Flying Colors enjoying a moment of levity: (left to right) Dave LaRue, keyboardist Neal Morse, Steve Morse, vocalist Casey McPherson, and
drummer Mike Portnoy. Photo by Joey Pippin
A few months ago, John told us he’s
started combining legato techniques
with alternate picking to get to what he
calls the “hyper-speed” level. Have you
ever considered something like that?
Morse: I’ve tried it just when I’m noodling
around through an amp, and unless
I put in a lot of gain—and I mean a lot of
gain, like, with a booster or a distortion
pedal—before the amplifier, I can’t even
come close to making it sound the same.
I’m picking hard and the results sound
too obvious. It would be more successful
for me if I used a thinner pick and really
dedicated some time to it. The reason I
like the alternate picking is to have the
flexibility where I can pick up an acoustic
and, after a brief period of adjusting, be
able to play basically the same stuff that
I could on an electric. Whereas, if I were
incorporating a mixture of, say, hammering
and alternate picking, it would be
super obvious on acoustic.
Do you keep your picking hand at a
specific angle, and if so, what are the
advantages of doing it that way?
Morse: I do spend a lot of time working
on my right hand. I’m left-handed,
too, and that may be part of it. As my
body gets more miles on it, I’m preparing
to deal with tendonitis, arthritis,
and stuff that inevitably happens when
you’ve been playing for 46 years. I have
three different right-hand techniques
involving the pick. One of them is that
I rest the heel of my right hand on the
bridge and make an opening between
my fingers and that heel, and I pick in
that opening. I play that way for control,
especially at high volumes, like when I’m
trying to get sustain and feedback from
the amp. That’s the super-controlled
way—everything is muted except the
string I’m playing.
For faster stuff, I hold my pick
between two fingers and my thumb,
and use the twisted motion in the wrist
that I normally do—but it’s not as tied
down. That’s the position I tend to end
up with when I’m playing fast. I have
to be very careful to keep [extraneous]
notes from running away by muting
with my left-hand thumb a lot. The
third technique I’m working on is a
traditional grip like John Petrucci, John
McLaughlin, or Al Di Meola might use,
with the thumb inside of the finger.
That’s very relaxing, but I don’t have
the control to jump strings with that
technique. I basically do that when I’m
jump to that technique in the middle
of a phrase if I just have an eighth-note,
or I can change to that technique to
rest my wrist if it’s kind of cramping up
from doing the other one too much.
How about you, Dave—pick or fingers?
LaRue: I’ll use a heavy pick, but only
rarely. I’m much better with my fingers.
I can play almost any kind of grooving,
straight-ahead kind of thing with a pick,
but anything that’s really, really intricate,
forget it. I prefer to play with my fingers,
although sometimes it’s just idiomatically
better to play with a pick. For most of
the fingerstyle stuff I do, I usually play a
Music Man Bongo.
What other basses do you use?
LaRue: All I play is Music Man basses. I
think on this record I played the Bongo 4,
the Bongo 5, and the Sterling. I love the
slap sound of the Sterling, and used it on
“Forever in a Daze.” I also used a Bongo
fretless on one of the ballads.
Steve, you’re also a big Music Man
advocate. Which of your signature
models—the original or the newer
SM-Y2D—are you using nowadays?
Morse: The Y2D is the one I use most for
Deep Purple. For some reason, it sounds
more like a rock ’n’ roll guitar—a little
bit more Les Paul-like. My original fourpickup
signature model is my most versatile
guitar and has more of a live sound.
It may be because it’s got a bigger [pickguard]
cavity and the pickups are hanging
from the pickguard. That’s the one
I could play country stuff, a jazz thing,
rock, or Dixie Dregs stuff on. That’s my
main axe when I do solo things, Steve
Morse Band things.
Steve, when you play lower on the neck
you use the bridge pickup, but when
you play higher up, you switch to the
neck pickup. Why?
Morse: It’s part of finding the sweet
spot. Basically, I just use the pickup with
the most harmonics for low notes, and
as I cross over somewhere around the
10th fret or so, then I switch to the neck
humbucker or sometimes both. As I get
a little bit higher, then I go to the neck
position only. I don’t like shrill sounds,
so doing that fattens up the sound and
relieves some of that ear piercing that
can happen. When you distort the signal
by turning up the input gain, it’s
basically chopping the wave, and those
chopped edges make a very sharp harmonic.
Those are perceived as high end
by our ears. It’s nicer sounding to me to
take away that edge.
Do you change between pickups in the
middle of a solo instinctively?
Morse: Yeah. A lot of times the producer
will say, “It sounds like you did an overdub
there.” Well, I just changed the pickups.
Steve Morse's Gear
Music Man Steve Morse Signature model,
Music Man SM-Y2D Signature model, Buscarino nylonstring,
Larrivée steel-string, Babicz steel-string
ENGL Steve Morse Signature E656 heads
driving ENGL 4x12 cabinets
TC Electronic Flashback Delay and Looper,
Ernie ball volume pedal
Strings, Picks, and Accessories
Ernie Ball electric strings (.010, .013, .016, .026,
.032, and .043), dropped-D guitars have a .046 or
.048 for the lowest string, Ernie Ball medium-heavy
picks, TC Electronic PolyTune, DiMarzio ClipLock,
and Ernie Ball straps
Dave Larue's Gear
Music Man Bongo 4- and 5-string, Bongo
fretless, and Sterling 4-string
Ampeg SVT4-Pro head, Ampeg SVT cabinets,
Ampeg SVX software (studio)
TC Electronic G-System, Ernie Ball volume
pedal, Chellee Odelya distortion
Strings, Picks, and Accessories
Ernie Ball Extra Slinkys (.040, .060, .070, and .095) on
4-strings, with an added .125 on 5-strings, Music Man
heavy picks, Music Man straps
What amps are you guys using?
LaRue: I use Ampeg SVT4-PRO heads
and SVT cabinets. In the studio, I use
[the IK Multimedia AmpliTube 3 Custom
Shop plug-in] Ampeg SVX. When I sort
of virtually hook up my rig, it sounds
just like my real rig. Any amp track on
the record is the Ampeg SVX software,
although we did mix in some amp on
Morse: I’m using my signature ENGL
E656 amp, which has three channels.
Channel 1 is beautiful and clean—yet so
smooth sounding. I even plug my electric
classical guitar into it. There’s also
a boost that will get it distorted on the
clean sound if you want to get that ’60s
sound. The clean and distorted channels
are set up so that if you put all the dials at
about 1 o’clock and plug any guitar in, I
guarantee it will sound great. Channel 3
is the thing I like best. It’s just a do-it-all,
great distortion sound that’ll clean up as
you turn down the guitar. It will still have
clarity. And when you play with distortion,
it has a certain transparency in the
high end that, to me, is less irritating. It
cuts through and the clarity is there without
having to be loud.
Channel 3 has four mid controls, too.
What’s that all about?
Morse: The third channel is all about
bringing lines out without making them
louder. In Deep Purple, for example, it’s a
real struggle to get the guitar to come out.
Especially when we’re playing European
shows, because they don’t want us to turn
the guitar up loud—they think it’s offensive
to the European audience. I don’t quite
follow that, but my solution is to try to
change the sound of the guitar when I solo
so that it will come through. It may not be
the ideal sound for rhythm, but by changing
the midrange you definitely make it
sound more audible. You can set up channel
3 with this midrange, and then hit a
button and have a different range.
Dave, your rig is pretty simple these days.
LaRue: I took all the crap out of my rack
and got it down to the TC Electronic
G-System. I love that thing. Now I just
have that, with two cables running back
to the SVT4-PRO. I use an Ernie Ball
volume pedal in front of it, and in the
inserts I patch in the Odelya. It’s a really
nice sounding unit that I use live and in
I have the overdrive set up to get that
lead sound that you heard on the record,
which is more of an out-front, soloing distortion.
The one thing that I would like to
do is be able to switch to a less-distorted
but still kind of a grungy sound for playing
a dirty bass track behind everything—
not an out front kind of thing. Just to get
a little grunge in sometimes. Right now,
it’s either all or nothing.
Before we end, let’s settle one thing
once and for all: Although the playing
is more restrained on the Flying Colors
album, people generally regard you as
chops guys. Where do you stand on the
eternal feel-versus-speed debate?
Morse: I sort of have to distinguish myself
from the guys that have soooo many chops,
and John Petrucci is the perfect example.
In terms of being a virtuoso, John has
taken it as far as anybody I’ve ever seen
on electric guitar. I guess I just think of
myself more as a writer than a guitar guy.
Guitar is my instrument, so when I solo
I’m basically writing a little bit on the
spot. For me, the content is everything.
If I’m ever in a situation where I time it
wrong, where I run overtime in a solo and
end up putting in a few bars of just stuff
that doesn’t mean anything, it deeply disappoints
me. Sometimes things like that
do happen if you guess wrong.
LaRue: It’s all about music. The reason
I love Steve’s music is because there’s
such a depth of melody—he always plays
melodies. Although the facility thing
kind of separates us [from the pack] a
little bit, it sets us apart because we can
do so many different things. Steve has
this intervallic kind of depth that a lot
of guys who just play scales can’t get into
their lines. They play too fast and too
much of it, and it just sounds like they’re
practicing. Steve’s lines have always had
There are guys with chops who have
feel and there are guys with chops who
have no feel. I’m not going to name
names, but we all know these guys who
can play riffage for days that really has no
musical value. There are also guys who
just use that as an excuse—they have no
chops and they have no feel. It’s kind of
an insecurity thing.