Fran Alonso is a guitarist from Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, also known as The Fortunate Islands. His videos have regularly been featured in the Videos of the Week section on our website. This is no surprise, as the clips not only showcase his talents as a guitarist, but also demonstrate what great tones the Axe-Fx II can produce. We interviewed him to find out a bit more about him and what it is like to be a fortunate guitarist in the Fortunate Islands.
Congratulations on your opening act for Kee Marcello (Europe) and Neil Murray (Whitesnake) on 6th June with your band (BytheFace). Sharing the stage with such heavy-weight European rock stars must be a great experience. Were they among your influences when you were learning to play? What bands and guitarists have influenced your guitar playing style and tone the most?
"Thanks a lot. Yes, we’re very happy. It’s a dream come true for us and a reward for all our hard work. Sharing the stage with hard rock monsters like them is something huge and I hope it will be a great experience. Kee Marcello is a fantastic guitarist in my view. I spent many an hour trying to copy his spectacular solos on the album "Out Of This World", which he recorded with Europe. I never achieved it, of course, LOL.
Neil Murray is a living legend... he’s played for Gary Moore, Whitesnake, Black Sabbath, Michael Schenker, Steve Vai, Satriani and so on... All of them have had a great impact on my playing style over the years. I’m honoured to be sharing the stage with him!!"
Tell us a bit about you. How did you start? What bands have you played with?
"I started to play the guitar a long time ago, when I was about 13 or 14. Mostly self-taught, but I also attended classes with some of the best players and in the best music academies in Las Palmas (Canary Islands). Alongside many collaborations with several bands in recordings and live events, I’ve played with some local bands like Demian, Kellion or the Hard Rock band KRULL, who I recorded a couple of albums with. Well, I do also have another project, but I have to keep it a secret. I’ll tell you about it if it turns out well. It’s a recording with an international band.
Nowadays I'm playing with a cover band called ByTheFace, made up of former members of KRULL in a power trio format with bass, drums and guitar, plus a girl on the vocals. Unfortunately, playing your own music isn’t much of a recipe for success anymore these days, and it’s even worse if you play rock. I felt like I was getting old in the rehearsal room and we had to make the decision to stop Krull and start covering other bands’ tunes. On the one hand it makes me sad and it’s frustrating, as I have plenty of ideas for my own songs, but on the other hand I can say that things are going well and we’ve got plenty of concert dates."
When did you first hear about the Axe-Fx?
"Well, I already knew about the Axe-Fx a long time ago. A friend from here in Las Palmas had been using one of the first models since it came out and spoke wonders of it. Then I could listen to one in person when another mate bought an AxeFx II. After that, thanks to the internet and the fantastic demos you can find there, I was quite convinced that it really was something great!"
What was your former rig like? What made up your mind to take the plunge?
"I've gone through several stages in the last years. I’ve played a valve combo in the clean channel plus pedals, I’ve played with Marshall power amps and Tech21 solid state preamps, I’ve owned a Mesa Boogie Triaxis plus a Mesa power amp and a TC Electronics FX Processor... and before getting my Axe I even owned what you might call the “dream rig”: a Bogner Shiva head, Strymon Timeline and Bluesky pedals, Bogner pedals, Providence, etc....
I decided to take the plunge soon after I got my Bogner Shiva. Many didn’t understand my decision but it was clear for me. What Fractal had achieved was not from this planet, they had been able to "betray" my ears and senses. The Axe gives me that valve feeling and dynamics which were previously only achievable with valve equipment. Also, there were a few things that had been annoying me live, such as problems with faulty patch cables, and my pedal board was a complete mess on the floor, with power supplies and cables all over the place. Another problem just waiting to happen.
I studied the possibilities of the Axe and the likelihood of technical problems was almost zero. I also bought an MFC 101 plus Ethercom cable, which provides power alongside sending commands to my Axe and my expression pedals, and now I’m extremely relaxed. After almost one year with my Axe I’ve had zero issues!"
How has your live/studio experience improved with an Axe-Fx II in your rig?
"Well, kind of what I already answered in the previous question: the feeling of reliability which the Axe-Fx provides is priceless. Playing with nothing to worry about except enjoying yourself is a fantastic feeling. Also, the hassle free sound checks: I have the same tone in whatever venue or situation. I purchased a Matrix GT1000FX power amp which I use everywhere with my stereo 4x12 Marshall cab. Simply great!!!
Another huge improvement has been the quality of the effects. I spent some insane years buying, trading, selling myriad effect pedals in my search for the perfect tone for each situation, all to no avail. Now with my Axe-FX II I can imagine something and just get it. Colossal chorus effects, stereo shimmers, delays which travel from left to right and the FOH is always reproducing my true guitar tone. And all this with a warm reverb which surrounds you... there’s no pedal that can match the quality of the effects in the Axe!"
Which is your favourite amp sim in the Axe-Fx II? And your favourite effect?
"My favourite sim is the Friedman. I find it brutally good. It’s the one which best suits my style and I feel most comfortable with. It’s incredibly dynamic and picks up even the subtlest touch of my hands on the strings. Warm and sweet, or edgy and ripping just when you need it; simply wonderful!
As for the effects, there are two which I find particularly outstanding: the Quad Chorus is superb, providing that 80s chorus tone that I favour so much and that I spent years searching for. Similar to the tone used in the 80s by session players like Michael Landau or Steve Lukather... a wide and surrounding tone! The other one is the Shimmering effect. When well set and used at the right moment, this effect creates a tail of harmonizing mini delays that give a real feeling of depth and hugeness. As I play the only harmonic instrument in the band, I find this effect indispensable.
We really liked your tone in your Blues in Blue youtube video, punchy while sweet and aggressive but subtle. Was that your own patch or a factory one? What is your approach to patch creation with the Axe-Fx II?
"Thank you very much, I’m glad that you liked my video. I agree, it’s really a fantastic tone. It combines the warmth which my superstrat provides with the edgy and aggressive tone that you can get by simply selecting another pickup. It’s my own preset. I create all my presets. I’m sure about what I want to sound like and so I just get on with it. The Axe has all the imaginable tools to get whatever you want soundwise.
I must admit I’m quite finicky about my tone when I approach preset creation, so I really work hard on it. I look for versatility. As I play in a cover band which plays different genres I need some variety. I spend hours in the rehearsal room or at home with AxeEdit making sure the effects don’t hide too much my guitar tone, and that my tone cuts through in the band mix. I work a lot on the panning and the perfect balance of delays and modulation effects. And, of course, together with my MFC 101 I’ve found the perfect compromise between convenience and functionality! All this work in the background is worthwhile when I’m playing live and everyone says, "Yeah, that’s a terrific guitar sound, mate!" LOL"
Do you use the Tone Match block in your Axe-Fx II to clone your favourite amp tones or your own amps?
I find the Tone Match function a fantastic idea. I have downloaded and tried out a lot of different tones, but, as I already mentioned, I have a clear idea of what I want to sound like and I don’t really use Tone Match tones with my band. But I have to admit you can find really terrific tones out there, and you can learn a lot from the way they are laid out and set up.
Thank you very much for your time, Fran!
"Thanks for everything. It’s great that you’ve included some of my videos in your 'User Videos' section on the G66 website."