Magnatone Giveawya

August Issue
more... ArtistsOctober 2009Steve Vai

Steve Vai: The Man Behind the Icon


Left to Right:
- "Where The Wild Things Are" 7 String Ibanez guitar custom painted by Godard
- Ibanez Jem 77FP ("FLO")
- Ibanez Jem 7VWH ("EVO")
- Ibanez JEM777LNG Yellow 

top row:
- Washburn mandolin
- Ukelele
- Explorer-style custom guitar with "Real Illusions" artwork given to Steve by a fan in Denver on the 2005 Real Illusions Tour
- Pia's '70s P-bass from the Vixen days
- Hollowbody 7-string Ibanez
- Green Ibanez Euphoria Acoustic Prototype
- Ibanez Euphoria Acoustic natural finish
-
Ibanez Euphoria Acoustic natural finish (main 2007 touring guitar)
- Ibanez Jem77BRMR Prototype ("BO")
- Ibanez Baritone 7-string Vai2KDNA
- Ibanez Bob Weir Model
- Wendler 7-string
- Ibanez jem777SK pink baritone custom
- Ibanez fretless bass
- Ibanez euphoria nylon string

bottom row:
- Fender Banjo
- Ibanez Hollowbody blue finish
- Carvin 12-string semi-hollowbody
- The Sticker Strat from Zappa days. '70s Strat
- Ripley Fretless
- Jem Hardtail ("Proto - I")
- Jem 20th
- Ibanez Jem 7VWH ("ROXY")
- Burnt Ibanez UV7MC 7-string guitar from the “For The Love of God” video
- Ynwgie Malmsteen Signature Stratocaster given to Steve by Yngwie in 2003 after the G3 Tour.


I heard you have a new JEM.

The basic aesthetic structure of the JEM always stays the same. There have been some hardware changes through the years, because there are improvements, but for the first time we’re going to be a releasing a JEM that’s going to be a hardtail.

Whoa…

It’s coming out very shortly. I’m also working on an unprecedented concept and design for the guitar. It’s pretty much revolutionary for whammy bar design.

Would you like to talk about this?

I can’t… it’s a real secret right now. It’s going to have a big impact, I believe.

Why would you put a hardtail on a JEM?

For other people, and myself. Occasionally, I’m not using the bar, and I just don’t want to deal with the problems that come along with a bar. Give me that guitar; I’ll record this with it. I don’t use the bar all the time!

Your amp tones are very specific to your tastes, as well.

When I do things after my own tastes, that’s the thing I do best. That’s what anybody does best. If I say that most people want an aggressive, brittle kind of amplifier, and I made an amplifier like that, it wouldn’t be really suited to me. I wouldn’t be really good at designing it, because I don’t play that kind of amp. The kind of sound I like is a warm, fat, non-fatiguing, user-friendly, creamy distortion sound. That’s the thing that excites me, so that’s what I went about trying to achieve. I figured it’s there, it’s a particular sound, maybe other people will like it, and they do.

How is your stage fan hooked up? Word on the street is that your fan is connected to your whammy pedal so that when you move yourfoot up and down, the fan moves so your hair can blow in specific directions. True or false?


Wow. I gotta remember that one. I have it set up to the level out of the amplifier, so the louder I play… it triggers the fan. If I’m playing soft, the hair isn’t blowing so much. Once we rock out, I’m just flailing in the wind.

I bought a fan after seeing you at the end of the Real Illusions tour, but my hair wouldn’t move.

[Laughing] You have to grow your hair longer. The fan is really fabulous on many fronts. First of all, it gets really hot onstage, and when my fingers get really sweaty, it’s a whole different feel. So the fan helps keep my fingers relatively dry. It also keeps my hair out of my face, because I hate when I’m trying to play and my hair is in my face. Plus it looks cool when your hair is blowing back. You have to be careful because if it’s cold, man, you freeze your ass off. I’ve been experimenting with various fans through the years, just like amplifiers…

Do you have a fan endorsement?

No, but sometimes I’ll use two little ones…. It has to be at the right setting because sometimes the voltage at a particular place is different. I have to put pieces of tape on the fan so it’s not so full sometimes. When I use two fans, it blows the hair in two different directions at the same time. There’s an art to getting the right blowjob on stage. [Laughing]

I’m sure when you’re rehearsing your stage show, getting the fan to blow just right is just as important as getting Tony MacApline to get his parts right.

[Laughing] That’s right. You can ask Thomas Nordegg what I put him through with my fans.

You married Pia Maiocco, the bass player from the ‘80s all-girl metal band Vixen.

Wow, I’m very impressed.

Congratulations.

Thank you. I’ve been with her for thirty years. She’s amazing. She’s a woman that I see living life to the fullest. She loved music, so she went to Berklee College of Music where she met me. She got to tour with a female rock band, and she looked incredible. She had gotten enough out of that, she really got into cooking and became a great cook. Then she decided she wanted to make clothes and made all my stage clothes.

Then she decided she wanted to do Tae Kwon Do so she became a second-degree black belt. Then she decided she wanted to play tennis, so she became a tennis player. I bought her a harp, and she learned how to play the harp. Each one of these extravaganzas would take about four or five years, but she’d get the most out of it. She loves traveling, so she became a travel agent and creates all these incredible trips around the world. The fact that she was a bass player in Vixen when she was a young girl is just part of one little chapter in her life. Me, I just play guitar and make music the whole time. She’s living life to the fullest.

That is so cool. You have one of the all-time great marriage success stories in rock history.

I look up to her because she’s smart, incredibly intuitive, she understands me, and she’s been with me through everything. She was with me through my neurotic music years when I was on tour for tremendous amounts of time. We have two beautiful kids who are crazy teenagers now.

What music are you listening to now?

I go through different things. I was listening to the new John Frusciante record, The Imperium, I think it’s called. I really like
STEVE VAI'S GEARBOX

Guitar:
Ibanez JEM7V with DiMarzio Evolution pickups
Ibanez Universe UV777BK 7-string with DiMarzio Blaze II pickups

Strings:
Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Nickel Wound .010–.046
Ernie Ball RPS-9 Slinky Nickel Wound .009–.042
Ernie Ball Coated Electric Titanium Super Slinky .009–.042

Amps: Carvin Legacy II

Effects:
Ibanez Jemini Distortion
DigiTech Whammy Pedal
Morley Bad Horsie Wah
Morley Little Alligator
Volume Pedal Dean Vinman 2000

vai.com
that. I discovered this band that’s been around for a while that I’ve never heard called Anthony and the Johnsons. It really struck my heart. Oddly enough, for the past ten years I’ve never gone anyplace with less than five Michael Jackson records.

Really?

Oh yeah. I really thought he was so brilliant. I have Allan Holdsworth stuff, Devin Townsend stuff. I listen to Edgar Varèse… contemporary composer György Ligeti… I just got the new Dream Theater record and was really blown away. I like Jeff Buckley. I got Leonard Cohen’s new stuff…

You listen to a lot of different things, but those influences don’t create conflict within your style. They only help.

This is our 360 here. I’ve discovered that you can’t second-guess. The best thing you can do is just do what feels natural, obvious and simple for you. That’s what you’ll be your best at. That’s going to give you the most powerful product. Obviously, you have to find your audience, because you can be as honest as you want and some people just aren’t going to like it. I respond to any genre of music that I feel is being performed honestly.

The one artist I turn to before I turn to any other stuff is Tom Waits. I carry virtually every one of his records. I am absolutely enamored with that man’s voice, music and lyrics. When I discovered him, it was like I had a new quality of life.

Can you do the Tom Waits voice?

[in the Tom Waits voice] No. [Laughs]