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Petrucci with one of his Music Man JP6 guitars. Photo by Michael Hurcomb
John P., in the past you’ve said you used to think of alternate picking and legato playing as two separate approaches, and that legato playing almost felt like cheating because you don’t have to pick every note. Later, you combined both approaches to play at what you call “hyper speed.”
Petrucci: Basically, if you’re alternate picking consecutively and then you stop to leave room for legato, the direction your pick left off and starts up again is where it normally would be if you were alternate picking, like where the downbeat is.
Do you mean like “down-up” then legato then starting again “down” on the next beat?
Petrucci: That’s the simplified version, but yeah, the downbeats still fall where they would normally fall, like on the beat.
I know you also make it a point to practice the same line starting with both a downstroke and an upstroke. Do you do that with these types of combination lines as well?
Petrucci: Yeah. It’s important to work on that sort of thing. I think this type of thing is a bit more natural. If you’re improvising it’s where it ends up, depending on where you’re starting. But it’s always good to practice things starting with different strokes so that you feel comfortable both ways. It’s funny, I was talking to Mike Mangini about this. He’s very into technique and plays at a highly developed level, and alternate picking is a very similar parallel to the left-right hand-foot coordination that drummers employ. Like if you have a weak hand or a weak foot or a weak upstroke, and you practice to make it strong and even.
Let’s talk gear now. Tell us about your Music Man instruments.
Petrucci: I started working with Music Man over 11 years ago, and they’re an unbelievable company. We started with the original signature model, and now we have a whole line. Instead of discontinuing a model, we keep it available for sale. The cool thing is that they’re all unique in some way. It’s like having different spices in your spice rack.
Myung: I’m using custom Music Man 6-string Bongo basses. I’ve had the one I’m playing now since last August, and it’s the best bass I’ve ever played.
Myung with one of his Music Man Bongo 6-string basses. Photo by Michael Hurcomb
From what I understand, it’s the first 6-string bass Music Man ever made.
Myung: That’s right. The original Bongo prototype was a 6-string, but the neck and the body had been increased proportionately. I was living with that for a while, but it got to the point where it didn’t feel completely right, so we went with a tighter spacing and I went with superimposing six strings on a 5-string Bongo. That was close, but I wasn’t completely sold on it, so I kept playing the standard 6-strings, and then during the last tour I decided maybe the magic formula is keeping the body of the bigger scale but using the 5-string neck. That proved to be the winning combination. It’s basically the 5-string neck dimension, but with six strings. It’s really changed my world and made my life so much better.
John P., you’re partially responsible for making the Mesa/ Boogie Mark IIC+ the most sought-after vintage Mesa, and you’ve consistently used Boogie amps over the years. Your rig now features the Mark V, which has Mark IIC+ and Mark IV modes. Can the Mark V replicate those amp tones exactly?
Petrucci: It’s really, really close. You can’t even tell the difference. The whole record was done with the Mark V. All the rhythm guitars were done with the Mark IV mode, and all the guitar solos were done with the IIC+ mode. It sounds so incredible. I’ll have the Mark IV and IIC+ in the studio and A/B them, and not only can you not tell the difference, in many cases, the Mark V beats them with the improvements they made.
Petrucci: The Mark V uses newer parts and technology and has a more focused sound, in general.
Both of you have also incorporated the Fractal Audio Axe-Fx into your rigs.
Petrucci: When I went into the studio, the Fractal guys came down and mic’d up my Mark V. We got this great guitar sound and they modeled it as closely as they could. I was then able to use that bank of Axe-Fx sounds to comfortably write and demo the album. It was incredibly convenient and simple, and it sounded amazing. Once the writing process was complete, I then mic’d up the Boogie and rerecorded all the guitars with the Mark V. Here and there, we ended up keeping the scratch guitar performances with the Fractal if it was something that just had that certain performance magic—mostly some clean stuff and a couple of short lines.
Myung: Right now, the Axe-Fx Ultra is the hub for all my effects. In the studio, I did a lot of modeling with the guys from Fractal Audio. We modeled a whole bunch of things that I needed but would be too hard to take on the road—stuff like a Pearce BC1 preamp, which I really like.