Amidst the critical mass of Instagram guitarists competing for attention with hashtags and high hopes of a PickUp feature, Nicholas Veinoglou knows how to stand out from the crowd.

First of all, he isn’t afraid to get creative or embrace his unique sense of humor on social media – you might have seen him serenading cows, playing half-naked in the snow, and even dressing up as a Bob Ross painting. He’s known as “The Donut Doctor”, which, if you were wondering, is due to his affinity for circular pastries and his tendency to give them as gifts.

However, you should know that there’s much more to Nicholas Veinoglou than Instagram gimmicks and unique personal branding – he’s a powerful guitarist.

Nicholas graduated Magna Cum Laude from Berklee in 2015 with a degree in Jazz guitar performance and a minor in harmony. Since he left Berklee, he has released an EP titled Love Languages, toured with artists like Jordan Fisher, and worked as a session guitarist, arranger, and songwriter. He’s also currently on tour with Atlantic Records artist Bazzi.

In this installment of our Fret Chat series, we sat down with Nicholas to chat about his philosophy on guitar…

Nicholas’s guitar influences and players to watch

Nicholas’s playing style features a unique blend of blues, classical, and jazz guitar. He can shred high-gain lead licks, serenade you with solo jazz playing, or bust out bluesy folk grooves on an acoustic guitar. At Berklee, he studied under the likes of Mick Goodrick, Tim Miller, Tomo Fujita, and Jetro De Silva, but the guitar players who most inspire him are Lenny Breau, Ted Greene, Derek Trucks, and Julian Lage.

“[Lenny Breau and Ted Greene are] both brilliant, brilliant solo jazz guitar players,” he said, “really innovative arrangements, crazy sense of harmony— they’re basically doing what Bill Evans was doing, but on the fretboard. Lenny Breau pioneered the right hand harmonic waterfall technique, which is one of my favorite sounds on the instrument. They’re both also super influenced by classical music, which is really inspiring.”

“Julian Lage is more of a contemporary jazz player, like a jazz-folk kind of master— probably the most prolific player of our time currently…in terms of skill, capacity, and overall knowledge of music,” Nicholas said, “He studies Alexander Technique too, which is a really interesting thing. If you watch Julian Lage play, it’s like watching a butterfly just effortlessly pounce from flower to flower. He’s almost using no energy, and it’s incredible.”

On the blues side of things, Nicholas admires Derek Trucks for his no frills approach to guitar.

“Derek Trucks is able to emulate the human voice on the guitar,” he explained, “[Slide guitar is] the most beautiful sound that the guitar can produce in the right hands [like Derek’s]. He uses his SG directly into an amp that’s all the way cranked. He doesn’t use any pedals— there’s no bullshit, it’s just a straight love injection.”

When Nicholas was at NAMM this year, he met a young guitarist by the name of Brandon Niederauer. Brandon, who at the ripe age of fifteen has shared the stage with some of the most prolific guitarists in the world, is definitely a player to keep an eye on.

“This kid is just so on top of it,” Nicholas said, “he just rips, absolutely insane, super inspiring. I transcribe his solos, they’re beautiful.”

Nicholas’s practice routine

Harmony is the name of Nicholas’s practice game. While he tries to change his routine up, he said that 95% of it is focused on triads.

“I practice spread triads, closed triads, voice leading, arpeggios, 7th chords— it’s all harmony,” he explained, “I don’t practice many lines…[I focus on] coming up with interesting ways to play the same chord in different area of the neck. That’s all I practice: harmony, harmony, harmony. It’s the best thing in the world.”

What to do when you’re feeling stuck

If you ask most guitar players what to do when you’re feeling stagnant in your guitar playing, they’ll probably advise checking out new music or transcribing solos from different instruments. Nicholas has a different approach.

“If I’m completely stumped, I’ll just stop playing all together,” he said, “No music at all. I won’t listen to music, I won’t play music, I’ll try not to think about music. I’ll go on a hike…I’ll work on an extraneous skill like cooking. Anything to take yourself away from it.”

Nicholas has a great point. When you do anything everyday for hours on end, it can start to lose its magic, and it’s easy to fall into a rut.

“When you don’t listen to music all the time, you start hearing what you want to say and what you sound like,” he said, “If you’re always just taking other people’s ideas, where’s the room for your own voice to come out? Obviously we’re all just product of who we surround ourselves with and a product of our environment…but I think when you take some quiet time to just listen to yourself…that can be super helpful.”

Overlooked aspects of playing & advice for other guitarists

Are you more of a Nile Rodgers than an Eric Johnson? If so, then Nicholas appreciates you – to him, rhythm playing is an aspect of guitar playing that’s neglected too often.

“People always go directly to shredding or playing lead and then they can’t just groove on a simple one chord (jam),” he said, “Rhythm playing is like the wheels on your car, that’s how you’re going to get anywhere in life…Focus on your rhythm.”

Nicholas’s advice for fellow guitarists mirrored that of Cory Wong’s in another 'Fret Chat' – be yourself. Nicholas often encounters students who come to him with aspirations to shred or play like just their influences.

“As soon as you say I need to play like this person or I need to be able to do that, you’re really robbing yourself of your own musical identity [and] your own strengths,” he said, “The people we look up to are the people that literally did their own thing. We identify strongly with other artists who have a really strong sound  because they developed their own sound.”

“Obviously transcribing other people’s music is very important – i’d say it’s the number one way to get a better vocabulary on your instrument, but don’t stop doing your own weird shit. If you’re onto something weird…just go for it. Don’t get caught up in other people’s bullshit or what’s hip. Just listen to yourself— Don’t forget to be you. Everyone else is already taken.”

Truer words never spoken. Get out there and find your unique style. Just don’t try to rock a pro-donut brand of bluesy, classically inspired jazz guitar – Nicholas already has that covered.

Author: Kyle Sparkman