By Brian Aberback
Guitar virtuoso Felix Martin has figuratively and somewhat literally carved out his own niche. The native of Venezuela and Berklee College of Music graduate performs on one-of-a-kind 14 and 16-string guitars – two guitars melded together – that he helps design himself.
Martin primarily employs finger-tapping techniques, deftly hammering out complex patterns simultaneously with each hand on each set of 7 or 8 strings. His sound incorporates aspects of progressive rock, jazz, South American and world music, and hard rock and metal.
The truly unique sounds Martin creates are mesmerizing, especially when you also have the chance to watch Martin as well as hear his work. Go to YouTube and search for “Felix Martin tango” for a good example.
Martin, who released his second studio album, “Mechanical Nations,” last month, performs on Friday, March 17, at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park. We recently spoke to the multi-string maestro.
How and when did you come up with the idea and technique for 14 and 16-string guitars?
I started playing classical guitar in the beginning, when I was 12. It was really hard for me to play so I started tapping instead, all the classical and tango tunes. It was more natural to me. When you play tapping on the guitar you have 8 fingers, but there are only six strings so it overlaps sometimes. So I started playing two guitars at the same time, one per hand. On one guitar I would play the chord and the other the melody. A few years later with a Luther we made a 14-string guitar and then 16-string guitars. It’s two guitars in one with the same sound. I work designing them with different luthiers. I have six or seven of them. With more strings you can find more sounds and I’m always looking for new sounds.
When did you come to America from Venezuela?
It was my dream to go to Berklee and study music and I auditioned and got a scholarship. I came here when I was 17, right after high school. It was great. The best thing about a music college is all the inspiration you get from other students. Everybody practiced all day, every day. That was the best vibe for me.
You integrate several musical genres into your playing, from prog and jazz to metal and world music.
I listen to every style of music. I grew up listening to Venezuelan world music. I like progressive rock and classical and jazz because they’re very technical and challenging to play. I transcribe everything, from jazz tunes to death metal. The more you listen to different types of music the more you learn and add to your technique.
How does it feel when people tell you that they’ve never heard anything like your music before and that they love it?
It feels great. My goal in life is to do something different and do it well and develop it and give something different to the world. To inspire people to be creative.