What truly sets them apart is the caliber of the teachers brought in to work with students, including such music legends as guitarist Johnny Vernazza (The Elvin Bishop Group) and bassist John Avila (Oingo Boingo), as well as rising stars such as guitarist Mike Ruggirello.
Ruggirello is a native San Diegan, whose fretwork recently brought him to the attention of Canadian music school, Guitar Workshop Plus, taking part in their inaugural San Diego program at Cal State San Marcos. “It’s a very condensed schedule of practicing, rehearsing, and gigging,” he said.
“It's the equivalent to being in the special forces for teaching,” he joked. Ruggirello has already been confirmed as an instructor at next year’s sessions, though in the meantime, he can be found at Rock and roll San Diego, Monday through Thursday and Saturdays.
While the subject matter might have been a variable, the odds that he would become a teacher of some sort were always stacked in his favor.
“I come from a family of teachers, my late mother is the main influence,” Ruggirello said. “I enjoy being able to explain and describe a musical subject matter.” Direct family influence is also behind his musical instrument choice. “I have been playing guitar 27 years and I've been performing for over 24 years,” he recalled. “I remember my aunt Kim telling me to grow my hair out and get an earring and it would be cool if I played guitar,” he laughed. More directly, “I was listening to Metallica and the song “The Shortest Straw” came on and I was immediately hooked on how the guitar sounded.” He also cites Jimmy Page, Joe Pass and Ritchie Blackmore as major influences. “I’m a rock player, but I totally dig funk, as well as R&B. Jazz is another passion of mine and also play a lot of acoustic in the Spanish vein, particularly at solo dates.”
Interestingly, unlike many players, and despite decades as a performer, Ruggirello doesn’t have a favorite instrument, though he is endorsed by iconic guitar Tremolo manufacturer, Floyd Rose. “I'm still a big kid, so I like new guitars and new amps,” he said.
Ruggirello teaches students from beginners to advanced players, but for him one part of the lesson plan is key. “I want my students to always know their intervals,” he said. “I constantly remind my students how important it is to think in intervals and associate numbers with sound. Improvising is key,” he said. “Musicians are the masters of improvising, not comedians.”
Ruggirello released a solo album this past December, Vol. 1, but much of his stage time is spent with the rock band Fusebox, who he has performed with for 24 years. While the band has sterling original material, they have also earned a rep for their quirky covers selections. “We play ’80s songs by artists like Joe Jackson, Yaz, Van Halen, Frank Zappa, etc. Our crowd loves our covers because we play tunes that surprise you.”
For his part Ruggirello is happy to be able to help the next generation of musicians on their way, while at the same time striving to make an impact on the greater music community. The music business is tougher than ever, but he’s determined to make it his life. “I don't care how tough it gets,” he said. “I will always be out there playing, because I love practicing music and getting better on my instrument.”