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Your shows are known for having lots of dynamics. Does adding violins allow you to push that further?
A violin can be played very sweetly. If you pump it through the right gear, it’s a monster. They play together so sweetly at times. At other times, with the three of us and the other guitar player, it’s just ferocious. It’s very entertaining.
Did you use any new guitar gear on the DVD?
No. My guitar set up is usually good for four or five years, then I switch it up. With that setup I was using my Ibanez JEM, which is pretty standard. It’s like twenty-two years old now. I have a very simple set up. Coming out of my guitar I go into a Bad Horsie Wah or a Crybaby, then into the Ibanez Jemini distortion pedal that I designed. Then it goes in the front of my Carvin Legacy II, which has three channels. Out of the Send, I come out of the main head and I go into a volume pedal. Out of the volume pedal I go into a DigiTech Whammy pedal.
For the DVD, I was going through a TC Electronic G-System, then stereo out of that and returning to the two Legacy heads... I’m rebuilding my system right now. The G-System was very faithful to me for years. Now I’m going into a looping system again. The looping system is really the only way to create pure hard bypasses with the sound and keep it real discrete.
And clear. Once you put the signal through a multi-effects unit, there’s such a price to pay.
And that’s a price Steve Vai isn’t willing pay.
Especially when you’re dealing with digital stuff. I’m very fortunate, because I’m in a position where all the stuff that I play comes from my design. I get to work with companies who are interested in what my inner ear desires for particular gear.
It goes without saying that you’re designing amps, guitars and effects for yourself, but from a marketing standpoint, are you at all concerned with how working guitarists or hobbyists can apply them?
Whenever I’ve tried to second-guess, I’ve always missed the mark. Whenever I’ve tried to make music that I thought people would like, I was usually doing something that I really didn’t think was the best thing I could do. When I designed the Jem guitar, at the time it was a unique instrument—the scale length, the neck… twenty-four frets with a whammy bar? There wasn’t anything like that... the cutaway, the pickup configuration was unique, and it was very practical. I like Strats, and I like humbuckers. I wanted humbuckers in both neck and treble positions, but I wanted that really cool, clean double single-coil sound, like a Strat gets on the in-between positions. I had them make the five-position switch so that when it’s between the middle pickup and the neck position pickup, it splits the coils. You get two single-coil pickups. That completely satiated my aural appetite. It was unique at the time, but now it’s pretty common.
Essentially, it was a stage guitar just for you.
It was a stage guitar for me and by the time they made it, I already had that guitar. I had a little guitar shop in Hollywood (Performance Guitars) custom-make me three guitars to suit my style. The floating trem was the first one. It was as simple as, “How can I make the notes go up?” There’s a piece of wood in the way, and I just took a hammer and a screwdriver and banged it out. Then it was floating.
And you desecrated a very beautiful early ‘70s Strat?
I’ve got it in the other room. I can show you. [Laughing]
What’s the story behind the monkey grip?
Just me doing something stupid.
You were just goofing around?
Goofing around… but I thought it would be cool to be able to hold the grip in photo shoots and swing it around. And it was something that I thought no one would have the balls to steal. It would look really ridiculous if somebody else put a monkey grip on their guitar.