The guitar wizard dishes in depth on his music, gear and his path to a jaw-dropping technique.
Joe Satriani is the quintessential electric guitar guru. His lyrical, soaring compositions are at once intuitively accessible, melodically sophisticated, and technically dazzling. One of the most widely respected and best-loved six-string artists of the past 20 years, he has also been a dynamic and influential teacher to such rock luminaries as Steve Vai, Metallica's Kirk Hammett, Larry LaLonde of Primus, Counting Crow's David Bryson, and fusion wunderkind Charlie Hunter.
Since his debut self-titled EP in 1984, Satriani has relentlessly pursued his own unique musical vision. The result is a body of high-voltage music that defies classification and attracts millions of loyal listeners worldwide. At the time we caught up with Joe, he had notched nine studio albums plus a number of live efforts that include two with G3∏—the touring supergroup comprising Satriani, Steve Vai, and various guest guitar monsters such as Eric Johnson, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Robert Fripp, Adrian Legg, Michael Schenker, John Petrucci and Yngwie Malmsteen.
Since the early '90s, Satriani has teamed up with Ibanez to produce a very distinctive, functional, and popular line of solidbody guitars featuring a uniquely round, sculpted body, dual humbuckers, a 25-1/2" scale length, and a locking trem on most models.
Musician's Friend met with Satriani in his private studio, situated in his spacious Bay Area home. The studio is comfortable but far from ostentatious. Most of the recording gear is contained in one rack, but everything in there is obviously well-chosen. This humble workplace was the birthplace of Is There Love in Space—Satriani's latest studio project, of which we were treated to a small preview. The recording quality is magnificent, but it's hard to pay much attention to it when you're busy being overwhelmed by Joe's riveting compositions and transcendent solos.
Joe Satriani is a very personable guy. His manner is open, funny, and completely devoid of arrogance. And he talks music with the genuine enthusiasm of a kid who grew up to live out all his musical fantasies.
Musician's Friend: We recently heard you got to play with Mitch Mitchell, Billy Cox, and Buddy Guy, among others, in a tribute to Hendrix in San Francisco. How did that happen and what was it like?
Joe Satriani: It was a fantastic experience for me. I'm a hard-core Hendrix fan. So to finally be able to play with Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox was just the thrill of a lifetime for me. And then the bonus was being able to trade Blues licks with Buddy Guy. I was kind of mesmerized, star-struck a little bit because I'd spent so many years listening to these guys on record and playing along with them. They created some of the most important music stemming from the sixties and on through to this new millennium we're in.
It was maybe the third time that John McDermott had invited me to one of these things and each time I was either out of the country or was in the studio and I couldn't make the performance. But this one came along at a good time. I think it was a three-day tour they did. So I wound up playing on the third day. And there were a lot of people there. It was a bit of a zoo, as they usually are, like 13 guitarists or something. I did a song with Jerry Cantrell, which was fun to do. Jerry's a great guitarist. He's got a good sound and he's a great writer. And he's got a great voice. It was great to hear him sing "Hey Joe." It was one of the highlights of the night, I thought.
Some of Joe’s influences and guitar heroes might surprise you.
And Paul Rogers came out and sang "Spanish Castle Magic." He has a broken collarbone that he's been mending for about a year. And as luck would have it about a half hour before he showed up at the gig he broke a toe. Before he went on I went to his dressing room and saw him with his foot up and a big ice bag. I said, "What happened?" I had seen him doing sound check and he was jumping around. And I think he jumped off his bed at the hotel and broke his toe or a couple of them right before coming to the show. So when he walked out on stage to do "Spanish Castle Magic," he walked very slowly and he stood in one place pretty much. I felt sorry for him. It's a small bone, but they can hurt.
MF: Did you guys get to rehearse for that at all?
JS: Everybody got to play a song once. You can imagine the mayhem that sound check was. It was insane. And then Carlos Santana showed up kind of unannounced and that threw a monkey wrench into everyone's arrangements. All of a sudden everything changed. I was told I was going to play three songs. Then when I got to the sound check John McDermott says, "Oh, by the way, you're not going to play these songs. Can you play these other songs?" And he had to do that to a lot of people. Everyone was like, "Oh, my God, I wasn't prepared for that." It was your usual show business craziness.
MF: But you know the Hendrix tunes, so it probably wasn't too hard to switch?
JS: Yeah, I knew every single one of them. So I said, "Whatever you want, it's OK with me." I was just so happy to be there. I was like a fan who got to jump onstage.
MF: Plus everybody was fresh on those tunes, at least.
JS: They were. And Andy Aledort was there. He's the factotum of Hendrix guitar. He's a great musician in his own right, but if you ask him to show you anything, like "How did this guy exactly play it?" he can show you Hendrix and Clapton and Beck and everything. Because he's done so many transcriptions.
MF: He knows the actual hand positions?
JS: Everything. Andy released a CD a number of years ago where not only did he play each part, but he recorded it exactly the way it was originally recorded. He got all the gear together that, like, Clapton used, and Hendrix used, and he meticulously went about recording the parts so you could hear all of them separated. It was incredible. You see him a lot writing for Guitar World. He's interviewed me a thousand times. And he happens to live around the block from my mother on Long Island.
MF: So if you want to study one of these guys you can go to Aledort and learn it.
JS: You can. As a matter of fact, Joe Perry, in preparation for the new Aerosmith album—the blues record—called Andy to come up and give him a crash course in every important blues phrase in the past 60 years. Andy said he spent 17 hours straight with Joe Perry and Joe Perry just ate it up.
MF: Tell us three of your musical heroes and what makes them so special to you.
JS: That's hard because I've got too many musical heroes, but I'll try to narrow it down. We'll start with Hendrix. For reasons unknown his music reached out and grabbed me. I don't think anyone can explain why they have a direct link with particular artists. But you know it when you hear it—the sound that they make just somehow touches you.
And as a guitar player and a professional musician I'm stunned at how revolutionary his playing was, how he took the rich history of music that he grew up with and used it in such an original way. If you listen to something like Electric Ladyland you hear so much of his growing up. You hear blues and jazz and early rock 'n' roll and then the rock that was being created right there by his generation, the excitement with how to manipulate equipment, which was quite new at the time, and a dedication to a new way of thinking.
It's astounding. You could take out a pad and a piece of paper and say, "OK, why do all guitar players do this today?" And you'd write down, "Because of Jimi Hendrix." And then you'd think of another thing we all do—"Because of Jimi Hendrix." The list would be really long. We all just sort of absorbed him. He was part Chuck Berry and part Les Paul and part Buddy Guy. He had all those guys in him, but he had a way of turning it around that was quite unique. His love of Buddy Guy somehow turned into "Voodoo Chile." Most people wouldn't be able to connect the dots but Jimi could tell you that.
MF: Was there a particular Hendrix song that really grabbed you?
JS: Well, I kind of go between the two... Recently I did a celebrity list for iTunes. One of the songs I put on there was the first Capitol release of the song "Machine Gun," on The Band of Gypsys live at the Fillmore. For a live performance and being improvised, Hendrix somehow creates and goes through so many techniques that all of us use today. Guitar players who didn't do that stuff would be considered illiterate. It's just insane what he did in that one song.
But it turned out that that particular version is not available for download. Capitol has not released it yet. So iTunes wound up with like four other versions which I didn't like. So I had to switch to my other most important Hendrix song. And I picked "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" because that one is so enduring and it inspires so many players. And the sound of it, oh God, it's just incredible. If anyone's ever just stood in front of an audience in a power trio and tried to create that off an E chord... It's just an incredible tour-de-force. And it's arranged like Mozart sat down and worked it out. It's incredible the amount of talent that he had and how he used it.
MF: Other favorite musicians?
JS: There's one player that is still the epitome of what a lot of modern players do. Hendrix noted that Billy Gibbons was like the future of music. This was back in '69, I think, when they did some touring together. I remember hearing that when I was a kid and I thought, OK, I've got to check this guy out. I'm fascinated with Billy Gibbons and I think that he also is an innovator, but in a more subtle way because his scope is not as broad as what Hendrix was dealing with. Billy Gibbons and ZZ Top were coming from a real blues direction. They didn't really get into psychedelia or jazz or R&B. They kept a straight focus.
But on the other hand if you think about the things he did on the guitar—the restraint, the harmonics, how he arranged the guitar in songs, how he constructed riffs so that they would go through the song—and then you hear what he's done on the last four albums, it's like the guy is from the future, from another planet. And with each album he's sort of reinventing the Mississippi delta blues with a writing style that is completely all his own. But here's the funny part. My favorite song of theirs is "Loaded." It's one that Dusty Hill sings, but Gibbons gets this sound that's exactly like a guitar with a broken cable. It keeps cutting out. Any normal guitar player would say, "Oh my God, replace that cable." And somehow Billy uses that through the entire song. The thing is noisily cutting out and yet he gets it to swing.
MF: Have you ever asked him about that?
JS: I did. And he wouldn't tell me. He's a very generous guy. He came and he jammed with us in Houston on a G3 that Steve and John Petrucci and I were doing. And afterward he gave me one of his own watercolors that he painted. And I asked him a whole bunch of questions. I'm sure the other guys were kind of embarrassed because they saw me totally freaking out over him. But I was kind of star struck. And I was like, "You've got to tell me how you get that sound of the guitar cord breaking." He kind of hemmed and hawed and didn't tell me [laughs]. And I respected it [laughs].
MF: Well it's a good thing he didn't tell you because otherwise all of our readers would know.
JS: Well I'll tell you, if it turns out it's a pedal, I'm buying it.
MF: Maybe it was just a faulty cable and Gibbons said, "Hey, that's cool, let's go with it."
JS: Yeah, I could see that. Because we've all been in that position where that's happened. Especially onstage you've got to go with what you've got. And that's an important thing to learn.
MF: OK, who's number three, musical heroes.
JS: Well this is a bit of a curve ball but I know that he kind of relates to a lot of things people play today. His name was Wes Montgomery...
JS:... he was a jazz guitar player. It's interesting how I got into him. I graduated high school a half year early. I think it was because they wanted to get rid of me. But my grades were good enough and they let me double up on my subjects. So come January of my senior year I was free. I thought before going to college I'd seek out some unusual players and teachers. And I wound up taking a few lessons from this blind piano player, his name was Lennie Tristano. He's a giant in the bebop world; he was quite famous. They mentioned him in Time magazine when he passed away in 1978.
As a matter of fact it's the mention of Lennie’s name in Jailhouse Rock that drives Elvis Presley nuts at a cocktail party. A woman who is trying to manage Elvis brings him to a party to try to get him to meet some important people. It's a cocktail party and everyone's wearing suits. And some guy starts saying "Hey, have you heard the latest Lennie Tristano record, it's out of this world." And for some reason Elvis loses his mind when he hears that. And he breaks something and walks out of the party or something [laughs].
But Lennie Tristano was a fantastic musical innovator. He really was the father of cool jazz. He had a very unique way of improvising. It was almost like a Zen attitude. You had to get rid of every cliche, every little turn and phrase, anything that was based on you listening to yourself and being judgmental or self-conscious. He taught everybody—drummers and singers and guitar players—how to be real musicians.
One part of the lessons I had with him (which were very difficult) was scat singing along with records. And he didn't care what records. I used to bring in Black Sabbath and Johnny Winter. And I used to bring in Charlie Parker and Wes Montgomery and stuff. And he didn't discriminate; he knew when guys were really playing.
But one of the things I had to do was scat singing. You had to learn the melody and then you had to memorize the solo and be able to sing it along with the record. It was kind of embarrassing but the idea was to get the music into your body and not to worry about your fingers. If your body and your mind and your soul can really inhabit some great performer's expression, that music will then come out of you in your own way. He felt it was a far better way to learn something than just looking at the printed page and simply memorizing it as dots and dashes. The guy was right. I truly believe in it.
And when I brought in the Wes Montgomery I started to see the beauty of what he played. Wes Montgomery was famous for using his thumb and playing harmonics impeccably. And the guy was never out of tune. Now, we all know guitars are always out of tune to some degree. But Wes was never out of tune because he had a way of playing where he took care of that.
The other thing about Wes Montgomery—and I know people today probably can't conceive of it—but this was a musician who made records that were based purely on live performance. There was no punching in. What you heard him play is what he played live one afternoon. They probably cut these records in three hours. And Wes never made a mistake. I remember thinking to myself: How does a guy play every note and it's totally tasty, not one extra note in there?
Lenny used to tell me lots of stories about hanging out with all these jazz cats—Charlie Parker and just about everybody. And I'll never forget the day he said to me, "You know, Wes never played a wrong note. He never played an extra note, he never left one out." He said, "In all my years of jamming with him and playing gigs with him and watching him play, I never saw him once play out of tune or miss a note." That's what I had thought, but I just thought I was a little kid who didn't know any better.
But he was right when I went back and listened to the records... When you sing one of his solos you feel like you're in the presence of greatness. It's like reading a poem that's perfect and you just can't believe someone came up with that combination of words that you use every day but just in a different order. And that's kind of like what music is. We all have the same notes in our pocket, but the great ones pull out the right ones at the right time. Wes was one of those guys. He had the timing, the rhythm, the note selection, he had an incredible sense of melody and harmony, and he performed impeccably.
MF: A few minutes ago you talked about meeting Billy Gibbons and being star-struck. That happens to a lot of people—they get a chance to meet their hero and they say stupid things or they make them uncomfortable. What can a fan say when they meet you that doesn't put you in an odd position?
JS: In my experience with the stars I've met, they're the ones who make the difference. Mick, Brian May, Billy Gibbons—these guys that I've met and played with—they're unique human beings—they're so nice. They probably could sense that what they needed to do was to put Joe at ease. And they quickly do that. It's natural when you've followed somebody as a static image or on a video and finally you meet them in the flesh, you just can't help but stare at them for a while. And it throws you off balance and you forget what you really wanted to say and you say something else.
But the response from the star is really what sets the pace. All it takes is a gesture from the artist, a hand on the shoulder, a smile. Wait; just give the fan some time. If they say, "I'm really nervous," just say "That's OK. I can wait; I'm not in a rush."
MF: Is a compliment about something specific you've done easier to deal with than if somebody comes up and says you're the greatest guitar player in the world?
JS: Yeah, I think all artists are suckers for a compliment [laughs]. And usually if it's an obscure one we like it even better. And sometimes it can be a criticism that makes you think this guy's really listening. But you can never be prepared for the variety of comments, feelings, and anecdotes that fans talk to you about. Some of them are funny, some are so tragic you feel like bursting into tears when they tell you—stuff about how your music has somehow worked into their life.
I try not to impose any conditions on fans, other than they don't physically just start freaking out [laughs].
MF: Don't jump on you.
JS: Yeah. That would be dangerous. Because there's always security nearby and the fan could get hurt. But I've had a lot of really good experiences hanging out with people that I used to admire from the back of album covers and concerts. I remember when I was about 16, I went to see Humble Pie at, I think it was, Gallic Park up in the Bronx. I used to go to these concerts with a friend of mine who was a really big, strong kid. He looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger, except he was in high school. He was great to go to concerts with because he would always get us backstage as extra roadies.
So at the end of the concert we'd go to the back gate. I was just a skinny little kid, but I'd stand next to my friend Jeff. And he'd say, "Hey, you guys need some help?" They'd let us in and we'd find ourselves onstage wrapping cables or something. It was very exciting for us. I remember walking up the ramp towards the stage and there's Steve Marriott from Humble Pie looking at me like 'Who's this kid? What's he doing here?'
I said "Steve Marriott!" and that was about all that could come out of my mouth. He must have known I was petrified, but I was a big fan. I remember him giving me a pat on the shoulders and saying, "Hi. Thanks for being here and listening to the music," and walking off. And that gesture remains with me today. Because he could have turned to someone and said, "Get that kid out of here!" or "Bug off, kid, I'm busy." He could have said anything, and some stars do—they're so impersonal it's disheartening. But he was the first star that I ever met, and that brief encounter made me think 'A star can take the time to be genuine with a fan. And they do appreciate it and they never forget it.'
MF: How much do you practice now and what do you consider practice?
JS: The second part of that is a very good question. I think that anytime someone has gone through intense woodshedding and has played for a couple of decades, the question 'What do you practice now?' kind of looms over your head. Because once you know all the chords and you know all the scales in every key and you've harmonized them in every harmonization, and there isn't a chord that you hear coming out of the radio that your brain doesn't say, 'Oh that's a minor 13th chord,' you realize that what you need to practice is not written down anymore. It's not the kind of stuff that's based on theory that's been sitting around for a couple of hundred years. When you start out you're basically trying to play catch-up with a couple hundred years of Western music.
If you decide not to drift into music outside of your culture—because you could spend another lifetime studying Indian music or Arabic music or other forms of music from around the world—you start to think more about what it is that you want to play. If you're a writer like I am, then it's all about the writing. It's always been more about the writing. When I was younger there was a bit of a conflict when I would have to spend four or five hours a day practicing scales and it would leave me no time to work on my writing, which I really love doing.
MF: Four or five hours a day?!
JS: Yeah, that was nothing. I started with a half hour, then worked up to an hour, worked up to two, worked up to three. I started waking up before school and practiced for two hours, and then I'd practice after school. Then when I was out of school and touring with top 40 bands, between tours I'd spend two months practicing literally 13 hours a day. Then I'd have to go out and find a job again.
It was really about discovery: 'How fast can I play? How slow can I play? How many different key signatures can I play exactly the same?' You just keep pushing yourself to every boundary, whether it's intellectual or physical, that you can think of.
You learn—especially when you reach the mid-twenties—'This is the body that I've been given [laughs]. And I've put it through every possible pace with this instrument, so now it's time to pull it together.' Some of us walk faster than others; have a larger stride than others. And it's the same with the way we approach our instruments. With guitar it's pretty obvious. But that speed or that stretch really doesn't apply to success or to genius or the ability to write great music and perform it to move millions of people.
Year after year we see fascinating new guitar players come along. They may not have the skills of this guy or they may have a little more skills than that guy, but what they give us is something very unique. That's why there's no way to say who's better: Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page—all the guys that came from that era. They're all equally amazing for what they accomplish and they're all completely different. Their fingertips make a different sound. They go about playing things rhythmically quite differently. It's like comparing apples and oranges.
MF: Getting back to the question, do you practice now, and is it anything that the rest of us guys would recognize as practice?
JS: Yes. Absolutely. Just about every day since I was 15 years old I've done a series of simple chromatic exercises that I've published in magazine articles and in my book Guitar Secrets, simple exercises to warm-up with. Some people pick up an instrument and try to play their fastest or most strenuous stuff right away. Your muscles and tendons are not ready for that. So you do need to warm-up, just like a singer or a drummer or any other performer. You've got to somehow sort of warm-up and stretch before you ask yourself to do something really intense.
So I'll do two or three of these things that I've picked up over the years. I'll do some intonation exercises to get in touch with whatever instrument I happen to be playing. Because some of my guitars have nines on them, some of them have tens. Although I probably do most of my practicing on my Ibanez guitars, I have a small group of vintage guitars that I have set up differently. Your Tele and your SG are going to have a very different string tension than your Ibanez. So sometimes I'll just spend an hour getting used to a guitar.
Satch keeps his chops sharp on a steady diet of practice and songwriting.
I'll play along with records. There are some records that are really great to play with. Like Eric Clapton's From the Cradle. It's a great blues record to play along with. You can just put that thing on and play through the entire album. That's the greatest warm-up. Or sometimes I'll bring out my seven-string and put on a Linkin Park record and play along with that. I'll be like the annoying soloist that they decided not to have in the band [laughs].
Then I have quite a few of my own records that I've made mixes of without the solos or the melodies. That usually helps when I'm preparing for a tour. I'll make sure to run through an entire set at least twice a day for about two or three weeks before a tour.
I come up with most of my techniques as I'm writing the song. And then I teach myself the technique well enough to record it. And then if I don't play that song the technique fades. So sometimes I have to rekindle the technique behind a song.
I have some recordings of unusual progressions that I'll sometimes play melodies and solos against. And I'll specifically say, 'OK, I'm going to try to do this thing using the whammy bar every possible way,' and that's all I'll do for hours—just go whammy crazy. Other times I may take the bar off or just not use it or pick up a JS6 or one of my other Ibanez prototypes that doesn't have a vibrato bar, like the JS1200, and then I'll play for hours without any bar, just as a discipline. That's pretty much it, though.
MF: That's pretty much more than most people ever do.
JS: You'd think there'd be more time. But when you're a professional musician and you've got records you'd be surprised how many hours a day are spent doing stuff without your guitar around your shoulders. But those hours are necessary to keep the band together, keep the record going, press appearances...
MF: It's a business.
JS: It is. And there's a lot of waiting around. I remember that quote from Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones on that 25-year anniversary video they put out. And they said, "So, Charlie, what's it been like playing with the Rolling Stones for 25 years?" He took a long pause and said, "Well, five years of playing, and 20 years of just waiting around." [Laughs.] Because that's what he was doing. He was just sitting outside a rehearsal place drinking a coffee and having a cigarette. There's a lot of that, where you can't do anything because you're removed from an environment where you could do something constructive and you're forced to wait. Backstage, in the dressing room, at an airport, on a bus—there's a lot of waiting around.
MF: You've mentioned various instruments you play, how much of a role did gear play in the development of your personal tone?
JS: I would think quite a bit. I wound up gravitating toward a Fender-scale guitar with Gibson-style pickups—humbucking pickups on a 25-1/2"-scale instrument with a locking vibrato bar. So that's pretty specific. That's not like my '56 Tele or my 1960 Strat or my 1960 Les Paul or my '58 Junior. Those guitars are different worlds compared to modern instruments that people play today.
I spent most of my formative years playing a Telecaster. I owned a late '60s Telecaster with a Bigsby on it that I bought used from some guy in the paper. I really loved that instrument but the thing would go out of tune constantly and it was a little shrill in the high end. Even though it was the instrument of choice for Jimmy Page when he started out and made those first two records—it features into a lot of Jimmy Page's stuff, and the band I was in in high school played a lot of Led Zeppelin—it still wasn't quite cutting it.
I eventually moved into a Les Paul, but then I had the problem that it was chunky, but it didn't really poke through and it also went out of tune constantly. Of course, being a fan of Hendrix and Beck I wanted to use that vibrato bar. But just the thought of playing a Strat with a bar and dealing with the tuning was even more daunting. I just couldn't stand not being able to play good chords and keep them in tune while doing the soloing.
Joe’s sleek signature Ibanez JS1200 reflects a decades long collaboration.
And this all stems from the fact that I was an aggressive player. I would bend the strings when a more sensible guitar player would say, "I'm not going to bend that string because my guitar will go out of tune." Every measure of music I'd just be going for it and by the end of it I'd destroy the instrument. So when the Floyds came out I thought, 'This is a great idea. This thing will stay in tune. I can do all those bends and make all those noises and still go back to playing the chords.'
By then I started building my own instruments. There was a company called Boogie Bodies. I don't think they're still in existence. But they were the first company to start offering body parts for Strats and Teles and things. So I bought two Strat bodies of hard rock maple, and I got an ESP neck that was a real V shape, late '50s style with an ebony fingerboard. I put humbucking pickups on there and I had a universal route on it. So eventually as I got more money I would buy different pickguards with different pickup configurations.
For albums like Not of this Earth, Surfing with the Alien, and Flying in a Blue Dream, that black guitar was the Les Paul sound and the Strat sound for every one of the records. After I'd do a chunky rhythm part, I'd tell the engineer to take 20 minutes and I'd take off the strings, change the pickguard, put the strings back on, and do the Strat part [laughs]. Because I couldn't afford to have a whole bunch of guitars so it was like, 'this guitar will be great.' And I started to see the benefit of the longer scale with the humbucking pickups.
I could see where it wouldn't work—like maybe when I was layering and you just really wanted that shorter-scale sound—but I found myself playing more melodically and it seemed like the longer scale allowed you to put out a melody and have it be more expressive.
After Surfing when DiMarzio approached me about helping me with pickup stuff, we really got closer to what I was looking for, which was to really create a special tone with the use of the pickup. Then Ibanez that same year was willing to build me a guitar based on what I was looking for. So over the years we've been refining it: the wood, the size of the frets, the kind of pickups, the potentiometers, the bar. We get more and more detailed. Every year we release a new model or a variation of an existing model.
And that has a lot to do with it. As painful as it is, I actually watched myself on the Live in San Francisco DVD. I was trying to get a perspective on the difference in the production and my playing versus the G3 DVD we just released. The San Francisco concert is 2-1/2 hours of me playing guitar and I realized I could never play that stuff if I just had a Telecaster or a Les Paul or an SG or a Les Paul Junior or a Strat. I'd never be able to do half of it. So it has become my modern tool that allows me to play vintage as well as to play the latest techniques.
And it keeps it together. There's like 99% accuracy in the tuning, which I think is really great. With the other ones it's a certainty that you will be out of tune by the end of the song [laughs]. That's if you play in that aggressive style.
MF: What about pedals? Being a Hendrix fan, Hendrix had cool gadgets; you must have been through quite a few of them.
JS: The first pedal I ever bought—when I was about 15 I sent away for an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi through an ad I found in Circus magazine. I think it was 40 bucks. And I still have that pedal. I had to have the little germanium thing replaced. But like most people from that generation, we fell in love with distortion and it has been a great part of music to this day. You could write a thesis on why people like distortion.
But that was a big deal. Having that distortion was like opening up a new creative world. I started collecting as many of these little funny things as I could. And it eventually led me to using a BOSS DS-1 as my main source of gain for a couple of years while I was touring. Because it was the most reliable and the widest-sounding source of distortion that was also the quietest. These days I use Fulltone effects on tour.
Marshall worked closely with Satriani to update their venerable 100W tube head with the uniquely configured JVM410HJS.
MF: When you play different venues do you have to change your volume or is your stage volume pretty constant?
JS: We do have to turn down. I don't think I ever play with my amp louder than about 114dB at three feet away with the most sensitive weighting. I prefer if it's around 110dB. Of course when you step away from it the volume drops dramatically. But if you play a theater that was designed for real theater or opera you have to really turn your volume down.
MF: I'm struck by the simplicity of your studio. Years ago everyone thought they had to have $200,000 worth of recording equipment to get professional results. Yet you've sold eight million copies of albums that were made on a simple, direct recording system that's attainable by most musicians who are really serious about recording their own music.
JS: Absolutely. It's got to be the most exciting time in the history of the world for people who want to record at home, or just remotely. It's so affordable. The stuff you see here-although it looks kind of Spartan-when you really look at it, it's the cream of the crop of recording gear.
I've got an HD ProTools rig. I've got a set of small Genelec studio monitors that are sized for the room. I did have a professional engineer come and tune the room so it is completely flat. What you record here will sound exactly the same when you bring it to another professional studio.
MF: When you say "tune the room" do you mean tune the room or tune the monitors?
JS: To tune a room you use EQ to make up for or to take away things that the room is exaggerating. So I'm using a Meyer Sound Studio 10S for that.
MF: The DBX Drive Rack does the the same type of thing.
JS: Right. Before you used the word "direct" and that's so important. Because all you really want to do is get your sound as directly as possible onto that hard drive. You want to go through as few pieces of gear as possible. In my case I use the Universal Audio 1176 and LA2A. I have two Empirical Labs EL8s and a Fatso. I've got some old API EQs and mic pres that were reconditioned by Brent Avril. And the things I use the most are my two Millennia STT-1s—the Origin Recording Systems. They're used on everything. Those things are so functional, they're beautiful.
And of course the cornerstone of the whole thing is the Palmer Speaker Simulator. And I have a Korg tuner in the top of the rack. I started using that because on this last album I had five-string basses, seven-string guitars, 12-string guitars, and some detuning things. This Korg has presets for all of that stuff, which makes it really quick and easy to stay in tune.
MF: You have a Mackie mixer here.
JS: This is an old piece that wound up here when I started using Logic Audio through my Powerbook. And I just never changed it because I thought it sounded so transparent. We took this on tour in '98. Every morning we were at some radio or TV show. We had a tiny drum kit with mics set up on the drums, we had a guitar and a bass preamp in a rack along with this Mackie mixer. Stu and Jeff and I would just pull into a radio station. Within 10 minutes we'd hand the engineer a pair of stereo cables and say, "We're ready to rock!" And we'd be able to perform right there. This is the same Mackie board that was with us that entire year. It never broke and when you have the EQ centered you cannot hear any artifacts. It's not doing a thing. And you can use that Mackie preamp with a guitar if you're using other preamps as well and you'll get the subtle difference that would have been inherent if you'd been using mics.
MF: I see you've got some Furman power protection here.
JS: Those are old, as well. I did wind up with a bunch of stuff that was left behind on tour because it was bent or something. The actual racks are from gear that was going to be thrown out. But this Ampeg SVP Pro I just purchased. Through your Web site, I might add [laughs].
MF: And you have a TC unit here, the VoicePrism Plus.
JS: Yes! That's been fun to fool around with. Lord knows I can use it [laughs]. I've been using it for really outrageous-sounding explorations.
MF: It's been a wonderful experience talking with you. Thank you for sharing so much of your time with us and speaking so candidly.
JS: It's been my pleasure.
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Tags: Electric Guitars