I imagine the members of your relentlessshred.com site are more influenced by the neoclassical genre than the blues. Has the playing of any of the members knocked you out?
Not so far. The thing with this site is that I’m not trying to make people play like me. If you spend that much time to achieve that level of technical ability, that’s a sign of dedication right there. But I believe in individuality, too. You can make something so close, and it’s great and everything, but there’s already one like it.
It seems that what separates you from your countless clones, even the really famous ones, is that while you grew up listening to classical music those guys mainly came about classical music secondhand through you.
That’s a very good observation, my friend. I think so, too. When I was 11 or 12, I was into Deep Purple and the blues. I broke away from that and got into things like harmonic minor, Phrygian, diminished, counterpoint, pedal tones, and arpeggios. It’s like when a blues player naturally improvises the blues, I do the same thing but in a neoclassical way. Bach, Vivaldi, and Paganini became my influences and have been for such a long time now that I don’t even have to think about it.
Do you ever check out modern composers like Arnold Schoenberg?
No, I’m very purist in my tastes. Anything that is atonal or dissonant, I don’t dig it. To quote Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, “Melody is music, music is melody.” Whether the melody is played at 220 bpms or it’s sad like a requiem, if it doesn’t have a melody, then it’s not appealing to me.
Let’s talk gear now. I know you have your signature Marshall YJM amps but have you checked out any of the new modeling devices like the Axe-Fx?
No. I have a motto in life: Always trade up. If you have the best, don’t go downwards.
I’m guessing you used your signature Strat on the album?
Yeah, except I used a ’59 Strat for some of the Brian May-like layering type things here and there. I had the pickups re-wired so they’re out of phase. I also played a Les Paul on the rhythm track for “Spellbound” but the solos and everything were done on a Malmsteen Stratocaster.
It’s interesting that you used a Les Paul because throughout your career you’ve been known almost exclusively as a single-coil-type player.
Well, it’s a technological thing really. If you look at how a pickup works. It’s a row of magnets that picks up the exact position of the string. Even with the same pickup, if it’s near the bridge it’s going to be bright, if it’s near the neck it’s going to be round. If you have one row of magnets you’ll get a distinct interpretation of the string. If you have two rows of magnets, all of a sudden, you’re picking up a wider part of the string at once. What happens is that it’s smoother and covers up a lot of mistakes but the drawback of that is you don’t get the same distinction and clarity. I could play a 335 and sound like myself but single-coil pickups are my weapon of choice.
Which pickup positions do you prefer for your lead and rhythm playing?
I switch back and forth like a million times in one solo. Most of the 5– and 6-string arpeggios are done on the neck pickup.
Because you are improvising in real time and also mostly playing very fast throughout, how do you plan on pickup switches? Like is it worked out where you’re on the neck for some arpeggios then you flip it to the bridge for bends?
It’s not necessarily that cut and dry. It’s a second nature thing. I’d say all the arpeggios are done with the rhythm pickup but it really all depends on the sound I’m looking for. If it’s a bend, it doesn’t necessarily have to be on the treble pickup. Also if you switch pickups in the middle of a bend, it sounds really cool [makes Bugs Bunny-like noise].
Your guitars now sport the Seymour Duncan YJM Fury pickups. How are they different from the DiMarzios you used to use?
In Sweden, where I grew up, the electricity there is a little different. Like 50-cycle or something. The hum wasn’t that bad, but when I came to America it was horrendous. I was using a DiMarzio pickup called the FS-1, which is really hot. I went to DiMarzio and said, “I have an idea. Why don't you put the two pickups on top of each other instead of side-by-side, you’ll get hum cancelling but the same magnetic window.” They made the HS-1 and it was too thin, didn’t have any harmonics. They made two others and I kept the HS-3, but I said, “Listen, this doesn’t have any power.” They said, “Oh no, that’s what you get. What you have is half the pickup because the other half is only for the hum cancelling.” I lived with that for like 25 years. One day Seymour Duncan approached me and, at first, I was skeptical. But let me tell you something, these guys are literally geniuses. We did 21 prototypes. They would send it to me and I would put it in a guitar and listen to it and talk to them on the phone. I tell you right now, and anybody reading this who knows anything about me knows that I don’t promote anything unless it’s [expletive] amazing. I took all the pickguards from all my guitars—literally hundreds of them—and put them in one thing and use it as a boat anchor now.
You could have made a fortune selling them on eBay.
Listen to me. If you play a Strat, buy these pickups and you’ll go to heaven. It’s got every harmonic response you can dream of. It’s got beef but it’s not muddy, and it’s dead quiet.
Malmsteen's boat of signature Strats
Yngwie Malmsteen’s Gear
Fender Yngwie Malmsteen signature Strats with Seymour Duncan YJM Fury pickups and Seymour Duncan 250K YJM pots, nylon-string Ovation Viper
Marshall YJM100 head, Marshall cabinets loaded with Celestion 75-watt speakers
Boss NS-2, Boss CE-5, Roland Analog Echo, Cry Baby Wah, Moog Taurus bass pedals, DOD Yngwie Malmsteen YJM308 Preamp Overdrive, RJM MasterMind MIDI Foot Controller, Fuzz Face
Strings and Picks
Fender .008–.048 strings, Dunlop 1.5 mm picks