Come on down to the crossroads—or the CMA Theatre in Nashville—as we walk through the jaw-dropping rig of devilishly talented shredder Steve Vai.
Steve Vai is much more than a great guitarist. The American guitarist has established himself as a key figure in guitar culture, and one of the world’s leading masters of shred. Vai broke on the scene in 1980 as Frank Zappa’s transcriptionist, until Zappa hired Vai, age 20, to join his touring band—Zappa allegedly called Vai his “little Italian virtuoso.”
Bolstering his guitar theatrics with sharp songwriting and producing, Vai went on to conquer the world of guitar music, winning three Grammys and selling 15 million records. PG was lucky to be invited to Vai’s recent show at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s CMA Theatre in Nashville, where his tech, Doug MacArthur, took John Bohlinger through Vai’s jaw-dropping current touring rig.
Special thanks to Doug MacArthur for explaining this incredibly complex rig.
Brought to you by D’Addario XS Strings.
Currently on its fifth neck, Vai’s trusty axe has been a constant for touring and recording since roughly 1992. It sports DiMarzio “Evolution Bridge” pickups in both the neck and bridge position, “EVO gold” Jumbo frets, and a cosmo black Ibanez LO-PRO tremolo. Vai keeps this one in standard tuning, courtesy of .009-.042 Ernie Ball Super Slinkies.
Flo III has been Vai’s main guitar since the late 2000s. This Jem was assembled at the Ibanez Los Angeles Custom Shop, where it was fitted with a Fernandes Sustainer, and modified with a lightly scalloped fretboard. It’s outfitted with EVO gold jumbo frets, a DiMarzio Evolution Bridge pickup, and an Ibanez LO-PRO tremolo. This one also lives in standard tuning, with .009-.042 Ernie Ball Super Slinkies.
A truly unique aesthetic. Circa 2001, BO was the prototype for the “Jem 77BRMR” model. You’ll notice the mirror crazing under the finish, on the forearm contour. This was worked out for production models, but Vai fell in love with the sound of this particular prototype, and has kept it in the touring lineup since the early 2000s. The neck boasts blue LED front and side dot markers, which were done by Martin Sims. It’s equipped with Jumbo Jescar nickel silver frets, a Fernandes Sustainer, a DiMarzio Evolution bridge pickup, and a LO-PRO Ibanez tremolo. This one rides in drop C tuning, with a set of .010-.052 Ernie Ball Skinny Top Heavy Bottoms.
This one is a production model Ibanez John Schofield JSM, outfitted in a loud Bonvillain Dip, with gold leaf binding and unique pin-striping on the back. The electronics are stock, although the tone controls have been disconnected. Little Pretty sports locking Grover tuners, and a Tusq nut. Doug MacArthur has also re-radiused the fretboard to 16” throughout, and re-fretted it with Jumbo EVO gold fretwire, giving this guitar a very familiar feel to Vai. Plus, it’s gussied up with a very well-loved fluffy white strap!
Zeus is a 1998 one-off prototype for the Hoshino 90th anniversary Jem model. Only one 7-string with this aesthetic was made, and it has remained stored away in Steve’s collection until recently, when pulled into touring duty in early 2023. It’s got custom chrome-topped DiMarzio Blaze pickups, and abalone dot inlays, mods made by MacArthur to get it ready for its first tour. It has jumbo nickel-silver frets, and hangs in standard tuning with a low A, thanks to .009-.056 Ernie Balls.
Made in the early 2000s by the Ibanez Custom Shop, this unique Jem/Strat hybrid boasts a classic sound while still maintaining the Vai aesthetic. It’s loaded with Fender Fat 50s single coils, a Wilkinson tremolo, and EVO gold jumbo frets over 21 frets with a custom 12” radius.
The Beast With Three Necks
This Frankenstein monster, known as the Hydra, has one body, two headstocks, and three necks, accommodating both seven- and 12-string guitars as well as a four-string bass and half-fretless neck. Pickup combinations include a sustainer, humbuckers, single-coils, and a piezo. Oh, and did we mention there’s also a harp onboard?
The Beast With Three Necks
The Hydra has two outputs. One is an ethernet cable, and the other is midi.
The ethernet plugs into a custom Hydra Brain built by Ibanez, which is mounted in the middle of the rack. The ethernet input distributes the signal for each individual instrument on the hydra, and the brain gives each instrument its own 1/4” output, as well as a master level control for each instrument. The harp, bass, and 12-string 1/4” brain outputs go into individual inputs of the AXE FX III TURBO, for the Hydra Song Patch. These three instruments utilize effects and amp modeling in the Fractal, and come out stereo to the front-of-house mixing console. The 7-string, however, doesn’t utilize modeling at all. Its output from the brain goes into the Little Lehle III A/B pedal on Vai’s pedalboard, which gets routed into his pedalboard and normal amplifier signal path. In other words, the 7-string runs through Steve’s rig just like his normal guitars.
There are 3 small MIDI trigger buttons hidden in various locations on the Hydra’s body, which trigger sound effects featured in the song. The MIDI cable goes into a small custom-built splitter box, which feeds each trigger button into a Roland TD-27 drum module, hard-mounted in the middle of the rack and routed to front-of-house.
Rack 'Em Up
Vai runs a neon green, 60-foot-long custom DiMarzio instrument cable from his guitar to his board. The first pedal in the chain is a Little Lehle III A/B switch, that allows Vai’s team to switch between the Hydra and his regular guitars.
From there, the signal hits Vai’s Dunlop 95Q automatic wah, modded by MacArthur to remove the gain switch and add a volume and Q control on the left side of the wah. Vai runs the volume pot all the way up, and the Q around 95 percent of the way up.
From there the signal hits an Ibanez Jemini Distortion then a Digitech Whammy DT. Vai always has the right side of the pedal set to jump 7 semitones up from the moment the switch is stepped on. He uses this constantly, and its work can be heard on songs like “Weeping China Doll,” “Lights Are On,” and “Greenish Blues.”
Then the guitar goes into the input of the rack unit. There’s a Morningstar Effects ML5 MIDI looper, which has an Ibanez Jemini (seen on top of the rack) in a loop, that only comes on during various points during the Hydra performance, via MIDI.
After the ML5, the signal flows into two Synergy SYN-2 preamps, which are daisy-chained together to allow Vai full use of all four modules that are loaded into them: two Synergy VAI modules, and two Synergy B-MAN modules. The 2 Vai modules are set fairly similar—the first is his main tone, and the second one is set virtually identical, but with the gain backed down a bit. The B-MAN modules are used mainly for their beautiful clean channels, but also for their great ’70s overdriven channels, which Vai occasionally uses throughout the night. The module channels are controlled via the Mastermind LT MIDI footswitch on Vai’s pedalboard.
From the Synergys, the signal exits into the input of a Fractal Axe FX III Turbo. This unit is controlled simultaneously by the FC-12 switcher on Steve’s pedalboard, and a second FC-12, at MacArthur’s guitar boat. Each song in the set has its own patch in the Fractal, mainly utilizing different digital delays, chorusing, and reverbs for each song. Vai runs his rig in stereo, so the signal exits the Fractal’s outputs via left and right.
From the stereo output of the fractal, the left and right outputs now go into the left and right inputs of the Fryette LX-2 Stereo Tube Power amp. This power amp is 50 watts per-side, and both left and right are controlled via one single volume control, which allows Vai’s team to maintain even levels between the left and right guitar cabinets. Vai usually rides the volume around 1 or 2 o’clock (depending on the venue), with the depth control pushed in. A second LX2 powers Vai’s front-stage 1x12 stereo guitar monitors, which were custom-built by CARVIN.)
The main Fryette sends its output to the Carvin Legacy 4x12 cabinets on stage left and stage right. These cabs are each loaded with a quartet of Celestion Vintage 30s, and feature unique “Inviolate” artwork grill cloth, which MacArthur had custom-made by NoiseyHammer. These cabs have been with Vai for a long time, and can be seen in the Where The Wild Things Are DVD, when they were fitted with custom grill cloths from the Sound Theories album artwork.
Shop Steve Vai's Rig
Working with some of rock’s biggest bands, including GNR, Tool, Nine Inch Nails, and the Smashing Pumpkins, prepared the guitarist to produce records—A Perfect Circle’s and his own. On his new What Normal Was, vocals and dark ’80s pop propel the soundtrack.
Billy Howerdel has topped the charts in A Perfect Circle (APC). He’s been a guitar tech with high-profile acts like Nine Inch Nails, the Smashing Pumpkins, and Tool (where he worked with future APC frontman Maynard James Keenan). He’s even scored video games. All the while, he’s crafted a unique and identifiable guitar style full of expansive ambiance, octave-fuzz-laced melodies, and crushing low-C riffs. Each of these experiences informed and inspired the next, like a row of dominos.
What Normal Was, Howerdel’s latest offering and first album under his name, is different. From the first notes of “Selfish Hearts” to the album closer, “Stars,” his guitar embraces a supporting role, putting the focus on his newfound vocal approach. Instead of futuristic, hard-rock aggression, he leans on the synth-heavy sounds that inspired his early years. According to Howerdel, he’s been cultivating this sound his entire life.
“From the time I was about 17, I was always writing songs. In my mid-20s, once I had enough strong material, I felt like, ‘This is the time to do it. It’s time to start really focusing on this.’”
Howerdel wasn’t sitting around and waiting for his big break, however. He was paying his dues as a lighting and guitar technician with some of the biggest names in the game. One gig, in particular, laid the foundation for all to come.
Billy Howerdel - Poison Flowers (Official Music Video)
While teching for guitarist Robin Finck, Howerdel found himself shoulder to shoulder with none other than Axl Rose—working on the infamous Guns N’ Roses album, Chinese Democracy. “There’s a lot of talented personnel around [the GNR] camp. The engineers, producers, and technicians were trying to make the best-sounding record,” Howerdel remembers. “For me, it was the perfect situation. It taught me how to make records. It taught me how to make Mer de Noms, the first APC record, by myself.”
As far as which songs made it onto APC’s mammoth debut, Howerdel says, “I leave that up to my relationship with Maynard. I’ll present him with things I think he might like. But I’ll let him dictate it because he’s got to be engaged with the process.”
There’s no doubt that APC is a pillar of Howerdel’s musical personality. But as a voracious songwriter, he has more to say. That’s why he jumped at the chance when video game developer Naughty Dog asked him to score Jak X: Combat Racing. Not only was it an inspiring new medium. It would push his music into new territories.
“The object of that music was to have forward motion, to have a little more tempo,” Howerdel explains. “That’s something that doesn’t usually come from me. Everyone’s got their own flavor, and mine was a mid-tempo thing. Pushing the tempo up for that video game helped me push the tempo up for ASHES dIVIDE’s first record.” That album, Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright, was technically Howerdel’s first solo album.
“This is definitely a bit of a time capsule letter back to myself. It’s a look back to before I even became a musician; before I even considered picking up a guitar.”
Let’s follow the dominos: Guns N’ Roses into A Perfect Circle, A Perfect Circle into video games, video games into the solo project ASHES dIVIDE.And the dominos kept falling, bringing us to What Normal Was.
But this new domino somehow fell in reverse.
“This is definitely a bit of a time capsule letter back to myself,” Howerdel shares. “It’s a look back to before I even became a musician, before I even considered picking up a guitar.”
Pick any song on the album and it’s clear what he means. From the Andy Taylor-like (Duran Duran) guitar melodies of “Ani” to the Cure influence on “Follower,” this set exudes the darker side of ’80s pop, which Howerdel says is very intentional.
Billy Howerdel's Gear
Billy Howerdel used a Gibson ES-175 throughout his new album, What Normal Was.
Photo by Travis Shinn
- Gibson 1960 Les Paul Classic Reissue with Tom Anderson humbuckers
- Gibson ES-175
- Yamaha AES 1500
- Gibson J-28 acoustic
- Fender Deluxe P Bass
- Warwick Thumb Bass 5-string (never used low B)
Strings & Picks
- Ernie Ball (.010-.046 sets)
- Clayton 1.0 mm triangle picks
- 1978 Marshall Super Lead 100 JMP modded with a Naylor-style preamp
- Friedman Naked
- Gibson GA-15RV combo
- Fractal Audio Axe-Fx III (used for effects and a Fender Twin model for completely clean tones)
- Prescription Electronics Experience Octave
- Electro-Harmonix MEL9
- Neve 1073 preamp
- Universal Audio 1176 Compressor
- Universal Audio Ampeg B-15N plug-in
“I was thinking about how I might’ve had to approach it if I was making this record in the early ’80s,” he says. “I tried to make it a focused album of 10 songs that fit together and balance between a modern record and honoring the classic, post-punk music that turned me on.”
Pulling from early influences like Echo and the Bunnymen, the Cure, and Killing Joke was quite the shift for Howerdel. Not only did it mean stepping out from under the ASHES dIVIDE moniker, but also embracing a new-to-him tracking processes.
“’Selfish Hearts’ is probably all through an amp like my Marshall, while there are other songs, like ‘Free and Weightless,’ where some of it is through an amp but double-tracked with miking the guitar body. I’m taking a [Shure SM] 57 shitty microphone, miking the Les Paul’s wood, and then reamping that.”
To be clear, the Marshall Howerdel is referring to isn’t really a Marshall anymore, though it began life as one. He explains: “The power section is a 1978 Super Lead 100 JMP head. The preamp is based on this amp called a Naylor. I was about to play the Naylor on the whole APC run, but I couldn’t play clean loud enough. So, Dave [Friedman of Friedman Amplification] gave a mod to the amp to bring that Naylor sound to it.”
Billy Howerdel onstage with A Perfect Circle, the band he cofounded in 1999 with Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan. Howerdel produced and engineered APC’s platinum debut, Mer de Noms.
Photo by Jenny Jimenez
That amp—which Friedman briefly offered and called the Naked—and a Gibson GA-15RV combo still make up the backbone of Howerdel’s studio and live rigs. That’s pretty surprising when you consider the guitarist’s walls of sound. It’s even more surprising when realizing that, aside from a wealth of Axe-Fx-driven ambiance, he often controls the whole thing with one guitar and a set of his favorite humbuckers.
“I do try and get a lot of sounds out of the same guitar,” Howerdel says. “It’s a [Gibson] 1960 Les Paul Classic Reissue with Tom Anderson pickups. I fell into those at an early age. You find what you have and start using them as your tools. And then your sound comes.”
Howerdel’s tools are so ingrained that he maintains a large collection of the same model loaded with those humbuckers. Many are kept in altered tunings or set up for his signature, otherworldly slide excursions. Generally relying on a glass Dunlop slide for songs like “Poison Flowers,” he will occasionally reach for another, previously owned by a very surprising influence: Joe Walsh.
While Howerdel can go on and on about his guitars, the instrument rarely dominates on What Normal Was. As with everything on this album, that’s also purposeful. “Truly finding the song’s character in the voice—that’s what is important to me on this record,” Howerdel explains. “Anything else, like guitar, is going to be in support of the vocal. And bass playing is such an important part of it. Basslines are as important as the guitar.”
“A few years ago, I even called my friend Pete Thorn and said, ‘I think I want to take lessons from you.’ He laughed about where we would even start. But part of me has a superstition about knowing too much.”
His focus on the low end is evident. Whether grinding through “Follower” or taking the lead on “Ani,” the bass adds to the compositions without falling prey to guitarist-playing-bass trappings, though, he admits, that’s precisely what it is. “I’m not a traditional bass player. I’m the guitar player who plays bass. Simon Gallup [the Cure], Peter Hook [Joy Division/New Order], and Paul Raven [Killing Joke] were what turned me onto the bass guitar.”
But don’t worry. There are plenty of breathtaking guitar moments throughout What Normal Was. “EXP” opens with a delicate and dissonant acoustic melody, he punctuates “Beautiful Mistake” with his trademark octave-up lead lines, and “Follower” delivers a classic guitar solo.
“Guitar is a big part of what I do. I like heavier guitar and riffy guitar,” Howerdel says. “A few years ago, I even called my friend Pete Thorn and said, ‘I think I want to take lessons from you.’ He laughed about where we would even start. But part of me has a superstition about knowing too much. That I will change the way I’m writing.”
Considering how different What Normal Was is while still sounding very Billy Howerdel, it’s hard to imagine guitar lessons changing the way Howerdel writes. But who knows? Surely whatever comes next will topple the succeeding domino, and the next, and the next.
Rig Rundown - A Perfect Circle
Guthrie Govan reveals a new signature Charvel and experiences the digital modeling bath. Plus, bass behemoth Bryan Beller reconnects with old friends and displays his “low - rent” Geddy Lee setup.
“Supergroup” is a tired, overused term in music. However, when musical aces like guitarist Guthrie Govan, bassist Bryan Beller, and drummer Marco Minnemann jam… they are an unrivaled force of nature.
Each player has a remarkable resume: Govan has worked with Steven Wilson, Hans Zimmer, and Asia; Beller with Satriani, Vai, Dethklok, and Dweezil Zappa; and Minnemann with the Mute Gods, Trey Gunn, H-Blockx, and Mike Keneally—among many others.
What makes a supergroup novel is generally the collective’s previous endeavors and collaborations. The magic with these three cats is that their superpowers combine to become a flashy and fluent highflying act.
Formed unceremoniously for a performance at the 2011 Anaheim NAMM Show, this tremendously talented trio has released nine albums (five studio and four live) in 11 years. The attraction for both the audience and the band is the same: variety. In any given performance, you can hear them shift from Return to Forever to Yes to King Crimson to Vai to Rage to Funkadelic to moments of deranged Zappa.
“We’ve been a pretty strange, eclectic band to begin with, as the music we do tips our hats to a lot of different styles,” notes Govan. “All I’ve ever done over the years I’ve been playing guitar is to just listen to everything around me and absorb the aspects of it that I liked. I’ve never felt an urge to specialize. I’m happy to keep combining whatever flavorings I like and rolling them all together.” The result: These three executive chefs put on a spicy clinic that would even please Gordon Ramsay.
The Aristocrats’ headlining 2022 run landed at Nashville’s City Winery on July 27. Before the musical throwdown commenced, PG’s Chris Kies hosted conversations that covered Beller’s booming setup, including some old favorites and recovered friends (via social-media sleuthing), while Govan focused on detailing the slight-but-crucial changes to his signature Charvel and explaining his live tonal evolution—modernized with an all-encompassing Fractal Audio unit.
Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard.
The Red Baron
It’s been 23 years since Bryan Beller first picked up a 1998 Mike Lull Modern 5 Jazz Bass and it’s been his No. 1 ever since. As the legend goes, Beller found a Modern 5 at the old SWR Bass Amplification factory soundroom. He loved it so much he took it to a Mike Keneally gig at the famous Baked Potato jazz club in Los Angeles, and he never brought it back. It’s worth noting that his original Modern 5 bass was stolen (among others) from Beller’s gear storage in the winter of 2016, so the above model is another M5 built in 1998 that he acquired after the raid.
Beller’s thoughts on the red rider, as listed on Mike Lull’s website: “I fell in love with it because it's an aggressive rock-flavored 5-string jazz bass. The ash body, maple top, maple fingerboard, vintage late-’60s-flavored Seymour Duncan pickups, and original-spec Bartolini preamp combined for a bright jazz bass that did everything right. I can play clean, clear pop/rock and R&B on it. I can make it bark if I get on it harder, and it reacts incredibly well to overdrive effects for the Tim Commerford/Rage Against The Machine vibe. And the playability from the 1st to 24th fret is second to none.” (Detail-oriented viewers may notice the pickups have “Basslines” listed on their cover, but originally Seymour Duncan manufactured their bass offerings under that name. They have since dissolved Basslines as a brand and welcomed bass pickups under the Seymour Duncan umbrella. Beller’s pickups are technically Basslines 67/70 Jazz Bass 5 String single-coils.)
Additionally, the bass has an original Bartolini NTMB preamp. (This is not the modern, updated versions denoted as the NTMB+F or NTMB+FL, for fretted or fretless setups). All his instruments take D’Addario EXL170-5 Nickel Wound Bass strings (.045–.130) with a tapered-core B-string. He prefers to use steels and lets them die to give his sound a rounder, thicker tone rather than simply using a standard set of flatwounds.
And finally, bassists can own their very own tone monster as Lull offers a pair of signature models based on this serendipitous partnership.
“This is a passive Mike Lull PJ5 and it has a completely different purpose,” states Beller. “It has an alder body with a rosewood fretboard so it has a dark, chocolate-y thing.” The PJ5 has a smoother, more even tone allowing Beller to nimbly walk the neck.
Spacing Is Key
Above is a pre-Gibson 1986 Tobias Basic 5-string that he purchased in 1990 from lifelong guitar nut and notable luthier Paul Slagle. (Slagle passed away in 2020.) Beller used it while attending Berklee College of Music in Los Angeles and on his audition (and eventual gig) for Dweezil and Ahmet Zappa’s band Z—until it was stolen from his North Hollywood apartment on New Year’s Eve 1994. Yet another social-media post proved fruitful as he was able to reconnect with this lavish 5-string built primarily from lacewood. This is the first time he’s taken it on tour since 1994.
For the Aristocrats set, he uses it for the song “Last Orders” off their 2019 album You Know What...? The song requires extreme finger stretches and extended chordal grabs made accessible by the Basic’s compact string spacing.
Bryan Beller's Pedalboard
Starting in the top right corner, Beller has a pair of Xotic EP Boosters (currently he’s only using one) to help bring up the output of his two passive basses to match the red Lull. This is a workaround on Beller’s end, so FOH is getting unity gain from his signal no matter the instrument. Next you see the Demeter Opto Compulator that’s always on. Then the fun starts with a TC Electronic Hall of Fame reverb, Boss CE-2B Bass Chorus, Boss DD-3 Digital Delay, and a TC Electronic Flashback delay/looper.
In the bottom left corner, we have the classic brown-box Boss OC-2 Octave (“the greatest octave pedal ever made”) and an Xotic Bass BB Preamp (his main overdrive). The Darkglass Electronics Vintage Microtubes and MXR M109S Six Band EQ are used in conjunction for a beefier Rat sound. Then there’s an Electro-Harmonix Micro POG (newest addition to the board) set to an octave up. And an old DigiTech Bass Driver that works behind the Bass BB Preamp and often runs into the Dunlop 105Q Cry Baby Bass Wah Pedal (white), giving the vocal-like sweeps more definition and prominence. Off to the left side, Beller has a Dunlop DVP3 Volume (X) Volume and Expression pedal. And a Boss TU-2 Chromatic Tuner keeps his basses in check.
"Low-Rent Geddy Lee"
Beller has incorporated the Behringer FCB1010 MIDI controller into his rig so he can provide some “low-rent Geddy Lee” moments in the set via a Roland JV-1010 64-Voice Synth Module.
"Low-Rent Geddy Lee"
Beller has incorporated the Behringer FCB1010 MIDI controller into his rig so he can provide some “low-rent Geddy Lee” moments in the set via a Roland JV-1010 64-Voice Synth Module.
Using the Raven Labs Model MDB-1 mixer/direct box/buffer for his pedals (no effects loop, kids) and running the Roland JV-1010 into his amps allows Beller to employ both his bass and the synth module at the same time. He feels if the JV-1010 was running just through the monitors it would sound unnatural and get lost in the mix.
His three-amp pairing includes a trio of Gallien-Krueger heads. In the top-left slot sits a first-generation GK MB Fusion (500W) that acts as the universal preamp coloring the entire rig. (The MB Fusion on the right stack is just a spare.) The MB Fusion is split two ways. The bottom-right head is a Gallien-Krueger 2001RB that hits a duo of Gallien-Krueger CX410 cabs (top set on each side). The other side of the MB Fusion runs into GK 1001RB that hits a pair of Gallien Krueger CX410 cabs cabs on the bottom of each side.
A Dream Instrument
Guthrie Govan has been with Charvel for nearly a decade. He’s developed two signature models and here is the brand-new chapter. The Guthrie Govan MJ San Dimas SD24 CM features a basswood body with an ash cap (based on the San Dimas Style 1 silhouette), caramelized maple for the neck, and a fretboard with 24 jumbo stainless-steel frets, a 25.5" scale, and a 12-16" compound radius fretboard. (The previous model had a caramelized flame maple neck and fretboard.)
“The purpose of an instrument like this is to have a dream instrument where you get called to go somewhere to do a session or to do a gig and you have no idea what will be expected of you,” Govan says in a Charvel promo video. “Can you hop on the airplane with one guitar confident that it will actually be able to deliver whatever the people at the other end will need? This was the quest of the process.”
A new feature first found on this sig is the freshly designed Recessed Charvel Locking Tremolo bridge (without a locking nut) that was created from the ground up with Govan’s input. The use of the simpler Graph Tech TUSQ XL nut allows GG to make quick changes to and from standard and drop-D tunings, and avoids getting his left-hand bitten by the locking nut when he gets a little carried away. The SD24 CM’s pickups were dialed in by designer Michael Frank-Braun (the mastermind behind Eric Johnson’s signature pickups) and are constructed in Korea. The 5-way selector has an unusual layout that avoids engaging the middle single-coil without either the bridge humbucker’s inner coil or the neck’s outer coil. The standard middle (or third position) engages the outer coils of each humbucker. Both of his Charvels take D’Addario NYXL strings (.011–.052) and this one typically rides in drop-D tuning.
While you’ll see the original “fancier” model in the next slide, it’s worth mentioning the “simplified” Japanese-made guitar just earned a Premier Gear Award in our September 2022 issue.
It's "Christmas Time"
Here’s his first namesake instrument—the Guthrie Govan USA Signature HSH Flame Maple. Similarly to the SD24, the body on this one is basswood, but the original comes with a flame maple top. The initial iteration also offered an option for a caramelized ash body. This one has Charvel’s custom MF pickups. It tends to be saved for standard tuning. Having a gigbag that can tote two guitars with operational floating trems is, as Guthrie says: “Christmas time.
The USA Guthrie Govan model included an Allparts Tremol-No clamp that has three options of functionality. Position one allows the tremolo to work as intended. The second setting locks the tremolo so it won’t move at all. And in the third spot, the bridge stays solid and stable for dropped tunings.
Couldn’t Bear To Play with Another
Ever notice Guthrie Govan doesn’t throw picks around like most rockers? Well, that’s because he generally travels with just three of his signature Red Bear picks. (They retail for $35 per pick.) His preferred plectrum is based around the company’s Big Jazzer shape, in an extra-heavy gauge with grips and a speed bevel. Additionally, on the top of the rounded edge you’ll find serration much like a dime or sixpence.
Whether it’s been flanking Steven Wilson or tangoing with the Aristocrats, Govan has been an amp-and-pedalboard guy. He’s had long ties with the British valve hounds at Victory. (In a 2019 interview with PG, he noted preferring the V30 MKII.) However, things shifted when he began working with legendary composer Hans Zimmer. For the scope and span of that gig, he needed to welcome the digital bath that is modeling since everyone uses in-ear monitors and a lone-wolf guitarist could never dream of overshadowing an orchestra in that environment. Alas, Guthrie’s dance with digital began. Through the shutdown, he collaborated often with Hans on several film scores and found boundless creativity within the Fractal Audio FM9. (He mentions in the Rundown that for one part of Dune he used 32 layers of detuned Axe-Fx patches to create a bagpipe sound.)
“I became more comfortable with this digital world, so I thought let’s see what it can offer me in a more traditional rock-n-roll context,” admits Govan. “As it turned out, our set has been evolving a little bit and it’s proving harder to get one amp and one cab to sound just right for each of those pastiche things that we like to do. With this (looks down at the FM9), I can bring 10 amps and 10 cabs on the plane [laughs].”