When it comes to instrumental metal, few bands can claim the winning balance of technicality and songwriting smarts that Scale the Summit possess. The Houston natives have recently become one of the most exciting young groups in the tech-metal sweepstakes today.

Lead by eight-string guitar maestro Chris Letchford, Scale the Summit have just released 'The Collective,' their third album and easily their most compelling effort yet. The record's diverse lineup of tracks will undoubtedly appeal to everyone from progressive guitar aficionados to fans of chaotic metalcore like Between the Buried and Me. Noisecreep caught up with Letchford and got to indulge our inner guitar geek.

Let's talk about guitars. When did you first start playing and what was your first guitar?

I started out playing saxophone for five years as a little kid, then bass for a year. I got my first guitar around 13 years old. My dad got me a 1982 Charvel from a buddy of his for like $175. When I graduated high school in 2003, they had it completely re-finished, new frets, electronics and everything. I owe my dad a lot for the simple fact that he is the reason I play guitar. I didn't really ask for a guitar, he just said, "Hey, try this out now" after I had played bass for a year. It's neat how these things turn out [laughter].

What were some of the first mistakes you made when you started playing?

I have a great one. I held the pick backwards for about one and half years when I first started playing. The most irritating part about it was my instructor at the time didn't notice for that entire time and then out of the blue said, "Hey man, you're holding the pick backwards." It turned out to not really be that big of a deal as I was able to correct it and get used to the forward angle in just a couple weeks. But still, he should have noticed that.

Did you go back and check out the guys that first became known through the so-called 'shred era' of guitar?

I was kind of raised listening to all of those guys and still do. I have watched video's in the past of me as a very little kid, listening to some blues shredders like Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Speaking of speed, how important was it for you to get that aspect of your playing abilities better?

When it comes to my songwriting -- I don't really care for it. It was more of a personal challenge or barrier that I wanted to overcome on my own. So ever since I started playing, I made the metronome my best friend and worked every day for a few years until I was able to beat it at its max tempo.

Shred guitar is great, and I definitely have some solos in Scale the Summit's music that I consider somewhat shreddy, but it's in no way my max ability. Maybe one day I'll incorporate a crazy shred solo into a Scale the Summit song. We shall see.

What was a later turning point for you as a guitarist?

I would say that Dimebag Darrell was actually one of the top guys a couple years into my playing that really made me want to push forward and actually pursue it as a career. Then I discovered John Petrucci through listening to Dream Theater and decided this is definitely the style of music that I liked the best and thought was the most fun to play.

More recently, I have been watching a lot of stuff on John Stowell -- a jazz player -- that blows my mind. He has inspired me to spice up my phrasing and chord voicing. On top of that, his improvisational skills are insane. He and Guthrie Govan are who I would say are the top guys right now who inspire me to want to get even better.

Who are some of the more up-and-coming guitarists that we should all keep an eye out for?

To be honest I don't really listen to much new guitar-based bands. I spend most of my time writing, rehearsing with the band and practicing, so I really like to spend my down time with peace and quiet [laughter].

I will say that Tosin Abasi from our label mates Animals as Leaders has really impressed me, even though I'm pretty sure he is about two years, maybe three years older than me. People just consider him a 'new' player since his band hasn't been around as long as ours, but he has been in the scene for much longer than myself as he had another band years back called Reflux. So definitely check him out.

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