Interview with guitarist François “Shanka” Maigret

François “Shanka” Maigret is certainly one of the best current French guitarists.
Multi-instrumentalist, guitar teacher, guitarist with “France de Griessen”, with “No one is Innocent” and singer-guitarist with “The Dukes”… among others.

François kindly accepted to answer to our questions and to tell us about his career, his projects, and of course his guitars and gear !!

Could you please tell us a bit about how you got into playing music ? Do you remember any specific moments that sparked your interest in music and playing guitar?
I started playing electric guitar at the age of 14. The original spark has been Angus Young… When I first saw that guy rolling on the floor while playing killer solos, I said to myself: “That’s what I wanna do… Whatever it takes!”. So I started learning on my own, listening to CDs, watching videos, buying songbooks. I discovered other great guitar players like Paul Gilbert, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Zakk Wylde, Dimebag Darrell, Nuno Bettencourt and so on and began recording myself, which helped a lot to make progress! Then, the usual story: first bands, first recordings, left my hometown for Paris, first pro band, first tour… Since there was no artists or musicians in my family, I thought it’d never work, but it’s been 10 years now so I guess I didn’t suck that much!

Which musicians or bands have been the greatest inspiration and have had the greatest influence on your understanding of music and your playing?
As I said, Angus was the original spark. Then I’d say that Paul Gilbert was my greatest inspiration, as a guitar player and as a teacher. I always loved the way he explained things with both humor and kindness. And no need to say his playing is mind-blowing… Later on I started listening to jazz and country players like Jim Hall (the classiest an on earth), Mike Stern, Tony Rice… I studied harmony and ended up creating my own solo style, which is a mix of blues, metal and be-bop, using country techniques like chicken picking or pedal-steel-like licks. As I read my last phrase, I must say it sounds rather pretentious, all the more because most of the time I end up on stage rolling on the floor making random noise…

Have you already jammed with one of them?
I jammed with Paul Gilbert once (thanks to the French magazine Guitar Part)… I was completely stoked. Still today I don’t understand how I could play a single note, I felt totally paralyzed. I met a lot of famous musicians and I’m generally acting “normal” in that kind of situation, but this time I was completely shocked. I saw him performing a masterclass in my hometown when I was 16 and had the chance to shake his hand… I didn’t wash it for days!!! When I told him that story the day we jammed together, he laughed his ass off!

What advise you give to fans wishing to perfect their playing and broaden out their understanding of music, or what is the first advise you give to your guitar students?
I’d say : “don’t forget where you come from, little monkey”. Since we’re all monkeys (we evolved a bit, but still!), the best way for us to learn things is to first imitate them. “Listen and repeat” is the best way to learn music, it worked with all my students, especially the ones with rhythmic or melodic issues. Then, in parallel, you study theory and start building your own personality! But ear training is definitively very important.

How many days a year do you spend on road? Is it hard to be on a tour and still keep the mindset to create and produce music?
I’d say half of my time is spent on the road. I recently had the chance to have a chat with the great Reeves Gabrels (Bowie’s former guitarist) and he told me how he thought that our lives were very similar to pirate’s, it totally struck me : a bunch of guys going from town to town, taking whatever they can, moving to the next city… It’s a thrill, really. It’s hard to get back to reality when you get back home, but it’s really worth it! I have my own studio to compose, produce and record so it’s not that complicated to keep making music, even if the creative part of the day sadly remains the smaller one… One’s got to pay his rent, like anybody!

Can you please tell us about the guitars, amps and effects you are mainly using, and why you have chosen the guitars & gear you have?
I’m mainly using a ’67 Gibson SG Jr, a Fender Elvis Costello Jazzmaster, a Daddy Mojo CigarBox guitar (which is amazing by the way) and two Roadrunner custom guitars. One of those is equipped with a miniaturized harmonica mic hidden in the upper horn that allows me to be called “the guitar whisperer”… Concerning the amps, I’m using a ’70 Fender Bassman 50, a custom Orange OR50 and a custom Marshall JCM800. I also have a Fender supersonic 100 that is really great.

Do you use the same guitars and gear with “No One is Innocent” and with “The Dukes”?
Depends on the mood, but yes mostly!

Do the guitars & gear you play live differ from the guitars you’re using during recording sessions?
Yes, in the studio I tend to record on much smaller amps. I’m using a few teles and my old Fender mustang too that I almost never use on stage.

Are you into vintage guitars & old amps/effects? If yes which brands/models and why? Maybe you have a special story to tell around one or more of your guitars?
I always hated the kind of Parisian snobs who judge you by the amount of vintage guitars that you own… Then I found my old SG Jr and started becoming a Parisian snob myself! But I still don’t judge people according to their gear! My philosophy is: I don’t care if it’s old or new, it’s gotta work and sound good. I recently bought a very cheap acoustic guitar so I can play when I go to my parents’ place… Eventually I brought it back to my studio since it sounds far better than my Taylor! I tend to like original instruments, like my Team Laser guitar-sitar or my cigarbox. I don’t care if the guitar is comfortable or not, if it’s got the sound that I want, I just adapt my playing to the axe I’m using. I’m really proud of the two models we designed with Laurent Hassoun (Roadrunner guitars): they’re pretty original and sound killer. Laurent is the best rock’n’roll luthier in France, no doubt. His instruments are amazing and the guy is a true rocknrolla!

What are your future plans? With “No One”, “The Dukes”, or alone?
I’m going to record the Dukes’ second LP in Los Angeles this summer, I’m pretty excited about it. I’m also working on No One is Innocent’s and France de Griessen’s new LPs these days… Composing’s my own disease: I just can’t help it, I’ve gotta work on new songs everyday! I also started playing with Abel Croze, an artist who plays for the children, which is pretty amazing… The show is pretty rock’n’roll, you should see those kids yelling, dancing and raising hell with their teachers completely losing control, it’s really something!

Any famous last words?
Music saves lives, don’t kill it… I don’t care if you download stuff, but be responsible and support your favourite artists or they’ll die (and I’m not talking about Britney or Miley, if you see what I mean!!). And above all, dare to be curious, there are fantastic new bands fighting to exist everywhere, all you’ve got to do is to find them… And with the internet there are no excuses!

More information about Shanka’s bands:

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