Channel: Guitar World

Practice Tips from Joe Satriani


Originally published in Guitar World, July 2004.

Check out these practice tips from super-shredder Joe Satriani!

01. Don’t spend more than an hour on any one thing.

The brain can only hold so much new information before it says “enough.” Scientists have studied the changes that occur to the brain when a person learns something new. They’ve found it takes a while for the brain to recover before it can process new information. So limit yourself to one hour a day on anything that is new or especially challenging.

02. Keep it fun.

This ties in with tip No. 1. Practicing isn’t always fun, but there are ways to lessen the boredom. When I was a kid, I’d get up and practice guitar for an hour before school, and during that hour I’d do all the boring stuff just to get it over with. That way I could come home, do my homework and then jam with my friends.

03. Find the note everywhere.

As an exercise, learn how to locate the note E everywhere, on every string. Once you’ve mastered that, go on to B, and then the other notes. Once you’ve demystified the placement of notes, you’ll be amazed at how freely you’ll be able to move about the neck.

04. Stay in tune.

When you practice, you’re sending musical messages to your ears and your brain. Even if you don’t realize you’re out of tune, the brain does, and it sends a little message back; “This doesn’t sound good. Stop practicing.” So buy a tuner, use it and stay in tune. You’ll practice longer.

05. Run through every chord you know.

It seems silly, but if your fingers don’t go to a certain place it’s because you haven’t challenged them. One day, when I was a teenager, I decided that I was going to learn every chord in a Joe Pass chord book I had. I worked on it every day; there’s no substitute for bonehead repetition. The great thing is, once you get used to this exercise, you’ll literally force your fingers to go from chord to chord to chord—chords that have no relation to each other—and great things can come from that.

Recommended DVD:Tommy Emmanuel—Live at the Sheldon Concert Hall

Tommy Emmanuel is an Australian virtuoso acoustic guitarist, and he’s beyond amazing. He leans on the positive side—it’s all very “up” sounding—but he’s well worth checking out.

Recommended Book:Guitar Secrets (Cherry Lane Music)

At the risk of appearing self-serving, I’m recommending my own book. I cover lots of ground here, from warm-up exercises to the mind-boggling stuff.

Recommended School: The National Guitar Workshop in Los Angeles

For years I avoided playing guitar clinics; I’m more of a one-on-one instructor. Once, however, we were trying to get into China to play some shows, and Ibanez thought we could break down a few doors by playing clinics. Lo and behold, I enjoyed them. I agreed to do a few more in the states, and my favorite one was at the National Guitar Workshop. Kids who attend it get to spend a week meeting with industry professionals. It was very loose and informal. I brought with me 10 CDs that I could play along to, and the kids were real close so they could see everything I was doing. We were able to talk and joke, and it was great.

Additional Content

Paul Gilbert Lesson: The Truth About Inside and Outside Picking — Video


Guitarist Troy Grady hosts a web series called "Cracking the Code."

In each episode, he breaks down a phrase—or something awesome that he has learned or figured out—and then explains it in a detail-packed way that includes an information- and graphics-packed video.

In the recent past, we've shared two "Cracking the Code" videos dedicated to Yngwie Malmsteen's picking:

Yngwie Malmsteen Lesson: Cracking the Code, Season 2, Episode 1: "Get Down for the Upstroke"

Yngwie Malmsteen Lesson: Cracking the Code, Season 2, Episode 2: "Inside the Volcano."

Today we bring you Grady's new Paul Gilbert-themed lesson, "The Truth About Inside & Outside Picking."

"Chapter 24 of the Antigravity seminar explores the amazing Paul Gilbert and the often-misunderstood concepts of inside and outside picking," Grady says. You can learn more about Grady's Antigravity series right here.

For more about Grady and his instructional videos, visit troygrady.com and gumroad.com. Enjoy!

Additional Content

Review: EVH 5150III 1X12 50-Watt Combo Amp — Video



There are times when nothing less than a half stack will do when playing certain styles of music live.

However, a half stack is overkill for the venues where most guitarists play ninety percent or more of their gigs, and hauling around a heavy 4x12 cabinet can prematurely cause one’s posture to twist into a permanent Angus Young duck walk stance.

Combo amps are the obvious solution, but the problem is that most combos are either too low powered, not versatile enough, or outrageously expensive.

While Eddie Van Halen has performed on arena and stadium stages for the last 38 years, he never forgot the challenges he experienced when playing at clubs. With the new EVH 5150III 1x12 50-watt combo, Eddie and the engineers at EVH have designed a compact, portable combo that doesn’t sacrifice the sound and versatility of the 5150III heads that Eddie Van Halen uses on stage and in the studio.

The EVH 5150III 1x12 50-watt is much more than just a shrunken-down combo version of a 5150III half stack, offering several exclusive features that make it the ideal all-in-one alternative for club gigs, studio recording, and practice at home.

FEATURES: Consistent with the other EVH 5150III amps, this 50-watt 1x12 combo offers three channels (clean, crunch, lead), a single 1/4-inch input jack, and mono 1/4-inch effect send and return jacks and is driven by 6L6 power tubes (a pair) and 12AX7 preamp tubes (seven of them).

Like the EVH 5150III 50-watt head and 2x12 combo, the front panel provides a set of low, mid, and high EQ, gain, and volume controls that are shared by channels 1 and 2, a second set of low, mid, high, gain, and volumes controls for channel 3 only, and a master presence control. Other front panel controls include a reverb knob to adjust the level of the built-in digital reverb and a power level knob that adjusts the power output continuously from 50 watts to just one watt.

The rear panel is packed with a variety of professional features, including a MIDI input jack (for selecting channels and engaging reverb with an optional MIDI controller), 1/4-inch preamp output, and a pair of 1/4-inch parallel speaker output jacks with a 4/8/16-ohm output selector switch.

There’s also a master resonance knob that adjusts the tightness of the overall bass response, a 1/4-inch headphone output jack, and a 1/4-inch jack for the included four-button footswitch controller that engages individual channels and the reverb effect.

A single 12-inch Celestion G12M speaker is housed in a birch cabinet with a closed-back design and custom internal baffling. The 1x12 version of the EVH 5150III 50-watt combo is 19 pounds lighter than its 2x12 counterpart, but its overall dimensions are only three inches narrower and shorter yet 1/2-inch deeper. The combo is available either with traditional black covering or in ivory at no additional cost.

PERFORMANCE: The sound of the clean, crunch, and lead channels is almost identical to that of the original 5150III 100-watt head, although the latter two channels seem to have a touch more gain that delivers a slightly more aggressive overall edge.

The clean channel has ample clean headroom that makes this channel ideal for use with a pedal-based rig, and it produces satisfying crisp-but-fat overdrive crunch when the gain control is between three to five o’clock. The crunch channel provides Eddie’s modern “brown” sound with sweet treble and slightly saturated sustain, while the lead channel is full-on high-gain distortion that’s perfect for solos or modern metal rhythms.

Thanks to the closed-back cabinet design and ample dimensions, which give the 12-inch speaker more room to resonate and bloom, the amp delivers similar low-end thump and focused midrange to a full-sized 4x12 cabinet. This combo is impressively loud, but the power level control allows players to tame the dBs to more sane levels for smaller clubs and studio recording. Weighing 65 pounds, it’s also a more sane option for players who don’t have road crews.

Everything about the EVH 5150III 1x12 50-watt combo is professional, from its first-class sounds to its rock-solid construction. This is a combo without compromise, and best of all it’s the most affordable pathway to Eddie Van Halen’s current tone zone.

LIST PRICE: $1,818.17
MANUFACTURER: EVH, evhgear.com

CHEAT SHEET: The closed-back design and custom internal baffling allows the single 12-inch Celestion G12M speaker to deliver huge bass and focused midrange similar to a 4x12 cabinet.

Tubes include a pair of JJ 6L6 power tubes and seven JJ ECC83 (12AX7) preamp tubes that provide 50 watts of output and impressive gain.

Output is continuously variable between 50 watts to one watt via the power level control located on the combo’s front panel.

Clean, crunch, and lead channels provide the full range of tones ideal for any style of music from classic country to modern metal.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Incredibly versatile, packed with professional features, and affordably priced, the EVH 5150III 1x12 50-watt combo offers gigging and recording guitarists unbeatable value without compromise.

SongTown: Commercial Vs Creative Music: The Debate Goes On


One of the big questions we get over and over is whether writing commercial music requires you to sell your soul, abandon creativity, and forsake all that is good in this world.

The answer is an emphatic “NO.” Any time this debate arises, there are those that say “Well, Jackson Browne did it his own way. He was poetic AND commercial” or “Bob Dylan didn’t sell out, he wrote whatever he wanted.”

It’s curious to me that every example that is ever thrown out to “prove” that you shouldn’t try to be commercial is a person that was commercially successful.

No one ever says, “I want to be like my neighbor Bob Smith. He writes crazy stuff that no one understands and plays it alone in his garage.”

The people from the past that we try to model our work after were, almost without exception, successful commercial writers. They wrote what worked in their time. Those that are successful today are doing the same. Is it different from what worked in the past? For sure! Is it better or worse? That’s a matter of opinion.

Our goal here at Songtown is to help you write better songs. By better songs, we mean songs that connect to your audience. Not necessarily anyone else’s audience. Yours. Whatever that might be. Whether you want to write songs that your family enjoys hearing at family reunions, or you want to write songs that millions of people hear on the radio, it’s all about communication.

Unless you plan to be like “Neighbor Bob” and only play your songs for yourself, you need to communicate well. Otherwise, you are just throwing gibberish on paper.

So, the posts we write are not encouraging you to be someone you are not. We are not trying to get you to give up YOUR thing and chase something else. We just want to help you write better songs.

If your goal is to get songs on the radio, that’s great. We’ll try to help with that. If it’s just to write songs you are happy with, we’ll help you do that to the best of your ability.

Our musical heroes were commercially successful in some way, or we wouldn’t have discovered their music. Don’t buy into the idea that commercial music is selling out unless you are willing to accuse your musical idols of the same.

Write on!

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson blogs daily on Facebook at www.facebook/songtownusa and on www.songtown.com. You can check out his music at www.martydodson.com. Marty plays Taylor Guitars and Batson Guitars.

Shred Fest: Chris Broderick and Gus G Trade Licks, Talk Guitar — Video


What's it like to sit around with Chris Broderick and Gus G?

It's probably a lot like this!

Check out this new video featuring Guitar World's latest cover stars, Chris Broderick and Gus G. It's fun (and a little intimidating) to see these two insanely talented guitarists trade licks, talk inspiration, influences and more.

A few things while we have your attention:

Check out the new issue of Guitar World (with Chris and Gus on the cover) right here.
Enjoy our premiere of "The Quest" from Gus G's new solo album, Brand New Revolution.
Check outone of the most insane "Betcha Can't Play This" videos, ever, featuring Chris Broderick.
Read this random story about Stevie Ray Vaughan jamming with Carlos Santana in 1988.

For more about Chris Broderick, head here. For more about Gus G, head in this general direction. Stay tuned for the next exclusive GW video featuring these two shredders!

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Additional Content

Breedlove Announces Sisters Folk Fest Artist Sponsorship


Sisters Folk Fest is a fun festival that has become an annual tradition since 1995.

SSF is a non-profit organization that has a clear vision to bring the finest acoustic music to the warmhearted town of Sisters, OR.

Sisters Folk Fest has developed into a year round cultural arts organization that supports local schools with extensive community engagement.

Not only does SFF put together an awesome festival, the non-profit also is responsible for the successful educational outreach program, the Americana project, My Own Two Hands, and the Sisters Folk Arts Circle.

The 2015 Breedlove sponsored artist for the festival is Luke Wade & No Civilians. Luke, a Texas native turned traveling musician, is the band’s primary songwriter. Wade released a brilliant album this past spring titled The River. Luke’s music is lyrically thoughtful and full of soul. “Why wouldn’t I be excited?! I get to do what I love more than anything else in one of the most beautiful places in the world!” Wade says about playing in Sisters Folk Fest.

Breedlove partnered with the festival in 2001 and began building custom SSF guitars to raffle off and also artist sponsorships. “The artist sponsorship program for Sister Folk Fest has shown success not only for Breedlove and the SFF, but also for the artists themselves,” Sami Mulhern, head of media marketing and artist relations, explains. Mulhern also states, “Breedlove is a well known and respected guitar brand that has a loyal following from musicians, music executives, to the instrument dealers. The sponsored artist leaves the festival feeling the joy and passion that the festivalgoers experience. The musicians always become a close network that look forward to the next year to play with and see their folk family.”

The custom guitar Breedlove will be auctioning off will be on display at Paulina Springs Books in Sisters, OR. Raffle tickets are 1 for $20.00 and 3 for $50.00 and can be purchased in advance here at Breedlove Stringed Instruments (61573 American Loop Bend, OR 97702) and also at the Folk Festival website. Breedlove looks forward to the sponsorship each year and can’t wait to meet you at the 2015 Sisters Folk Festival!

Click here for the Sisters Folk Fest 2015 Lineup.

Find out more about Luke Wade here.


Joe Satriani Takes You Track by Track Through His New Album, 'Shockwave Supernova'


One way of looking at Joe Satriani’s 15th studio album, Shockwave Supernova, is that it’s a concept record—and indeed, the disc does follow a loose narrative that the guitar superstar dreamed up concerning the spiritual death and rebirth of an outlandish and extroverted alter ego for Satch named, appropriately enough, Shockwave Supernova.

Another way would be to call the 15 songs that comprise the disc “inspired by,” which is how Satriani actually prefers it.

“Nothing against Tommy and a few other records, but I’ve never been a big fan of straight-up concept records,” he says. “The real idea for this was more functional; to allow me to make creative decisions song by song, establishing moods and feelings. So, in that way, it’s very elastic and free-form, although there is an overall tone of renewal and awakening, and a bit of a story if you want to follow it.”

Sessions for Shockwave Supernova took place at Satriani’s home away from home for the past few years, Skywalker Sound in Lucas Valley, California, where the guitarist and his longtime co-producer/engineer, John Cuniberti, hunkered down with keyboardist-guitarist Mike Keneally, bassist Bryan Beller and drummer Marco Minnemann.

“It’s hard to ask for a better, more responsive and creative group than that,” Satriani marvels, “although the guys I worked with on the last album were pretty great. And hey, you get to hear them, too.”

Satch is referring to the inclusion of four tracks—“Keep on Movin’,” “In My Pocket,” “Crazy Joey” and “Scarborough Stomp”—held over from his previous album, Unstoppable Momentum, that feature the rhythm section of drummer Vinnie Colauita and bassist Chris Chaney. “Those tracks weren’t fleshed out at the time, so I put them away,” Satriani explains. “When I started this record, they still spoke to me, and they made sense musically and thematically with the new batch of songs, so I brought them back and finished them off.”

Shockwave Supernova sees Satch offering his idiosyncratic take on swing, samba and blues shuffles while refining his blockbuster approach to pile-driving instrumental guitar rock. Interestingly, amid the widescreen riffs and solos, Satriani employs a more naturalistic guitar tone than ever before, and when set against the lofty, sci-fi conceit of the album, a deeply humanistic message emerges.

“On past records I went out of my way to really trip out the guitar,” he says, “but I think by playing things a little straighter, it reaches people easier. They can connect to the moods in a more personal way because the sounds are more direct. Some people have said that this is my best-sounding album. That’s always the goal, of course, but it’s nice to think that you’ve hit the mark.”

Satriani sat down with Guitar World recently to walk through the entire record track-by-track.

“Shockwave Supernova”

“Upon returning from South America, I was doing a series of songs that had a bit of a Latin vibe to them. I did a demo of this song and sent it to John Cuniberti, and he said, ‘I really love it, but the verse could be a bit more emotive.’ I listened to it and said, ‘Yeah. He’s probably right.’

“I tried a couple of different things, and then I tried a contrary experiment, which was, ‘What if instead of everybody playing and continuing, they just stopped and I played something in an entirely different key?’ It's a great exercise. The melody lines were recorded over many different days where I had a lot of different guitars. It would go from six-string to 12-string to some other 12-string all on one track. It was pretty undisciplined.

“I was searching for something, something undefined and unknown. I was trying to push my own buttons with it. It can be frustrating to work like that—‘What is it? What am I looking for?’ But when you get it, it’s really joyous.”

“Lost in a Memory”

“I started writing this song in late ’87 or early ’88. I jammed on it with [drummer] Jonathan Mover and [bassist] Stu Hamm, but it didn't have the melody; it was only an improv construction. I’ve always loved the track because it had these two-chord progressions. The idea of getting an enormous payoff from the fewest number of chords was appealing to me."

“Right before the Unstoppable record, I brought it back and I came up with the whole melody. I was very excited, but it still wasn’t happening. I thought, Maybe it’s in the mix.’ We mixed it, but I remember looking at [producer/engineer] Mike Fraser and saying, ‘We did everything we could, but it’s not ready.’ It had only been 30 years. [laughs]

“Most people would just toss it, but I took it home and played the “turn off the tracks” game. I started turning stuff off and I listened to what was good. Finally, I said, ‘You know, you told Chris and Vinnie to play those beats from the late Eighties. Maybe that's the problem.’ I just sort of re-did the drums and the bass, created the demo, which was basically the album tracks from Unstoppable minus Vinnie and Chris, and then I added some programmed drums and some of my bass as an example.

“Then I showed it to the guys and I said, ‘Something like this.’ Since Mike Keneally and I had already done all of our parts that day, it was really just Marco and Bryan coming up with this new groove. And I was so happy to hear it. I realized, like, Why didn't I think about that 30 years ago? That was just one of those funny things.”

“Crazy Joey”

“'Crazy Joey' is about a crazy guy with a lot of swagger walking down the street—he’s got his playful, guitar slinger-like chops, that kind of thing. I thought this was perfect because it shows one side of Shockwave, all of this positive energy. It's in a major key, so it’s upbeat, and he's playing these ridiculous hammer-on/pull-off arpeggios.

“It has an absolutely insane performance from Vinnie—just crazy. I recorded the whole thing at home and brought it to him. I had chopped up this wild drum performance from a Brain DVD and put it at the beginning of the song, like, ‘Here, what do you think of this?’ Vinnie came up with his own thing, a whole other vibe, but it was based on the Brain DVD stuff. It was one of those times where somebody pours some different creative thoughts into something and it puts the biggest smile on your face.

“In My Pocket”

“There were two personalities on this. The first was the melody in which I imagined myself being part of a three-piece horn section. I thought, If I’m a guitar player, I’m not going to be doing all of these guitar-y kinds of things. That helped me eliminate techniques, so I could focus on getting the melody to work."

“The solo is the total opposite of that. It’s the kind of solo that you would imagine somebody in front of an audience playing. It starts with a crazy high note that’s impossible to get, and then it goes to a lot of flash. You can picture me just pointing to the audience and having a blast. And I was—only I was pointing to Vinnie, Chris and Mike. It’s me overplaying and having fun.”

“On Peregrine Wings”

“In the beginning, it’s as if you had wings and you stepped off a precipice—things would be wobbly, right? So when those first couple of chords come in, it’s like, ‘Whoa…’ The beat takes off and it's like you’re gliding, and man, the song gets really fast. I mean, that was so much fun to do—it's just crazy. It was very difficult to keep in tune, though. I did it a million times. It's way up there on the fretboard, and I’m playing the last two strings that aren't too reliable past the ninth fret in terms of intonation. It's a song that's got a lot of reckless abandon."

“The amp on the solo is one of my old Marshall Super Leads from when I was in the Squares. It was stolen but I managed to get it back years later. It had been painted orange, but it was mine. I had it worked on, and it sounded just like it used to. The thing is all over the record, actually. You plug into it and it just growls and makes all of these cool noises. You get such amazing feedback with it. It’s like it just talks to you.”


“A song about facing everything going wrong. Like in those CGI films where a character turns around and sees a thousand-foot-high dust storm approaching—it’s coming and there’s nowhere to run.
“I built this one and thought about how some early metal was, quite funky, like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. It was loose and grungy. I played bass on this one with that kind of swinging attitude. I showed it to the guys and said, ‘You’re younger and you grew up playing very intense metal. I know you’re thinking that's what I want, but I'm actually looking for something a bit stranger.’ So we kept my bass track."

“I think Mike Keneally wound up adding a really cool sweeping thing on top with some synth, and Marco gave us a very unusual drumbeat with a riff. If there’s such a thing as ‘exotic metal,’ that's what he gave us that afternoon.”

“San Francisco Blue”

“There are so many kinds of shuffles. Some move around, others are more metronomic, and then there are levels of swing. The melody here is stretched out, so we reined in the swing a bit, which kept the song tight and moving forward."

“In the demo stage, I played with different swing loops to find the level that was right. When Marco heard it, he lined right up with it. And I should point out that Marco is famous for his opposition to playing shuffles. He laughed when I brought this in—‘Oh, no, a shuffle!’—but he gave me six different versions that were all great.”

“Keep On Moving”

“The melodies are very blues oriented, but the wah-wah solo is very jazzy, almost as if a jazz horn player picked up a guitar and could instantly play. It’s got a Sixties tenor sax approach."

“I brought the song in and John Cuniberti asked me, ‘What’s going on in the middle part?’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘It’s like nothing is happening, at least not for me.’ [laughs] I went back and realized he was right. Mike and I were busy playing, but it was all kind of background stuff. It was interesting to us because we played it, but it wasn’t interesting to anybody else."

“John sent me a stereo mix, and I added those bluesy, in-your-face solos for the middle. They worked out beautifully, really straddling the positive/negative vibe of the song. The song needed some more powerful stuff to balance the jazzy wah-wah solo. I couldn’t hear it at first, but John could.”

“All of My Life”

“I was making Chickenfoot demos, and this one started as an attempt to show Sammy Hagar in a different light. I underplayed as much as I could so that Sammy would feel comfortable singing without a lot of overbearing guitar. When it looked like that record wasn’t going to happen, I moved the file into my ‘new record’ batch."

“I found that I loved this subdued Joe Satriani sound; it was like there was nothing on it. It was very un-Shockwave-like—you know, ‘He would never play like that.’ I tried to make the song achieve new heights by omission. It’s very laid back in the technical department. There’s no real bridge, either. I love it. It’s a simple, single-coil blues sound that does what it needs to do.”

“A Phase I’m Going Through”

“John Cuniberti was working on mixes, and he put the guitar track through a phaser. It immediately reminded me of what we did in the early Eighties. Back then, your only choices besides recording everything straight-up were to use reverb, delay or a phaser."

“Sometimes you really regret putting a phaser on a track, but I thought, I’m going to embrace the phaser. In fact, I’m going to call the song “A Phase I'm Going Through,” just to prove a point.’ I leaned on the sound and used it as a way of explaining a changing of sorts. You notice that you're doing something weird, out of your normal personality, but you're explaining it to yourself by saying, ‘Hey, it's just a phase I'm going through.’ ”

“Scarborough Stomp”

“It's called ‘Scarborough Stomp’ because of the fact that it's a Dorian mode—people originally thought it had origins in the town of Scarborough, in the U.K. I’ve always loved this kind of beat. We used to try to write a ton of things like this in the Squares. This one came together during a writing session where I was plugged into an AdrenaLinn III foot pedal controller, and I was recording these little song bits. I’d write a song for a minute and a half, and then another one and another one."

“I wrote this piece of music and thought it was good, but when I re-recorded it there was something missing—the playfulness. We tried doing the guitars fresh. We created a template where the rhythm guitars were copied and pasted in certain sequences to give us the feel, and we eventually wound up with a really slamming-sounding track from the rhythm section. Ultimately, though, I thought we straightened out too much—that can happen."

“I threw it back to John Cuniberti, who is just so good at pulling faders and rebuilding tracks. He created a stereo performance of the original rhythm guitar and allowed it to play more liberally throughout. By doing that, we were able to keep all the guitars I did at home, and then we were able to use Vinnie, Chris and this crazy harpsichord thing, too.”

"Butterfly and Zebra"

“This is a song about two lovers realizing that even though they’re experiencing profound love, they’re simply too different for it to ever work. I focused on these two creatures that I thought couldn’t be more different, a butterfly and a zebra. They’re analogies, you know, for two people who fall in love but shouldn't, but even just that few seconds of a connection might be enough."

“That’s a Sustainiac and the JS2400. I generally like to record DI at home, and then we re-amp almost everything. I’m using a Sansamp here. Every once in a while, the Sansamp has a way of dealing with dynamics that's quite unique and different from a vintage Fender or a modern Marshall head. Sometimes that’s what a song calls for, as it was here.”

“If There Is No Heaven”

“I think at some point people all say or think, ‘All this stuff that’s going on doesn’t matter, because someday I'll die and I'll be in a better place.’ For Shockwave, he’s dissolving; he’s going through a metamorphosis. He’s saying, ‘What if there is nothing after this?’"

“Somebody loaned me a 1959 Chet Atkins guitar, and I was plugged into a Two Rock amp, one that was made especially for me. We were out in the studio room—[amp repair expert] Gary Brawer, John Cuniberti and myself—and we're just listening and saying, ‘That sounds really beautiful. Let’s record this right now."

“I just played the chords without any time, and I explained to the guys, ‘This song is about a guy going into the light, except when he gets out there, there's nothing.’ John asked me to go out and make some other noises, and then he fooled around with it and added some pink noise to illustrate what it might feel like way out there in the middle of nowhere, being confronted with nothingness, like, ‘What's the sound of nothing?’ ”

“Stars Race Across the Sky”

“The repetition of the arpeggios, to me, was key in representing the feelings that are on opposite sides of the heart. One is ‘I’m stuck. I’m standing still.’ The other is ‘Life is moving so fast. How can I get my feet on the ground?’ Instead of having arpeggiated chords that move together as a group, I decided to come up with a tuning in which three strings would be fretted and the others would be open, but they would work with all of the chords in the song."

“Sometimes there’s beauty in that and it’s very calming, and at other times it’s tense because of the dissonance. It’s such a noisy affair to try to get an acoustic guitar with that tuning to display proper intonation. I gave the part to Mike Keneally, who had the thankless task of playing the arpeggios through the entire song. His level of Zen concentration was pretty brilliant.”

“Goodbye Supernova”

“This is really where he's saying goodbye. When I came up with it, I was envisioning something much more melodramatic. To get myself to not play certain things but to play certain other things, I envisioned myself telling everybody, ‘I'm out of here. This is my last statement. You can all go to Hell.’ Then I thought, Oh, you shouldn’t be negative. It should be a celebration.’ But each time I would work on the song I would jump into whatever mood would come to my mind. If it was anger or spite or feeling revelatory, or if it was pure joy or something, I would just run with it."

“The song announces itself with how it's going to be ending, but then it quickly changes key and goes minor when the orchestra comes in with those arpeggios, because Shockwave's got some shit to say, right? Those blues verses are all about venting, of finally getting it off his chest, all that was troubling him in his life."

“A very weird guitar comes in, so that’s rebirth. Then the piece rides out on this beautiful solo. You know me—I'm not afraid of a major scale. As I’ve said before, no scale is more important than the other. In this particular case, the major scale is really working better.”

Additional Content

Gus G Talks New Solo Album, 'Brand New Revolution,' and His Beginnings with Ozzy Osbourne


Gus G. is best known as the guitarist in Ozzy Osbourne’s band—the latest addition to an esteemed lineage that includes six-string legends like Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde.

But prior to joining up with Ozzy in 2009, the Greek guitarist had already made a name for himself as the mastermind behind Firewind, a power-metal unit whose bracing and soaring anthems function as a platform for Gus’ over-the-top, acrobatic shredding.

Over the years, the 34-year-old has also played with Euro metal acts like Nightrage and Mystic Prophecy, and even did a short stint with Swedish technical death metallers Arch Enemy, standing in for Christopher Amott on the 2005 Ozzfest tour.

Needless to say, Gus is not one to take it easy for any length of time. And so, in 2014, while Osbourne was otherwise busy with the Black Sabbath reunion, the guitarist took the opportunity to launch a solo career, releasing his debut album under his own name, I Am the Fire.

The record saw Gus not only flexing his technical guitar muscles but also honing his songwriting chops. The album boasted a mix of hooky hard rockers and speedy metal anthems, on which Gus was joined by an array of guests that included vocalists like Mats Leven (Candlemass), Jeff Scott Soto (ex–Yngwie Malmsteen, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) and Ralph Saenz, a.k.a Michael Starr (Steel Panther) and bassists like Mr. Big’s Billy Sheehan and Megadeth’s David Ellefson.

Now, less than a year later, Gus is already back with his sophomore effort, Brand New Revolution.

As for why this record followed so quickly after I Am the Fire, he explains, “I just had the songs, really. On this album I wrote a lot with Jacob Bunton, the singer for Lynam and Steven Adler’s band, and the thing about Jacob is we did a song that ended up on the first record, and then after I mixed that record we just kept on writing. And the next song we came up with was ‘Brand New Revolution.’ I even wanted to include it on the first record but the label was like, ‘No, no, we have enough.’ But I thought it was a pretty killer song and so I said, ‘All right, there’s the title track of my second record!’ So we were on a roll and we kept on writing. Before I knew it, I had an album.”

On Brand New Revolution, Gus is once again joined by several guest vocalists, including Bunton, Levin and Soto. And, like I Am the Fire, the new album sports more than its fair share of guitar pyrotechnics.

But, first and foremost, it is a collection of songs; in fact, other than the opening number, a dazzling display of technical ferocity called “The Quest,” there are no instrumentals on the record. “That’s really what I was going for,” Gus says. “I’m actually getting a lot of pressure right now to put out an instrumental album, but I’m not the kind of guy who can write 10 or 12 of those. It’d probably take me 10 years to do a record like that. I like to write songs—I’m a band guy and I like to work with singers. I’m very old school. I just like three-minute, catchy songs. But they have to have cool guitar parts—that’s the difference. If you know how to write a great song and you can put a killer solo to it, to me, that’s it.”

Days before leaving for Germany for a string of dates as the support act for Hellyeah, Gus spoke to Guitar World from his home in Thessaloniki, Greece, about his influences, how he sees himself as a guitarist and creating Brand New Revolution.

He also took time to discuss the status of Firewind and how his solo work differs from his output with that band, as well as give a bit of insight into what it’s like to have “the most coveted guitar position in the world” with the Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne.

How did Brand New Revolution come together?

It’s almost like two EPs in one, because it was done in two sessions. The first session was done in L.A. with a band in a live room, with Jay Ruston [Anthrax, Steel Panther] engineering, and we caught that live energy and atmosphere and vibe. The other half, I came back here to Greece and we did it the more traditional way for me, where the drummer lays down the tracks first and then I do the bass and the guitars. So it’s half and half.

Do the two halves sound distinct to you?

They do. I don’t know if other people can tell so much, but I can hear it. But overall I think this record actually sounds more cohesive than the last one. Because doing the L.A. sessions let me know the direction I wanted to go in with the record. So even though the second half was not done with the band all together in a room we tried to capture the same vibe.

You’ve said that you like to write songs, not instrumentals. But Brand New Revolution starts off with a pretty intense instrumental, “The Quest.” Is that type of thing more difficult for you to write?

Yeah, it is. That song is just me going apeshit on the guitar. Just really fucking balls out on every aspect. And that stuff comes out of nowhere, really. Every time I write an instrumental I don’t know where the hell it comes from. Because I really don’t know how to develop an idea for an instrumental. It’s always in my mind that I’ll play a riff and I’ll hear a vocal melody over it. I’m always thinking, Where’s the chorus? The only guy I know who can write a proper instrumental is probably Joe Satriani. He’s very good with that.

He’s a guy who can keep it melodic and catchy, even while he’s shredding away.

Yeah, he uses his guitar as the voice. And he does it in a very normal songwriting way. But, I don’t know, when it came to “The Quest” I thought, first of all, it’s a good opening track. I needed something fast. But the song has an impact on the whole record. Because it’s the one instrumental, and it starts the album. So it’s almost like a trick. I can understand if some guitar fans might be like, “What the fuck?” when they hear the rest of the record. [laughs] They might expect 10 songs like that but that’s not what they get. But that said, there is a lot of guitar work all over the album. There’s a lot of solos, a lot of cool stuff.

Do you work out your solos in advance or do you tend to improvise in the studio?

Both, really. It depends on the song. For example, the outro solo on “Behind Those Eyes” [from Brand New Revolution] which is kind of a ballady, Eighties type of thing, I improvised a few different ideas and then kept the best parts. But a lot of the other stuff, I like to plan it out. I’ll do some takes and see what ideas I like and then start building up from there.

What gear did you use to record Brand New Revolution?

I used my ESP signature guitars—the Random Star and the Eclipse models. And they’re loaded with my Seymour Duncan pickups, the FIRE Blackouts. The idea for them was basically taking a passive pickup and making it active. They’re pretty hot, and the output is insane. I also have a Washburn acoustic that I used on a couple things. For amps, I used my Blackstar Blackfire 200 signature head, and I also recorded some parts with a Blackstar HT Stage 100. For a lot of things I also went back and reamped my parts with an EVH 5150 III 50-watt head.

What about effects?

I never record with effects. I just go straight in and then we add stuff later. There’s chorus and flangers and delays, all that stuff, but those are things Mike Frazer added when he mixed the record. I didn’t use any of that stuff when I recorded my parts.

On both solo albums you’ve opted to use several different vocalists, rather than stick with one voice throughout. Why?

It just sort of happened like that. I’ve always made records with Firewind where we have one singer. But going solo it was like, you open this door of opportunities. It’s a new thing and it’s exciting again. On the last record there were a lot of guests, and maybe seven or eight singers. This record it’s a bit more pulled in to those few who are closer in my circle as musicians and friends and cowriters. I just really enjoy playing with them so that’s what I did. It’s a bit different from what a lot of other people are doing, but being different is good, I guess. [laughs]

Even though Firewind is a band, most people see it as your project, more or less. So why do a solo album?

Because with Firewind, we’ve made seven studio albums in 10 years. And we’ve been through a lot of lineup changes, especially singers. It became a bit frustrating for me. And I just happened to be very tired of the whole band thing and just doing the album-tour cycle again. At the same time, I had all these ideas that were a bit more hard rock rather than speed metal or power metal. So I wrote a couple songs with Mat, I wrote a track with Jeff, and I thought, Maybe this is a good time to do this…

What is the current status of Firewind?

Right now we’re on a hiatus. I have a few new demos and they sound pretty good but, to be honest, I haven’t really had all that much time to focus on them. I’ve been so busy the last year and a half with my solo thing. But that said, I’m not stopping Firewind. We are going to come back and do another record, maybe at the end of next year, or the year after, who knows.

How about Ozzy? Where do things stand at the moment?

He was supposed to do another Sabbath thing this year but I guess now it looks like it’ll be in 2016. So I think Ozzy is basically filling the gaps by doing some solo gigs. We just did a mini tour in South America—the Monsters of Rock with Judas Priest and Motörhead. And now we’re doing two shows in Mexico in August and then Ozzfest Japan in November. Other than that, we’ll have to wait and see.

When you were first invited to audition for Ozzy’s band, it was through an email, correct?

Yes. It was just one of those crazy things that never happens…but then it happened, you know? The person who emailed me, I knew he worked for Sharon because he had been at Ozzfest. I figure they had probably checked me out in 2005 when I was there with Arch Enemy. And I was also doing a lot of work with Firewind at the time, so I guess I was one of the younger-generation guys coming up.

Did you have any idea Ozzy’s camp was looking for you?

I had no idea. Originally I thought they were contacting me because maybe they wanted Firewind to be on Ozzfest. [laughs] But they were like, “No, we’re actually thinking of you for the guitar player position. Would you like to come out and audition?”

What songs did you play at the audition?

“Bark at the Moon,” “I Don’t Know,” “Suicide Solution,” “Crazy Train,” “Paranoid”…and one more that I’m forgetting [It was “I Don’t Want to Change the World”]. We did six songs—six of the “must haves” on his setlist. Ozzy came in the room and we played them all back to back with no breaks. The second that one song ended he would just call out the next one. It was like “Oh, shit!” But it was cool—at the end of it he turned around and said, “You’re fuckin’ great!” Then they all went into a room next door for a few minutes, and I was sitting there all alone like, “What’s going on now?” Finally everybody came back in and they were all smiling. They asked if I wanted to come play a gig.

That gig was the 2009 BlizzCon video game convention in Anaheim.

Yeah. And that was fucking nerve-wracking, man. Looking back now, I know I could have done way, way better. Because all I knew was how to do my band. I mean, okay, I did a thing with Arch Enemy, but I didn’t really know how to approach another gig. And all of a sudden I’m in Hollywood, you know? But it was a big change for them, too. I’m from Greece and I show up with my weird pointy guitars, and Ozzy looks at me like, “You’re great…but do you have any Les Pauls?” [laughs] I just said, “I don’t really play Les Pauls…” But that first show I played a Les Paul–shaped guitar because I thought it would probably make him feel better. It’s more familiar to him because of Zakk and Randy.

So as much as you were uncomfortable in your new position, you were actually more concerned with trying to make Ozzy feel at ease.

Of course! That’s my role, you know? It’s to make him shine. That’s what I’m there for. And if that dude’s happy, then I’m happy. That’s what the gig’s about.

With Ozzy you’re playing songs that originally featured iconic guitarists like Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde. Who’s the most difficult to replicate?

I think all of them had difficult moments, really. I don’t think it would be fair to say, “Oh, that guy’s stuff is more difficult.” Randy had amazing modal playing and chordal work and detail. And Jake had his own tricks and licks and stuff. And then you have Zakk, who’s a beast on lead guitar. But I’m a different kind of shredder than that—I’m more from the Yngwie school than the Zakk school.

I still love Zakk’s licks, but I guess I have a bit more of a European sound. Then you also have Tony Iommi’s stuff, and he’s the master of riffs. You can’t get any heavier than that. So you take stuff from each guy and you kind of blend it all together. That’s how I’ve always looked at it—you have this big bag, and when you’re 10 years old you start putting all the licks that attract you inside of it. You keep collecting them, and then one day you open that bag and there you have it—your style.

The first Ozzy album you appeared on was 2010’s Scream. I recall hearing that Sharon Osbourne made you re-cut your guitar solo for the first single, “Let Me Hear You Scream.”

Yeah, that’s true. I did the whole record, and then I went back to Greece. But after that I got a call from Sharon and she said, “I want you to come back to L.A. and redo that one solo.” [laughs] She said, “Because that’s gonna be the first single and I want you to go out there with a big bang. That’s going to be the first thing Ozzy’s fans hear from you, so it had to be something really cool.” I was so stressed about it that I worked out the new solo before I even got on the plane to go back to L.A. But it was totally worth it. I flew back to LA and I spent a couple days in the studio and we nailed it.

In addition to the great players that preceded you in Ozzy’s band, in the last few years you’ve toured with guys like Marty Friedman and Uli Roth. Were they influences on you?

Yes. Of course. I grew up listening to their records and I told both of them, “I stole all your licks!” [laughs] These are guys who inspired me as a kid and still do. I think, really, if you dissect my playing you’ll hear a lot of the stuff those guys have been doing. I picked it up from them, straight out of their books. So it was mind-blowing to share stages with players like them. I especially didn’t expect it on my first solo touring cycle.

One guitarist you always point to as an early influence is Peter Frampton. He’s a player who you don’t hear much about in the metal world.

You’re right. I haven’t really heard any other recent metal guitarist say, “Oh, Peter Frampton…” But for me, Frampton Comes Alive! was just one of those records. My dad didn’t really listen to rock and roll but he had a handful of records he played from time to time. One was the Eagles’ Hotel California. The other was Frampton Comes Alive! And just hearing that talk-box effect blew my mind when I was nine years old.

Plus, you know, he can solo like a motherfucker. He’s an amazing musician. He’s not one of those guys who just plays standard blues licks. He can go beyond that—he can do modal playing, all those Dorians and Mixolydians, those kinds of sounds. He can get jazzy, he can play fast. And I just dug his tone. He was a very different guitar player compared to the cats that were out there at that time.

Are there any new guitarists out there that you like?

Well, even the newer players I listen to are pretty traditional. For example, a newer guy who is a good buddy of mine and who I really admire is Richie Faulkner of Judas Priest. Me and him, we’re both huge Michael Schenker fans. That’s the kind of style of player I like. I really love what Richie does. He breathes new life into Judas Priest but in a very traditional way.

You’re part of the vanguard of modern metal guitar, but in some ways you’re a traditionalist as well.

Yeah, definitely. I realized pretty early on I’m not gonna reinvent the wheel. So you have to see what your strengths and weaknesses are and then do what you’re comfortable with. And my style is really just a blend of all the guitar players I love. Obviously I hope I’m doing it with a bit more modern approach, but it’s like, I’m not creating anything new. I’m just doing my own thing.

Growing up in Greece, was mainstream hard rock and metal music easy to come by?

Back then, you didn’t hear American and British music on the radio. On TV, you might see a video by Alice Cooper or Guns N’ Roses on the Top-10 shows, and as a kid I loved that. That was probably my first exposure to heavy metal. And then, of course, there was MTV. But, yeah, it’s not like rock was too popular then. It became more of a thing later on.

But I grew up listening to the Beatles and the Doors, Frampton and the Eagles. Then I got into heavier stuff like Metallica and Guns N’ Roses. At one point a friend of mine handed me a tape of Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality, and that was a life-changing moment. And then a few months later I had another friend who gave me a tape of Yngwie Malmsteen’s Trilogy. That was like, “Whoa…” So as a kid I basically wanted to be Tony Iommi and Yngwie Malmsteen together. [laughs]

Between the music you make on your own and with Firewind, and then also playing with Ozzy, you’ve wound up pretty close to that.

[Laughs] Yeah, man, that’s true. I’m definitely a lucky bastard!

Photo by Travis Shinn

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