As his new signature Boden NX 8 Richard Henshall Edition model is released into the world, critically-acclaimed progressive UK guitarist and .strandberg* artist Richard Henshall (Haken, Nova Collective, Solo) sat down with us to discuss all the features of his new guitar, plans for the future, touring, and much more.
First off, congratulations on your new Boden NX 8 Richard Henshall Edition signature guitar! Can you walk us through some of your favorite specs of the new model? Anything you’re particularly excited about?
Thanks a lot! Ola and I have been chatting about the idea of a signature guitar for a while now so it feels great to finally see these discussions coming to life. I was very lucky that everything coincided with the release of the brand new NX range of Strandberg guitars. In fact, the first prototype I received for my signature guitar was with the old specs and there is definitely a noticeable difference between that version and the refined NX version. Everything feels smoother, more streamlined, and comfier on this next generation of Bodens. I also feel content knowing that the instrument I’m playing is made using sustainable materials!
I’ve been using Lundgren M8s for the last few years now so it was a no-brainer when it came to selecting the pickups. They have an incredible range on them and cover the low doom-laden notes and soaring lead tones perfectly. They also handle the softer moments brilliantly too, which is a huge part of my sound. If anyone’s seen my socials you’ll have probably noticed that I’m a little obsessed with the Strandberg Salen, largely for its crunchy tones. It really does sound and play like a dream! When it comes to 8-strings, I’ve always found it tricky to recreate those tele-like tones as extended range guitars seem to be typically be geared towards melting people’s faces! I thought it would be cool to include a coil tap on the signature guitar so I can do my best to chop and change between Fredrik Thorndendale and Albert Lee with the press of a button.
How did you first hear about .strandberg* Guitars?
I actually first heard about Strandberg through my Haken guitar-wielding shred partner, Charlie, way back in 2012 I believe. We got in contact with Ola and it just so happened that he was visiting London at some kind of conference, so we decided to meet. He kindly brought us a couple of guitars to twiddle around on and I instantly fell in love. Over the next year or so we worked on a custom build, which arrived the day before Haken flew out to the Prog Nation 2014 cruise. For some reason, I thought it’d be a good idea to christen the guitar at our first performance on the boat. Bearing in mind I’d never really played an 8-string before, it probably wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever made! There were definitely a few misplaced low F#s in the set.
What was the process like behind developing your new signature guitar? Was there anything especially important to you that you knew it needed to have to suit your playing style?
The process was very smooth. Ola and I batted ideas around for a while, then I just left the wizards at the custom shop to do their thing. As expected, they most certainly delivered the goods. The first prototype felt incredible, then they somehow topped it with the NX version of the guitar. My wife designed the ‘Hen’ inlay which was Initially intended for the 12th fret as that seemed like the standard thing too. We ended up putting it the first fret in the end due to its dimensions, but I’m glad we did as I feel like it suits the overall aesthetic of the guitar better this way. She was massively chuffed to see one of her designs come to life!
Aesthetically, your new signature model has a very “natural” look and feel to it. What made you decide on these specific woods and materials?
You should see my house, I’m practically living in a tree, so when it came to designing the guitar I was always going to gravitate towards something with a natural finish! I’ve always loved seeing the grain in things, it makes everything feel that little bit more tangible. I feel like it’s the equivalent of hearing the string noise on a guitar recording. Ola sent me a bunch of veneer options and I was instantly drawn to the Ziricote finish. I love the fact that the grain will never be the same twice so each guitar will be unique. I went for a roasted birdseye maple neck as I’ve always found it provides a nice amount of punch and clarity. And purely for aesthetical reasons we went for a natural finish for the knobs and binding around the top of the body. We took a while sourcing those knobs, but I think it was worth it as it creates a nice sense of balance. The small details always count!
You’ve been involved in several musical endeavors for a while now, including guitar duties in Haken, your own solo material, and Nova Collective. How do you approach different projects like these in terms of writing and your overall input? Does your creative process change from project to project?
In the early days, it was a lot more simple as I was doing the bulk of the writing in Haken so I didn’t really have any time for other musical endeavors. We decided to make the writing process collaborative with ‘Affinity’, which naturally freed up a lot of time for me, and we’ve been working this way ever since. It was around this time that Dan Briggs from BTBAM and I started working on ideas for Nova Collective, and shortly after that I started sowing the musical seeds for my first solo release ‘The Cocoon’. Nowadays, in Haken, we try to meet up in person and bounce ideas off each other so it’s very clear from the outset where these ideas will end up. For my solo stuff, I just bounce ideas off myself, which can sometimes be tricky. I often end up going round in circles for months so I’ve learned to try and capture the ideas as quickly as possible in their raw form and move onto the next section without too much deliberation. I’ve found that focusing on the broader strokes of a composition rather than the finer details is the best way for me to work. Once the bigger picture is realized I can then go back and fill in the gaps. As for Nova Collective, we’ve been loosely talking about a follow-up to ‘Further Side’. I had so much fun working on that record so it will be great to revisit that stuff at some point.
On the Haken front, you’ve got some pretty exciting tour announcements coming up! Now that live music is slowly making its long-awaited return, what are you most looking forward to when getting back out on the road again?
It’s been a crazy couple of years for everyone! We were on the road with Devin Townsend in March 2020 when the world fell apart and had to cut the tour off short. It was a bit of a mad rush to get home, but we finally made it back and have pretty much been homebound ever since! We’ve got a headline run in February 2022 which will be a lot of fun. We’ll finally get a chance to take some of the tracks from ‘Virus’ for a spin, which feels a little strange as we released it over a year ago now! We also have a Co-headliner with Symphony X lined up which I’m hugely excited about.
Aside from eating the same hummus and cheese sandwiches every day for a month, I’m probably most looking forward to watching Michael Romeo rip it on the guitar on a nightly basis. I’ve been in awe of his playing since my teens so I’ll probably be a bit of a fanboy on that tour.
What does your current tour rig look like and what kinds of tones are you getting out of it?
My rig has always been fairly simple and compact. I’m not really the most technically minded when it comes to gear so the fewer things that can go wrong the better in my book. I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on a Quad Cortex by the good guys at Neural DSP and it really does live up to the hype. I’ve been using their plugins for the last few years so I was excited to see whether it would translate well to the live rig, and I can safely say it does. I also heard that they’re planning on making versions of the plugin archetypes available on the unit, which would be the icing on the cake! It’s generally built like a brick and is practically the size of a lunch box which is ideal for traveling. I’ve had a little play around with it and all the tones I’ve managed to create so far have hit the spot, but I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what this thing can achieve. For the heavy and crunchy patches, I’ve generally been using the Friedman amps and for the cleans, I usually gravitate to the Marshall amps. This loosely reflects the tones and amp choices we go for on our records.
With your new Boden NX 8 signature model, how do you feel it compares to the previous .strandberg* models that you’ve owned/played?
I’ve found that 8-string guitars can sometimes be a chore to play. If you don’t get the tension right it can be a real finger workout! Thankfully, .strandberg* have really nailed it with this guitar. It has just the right amount of sturdiness for the low-end, chuggy moments and a nice amount of give for the high-end stuff, which is crucial for the more technical moments. The tweaks on the NX design generally make it feel more robust and the comfort factor has definitely gone up a notch!
Is there a topic in the world of progressive rock and metal music that you think doesn’t get enough attention? And are there any popular trends in these genres you could live without?
Good question! I don’t know if it counts as a topic, but I’m a huge fan of the band Gentle Giant. They’re an incredible prog rock band from the 70s that often seem to fly under people’s musical radar. Albeit they had some healthy competition back then, but I feel like they don’t really get mentioned enough in discussions about the golden years of prog. In my eyes and ears, they are the masters of syncopation. The drums are often laying the foundations with something fairly simple whilst all the other parts dance around it creating a complex tapestry of rhythm. They have a real knack for making use of every instrument in the arrangement which is something we always aspire towards in Haken. Nothing feels wasted in their music.
As for things I can live without… marmite. Hate the stuff! I don’t really have any major gripes when it comes to music, but one thing that doesn’t really do much for me is the overly flashy finger gymnastics that is clearly written for video. With the rise of social media, it seems like a lot of stuff out there is written to look cool rather than sound cool. Having said that, it doesn’t bother me too much and I’m sure it’s taken these guys a million years to nail each specific part, so fair play to them!
What are the main benefits you find with playing an extended range guitar? Any advice you would give to aspiring players who are looking at trying out 7- and 8-string guitars?
I started my musical journey on the piano at the tender age of 6 and am still looking for interesting ways to play piano-like ideas on the guitar. Having that extended range in the low end definitely helps with this. As a composer, it helps to have the extra notes at your disposal when you’re searching for those darker or more dense moments in your music.
One thing I’ve always found helpful is to look to non-guitar-centric music for inspiration. I feel like the relentless listening of the likes of Tigran Hamasyan and Avishai Cohen has pushed my music into some new areas. This applies to genres too, I’ve found that listening to artists non-proggy artists like Volcano Choir and Elbow brings some different textures and colours to my writing pallet.
In terms of the guitar, I’d advise making full use of the instrument’s range as much as possible. It’s pretty easy to forget about all of those higher notes when you have two extra-low strings to play with! It’s all about balance.
Are there any special non-music-related things that have influenced your music or playing recently? Anything people might not expect?
I’m a big fan of reading so I’ve been plowing my way through as many books as possible during the lockdown. I recently revisited the epic 7-part ‘Dark Tower’ series by the almighty Stephen King. The scope and imagination in his books are a constant source of inspiration and push me to capture that larger-than-life feel in my music. Another gem of a book I read recently was Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. It’s part of her Maddaddam trilogy and is one of the most creative things I’ve been consumed by ages! I’ve also gone full geek mode and started playing Dungeons and Dragons with a bunch of mates. So if I ever release an album about a hermit bard slaying the Dragon Highlord somewhere deep within the Forgotten Realms, that’d be why!
Lastly, any other exciting projects you’ve got coming up that people should know about?
I’ve been working on a trilogy of EPs that I’ll be releasing this year. They’ll be instrumental and will explore the jazzier side of my playing. It will be fun christening the signature guitar on the recordings. I’m excited about the direction the songs have taken and can’t wait to share them with everyone! I’ve also just released a tapping course with the guys at JTC Guitar which has been keeping me busy during the lockdown! I’ve been shredding away to their instructional videos for years so it feels great to finally join their roster. Aside from that, we’ve been working on some new Haken music which we’ll hopefully be able to share with everyone this year!