Mike Outram - Guitar

“Well, dad played guitar,” says Outram. “He was left handed and I used to pick up his guitar in secret and play it upside down. I figured everything out by ear. Eventually of course, he discovered I was playing his guitar and so then he bought me one.”

Active ImageLike most youngsters, Outram started out on a bulk standard steel strung acoustic guitar. “After about a year I got myself an electric – it was a straight ‘Strat’ copy. Then when I was 15, I joined a rock band called The Quest and bought a Charvel, which is an American ‘super’ Strat-type of guitar; we were playing progressive-rock stuff.”

Lessons came through the peripatetic channels at school. “I remember my first teacher was a classical guitarist called Martin Roberts and he was really good about improvising and also very encouraging. He would show me barre chords, then the scales and we would suddenly be doing a concert! He was a fantastic guitarist and played all the Villa Lobos repertoire. Then I got lessons from Mike Walker – he’s a great guitar player and teacher – in fact, he’s still one of my favourite players.”

While still at college, Outram took lessons with bass player Steve Berry. “He ran a jazz workshop every week and I used to turn up with my Charvel ‘rock’ guitar. He would bring in tunes to play every week and he made me a great compilation tape, so I really got into playing jazz guitar. I think this is what pushed me to ditch the Charvel and pick up a Heritage 575 [Gibson 175 copy]. I was also playing with the pianist and arranger John Ellis, who was the focal point for jazz in Manchester. He had a 13-piece band and we played all kinds of music from Ray Charles soul stuff to Spanish music and, of course, jazz.”

In 1998, Outram moved to London and after four years of playing the Heritage guitar, he abandoned it and for the next five years didn’t even own a guitar. “I borrowed what I needed. I was really fortunate that I knew lots of people with lots of guitars so I could try things out.” Eventually, he bought an American Telecaster which he played for a couple of years before moving on to his current axe,
the Gibson 335.

“It’s a guitar that can do a lot – it’s so versatile. You can play jazz, pop, funk, rock or for that matter, anything else on it and because I get involved in all kinds of different music, it’s ideal.” But for all its attributes, Outram’s not really happy with the 335. “There are certain effects, sounds, tones that I imagine that I can’t get with the 335. It’s difficult to explain, but the guitar that I want is in my head and I haven’t found a guitar that will do what I want it to do as yet. There are certain things I need, like 24 frets, coil tap, the variotone thing like BB King uses. Maybe a tremolo – I like the idea of it being lighter with a bit more air in the body. There’s something about the angle of the body on the Strat that’s really nice, my hand can move more quickly than it can on the 335.”

“I wouldn’t play an archtop now because first of all, you have a feedback problem that I don’t enjoy. I don’t play that kind of music and I don’t use heavy strings – my 335 is strung with a set of 10s. Having said that, when I played my Heritage I used to use a set of 13s with a 16 on top – like Pat Martino – really, really heavy. When I played in funk bands, I was bending notes like there was no tomorrow, getting more inflection out of the instrument. But you can’t really do that on a jazz guitar, it’s just a note – a very flat sound. Don’t misunderstand me, I love that kind of music, Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino etc, but I don’t hear my music like that; I come from a more rock/blues perspective.”

“My first amp was an H&H, which I put through a Marshall 4X12 cab. Then I had a guitar version of the little Gallien Krueger bass amp. After that I used a 40-watt Roland Cube, then a Mesa Boogie DC5. I got along with the Mesa for a while, but it’s too ‘top endy’ – there’s too much treble. It’s a 50-watt amp and on gigs I’d only ever have it on one, and you only get the best sound out of the amp when it’s being driven – but you get the most complaints from the audience.

“Now I use a Cornford 18-watt Hurricane combo with a 12” Celestion. Being 18-watt means I can drive it and it’s really light, compared to carrying the Mesa from gig to gig, in and out of a car – upstairs/downstairs, that was a real back breaker.”

Outram is also known for his pedal collection. “I have a Jim Dunlop 535Q wah pedal with five settings on it – none of which are particularly great – but the wah’s OK. I have four or five handmade pedals by Z-VEX. They’re American and they’re really good. There’s an overdrive, a programmed random wah-wah, an octave pedal, and a couple of delay pedals.