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Satriani and crew in the studio. Photo by Arthur Rosato
Despite Tristano’s existential advice, some of Satriani’s prepared solos were scrapped in the studio once the full band had been assembled and recorded. Certain moments simply called for alternative strategies. A good example is “Jumpin’ In,” with its repurposed blues riffs and eccentric lead tones. “At home I had recorded a very pure, traditional legato solo for the tune, but after I played it in the studio a few months later I realized it needed something more modern sounding. So I went all contrarian and plugged my Whammy pedal into a Boss [OC-2] octave device, a brown one I’ve had for years, and from there it went into a Boss DM-2 analog delay and on into a cranked-up Marshall with a lot of distortion. This setup made more noise than the actual notes played—it was a really cool sound toy to play with.”
200 Pedals … Just in Case
As you’d expect, Satriani had an enviable selection of other “sound toys” at his disposal in the studio. There was a quartet of prototypes for his signature Ibanez JS2410, a smart new guitar with an alder body, a three-piece maple-and-bubinga neck, a 25.5"scale, and a DiMarzio Pro Track neck humbucker paired with his signature DiMarzio Mo’ Joe bridge humbucker.
Also at hand was a fleet of Ibanez JS1000s, some with Sustainiac pickups for searing long notes, a couple with EverTune bridges for stability when using slackened tunings (as on “A Celebration”), and a special road-worn specimen nicknamed Willie because it was signed by Willie Nelson. Satriani also used a 1992 Ibanez JS6 prototype. “It’s unlike any of my other signature models,” he says. “It’s got a Gibson [24 3/4"] scale length and an oiled mahogany body. The guitar just growls—it’s so thick and musical sounding.”
It may come as a surprise to casual observers accustomed to seeing Satriani with his Ibanez guitars and Marshall amps, but he also brought a selection of vintage Fender gear to the Unstoppable Momentum sessions. It included his 1958 Telecaster, his 1966 Electric XII, and a dozen tube combo amps. “On ‘A Door into Summer,’ I played rhythm on the JS6, along with two tracks of the Tele. The Electric XII makes a four-bar appearance in ‘Shine On.’ It’s always cool to have the unexpected bit of color that a completely different setup can provide in the middle of a song. After 64 bars of me playing an Ibanez through a Marshall in your face, two bars of another flavor like a Champ or Vibrolux Reverb is a welcome thing.”
That said, most of the album’s amplified timbres came from an ensemble of Marshall heads and cabinets. “We used four of my Marshall signature heads and the original prototype,” says Satch. “They’re remarkably consistent—they all sound the same—but we sometimes grabbed one over another depending on how long it had been played. The head has such great sustain, body, depth, and presence. It makes my sound so fresh and organic, which can be tough with high-gain settings. I generally used the bottoms that came with the heads, though I did use one late-’60s 4x12 with Altec Lansing speakers.” He also used a Peavey 5150 amp from the first year of its production.
As for pedals, Satriani was anything but “the Extremist,” sticking mostly with his Vox wah but branching out here and there. For instance, on the breakdown of “Jumpin’ Out” he used his new Strymon Ola dBucket Chorus & Vibrato. “Before recording a new album, I sometimes go out and spend way too much money on pedals,” he confesses. “It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling—I’ve got every possible pedal for any direction, just in case the producer suggests something that I hadn’t thought of. I’ll bring 200 pedals to the sessions and only use four.”