the answer is well, yeah, you have to listen to a lot of music, but limit yourself to three albums a month. Because that way, you’re forced to get deep with one sound and not just skim the surface of it. And it’s the same with guitar, I teach chromatic scales the same way – no noise, no picking noise, very clean, very difficult. And you have to play everything with the rear pickup, not the front pickup. But once you can do that, everything else is easier.”

My Spinal Tap moment…

“There’s this band called Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, it’s a weird name but they’re a really great jam band, really popular. And they came to Boston and invited me to play a song. So I decided to just bring along my PRS Silver Sky and a Tube Screamer, because it’s simple, right?

“Well, I checked the battery with a checker before I left, it was fine… but when I got on stage, there was something wrong with it – I’m going to have to buy better batteries next time! So here I am, playing on stage in front of a thousand people, with just a guitar, no pedals, and a Fender Hot Rod. And I’m thinking about all these great amps and pedals I’ve got at home, and here I am with nothing! But it was great in a way, because my tone cut through so well in the mix – but next time, I’m bringing my pedalboard!”

My guilty pleasure…

“I have all these great amps… I have all these vintage Fenders, I have a Two-Rock… but I just love my old Fender Musicmaster bass amp for practice. Now, this is not the greatest amp sound in the world, but it’s very neutral tone-wise, and it’s nice and bright, so you can’t hide anything when you’re practising. I wish that in Berklee we had this amp in every room, because people would probably get 10 times better!”

The first thing on my rider…

“I do a lot of gigs all over the world – England, Japan, all over – but I always try to eat at a very specific time. So whenever I do any gig or job, the first thing I ask is: ‘What time is lunch?’. One o’clock is good. Even when I’m teaching, one o’clock to two o’clock is always my off-time! So when I’m on a tour, sometimes it’s later, or they delay things for various reasons, so the most important thing I have to know is what’s the schedule, when is lunchtime!? It’s important!”

If I could just play one thing…

“Van Halen is the one, the guy who took rock guitar to the next level. Now, I play a lot of technical stuff, but I’m not really good at how he does those pinched harmonics with the whammy – I’d love to do that! But I just don’t have the time, and it’s really different to what I usually play. Maybe I should buy a Charvel and a Marshall and just learn to play Eruption note-for-note.”

Subscribe to Tomo Fujita Guitar Wisdom at tomovhxtv.vhx.tv to get online tuition from the man himself, and follow him on Instagram at @TomoJustFunky.

Advertisement