Meet the player - An interview with R.J.Ronquillo
The last few years has seen the rise of YouTube as a incredibly immersive, influential, and powerful tool in the guitar world (among others too of course!). From providing viewers with what is essentially quality weekly TV programming revolving around our gear obsessions like the brilliant 'That Pedal Show' or 'Andertons TV', to in depth lessons and incredibly vast selections of gear demos, almost taking away the need to get your hands on the gear to try in a store for yourself, (almost!). This strong following on a versatile platform has resulted in a large number of talented players to get the spotlight their hard work deserves, perhaps where they otherwise may have gone unnoticed. One thing YouTube has certainly done is broaden our knowledge and awareness of talented players further than the odd guy tearing it up at the local gig venue or guitar showroom on any given weekend, or names mentioned in the latest printed guitar magazine. YouTube has firmly made it's stamp on the guitar industry.

RJ Ronquillo interview

YouTube was where I first saw and heard the man we're speaking with today, and the inaugural guitarist to kick off our new series of interviews, R.J.Ronquillo.

I came across his playing on his videos for Artisan Guitars & National Resonator Guitars, demo-ing their range of instruments with some incredible slide playing, even noticing that on some of his videos there was the familiar sight of a Diamond Bottlenecks slide. Having followed for a little while now, learning more about RJ lead me to find out about his incredible career as a session musician, both live and in the studio, so the hard work was clear, and the talent even clearer. I wanted to kick off my new series of interviews with RJ, so let's dive in!

J - RJ! Thanks for your time today, a pleasure to have you as the first of our new player interview series'. So, let's take it right back to the beginning, where did your passion for the guitar first start? A guitar hero perhaps that influenced those first few notes.

RJ - Thanks for having me James. In the beginning, it was my Dad who introduced me to the guitar. He was a hobbyist musician and always had instruments around the house: piano, drums, and guitars. Although I grew up with guitars around me, it wasn't until age 9 that I really got interested in it. I had been learning chords on my on my own, and had a little acoustic student guitar. That year, a movie called "Back To The Future" came out, and to this day I tell people THAT was my first and biggest influence on guitar. Marty McFly was my first guitar hero! But it was through that movie i learned about Chuck Berry, and in turn, a whole bible full of guitarists. 

J - The USA is crammed full of musical heritage, each state, each city, famous for a unique sound. Did where you were raised have an influence on your early days of playing, and does touring around the US today further build on inspiring new styles to your playing?

RJ - I've been fortunate to have lived in several different cities around the US, and each has been very influential to my playing and musical interests. I grew up in Detroit, Michigan which of course has a rich musical heritage. But Motown didn't really make it's way onto my radar till later in life. Growing up, it was all rock n roll radio. There's was 80's music on the radio all the time, but I also gravitated to the classic rock stations as I got more into the guitar. I moved to Miami, Florida to attend the University of Miami and while I was studying jazz guitar, I was introduced to Afro-Cuban and Latin music, and reggae. After college, I played in local cover bands, and eventually started touring and recording with various Latin, Reggae, and Hip Hop artists. I eventually moved to LA, because at the time, in my eyes, that was the place to be to do more Rock and Pop tours and sessions. I met and worked with a lot of great players in the Rock, Pop, R&B circuit there, but I also got deeper into Blues, Rockabilly, and Roots music. There's a great West Coast Blues scene in Southern California, and some of my favorite players like Kid Ramos, Junior Watson, and Rick Holmstrom would gig around town, so it was great to go watch them. After a few years in LA, I moved back to the midwest, this time to Chicago. Although I was only there for a short time, the music scene there was so inspiring: blues, rockabilly, roots, jazz, rock n roll - really they have everything. For example, I remember going to see Queens The Stone Age, and then after the show, walking to a little jazz club and watching a killer jazz trio. These days, Nashville is where I call home and I love it. It's also a city that has a little bit of everything, not just country music. It really is a guitar town, so I feel very at home here!  

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J - Touching on touring there, you have built up an incredibly broad and impressive range of artists you've worked with for your session work. How did you begin your career as a session guitarist? and were there any standout moments or learning curves in those early years that would perhaps help an up and coming session player in their career path?

RJ - So my very first session happened because the producer needed some last minute guitar tracks, his first call players weren't available, so they recommended me. I was his last hope lol! It was rhythm guitars for a song that Chad Kroeger (Nickelback) wrote for Carlos Santana's "Shaman" record, called "Why Don't You And I". At the time, I didn't have a ton of gear but I made sure I brought guitars that sounded good and stayed in tune, and really my only good sounding amp I had which was a Peavey Classic 100 head. I don't even think I used any pedals on that session. The guitars I brought were a Larrivee C-09 acoustic, a Schecter strat, and my Gibson Les Paul Custom, which you can hear all 3 on the track. If the producer is good and knows what he or she wants, the sessions are fun and a breeze. I've had sessions where the producer needed to watch a movie and smoke some herb, before he knew what kind of guitars he wanted on this one song - I was waiting around the studio for like 11 hours!  My advice to players interested in doing session work:  approach the session with an open mind, and make sure your gear is working properly! 

J - I touched on this in my opening paragraph (which you'll read when the interview goes live!) but I first discovered you and your playing via the great videos you played on for Artisan Guitars & National Resophonic, and I was really captured by your slide playing and clear passion for it. That was where I first noticed your work, but which videos do you feel were your standout ones and which gave you the launching pad to further push on with the ever popular YouTube demo-ing platform?

RJ - I have to admit, I never planned on developing a YouTube presence to where it is today.  I think it all started with the copper Eastwood Tuxedo. I bought that direct from Eastwood and loved the tone of it so much I wanted to do a video of it. At the time, I was living in LA and really into the West Coast Blues thing, and that guitar is perfect for it. So the video is kind of a mix of Blues and Rockabilly, I made the backing track in Logic with drum samples. I think the rootsy-ness of it really resonated with a lot of viewers. Not a lot of distortion or effects, just the guitar plugged into a warm tube amp. Shortly after that, I posted another video with the Tuxedo, playing an arrangement of "Sleepwalk", which I think really got the ball rolling for me. I started working with Eastwood consistently after that, and eventually other companies followed. 

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J - YouTube has become such a strong and influential platform within the guitar world, seeing 100s of thousands of subscribers across the big players. How do you feel this ever growing social outlet has affected learning the guitar, and also those that perhaps played for a number of years?

RJ - Part of me wishes I had YouTube growing up, but I'm still glad I learned the ol' fashioned way hahaha. I absolutely use YouTube as a learning tool. Recently I had to learn the solo from "Practice What You Preach" by Testament, for a gig. The transcription I had wasn't making any sense in some parts, so I immediately went to YouTube and pulled up several videos of Alex Skolnick playing it live. And there are sites that will slow down any Youtube video, so it's a perfect way to learn. You really can learn just about anything on guitar just from YouTube, from beginner to advanced. The one thing you can't learn from it is how to play with other people. Eventually you have to turn off the computer/put down your smartphone, interact with people, get into a room with other musicians and just jam. To me that's the most important aspect playing music - learning to play well with others.  Speaking on the social outlet aspect, i've discovered and met so many great players that I probably would never have, had it not been for YouTube and Instagram. It's one of the greatest ways musicians can get themselves in front of an audience. 

J - Let's talk a bit about your own guitar collection, it's what us guitar geeks are best at huh. What is your current favourite squeeze, and has there been any real standard instruments during your playing years or perhaps 'lost loves' along the way?

RJ - Oh man, I don't have one particular favorite, they're like my children! I have a Fender Custom Shop Relic Tele that I could play for the rest of my life. A PRS Singlecut that has been a real workhorse touring guitar - i've never had it setup, it stays in tune and plays perfectly. One lost love comes to mind, a 70's Gibson 175 with a Charlie Christian pickup. That was my jazz guitar in college and it sounded so cool with that pickup. I traded it for a 335, at the time I was playing more R&B gigs than jazz gigs. I don't have a big jazz box anymore, I really need to get one.

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J - One thing that has always interested me about session musicians are their rigs in preparation for working for certain artists. Do you find you have to tweak your rig (studio or live) to suit the artists you're working with, or have you found a happy medium that will provide you with a versatile base?

RJ - I am constantly tweaking my pedalboard and amp setup. Recently I put together a big mothership pedalboard that I usually keep at home for sessions and videos. It pretty much has all the stuff I need: overdrives, fuzzes, delays, modulation stuff. Occasionally I'll take it on gigs, but i prefer taking a smaller pedalboard with just enough stuff to get by for that particular show. If i'm not stepping on it during the set, it's not on the board. It's basically a tuner, overdrive, and delay. 

R.J.Ronquillo Interview - Home of Tone Blog

J - Any real stand out artists you've worked alongside, and perhaps surprising moments from working with them?

RJ - Touring with Ricky Martin in 2007 was quite memorable. It was my first time playing stadiums and arenas, and traveling extensively. He is the consummate performer - between singing, dancing, and working the crowd; a lot of people don't realize how hard some of these artists work on stage night after night. Another memorable moment was shooting a tv performance with Stevie Wonder. In between takes, Stevie would noodle around on the piano, playing the chords to "Giant Steps" by John Coltrane, while humming this crazy beautiful melody over it, and we were all using in-ear monitors so I heard it as if he was humming into my ears.

R.J.Ronquillo Interview - Home of Tone Blog

J - RJ & The Del Guapos, is it important for you to have your personal group as a creative outlet and what does the future hold for this band or perhaps other personal projects coming up?

RJ - RJ & The Del Guapos was something I started in LA, I was super into early rock 'n roll, rhythm & blues. I'm a huge fan Nick Curran, and when he passed away, I just felt the need to somehow keep that spirit alive. I was very happy with the way the record turned out, and I loved playing it live. Everybody in the band is a working musician with other gigs, so I had no expectations for the project other than local gigs and selling a few records. When I moved to Chicago, I got a few local guys together to do some shows, there is a great scene for that type of music up there. I wouldn't mind resurrecting it sometime in the near future here in Nashville. Currently I'm working on a project that is more traditional blues, I haven't decided how much of it will be instrumental or vocal. But that's next on my plate. 

J - Do you have a particular practice or technique routine?

RJ - Not really. Sometimes I go through phases where I want to learn a specific technique, like Yngwie picking. BTW, Troy Grady's "Cracking The Code" videos are excellent for that,  in my opinion. I'll spend a few days on it till I get it right, and then move on to something else, like Bob Brozman slide techniques. It's weird, I have a broad interest in all things guitar related. 

R.J.Ronquillo Interview - Home of Tone Blog

J - Let's finish up with some words of advise for those looking to start and grow a YouTube channel, or similar outlet, what do you feel is important to get noticed and looking back on your own story, what advice would've helped you in your own journey?

RJ - I really think right now is the golden age of YouTube and Instagram. Get started NOW if you have even the slightest interest in getting into the game. I'm learning that the art of social network self promotion is changing all the time, new avenues and ways to promote are always popping up. Don't be overly concerned with how many followers you have or how many likes you get, just be yourself.  Find a way to separate yourself from the rest of the pack, whether it's a certain musical style, camera shot, etc. 

Thanks so much to RJ for taking the time to speak to us, a pleasure to have his name and words grace the very first of our new 'Meet the player' series of interviews! You can visit RJ's website HERE, and be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel HERE!

Thanks for reading!

hoto credits from this interview are from R.J's own website & social media.


Stu George

Stu George said:

Cool interview there James. Have been a fan of RJ’s for about a year now courtesy of Youtube. Cracking player alright. Nice one……

Roxanne Abden

Roxanne Abden said:

Hey son ! I am so proud of you! You followed your dreams and they have come true! I love you very much! Mom

James Ponder

James Ponder said:

Thanks very much for this! Ronquillo is one of the most interesting players I ever watch. Love his videos and this was a great intro to the man and his background.

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