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WHO: Chris Letchford, frontman of the instrumental progressive metal group Scale the Summit, didn't mind sacrificing his social life for guitar practice while growing up in the suburbs of Houston. In fact, he recalls spending up to six hours every day after school noodling in his bedroom. "My friends would always come over and bug me and say, 'You can practice whenever you want," he recalls. "And I'd say, 'No, man, I can't!" His dedication has paid off, though, with a virtuosic, classically-steeped style inspired by masters like Steve Vai. Since their band began in 2004, Letchford, bassist Mark Michell, drummer Pat Skeffington, and guitarist Travis LeVrier have released four records and toured with the likes of Marillion and Queensryche. "We just got back from doing the [Cruise to the Edge] festival with Yes," says Letchford. "It was so cool to participate with these bands that have been around from before I was even born."
CRAFT WORK: Letchford, who plays a 7- or 8-string electric, isn't just a wizard on the guitar—he knows how to build them. When he moved to California after graduating high school, and enrolled at Los Angeles' Musicians Institute with bandmate LeVrier, he focused on performance as well as luthiering. But his instructors warned him that he wouldn't have the time to pursue both. "I didn't want to have to build guitars all day," he recalls, "and then go home and have to practice the instrument." The toll it took on his body also helped him change his mind. "Just doing fretwork is blistering on the fingers," he says. "I remember seeing one guy saw off the tip of his finger and I was just like, 'Man, I can't do this."
ZAPPED: Letchford may be a virtuoso, but he still picks up tips now and again from his peers, particularly Dweezil Zappa, whom Scale the Summit toured with back in 2009. "He invited me into his dressing room and I'm like, 'Yeah ok!,'" he remembers. He admits to being a bit starstruck: "He ended up showing me a bunch of cool shit – and I didn't have anything to show him really. I was really intimidated."
SOLO SHREDDER: While Letchford is focused on the group, he is branching out into solo projects – for instance, a jazz record he finished recording this year. "I've always wanted to make a record with piano and haven't done it with my band because there's not much place for it," he explains. But even if Scale the Summit's fans aren't willing to make the leap, that's just fine with Letchford. "We'll see how the reception is," he says. "I'm just really doing it for myself."