Australian guitarist Luke Stamenkovich has been hard at work lately. If the in-demand axe-wielder isn’t in the studio contributing sessions to other artists’ recordings, he can be found on stage playing hits to undulating audiences across the globe.
Most recently, the 29-year-old guitarist has undertaken a striking reworking of Steve Stevens' classic cut, "Atomic Playboys," which features Todd Kerns (Slash, Myles Kennedy) on vocals and bass. Stamenkovich adds new energy to the song with his cutting yet sweet tone, nimble fretwork, and seething vibrato.
Sure, there are many great guitarists out there, especially in today’s world of YouTube influencer stardom, and to be sure, you've heard many of them. Still, Luke Stamenkovich is a shining example of the deep underbelly of incredible musical talent available for us to enjoy. If you're looking for your next rock guitar hero, give Luke's music a try. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
We talked with Luke Stamenkovich to recount his origins on guitar, his creative process and a whole lot more.
Andrew Daly: What first inspired you to pick up the guitar?
Luke Stamenkovich: I remember being around five years old, and my dad would always have the KISS Unplugged and Keep the Faith: an Evening with Bon Jovi videos playing. I would watch those concerts on repeat as a kid. At age six, I asked my dad if I could learn guitar; the rest is history. I haven't put it down since.
AD: Who were your primary influences?
LS: My primary influences would have to be Steve Stevens [who has played with Billy Idol, Michael Jackson, Vince Neil and others – Ed.], Joe Satriani, Nuno Bettencourt, and Steve Lukather. It's so hard to name just a few; I'd even have to say Kee Marcello from [the band] Europe as well. I remember watching an instructional DVD where he explained constructing a solo to have the perfect amount of melodic value combined with shred. I still use that method today when recording or improvising.
AD: Who influences you the most today?
LS: I'm drawing influences from so many different styles and artists these days, but lately, I'm listening to a lot of George Benson and Cory Wong. There's definitely some Cory Wong influence in my guitar playing now. I've always been big on making sure my rhythm guitar is solid, and it's something I work on more than soloing, to be honest. You can solo all you want, but if you can't play rhythm guitar, then it's going to be hard to get hired for work. (laughs)
AD: What new music are you working on?
LS: My new single came out in March 2023, a cover of Steve Stevens's “Atomic Playboys.” Other than that, my gig schedule is quite intense, so it's going to be hard getting back in the studio. Never say never, though; I always seem to find a way. I have quite a few sessions for other artists [coming up], though those will be released later this year.
AD: How has your approach to the guitar changed since your earlier years?
LS: When I first started playing guitar, learned all my favorite riffs and solos note for note, trying to play them as close to the original as I could. I never really dived into the "why" those notes are played or the theory behind them. Having to learn 30 to 40 songs a week for multiple shows, I focused on just learning all the parts. Now though, I am always looking into the theory side and looking into why that guitarist chose to play a specific part [the way they did] or why a melody works so well against the chord progression in the song.
AD: What would you say makes your newest music your best yet?
LS: I feel like “Atomic Playboys” really pushed me to my limits. Firstly, trying to stay true to the original recording, then being able to play that fast and have each note articulated perfectly, while having the same attack Stevens had to make certain notes have more attitude, was incredibly difficult.
If we go back to my previous EP, Chasing Dreams, I really pushed my arranging skills on those songs. Having to work out orchestral parts and horn lines was quite challenging. I was lucky to have producer Mason Vellios, who is well-versed in arranging, to help me out when I wasn't sure [what to do musically]. Most of the time, those melodies you hear the strings or horns playing were originally [written] on guitar, but I always knew they weren't going to be guitar lines. It was a great learning experience.
AD: Which of your songs mean the most to you?
LS: The song that has the strongest meaning to me would have to be "Memories." I wrote [it] for my grandparents. The song was a way that I could sum up all the emotions I couldn't express after losing them both, so I got them out through my guitar playing. I always have chills and tears when I listen to [it] or play it live.
AD: Describe how you achieve your tone and vibrato. Do you feel vibrato is as important as it's made out to be as a calling card for guitar players?
LS: My signature tone comes from the way I articulate each note or chord I play, the attitude, emotion, and feeling behind every note I play on guitar, instead of [something like] an amp or EQ setting I might have. The way I approach songs, whether someone else's or my own, is quite personal, and I feel like it is for other players too. There is that personal touch that you can't teach; it just comes out naturally in that moment.
As for vibrato, I am huge on that and feel like I'm always working to better it or try different types. I worked on this for quite a while with my mentor Joshua Ray Gooch, he really taught me how important it is to control your vibrato and make sure it fits with the song, as well as [learning] some different kinds like the Eric Clapton vibrato, which took me forever to get. I think I'm still trying to get that one.
AD: Tell me about your guitars.
LS: I have three main electric guitars for gigs and sessions. I have a Fender American Ultra Stratocaster, a Gibson Les Paul Custom, and then my Mike Campbell Signature Duesenberg. All three of those guitars give me so much versatility in tones, which is what I always look for and need. One week I could be playing a rock gig, and the next might be funk or country, so it's handy having guitars that can cut a few styles. Additionally, I have a Tommy Emmanuel Maton for when I need to use an acoustic guitar.
AD: Do you prefer vintage guitars or new ones?
LS: I love both vintage and new guitars. I haven't found a vintage guitar I really want just yet, but I will continue my searches next time I'm in L.A. I feel like I play differently on vintage gear, and I have no idea why. (laughs)
AD: Is there one guitar that means the most to you?
LS: My Mike Campbell Duesenberg has a lot of meaning; I got that on my first trip to L.A. when I went to study at Musicians Institute in Hollywood. That was my first trip out of Australia on my own. It was a real shock moving from small-town Perth, Western Australia, to the big city of Los Angeles, so getting that guitar got me through some tough times and provided comfort.
AD: What combination of amps or modelers and pedals re you using?
LS: Depending on the gig, I have both options available [amps and modelers]. My “A” rig is a Kemper Profiler [a modeler/preamp that creates and stores profiles of different amplifier sounds – Ed.] which I love because I can have presets and tempos set for gigs. The game changer for me was not having to do the “pedal dance” [of constantly stepping on different effects pedals] anymore, which is great for those bigger gigs where you want to jump around and really engage with the crowd. It's definitely not exactly like a valve [tube] amp, but to be honest, it's close enough.
My “B” rig consists of my pedal board, and either my Supro Statesman amp or whatever backline amp is provided for shows. I run a Line 6 HX Stomp for my reverbs and delays, then I have two J. Rockett Overdrive pedals, the Blue Note and the Dude. Those overdrives are really amp-friendly, so I normally don't have any trouble with using different amps. I always run the amp clean and use the overdrives for my drive and solo tones.
Other than that, I have an Electro-Harmonix LPB-1 boost and a Dunlop Cry Baby Mini Wah [on a] small fly rig, and I still get all the tones I want, which are great.
AD: Are there any guitars, amps, or pickups that you don't like?
LS: I don't think there are any guitars or amps I don't like; I feel like each amp or guitar serves a certain style or genre.
AD: Does having to conform to current trends alter your style or technique at all?
LS: I don't feel like trends alter my style or technique. I'm normally on my own guitar journey and will learn and play what I want. Social media can be hard, though, as “shred” guitar videos [featuring virtuoso, highly technical playing] will normally get more views and likes [compared to] a melodic solo or just playing a cool rhythm guitar part.
My social media will cycle through all of those [kinds of things]. I recently did a video of the rhythm guitar line in "These Summer Nights" by Richard Marx; I absolutely love the verse guitars. I post and play what I love and was feeling like playing at the time, and hopefully, people like it. (laughs)
To stay inspired, I'm always listening to all genres of music, from pop and metal to recently jazz, because of my [recent] studies at Berklee School of Music, which have been awesome. I love to put myself out of my comfort zone. There's been times I've gotten up with rockabilly or country bands in town and just jammed with them at the gig. It's terrifying when it's not in my comfort style of playing, but every time I do that, I feel like I've gained years' worth of knowledge.
One other thing is [to] learn different instrument melodies or rhythms on guitar. I love learning saxophone or bass lines. I'm a huge Dirty Loops fan, and I always try some of Henrik [Ostergaard’s] bass lines on guitar.
AD: Does being referred to as a shredder bother you?
LS: Being referred to as a shredder doesn't really bother me. I remember doing gigs in pubs back when I was 15 or 16, and the crowd would refer to me as “the shredder kid.” I find it funny, though, as a lot of the time, I'll be doing melodic solos with just a hint of shred. There are definitely better guitar shredders out there, so I guess I'm honored to be grouped in with them.
I guess I would classify myself as a versatile and reliable guitarist. First and foremost, I'm always pushing myself to do the best job I possibly can for whoever calls me for a gig or session.
AD: What does the future hold?
LS: I might look at doing another headline show here in Perth, but I'm definitely looking to get into more of the touring session scene. It's always been a dream of mine to tour with an artist and especially the USA, so I'm working towards that, and we will see what the universe has in store for me.
Images courtesy of Luke Stamenkovich.