How old were you when you started playing guitar?
14, started playing the summer before high school.
What was your first guitar? Did you buy it yourself? Do you still have it?
My first guitar was a small nylon string classical I got from my great grandmother when I was 6, it took 8 years for me to really want to play though. My first real guitar was a maroon Mexican made Fender Strat. I still have both!
Did your parents or grandparents play any instruments? If so, what did they play? Did you ever get a chance to play with them?
My parents and grandparents didn’t play instruments, other than my mom taking piano for a while with my sister and my dad playing some trumpet in junior high. My grandfather plays harmonica and a little bit of guitar. I have made a lot of music with my Uncle Steve who is a masterful guitar player. My great Aunt Jan also plays and sings and we all always have jams at Thanksgiving.
Matt with his very talented sister, Sarah Borrello (Annabel Lee).
What are the guitars that you play? Do you have a favorite? If so, why is it your favorite?
I have quite a few guitars that I’ve amassed over the years. I quickly became obsessed with them, just because of how different they can sound and how much artistry goes into the various types. My main acoustic guitar is a Gibson Advanced Jumbo so I’d say that might be my favorite. Electric-wise I grew up playing Strats and Epiphone hollow bodies but now prefer Teles and Les Pauls/SGs. Also love my Rickenbacker but they are not great for blues.
What strings do you use (brands and gauges)? How often do you change your strings?
On my regular 6 string acoustics I use DR Veritas 12-54. I usually change strings every other month or every month in the summer. Or when I break one. On my electrics it's all over the map but I like GHS 10-52s on my Les Paul and D’Addario 9-46 on a Strat or Tele. Sometimes as low as the Billy Gibbons 7s and sometimes as big as flat wound 12s on my Gretsch.
Do you use a pick? If so, what brand and thickness?
It seems that I have tried every pick imaginable. For a while I was using super thick picks made of bone, horn, or random synthetic materials. The brand Chicken Pick is pretty cool for that kind of thing. With a thicker pick you gain alot of attack but lose some bottom end and sustain. Now I’ve gone all the way back to my preferred pick when I started which is the green .88 mm Dunlop Tortex. Almost can’t use anything else now. I can’t deal with thin picks at all, even a regular Fender medium. They’re only good for recording 12 string rhythm guitar or playing ukelele.
Do you use any effect pedals? If so, what are your favorites?
Yes my analog board usually has a wah, a distortion and/or fuzz, a chorus, tremolo, delay, and reverb. I also use multieffects processors to get other effects. My favorite pedal is either my Analog Alien FuzzBubble 45 or my Line 6 Helix. For acoustic shows I don’t use much. Occasionally I’ll use a looper at a restaurant gig just so I can jam and kill time.
Do you work on your own guitars or do you bring them to a guitar tech? Are there any guitar techs that you would like to recommend?
I usually work on my own electric guitars but for acoustic work other than strings and neck adjustments I usually need a pro. I can recommend the guys at Rick’s Music World, The Music Emporium, as well as Steve Morrill and Peter Stokes.
Peter Stokes Broken Neck Guitar Repair
Do you have a favorite guitar shop? What makes it a good shop?
The most impressive guitar shop I ever saw was in Portsmouth UK, not sure the name. But over here I have loyalty to Rick’s in Raynham, MA. Music Emporium in Lexington is also great but you gotta have the do-re-mi or its a lot of look but no touchy. Music Mill in Manchester, NH is cool and well stocked too. Mr. Music in Boston is great too. What makes a good shop to me is a good mix of new and used/vintage. Wide variety of picks/strings/capo. Its hard for smaller shops to carry big brands now so you see a lot of cheaper brands so usually the used/vintage section is usually where I go to.
Photo credit: Hollis Greene
At what age did you start writing songs?
What is your songwriting process? Is it the music or the lyrics that usually come to you first? Do you write old school on paper, or electronically?
I used to write on paper, often writing lyrics first, sometimes lyrics and chords at the same time. Now I usually use google docs or apple notes because then I can access them on different devices. I like to write lyrics while on a train or a plane. Usually while listening to Miles Davis. Sometimes I’ll have a song in my head and just write new words to it like Weird Al. I have a song called Flyin’ Out of Oakland where at first I wrote the words to the tune of Thunder on the Mountain by Bob Dylan. Occasionally I’ll have a guitar idea or chord progression that prods me into writing lyrics.
Who are the top three musicians or bands that have had a major influence on you?
Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, U2.
If you could jam with one person, living or dead, who would it be?
My great grandmother Beatrice, who played keyboard and got me my first guitar when I was 6. I’d like to play Silent Night on guitar with her playing it on keys.
What are your top three “desert island” albums?
Love and Theft Bob Dylan, The Last DJ Tom Petty, Joshua Tree U2
What was the first concert you attended? What was the last concert you attended?
I don’t know what my first concert was. I heard Bob Dylan at Newport in 2002 but I was listening from a rubber raft floating near Fort Adams. First big show was probably U2 at Boston Garden in May 2005. Last concert was Gordon Lightfoot at the Wilbur Theater in Boston.
The Beatles or the Stones?
Where and when was your first paid gig? How much did you make?
First paid gig was probably an open mic feature with my sister at the Narrows in Fall River or Soule Homestead in Middleboro. I remember making $72 and being psyched about that.
What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?
Two gigs at the South Shore Music Circus this past summer of 2022, I opened for two country stars: Billy Currington and Lee Brice. Also my first gig with the Tom Petty tribute Won't Back Down at the Larcom Theater in Beverly, MA in September 2021 was a highlight.
Matt at the South Shore Music Circus
What has been your worst gig so far and why? (You don’t have to name names).
Sometimes I'll walk into a gig for the first time and think it's not a good one but by the end I am usually in the zone and enjoying myself on some level. I might say to myself that I won't take that gig again, some of those become my favorites. If I had to pick one worst one it would probably be a ski mountain gig where load in was very difficult across the snow after a very long drive, played for a not so appreciative audience clomping around in wet ski boots. I did end up doing the gig again though and enjoying myself.
What are some of the venues you enjoy performing at the most? What things make the venue enjoyable for the performer (location, equipment, setup, organizers)?
I love The Spire in Plymouth, also the previously mentioned South Shore Music Circus and Larcom Theater. Also The Burren in Somerville. I like venues within walking distance of good food, with competent sound people etc. I like tiny dives too where I have to run my own sound.
Matt at The Spire - Photo credit: Joanne Corsano
How do you work out your setlist?
I usually treat it like fishing and just wait for the next song to drift by. I read the crowd and try to judge what they might want to hear. If I am writing a strict-ish setlist I'll usually be concerned with varying tempo and keys of songs.
Is there any advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out in the music business?
Don't be afraid to say no. Also not to date sisters of band members or allow them to date your sister, ha! I also believe that sometimes the people you need are often already in your life and searching for better players isn't always as fruitful as expected. Sticking with the players you already have can give you the potential to grow together.
Photo credit: Tayla Bolduc
Do you have any suggestions for a guitarist or songwriter who might be stuck in a musical rut?
Learn a new tuning or get into jazz. Jazz is 7 card stud in a world of Blackjack and Texas Hold ‘em. A gourmet meal in a world of burgers and grilled cheese. While playing jazz as a career and main focus is definitely not for everyone, I have found that all the best guitar players have at least dipped their toes into the world of jazz, with its big chords and real music theory understanding.
If you weren’t a singer songwriter, what would you be doing for work?
Cleaning up highway roadsides with a prison work group. Or flying jets for the Air Force. Or paleontology/archaeology academia.
Please list some of your upcoming shows, plug your music and provide links to your merchandise.
Sat. Jan 28th - with the Quality Dogs at Moonshine Alley, in Providence, RI
Fri. Feb 3rd - solo acoustic at the Alamo BBQ in Brookline, NH
Sat. Feb 4th - solo at Bellissimo Italian Restaurant in, Nashua, NH
Sun. Mar 19th - full band at Ponderosa Sportsman's Club in Acushnet, MA
Sat. Mar 25th - with the Quality Dogs at Hennessy's in Boston, MA
Sat. Apr 1st - with Won't Back Down: Tom Petty Tribute at Larcom Theater in Beverly, MA
Sat. Apr 8th - with Won't Back Down: Tom Petty Tribute at The District in Taunton, MA
Sat. Apr 22nd - with the Quality Dogs at the Atlantic Cafe in Taunton, MA
Most Thursday nights with acoustic jam band Torn & Frayed at The Burren in Somerville, MA
Torn and Frayed
My albums Don't Turn Around, A Dollar & A Kiss, and Lonesome Valley are available on all streaming services. I have tshirts and CDs available at my shows.
Matt's website: mattborrellomusic.com