by Steve Rider
When listening to Rob Balducci’s music, it’s instantly apparent that he is a master of the fretboard. But it doesn’t stop there. Listening longer, I noticed the many layers, layers upon layers. He carefully, yet effortlessly, shapes a musical landscape where rhythm and lead seamlessly flow into one another time and time again. Watching the play-through video of his song The Color of Light, my impression was that he fills the space with his music, sounding more like an entire band than a single guitar player. Sometimes doubling up on the rhythm, powerful and heavy, and others slipping into blazing soloing, he lays the foundation for the feeling he’s trying to get across. After all, this is instrumental rock and everything has to be conveyed through composition. Experiencing the mastery of this many-layered composition, it’s not hard to believe that Balducci is a prodigy.
So what’s the story behind his guy and his music? How does someone like Rob Balducci become the virtuoso he is today? In many ways, it is a rather humble beginning that leads to something spectacular. As it often does, the story begins with family.
Rob Balducci started playing in the mid-eighties when he was about eleven years old. His sister had an acoustic guitar and showed him a few chords, and that was when he got the bug. With three older sisters, Rob was the youngest of four, a wide age spread between them. That was where he would pick up his first influences, listening to a broad range of music on his sisters’ records. He found a spark in the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, and even classic rocker Chuck Berry. Those styles would come to meld with early music interests of his own, bands like Kiss and Ted Nugent.
He inherited his sister’s off-brand acoustic and was later gifted with a Gibson guitar, not a Les Paul, but a short run guitar just called “The Paul”. This was before the Les Paul Studio, and possibly a forerunner to the same idea. The guitar ended up being a great instrument and unique in the aspect that it was built of walnut, which is not a wood we see on many Gibson line-ups. He played his walnut LP through a 1×12 Randall amplifier and an MXR Distortion Plus, his first (and definitely not his last) effects pedal. Such a humble beginning, but one that may sound familiar to many of us when recalling our first gear. Displaying his prodigious talent for the six-string right out of the gate, he was in his first band at fourteen and was teaching guitar only a year later! He was immediately gigging, and due to his age, had to be escorted by his father to the venue, where he would join his eighteen-year-old bandmates on stage.
In the early years of the nineties, he participated in and won a contest sponsored by Guitar for the Practicing Musician to earn the title “New York’s Best Guitarist.” The contest gave Balducci “a good speaking point”, which would help him along in his professional career. He also met people from D’addario strings, which would become his first endorsement deal (first of many). In the years following, Balducci earned a degree in Music Performance and Theory from Five Towns College. He released his debut album, 1995’s Balance, which brought him praise from press and guitar enthusiasts alike. Balducci was on the map as a promising new talent.
At this point, the various musical influences from his past had merged with the progressive influences of bandmates. For those of us who were around in the mid to late eighties, we can recall the rise of instrumental guitar made popular by big names like Steve Vai, Jeff Beck, and Joe Satriani. It’s not hard to understand the effect that might have on a growing guitar talent living in the wake of Eddie Van Halen. After his debut album, Rob continued working on new material and taking his music to various record companies. Eventually, he signed to Steve Vai’s record label Favored Nations Entertainment and released the albums Mantra, The Color of Light, and Violet Horizon worldwide.
Since then, Balducci has been a prolific personage, performing live in venues around the world and hosting clinics for many of the music world’s leading manufacturers. For example, Ibanez Guitars, Intellitouch tuners, D’Addario Strings, Dimarzio Pick-ups, George L’s cables, Morley Pedals, Keeley Pedals, Xotic pedals, Dunlop, Maxon, Floyd Upgrades, Studio Devil, and Majic Box Pedals are all among his endorsements. He has received rave reviews and worldwide support for his music from industry publications like Guitarist UK, Guitar World, Young Guitar, and Burn. He has his own YouTube channel where followers can watch footage of his shows, get a quick guitar lesson, or experience Balducci playing from his own studio.
So what is going on in his world right now? Balducci is presently releasing the album 821 Monroe Drive, a soul-searching collection of songs written about the house that his mother grew up in. This was the place he would spend his summers and where he recalls devoting many hours to the guitar. Balducci takes the listener on a sonic journey through the reminiscence of this formative time in his life, where he first began his development into the virtuoso instrumentalist he is today.
Balducci’s own words say it best in this quote from his website:
“This CD is a very special one for me. The address of the title is from a house that has been in my family for over 50 years. My mom grew up in this house with her ten siblings. When I was a young kid, I would spend my summers at this house. I started playing guitar at age eleven and I remember going to 821 and spending time on the instrument for hours upon end. The inspiration for the songs on this CD is related to this house in one way or another because at the age when I started learning all my musical influences come from the music I was listening to growing up. This CD represents things in my life from when I was born until the present. 821 Monroe Drive marks another important milestone because all the guitar parts were recorded in my home studio, Blue Buddha. I had time to spend on getting individual tones for each of the songs.”
So keep an eye out for his newest release. Get online and watch some of his performances. There is a whole series of them from the 2017 Dallas International Guitar Festival where he brings the noise live. Like a well-written movie or painting by a master artist, there are levels and nuances to Balducci’s playing and composition that will have you hearing new things every time you listen.
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