Tim Henson: “Between each album, I think: how can I level my shit?”
In recent years, Polyphia have established themselves as virtuoso disruptors of everything the music world thought they knew about genre classifications. Over their first three albums, the Texas-based shredders have brought together metal, trap, rock, funk and a host of other influences to spectacular effect.
And now, having recently added nuevo flamenco to their list of stylistic conquests on play god – the band’s first new song since 2019 and their very first to feature nylon-string guitars – Polyphia’s Tim Henson not only got unplugged, but took his maverick approach right into the Ibanez workshop to develop a new tailor-made tool for the job. Cue the TOD10N: A prototype nylon-stringed signature model for Henson.
Angelic sounds collide with devilish aesthetics in this head-turning modern acoustic electric guitar, but the event that sparked the entire creative process happened in 2019, when Henson found himself standing in a lender on pawn somewhere in Europe, holding a forgotten relic from the Ibanez catalog. : an electric-nylon hybrid called the SC500N.
“I had never seen anything like this before, so I texted Ibanez and was like, ‘What the fuck?'” he laughs. After a brief noodle, he realized he could play much of his Polyphia repertoire – excluding bends – on guitar, and decided to drop $800 to free up the curious design experience of the late 90s and bring her home.
“At the time, I had just started getting into hip-hop production and was doing a lot of sessions with a lot of producers,” Tim recalled. “Using only the harmonic minor scale on these nylon string guitars, it ends up sounding super Spanish and classic. I thought, what if I did Polyphia-style, classic-type loops, like beatmakers sample recordings of old classical guitar playing?
As these ideas grew in complexity and became less and less loopable, Henson began to compose entire songs in the ornate style, but he suggests that we shouldn’t make too many assumptions about the new band album based on play god only.
“I would say that’s a good indication that it’s some of the best music we’ve ever made,” he says, “but there’s a lot of vibration on the record. It’s the classic, nylon, whimsical vibe, but there’s so much we’re touching.
Likewise, the TOD10N itself is one of many models Henson has developed with Ibanez, and he says a “non-nylon” version may see the light of day in due course. “I hope to follow in Steve Vai’s footsteps and release a few signature models every year for the next 50 years and, you know, build that legacy,” he smiles.
Unlike the SC500N’s S-type body shape, the TOD10N, says Henson, “feels a bit like a Telecaster. I wanted to stay a bit close to the traditional single-cutaway acoustic guitar, while keeping a modern aesthetic. as such, it has a sleek matte black finish and features Henson’s new signature ‘Tree of Death’ inlay – another nod to Steve Vai, and a dark twist on the ‘Tree of Life’ inlay design. by Vai.
Those following Henson’s social media may also have spotted a white prototype, though that colorway was unceremoniously dropped. Henson laughs, “I made a few videos with this one and people started calling it the ‘slice of bread’ because it’s white on top and brown on the sides.
Anxious to dispel some other early internet rumours, he also claims, “I’ve seen a lot of people trying to say he’s a Talman. It is not a Talman. I’ve also seen people say it’s a solid body. It is not a solid body.
In fact, the TOD10N has a semi-hollow design, with a discreet rosette located on its upper part, which, unlike traditional acoustics, projects the sound directly towards the player. “It’s pretty loud for its finesse,” he says, “which is great because I like a resonant guitar.”
Throughout its development process, Tim has been busy perfecting new techniques informed by the TOD10N’s nylon terrain, and the next record will chart that progress. As he puts it: “Between every album, I think: how can I level my shit?
After enlisting fellow prog-metal pioneer Tosin Abasi for some amazing lessons, Tim recalls, “Between the first and second lesson, he also gave me two classic tunes to study. One was Cathedralso that helped a bit, but play god started before that. As you can see, the whole song is played with a pick, and it wasn’t until after that that I started to develop some classic right-hand prowess.
As for the adaptation of his left hand, Tim explains: “You have to be a little more precise. Your finger meat should land exactly where it’s supposed to and stay very steady. You end up vibrating mostly like a bass player where you switch between two frets. Bending the string doesn’t really give the same tone.
Suggesting that he’s also been working on more contemporary fingerstyle techniques, he adds: “The most recent thing I’ve learned because of this guitar is similar to this ‘campfire’ style of playing where they keep the rhythm, while playing melodies and chords. ”
As a final thought on his recent deep dive into the unplugged world and how it relates to his wider musical philosophy, Tim reflects: “I was a firm believer, even before I figured this out, that when you compose something, it should sound good and full in its most naked state. Once it sounds great on its own, you can add whatever you want in post or move it to a guitar with a whammy bar. If it sounds good on it, it will most likely sound good on anything.