Steve's main guitars are his EVO (left), which he uses for about 60 to 70 percent of all live and studio work. The guitar holds a lot of emotional investment. "It's not even the easiest guitar to play, but it sounds great," he says, noting that the body and neck resonate at the same frequency. He uses a burnt Ibanez (middle) for his 7-string work, which he customized by literally taking a blow torch to it. He uses the 7-string for the songs "Weeping China Doll," "Velorum," and "The Story of Light." And he's recently been using a more recent issue Jem as well. For this one, Vai chose a seafoam green color after seeing it on a vintage Thunderbird car. This particular one has a Sustainer pickup, which he uses on occasion.
Though he has a number of different vintage amps on hand, Vai primarily uses his signature Carvin amps when recording. Vai uses his latest signature model, which was released at NAMM 2012, when recording and live. It features three channels, master volume, and master EQ. It's voiced like his original Legacy but with more flexibility. However, Vai still uses his original Legacy heads in the studio.
A recent discovery for Vai, the Axe-FX II provides nearly all of the effects for Steve's live rig. He doesn't use it much in the studio because he says he prefers to record dry and add effects later. Since the majority of Vai's effects come from the Fractal Audio Axe-FX II, his pedalboard is set up to control those. Vai says he has a select few pedals to use in conjunction, and he likes to experiment with new pedals all the time. When we caught up with him, he was experimenting with a Red Witch Titan Delay, Red Witch Pentavocal Tremolo, Red Witch Medusa Chorus, DigiTech Whammy DT, and MXR Phase 90. He uses an expression pedal to control the Axe-FX II's whammy effect, as well as both a Morley Bad Horsie Wah and a Dunlop Cry Baby Wah. One standby pedal on Vai's pedalboard is his signature Ibanez Jemini distortion, which has two channels of distortion, and hei has his Fractal MFC-101 foot controller set up as a pedalboard, with five presets per bank, and uses an expression pedal for whammy and volume.