Swarathma’s Blog

Bruce and I: Varun on his first guitar guru
September 21, 2009, 10:53 am
Filed under: Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

VarunVarun handles guitar duties for Swarathma. In this blog entry he pays his respects to the man who taught him the most. Bruce Lee Mani may be the axe-meister extraordinaire of Bangalore’s path-breaking act Thermal and a Quarter to the world, but to Varun he is his Guru.

People have different reasons for learning different things. I was into a lot of stuff (Kung-fu, dance, to name a few) before I settled on the guitar. I just loved the sound of it. I must have been in pre-university when I started going to a church guitar player who only taught me how to hold the guitar, but nothing else, really. I spent the next year wandering like a nomad in search of someone who would help me learn to play, spending most of my time at a music store near college, where i would bump into some decent guitar players. Quite often I’d end up requesting them to teach me, but nothing worked out.

One fine day, not too long ago, I was back at the store when I heard someone playing and he was sounding awesome. Swallowing my shyness I went up to him and introduced myself, he said his name was Tony Das and he played for a band called Bhoomi. I was so excited to meet him for I loved their band so much, and had been to a good gig of theirs just the previous day! Tony wasn’t into teaching, unfortunately but he gave me a card with a number saying, “Call this guy up, I think he can help you out”. I read the name aloud again and again, it sounded familiar. BRUCE LEE MANI. Guess I’ve read it in a few newspaper articles, I thought to myself.

bruce 2

"Name the chord and win a prize!" Bruce at BAC Chennai. Pic Credit: Varun

When I walked in to meet him I had interrupted him in the middle of one of his guitar sessions, I just sat watching him teach. Whatever he was saying was going completely above my head! It sounded like Rocket Science! Still, I tried hard to listen in and make sense of the random alphabets he kept talking about “A and A flat, OK now here you go, add that note and what do you get?”  I turn to see that his student was scratching his head, mystified. It felt more like watching a tennis match looking at either side! When he was done with that session, he had just got himself a new student.

Bruce is not your ordinary guitar teacher. Not only did he teach me the basics, he made me understand and appreciate works of different guitar players who are considered as legends today. Why were they legends? What was it about their playing that made them guitar heroes? Pretty soon I realized I had gone from just a head-banging metal fan to a completely blues-oriented guitar player, going by the titles in my CD collection! Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, David Gilmour, Eric Johnson and so on. I found myself concentrating more on technique, music theory and yes, better melodies. One difference here was I was more into modern overdriven tones compared to what was used in these records.

My sessions with Bruce was not all about sitting in a class room and playing with a bunch of guys, it used to be a one-on-one session where I would watch and learn, all the time I would think, “How does he manage to sound just like the tape?” I wanted that perfection. He taught me ear training, figuring out chords, notes, lead solos and made me play some great licks which opened up my playing more and more. I started using the same in my songs, trying to modify the lick a bit and explore if it would sound better when played in any other way.

Listening to TAAQ’s albums were really inspiring. He would take me for his shows and jam sessions and help me understand how it was playing live, working with big amps, EQ settings, working on tones and repairing guitars, how it all functioned. Pretty soon I was trying to set the same standard in my college band, much to my band-mates irritation. They didn’t understand why I needed to be so finicky. But I’d say, “I’ve seen Bruce do that, so what can’t I?”

Bruce was the best tutor I’ve ever had and maybe will ever have. And with that comes my dream of being his best student. Someone he will be proud of, some day.

Edited by Jishnu Dasgupta


8 Comments so far
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That was really nice to know Varun. I think your teacher should be really proud by now 😉

It’s great to watch you guys…

Comment by Chirag Sutar

Seriously – One can never over-state the role of a great teacher in inspiring you to do better.
I am currently learning the guitar myself, and there is nothing more inspiring than seeing my teacher play a piece to perfection.
Great post..

Comment by Siddharth

Thank you I say! Already proud, my dear fellow.

Comment by Bruce

🙂 Thank you so much bruce .

Comment by Varun

Bruce – you are a inspiration to a lot of us! To TAAQ!!

Comment by Dhruv

[…] guitar playing journey began with Bruce Lee Mani (Thermal and a Quarter), about which I’ve written, but I could not continue those lessons owing to a shortage of slots. By this time I had come to […]

Pingback by Anirban, The Small Wonder: Varun on his Gurus « Swarathma’s Blog


Firstly, kudos to you to openly acknowledge your teacher Bruce. This itself will take you places. Bruce is a great guy with great talent.

People learn and never acknowledge the role of their teachers. I have been a teacher too but was never acknowledged and I know the pain.

So three cheers to Bruce and you (for expressing this).

Comment by Ragz

Thank you for your comment. I always remember him everyday when i play my guitar so it comes naturally to me whenever anyone asks me about my guitar playing.

Comment by Varun

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