Rapidly gaining praise in the world of instrumental rock and beyond, Ernie Ball Music Man artist Gretchen Menn isn’t your average guitar hero on the rise. She once flew regional jets to support her six-string habit, and has studied the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Jimmy Page, and fellow Music Man artist Steve Morse. Menn has been featured on Guitar Player Magazine’s list of ‘50 Sensational Female Guitarists‘ and was nominated by readers of Vintage Guitar Magazine as ‘Artist of the Year’ alongside Steve Vai, Dan Auerbach, Rik Emmet, and Alan Holdsworth.
We had the opportunity to speak with Menn about her musical inspirations, Music Man instruments, and the one thing she can’t live without on tour…
Q & A with Gretchen Menn:
EB: How did you get your start in the music industry?
GM: I grew up in a family that valued music of all sorts, from Bob Dylan to Beethoven. Music was always around, always a part of my life. I had some requisite piano lessons when I was five, and I played the flute for about three years in elementary school. Guitar was the first instrument that really captured me, and my love of it and seriousness about it grew the more time I invested. A pivotal moment was deciding to study music in college and taking classical guitar lessons with Phillip de Fremery, an amazing musician, teacher, and former student of Andrés Segovia.
EB: What was your earliest memory of music?
GM: I think probably my mom and dad singing to me at bedtime. That would have been really early… Or dancing around my living room to the soundtrack for Hans Christian Andersen with my sister when we were about two and four.
EB: Who has been your biggest inspiration in music?
GM: I couldn’t pick just one. So many people inspire me in such unique ways. Steve Morse has been one of my biggest and most enduring inspirations—not just for his guitar playing, though obviously that, but also his compositional abilities, and the type of person he his—incredibly hardworking, practical, and genuinely humble.
EB: This career isn’t an easy one. What inspires you to wake up every morning to write, record, and perform?
GM: The love and fascination I have for music. Though music carries with it immediate, inherent rewards, much of the path involves delayed gratification. Having to develop patience and embrace the process of working hard are challenges music demands of me that help make me a better person.
EB: What is your best memory on stage?
GM: There have been so many wonderful memories on stage… recently I played the City of Guitars Festival in Locarno, Switzerland. I was there for less than 48 hours, and the whole trip was surreal. Everyone was so incredibly kind and treated me SO well. The stage and the square where they held the festival were gorgeous. The festival house band were fantastic musicians who were impeccably-prepared. I was nervous to be scheduled to perform last of the night, and assumed they had me on as the “closer” to be playing as everyone filtered out. To my amazement, the audience stayed. It was both perplexing and overwhelming—this gorgeous Swiss square with people as far back as I could see. Beautiful smiles, wonderful engagement, incredible support. I tried to fix the details of the moment in my mind, knowing I’d always treasure them.
EB: What’s the most abnormal thing you can’t do without on tour?
GM: A sleeping bag. Hotels can be sketchy, and it’s nice to have a barrier between me and who-knows-what disgustingness has happened on hotel sheets.
EB: What was that pivotal moment in your career when you realized you knew this is what you wanted to do?
GM: It was at a Dixie Dregs show, and I was watching the musicians, marveling at how joyous everyone seemed, how connected [they were] with each other and the music. Then it dawned on me that what they were doing was their job. I thought, ‘Oh, wow… if I worked hard enough, could I do that as a career?!’
EB: How does playing music make you feel? How do you want people to feel when listening to your music?
GM: Music—playing it, performing it, creating it—involves the entire emotional spectrum for me. I have moments of pure flow, bliss… moments of humor or delight… moments of self-loathing, terror, frustration. I certainly hope not to impart those negative ones to anyone else, and I do my best to redirect them to something useful (like motivation to work harder) when they crop up for me. While I don’t have an agenda of how my music should affect anyone, I want my listeners to feel respected—that I am not wasting their time with anything that was phoned in or created in an offhand, lazy, or egotistical way. My belief is that if I can create from a place of honesty, integrity, and commitment to doing the best I can at the moment, no harm will come of it.
EB: What made you choose your Music Man and how does your instrument inspire you to create your signature sound?
GM: I have used Music Man instruments from day one. I still have my first guitar—a gorgeous blue burst Silhouette. As someone whose interests span a large range of styles, my Music Man guitars have the versatility and flexibility for the whole gamut. They are home to me.
EB: What is one piece of advice that you would give someone trying to jump start their career in music?
GM: Know why you’re doing music, and keep that in sight as you forge and navigate your path. Work hard, never stop growing, and be a good person. Okay, that’s more than one thing.
EB: What’s next for you?
GM: I’m working on music for a couple of new albums, doing shows with both my original trio and Zepparella (a tribute to Led Zeppelin), heading to Germany in the summer for a performance of some of my original material and teaching a week-long workshop. I have a bunch of educational materials either just released or soon to be—with JamPlay, Acoustic Guitar Magazine, and now on the Zepparella YouTube Channel for a series on the music of Led Zeppelin (the Zepparella Learning Channel). And I am always studying, practicing, composing.
Gretchen Menn plays with an Ernie Ball Music Man Silhouette guitar and the Cutlass RS SSS guitar. She also plays with Ernie Ball Paradigm Skinny Top Heavy Bottom strings.
Listen to Gretchen Menn