Meet Ruben Wan: YouTuber, studio guitarist, and music teacher extraordinaire! You may recognize him from his incredible Orangewood demo videos or perhaps from his PickUp Masterclass. We were so excited to sit down and pick his brain on all things guitar.
How did you start out playing music? What originally drew you to the guitar?
My first instrument just like every other young asian kid was the Piano. Mom hired a private piano instructor when I was 8. It was mostly classical music, lots of sight reading, very little music theory, structured, and required lots of discipline - hence I was not too fond of it. I did it for a couple of years and eventually quit because it didn’t interest me enough to continue (I kind of regret it now, but 10 year old me, certainly, didn’t know future me was going to become a musician). I picked up guitar when I was 14 or 15 years old. Half of the reason was because emo, indie, alt-rock, etc., music was popular at that time and most of those bands I was into had at least 1 or 2 guitarists. The other less glamorous half of the reason was to get girls to like me. Little did I know that guitar had nothing to do with getting girls to like you, but at least I got to keep a lifelong passion out of it.
You cover such a wide range of songs on your Instagram and Youtube channel. What’s your favorite style of music to play?
My favorite style of music to play at the moment is either trap or rock/RnB. I'm a huge fan of playing around triplets, cranking up my distortion for a solo, and playing soulful licks over a chill beat.
Who were some of your guitar influences growing up?
My parents rarely got me CDs and the TV in Panama didn’t have much of the music that I was into, so growing up I only had Youtube to satisfy my musical cravings.
To name a few influences I listened to before coming to the US: Andy Mckee, Kotaro Oshio, Guthrie Govan, Mattrach, Stanley Jordan, etc. My influences while in LA were Isaiah Sharkey, Mark Lettieri, John Mayer, etc. Nowadays, I tend to draw inspiration from other instruments instead of focusing only on guitarists
What’s your current rig set up? Any favorite pieces of gear?
I'm not a big tone head, but for the longest time, I’ve been using the TimeLine/BigSky Strymon combo for all my time based needs. I refuse to leave the house without my VP Jr volume pedal and my main axes are: Suhr Classic Strat (6 strings), Strandberg Prog (7 strings), and Orangewood Echo Live (Acoustic). My current favorite piece of gear is Chase Bliss Audio Brothers Analog Gain Stage.
You’ve been a member of the Orangewood fam since the beginning! Which models do you have and what do you like about them?
I have the Oliver Cedar, Oliver Jr Mahogany, and Echo Live. In my opinion, nothing in the same price range beats Orangewood's playability, sound, and build quality - especially my Echo. I have done many blind tests where I let some of my closest pro-guitarist friends try it, and name a price, and most of them say they would pay high end guitar prices for it.
You’ve worked with signed artists such as Allie Sherlock and Ryan Tedder, how does working on someone else’s music compare to working on your own material?
I find it easier and more productive to work on someone else’s music rather than my own. I tend to go for the perfectionist route when it comes to my own music and that leads to a lot of wasted energy, time, and effort. I do enjoy both though. My creativity and talents shine more when I work on someone else’s music, but I also believe that every artist should always remember to work on their own art in order to leave some legacy behind for future generations.
You recently did a PickUp Masterclass video. What was it like breaking down your techniques to share with others? Did you like the teaching experience?
Filming the Masterclass was definitely one of my current career highlights. I’ve always enjoyed sharing knowledge with people, especially music and guitar, so being able to share techniques and my own songs with others was an extremely humbling and wonderful learning experience. Shout out to PickUp for having me!
What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out on guitar?
Listen, transcribe, listen, transcribe, and transcribe some more!
You cover so many incredible artists! Who are you listening to right now?
The 1975, Ariza, and Lucas & The Woods.
I have two shows playing guitar for RIAH, who is opening for LANY, on June 25th and 28th at the Anaheim House of Blues and The Shrine.
Then, my own show as “Ruben Wan” at Hotel Cafe, June 27th. I'm also working on many singles with different producers. I'm trying to release a song every month!
What is your ultimate goal in music and in life?
Ultimate goal in music: tour the world with my favorite artists and my own music. Also, open a music university or arts highschool back in Panama.
Ultimate goal in life: travel the world to experience different cultures and cuisines with my closest friends and family. (Maybe wife and kids ha.)
Lastly, Your stuffed panda makes an appearance in many videos. Tell me about your love for these adorable bears.
Pandas are useless animals that would most likely go extinct if it wasn’t for human interference. They serve no purpose to the world and are very costly to maintain. Despite all of that, pandas have the biggest budget out of all animals when it comes to preservation and are the face of endangered species. The only thing that they have going on for themselves is being “CUTE”. The takeaway from all this: no matter how useless you think you are, find that one thing that you’re good at that will appeal to people and you’ll be fine in this world.
I don't know about you, but I think I just fell even more in love with pandas.
(An editors note: pandas can actually play a crucial role in China's bamboo forests by spreading seeds and helping vegetation growth.)
Follow Ruben on Instagram @rubenwan