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TWINSBURG -- Guitar virtuoso and Northfield native Neil Zaza has been playing guitar for about 25 years, but to the untrained ear, it sounds more like 125 years.
At a free-of-charge guitar clinic at Gitterpicker Family Learning Center for Music on Ravenna Road Dec. 21, Zaza's skills were on display, and he shared his experience and wisdom with the crowd. Dozens gathered inside the store and lesson center to experience Zaza'a music and learn what they could from a master.
Influenced by the likes of Neal Schon of Journey, Brian May of Queen and others, Zaza claims his defining moment came when he first listened to the original, self-titled Van Halen album. From then on, his path to guitar mastery was set.
"I was playing up until that point but when I heard Van Halen's 'Running With the Devil,' I knew that I would never have a real job in my life," Zaza said.
While his music involves rapid-fire arpeggios and quick solos, Zaza said his specialty lies more in melodic song writing.
"People expect a bunch of fast playing -- I have a reputation to be a fast player," Zaza said. "But actually, I'm more of a melodic player. It's song structure. It's like a pop song but without the singer."
Zaza hopes attendees of his performances would connect to him as an artist through his music, as well as being entertained. Having toured extensively in the U.S. and overseas, Zaza said the Gitterpicker clinic is an opportunity to slow down and put on an intimate show for his home region.
"This isn't even a gig for me," Zaza said. "This is like a little hometown get-together. When I play in Asia, a gig is a few thousand people. This is just me hanging out on a Thursday night telling some stories and stuff like that."
With demand for his music very high in the Asian marketplace, Zaza said he enjoys the chance to play for a wide scope of people, from thousands in China to dozens in Twinsburg.
"It's really low-pressure, because you're just hanging out and playing," Zaza said. "I like the polar opposites of it. You're doing this big thing and then you're sitting on a stool, telling stories and playing guitar. It's nice to have the diversity."
During the roughly hour-long clinic, Zaza wailed away on his customized guitars while his backing tracks provided a musical foundation. He took time between songs to answer questions about his gear, style and experiences.
Jason Tait of Streetsboro, a Zaza fan since 2005, said he's glad a talent like Zaza is willing to perform for free.
"It's amazing -- he'll fill a stadium in Korea and then he comes here," Tait said. "I can't believe there isn't a line out the door. We're just blessed to be able to just, for free, come in and see him play."
First-time listeners were just as impressed, as Fran Kilburg of Reminderville said she would definitely see Zaza again if given the chance.
"I think he's great. This is the first time I've seen him. I like his style ... he's fantastic."