An innovative rock performer with a mad background of musical prowess is Steve Vai. From the time he was quite young he loved classical music which led to his complex guitar pieces later in life. Vai didn't just copy other performers he heard, but learned the theory behind traditionally written music. This included tonal studies of different instruments that expanded into his own writing and playing. However, he can never be called a rigid classical guitarist. He began playing guitar at 13 in 1973, during an era of some of the most diverse guitarists that ever lived. Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Brian May, and Frank Zappa were some of his biggest influences. Zappa was especially appealing to him because he also utilized the guts of classical music. Steve impressed Zappa by deciphering his music into traditionally written clef and note music, which he included with a recording of himself playing guitar. Zappa knew a good thing and hired him.
From that point on, Steve Vai continued to make a name for himself in the rock world. He was able to play things that were creations of his own with flowing sounds or staccato, often edged with human characteristics. To play some of these pieces, it called for alterations of his guitars. After changing from Jackson guitars, one of the first was a 7 string guitar. He perfected the model with Ibanez, using their JEM series, beginning a signature line. Vai is well known for using 2 and 3 necked guitars.
He used DiMarzio pickups exclusively in his designs with Ibanez, that included both neck and bridge models of The Blaze and The Breed. The latter giving a warm sound and harmonics that was easier to play. For highs and lows, The Blaze was the model he chose for crystal clear riffs. Traditional humbuckers didn't quite produce the power that Steve needed for his aggressive sound so Evolution Neck and Bridge humbuckers were designed to have more harmonic overtones which was produced by innovative dual resonance. Carvin tube amps, specially designed in collaboration with Vai, produce the textures for his music whether from the Micro, Legacy, or Vintage Series. Venue size plus line up factored into his choices for amps.
Vai attacks the strings at times, and heavy picks are his choice due to their substantial weight, durability, and lack of flexibility, essential for note precision. He uses .09 Ernie Ball Slinky and RPS Slinky strings. His Ibanez Jemini Dual Pedal gives quick distortion and maximum sound. The housing is his own psychedelic swirl pattern on heavy aluminum with controls for each pedal lit by LED lights. Tone, drive, and level controls for each side on one nonslip dual pedal are convenient when a stompbox is needed. He gets the razor sharp dive sounds from a DigiTech Whammy pedal with MIDI Control that mimics a Floyd Rose.
One of Steve Vai's most unusual guitars to date is the JEM2KDNA Ibanez, a limited edition of 300, that actually has some of his blood mixed with the paint. A special process was used to combine the elements to make the paint stick to the body permanently. Documentation in writing as well as pictorials of the mixation prove beyond a doubt that he is one with his instruments and wants to share himself, as well as his music, with the world.
~ Dave Quinn