In addition to a 17" fretboard radius and chrome finish, the most outstanding feature of the John Petrucci Music Man JP13 is a preamp. “It lets the guitar be more alive and open sounding,” Petrucci says. “Also it allows for a boost that you can tap to add 20 dB of gain right from the volume control, so you don’t need an overdrive or a clean boost pedal.”
Photo by Larry DiMarzio

How do you mic and mix your guitars, and how much time do you dedicate to crafting your tones on record?
That’s actually a really big process and is also one of the most fun times I have in the studio. We spend a ton of time with it. I’ve done it so many different ways, but this time the approach was to get a guitar sound from day one that pretty much was a finished sound—it’s the sound you hear when you hear the album today. I really left it up to [engineer] Richard Chycki to do what needed to be done in order to get there. I basically had my Mesa/Boogie amps all set up in an iso room in the studio and Richard set up a couple of different mics—a [Shure SM] 57 and [Neumann U] 47. Then he went through whatever process it had to go through after that. I didn’t really concern myself with how it was happening. What was important was the sound coming out of the studio monitors, and we would spend days on that.

We also used a Radial JDX to re-amp, so every time I recorded a part, we’d have a DI [direct input] track as well. Depending on the song, we’d re-amp the part and experiment by setting the amp EQ differently to get it to really match up to a particular song. You hear a lot of different types of guitar tones on the album, and they were all tailored to each song.

John Petrucci's Gear

Music Man JP13 (6- and 7-string models)
Music Man JP BFR (baritone)

Mesa/Boogie Mark V
Mesa/Boogie Mark IIC+
Mesa/Boogie Triaxis
Mesa/Boogie Royal Atlantic

Analog Man King of Tone
Analog Man Juicer
Carl Martin Compressor/Limiter
TC Electronic John Petrucci Signature Dreamscape
Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter

Were you listening to any music while writing and recording Dream Theater, and how do your influences continue to define what you do?
I purposely tried to not listen to anything. When you listen to stuff while you’re in the studio or before you go in—especially if it’s not something you discovered on your own, if it’s something that somebody went, “Oh, you have to hear this”—it can be dangerous. All of a sudden it seems like you need to pull this thing into your style.

My original influences go back to being a teenager in those formative days. Bands like Metallica and [Iron] Maiden got me into the whole metal scene, and I was also a big Rush and Yes fan. That fusion of metal, rock, and progressive music molded my style, and subsequently Dream Theater’s sound, because we were all into the same thing. Those core influences determined our style from the beginning, and I think it’s important for us to stay true to this and continue developing from it, and not lose sight of the band’s original vision.

How do you balance trying to push the music forward conceptually and technically with the desire to stay true to your roots?

It’s very easy to remain grounded if you just play what comes from your heart. You work off of the inspiration you receive from each other when you’re playing together. This band has a ton of musical chemistry. We write together and we inspire each other to push ourselves in that spirit. That’s automatically reflected in our metal-progressive style. You can’t lose sight of that inspiration when it feels really natural to you. If you’re doing something that doesn’t feel natural, usually it’s not going to come across convincingly.

All my signature guitars—the 6-string, 7-string, and baritone—are tweaked a bit differently. They’re different spices in my spice rack, but they’re all me.

This being DT’s 12th studio album, why did now seem like the right time to release a self-titled record?
I think it’s because it made a strong statement this many albums into our career. We wanted to make a bold, strong, confident album that really projected our musical attitude at this point in time and pushing forward. We felt that the best way to illustrate what the album is about was to self-title it. To not pick a title that would distract from it at all or lead to any preconceptions. Keep it strong and keep it a little bit of a mystery.

How much time do you spend perfecting and adding to your technique as a guitar player?
A lot—it’s really important. First of all, it’s something I love to do and I’m addicted to doing. I really have to practice, it’s such a use-it-or-lose-it thing. I have routines, especially while I’m in the studio and I’m ready to push the envelope and record something that takes the music further or challenge myself as a player.

Speed kills and so does John Petrucci in the solo on "Constant Motion." In this performance, Petrucci lets fly with a truly staggering display of agility and dexterity—dive bomb to hell and back included.