Rabea Massaad’s afro graced us with its presence in the AMS Tone Labs — with Rabea attached — just so Russ and Ryan could ask all sorts of crazy questions about how he got started playing guitar via skateboard accident, his songwriting processes, and all about his latest EP Less We Know by The Totemist:

And in case you missed it, don’t forget to check out our previous video with Rabea about the development of the Victory VX Kraken MkII amp.

An unlikely introduction to guitar

Is it true that Rabea started playing guitar because of a skateboarding accident? Yep!

Rabea is known for his incredible shredding skills on guitar, but did you know that he actually started out as a drummer? Rabea started drumming when he was eight years old. To him, it was so much more fun than guitar because it felt more interactive.

Guitar, as many players would agree, has a rather steep learning curve. It’s hard to progress. And even when you do progress, it’s easy to plateau. You can really just beat on drums and sound good, which was super fun — especially for a young kid.

Once he became a teenager, Rabea got into skateboarding. One day, he found a staircase he just couldn’t resist trying to jump down and ended up tearing his ACL! During recovery, he couldn’t really play drums, so he started to dabble with his dad’s guitars that were laying around the house.

Rabea first started playing primarily on his father’s 1979 Fender Stratocaster and occasionally on a 1994 Jackson professional. According to Rabea, the Jackson had some pre-EMG pickups that didn’t sound the greatest, but they were really his first introduction into the high-gain pickup world. He later picked up an Epiphone Les Paul Studio.

At that time, all he wanted was to be a shredder. He looked up to artists like Joe Satriani and Nuno Bettencourt (who we also got to talk to!) for inspiration, but as many an aspiring guitar player knows, those guys are in a league of their own. Rabea’s true entry point to lead guitar was Metallica’s Master of Puppets.

During Rabea’s ACL recovery, he was given a tab book for Master of Puppets and started to work his way through it. He didn’t like reading tabs much, so he’d use the book to get a starting point for the fingerings and then figure out the rest by ear. His dad would pop into his room occasionally to offer tips and tricks — like introducing him to string bending.

What he learned is that he could actually play the riffs and sound kind of like Kirk Hammett! When you realize you can play the parts and sound like the albums, it makes you just want to keep going. Rabea had caught the guitar bug!

Rabea’s musical influences

In the beginning, it was all about Joe Satriani, Nuno Bettencourt, and other shredders for Rabea. All he wanted to do was play lead and solo on and on and on and on. He joined his first band when he was around 16 and admitted that he had lead-guitar tunnel vision. He just wanted to stick a solo in every song they played!

As a teen, Rabea was getting into the Nu Metal scene with bands like Korn and Deftones, along with some grungier bands like Soundgarden. But the real game-changer was when his bandmates at the time introduced him to Incubus.

Somehow, he had overlooked Incubus during the Nu Metal and Grunge phases, but he became obsessed with how they wrote songs. It was more riffy with a nice groove, rather than ripping solo after solo. They always had a strong melody, and their use of effects was entirely unique. They melded the parts into a cohesive song, rather than each member playing separate parts.

From that point on, Rabea just wanted to be in a band. He wanted to write real music and songs instead of playing only lead. He had an idea of the type of sound he wanted to create, but never entirely found it. Until he heard another band: Karnivool (opens in new tab).

Rabea said that hearing Karnivool was life changing! They were making the kind of music he dreamed of writing. They were doing what he was trying to do! To this day, Karnivool is still 100% Rabea’s favorite band. They made him realize that you can do both: shred and play with feel. And that’s something we can definitely hear in Rabea’s music today.

Speaking of which…

Less We Know – The latest EP from The Totemist

Rabea’s latest project is an EP called Less We Know. He wrote and recorded the four-song EP with drummer and longtime friend Liam Kearley. Together, they call themselves The Totemist.

Shortly after the COVID-19 lockdowns, Rabea and Kearley were enjoying an afternoon in a local skatepark, and they got to talking. There was a recording studio down the street that was empty at the time, and since both of their bands had recently broken up, they thought they should go down there and record something.

Rabea and Kearley headed into the studio with only three days of studio time to complete their project, start to finish. With lots of back-and-forth, bouncing ideas off one another, and plenty of running from the control booth to press record and back to the studio to play, the duo landed four songs for the new EP:

  • Over Jostled
  • Less We Know
  • Dos Huevos
  • Ride Out of Failure

Four songs written and recorded in three days!? That’s right. And they’re amazing.

Check out The Totemist’s latest EP, Less We Know, now on your favorite streaming platforms:

Or check out the super amazing music video on YouTube (opens in new tab), featuring all four songs from the EP.

The gear that powered Less We Know

Being the gear nerds we are, we couldn’t help but ask Rabea about the equipment he used on his latest EP. So without further ado:

When he visited the AMS studios, Rabea had his trusty Ernie Ball Music Man with him — which he also used in the Less We Know music video. But he told us that he used a single-coil Fender Stratocaster to come up with the licks heard on the EP.

Because the guitar sounded so different from the humbucker-laden instruments he usually plays with, he actually ended up writing different sorts of riffs. He said it gave the playing a different feel, and he wrote stuff that he wouldn’t have otherwise.

We also asked him about any “secret weapon” pieces of gear he couldn’t have done without. His answer was his amazing Universal Audio interfaces. They have so many plugins that you can get thousands of dollars (or pounds, in Rabea’s case) of gear to make your recordings sound incredible.

Are demo days in the past?

As most people know, Rabea made a name for himself creating product demo videos on YouTube. His reviews generated millions of views and helped musicians everywhere find their perfect gear. Of course, his desire to play with music gear came from a passion for guitar. But once you make something your job, it sometimes loses its special touch in your heart.

Now that Rabea is in the big time, we had to ask if he ever felt burnt out with music. Luckily for us, he answered that he hasn’t!

To him, it doesn’t feel like work. He told us that it’s just music and guitar. Occasionally he’ll go on social media and see the crazy virtuosos shred and play their insane riffs. And like most of us, he starts to think “What am I even doing...?” But it won’t be long before he hears another really cool lick and just has to learn it, lighting the passion back up. Rabea said he’s never really had the feeling of not wanting to play at all.

However, he did say that he gets burnt out when it comes to product demos. His YouTube channel (opens in new tab) is so popular that brands from all over seek him out to demo and promote their products, some of which don’t entirely interest him or match his playing style.

Rabea said he just wants to play and be in a band. If there’s a piece of gear that genuinely excites him — like a new Strymon pedal or a Victory amp — he’ll definitely give it a demo. But he’d rather not become “the demo guy.”

What does he do with all the gear he has reviewed over the years? He still has it! It’s all currently in his new studio, which makes it fun to record. He can pick out almost any piece of gear and just have fun. It’s basically any guitar player’s dream.

A big thanks to Rabea and Victory amps!

We had a blast hanging out with Rabea Massaad in the AMS Tone Labs. And we learned a ton about gear, songwriting, and definitely the new Victory VX Kraken MkII. A special thanks to Rabea and Victory amps for making it happen!

Don’t forget to check out Rabea’s latest EP with The Totemist, Less We Know (opens in new tab), and pick up the next generation of Kraken amp from Victory: the VX Kraken MkII. You definitely won’t regret either one! Keep up with Rabea’s YouTube page (opens in new tab) and website (opens in new tab) for all the latest gear and music releases from the ‘fro’d-up guitar maestro himself.

And Rabea, don’t be a stranger! Stop by the AMS Tone Labs any time you’re on this side of the pond. We have lots of gear you can play with…