Written by Walter Bryant
Michael Lee Firkins is one of those guitarists that happens to slip under the radar when talking about game-changing players. With his versatility, and out-of-the-way licks, Michael Lee Firkins is one of the most intriguing players we’ve seen…
Like most of the progressive-thinking guitar players we’ve showcased, Firkins was born into music. With a mother who was a pianist and a lap-steel guitar playing father, Firkins was destined to stumble upon something musical. Lucky for us, that something was the guitar.
Firkins began playing the acoustic at the age of eight, latching on to the works of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and AC/DC after taking lessons at a local music store. It wasn’t until 1979 that Firkins began his quest with the electric guitar; a Gibson SG paired with a Princeton Reverb to be exact. Inevitably, as his stylistic interest started to expand, so did his influences; jamming along to the musical works of Chet Atkins, Albert Lee, and Danny Gatton. It wasn’t long before Firkins began borrowing a few techniques from Jeff Beck and others to create a slide-effect using the tremolo bar. This identifiable sound and perpetual desire to play the guitar led him to put together a 5-song demo of completely instrumental tracks. The demo would make it into the hands of Guitar Player Magazine talent scout, Mike Varney. Needless to say, Varney would go on to signing Firkins immediately.
Come 1990, Firkins would release a debut self-titled album on Shrapnel Records. The album showcased Firkins’s signature slide-esque sound with some shred flavoring. The album was truly the best of both worlds, and was widely received. It would go on to sell more than 100,000 copies, landing him with a number of accolades for the work. Firkins’s most prestigious award would be won in Europe where he would accept an Edison award (Holland’s version of a Grammy).
Firkins’s combination of hybrid picking and tremolo bar techniques creates a truly captivating sound that we have yet to hear from anyone else. The genesis of Michael Lee Firkins as a Shrapnel artist can be vividly represented by the Hot Licks videos still lurking around YouTube. With the groove and punchiness of a Greg Howe, charisma of a Scott Henderson, and a sound and style all his own, Michael Lee Firkins was and still is the total package. Ironically, in addition to his fantastic slide-emulation technique, Firkins uses a slide in exceptional fashion as well, and can be heard in his later works. The albums that would follow his self-titled debut would also lend themselves to his astounding versatility, showcasing his effortless ability to delve into other musical genres; most notably Rock fusion and Jazz. The greatest part about his playing is his seamless ability to allude to other styles. Every once in a while he’ll surprise you with a jazzy phrase here and there to remind you.
In early years, Firkins could be found toting a Yamaha Pacifica with a maple fretboard, but can now be seen using a variety of Fenders including a custom-built resonator Telecaster, a 1957 reissue Stratocaster, and a 2003 reissue Fender Nocaster.
With 7 solo-albums to date, and a number of collaborations and features on the works of countless artists, Michael Lee Firkins shows no signs of putting down the instrument any time soon. Furthermore, we urge you all to give a listen to his self-titled album, “Chapter-Eleven”, and “Yep”. But if you have the free time, you’d might as well listen to them all (you’ll thank us). Below is a clip from his Hot Licks instructional video from 1990. Also have a look at a more recent video from his performance at Fender’s Kickoff Event in Anaheim, California. Watch them and tell us what you think of this monster player! Remember to keep an eye on our page for more “Guitarists To Know”!