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The Man With The Platinum Touch.

His resume is one of the most impressive in rock. He brought the world Green Day and gave the word “Dookie” new meaning. His records have sold nearly 200 million copies and Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, My Chemical Romance, Kid Rock, Avril Lavigne, Fleetwood Mac, The Goo Goo Dolls, David Cook, Paramore, Hot Hot Heat, [...]

The Master of Space and Time

Thomas Lang has electrified and inspired musicians around the world with his progressive hand/foot techniques and ability to play independent linear patterns across the kit. Arguably one of the most active touring and recording artist of his generation, Lang has performed on over 250 Albums, working with notable artists such as Robbie Williams, The Clash, [...]

The Axesmith: Acoustic Guitar String Change

I’ve been changing guitar strings for decades. Smugly, I had always placed the degree of difficulty somewhere between tying my shoes and pumping gas. That all changed when I met Joey Brasler, now one of our top guitar merchants. He took a sad look at a Baby Taylor I brought into work, rolled his eyes, [...]

“Holy Wars” with Dave Mustaine of Megadeth

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Steve Vai

Steve Vai

Steve Vai helped establish the shred guitar phenomenon in the Eighties, but he transcended the genre from the very beginning and became a legendary guitarist in his own right. Whereas many Eighties shredders have become footnotes in music history, Vai has remained as popular and influential as ever thanks to his adventurous, exploratory spirit, which constantly reveals new possibilities for the guitar.

His recent albums like Real Illusions: Reflections and Sound Theories Vols. 1-2 showcase his accomplished compositional skills, while his latest live album, Where the Wild Things Are, proves that his phenomenal playing skills are the real deal and not the result of studio magic.

Steve Vai's landmark 1990 solo album Passion and Warfare was a monumental breakthrough in more ways than one. Prior to the album's release, Vai was best known as the hottest gun-for-hire around who played guitar with artists like Frank Zappa and David Lee Roth and filled the lead guitarist role with bands like Alcatrazz (where he replaced Yngwie Malmsteen) and Whitesnake (which he joined for an album and tour for a reputed one million dollar fee). Passion and Warfare boldly announced the arrival of Vai as a creative and visionary artist entirely on his own terms.

Passion and Warfare also introduced guitarists to one of the most influential instruments of the last two decades—the seven-string solid body guitar. Vai worked closely with Ibanez on the development of the Universe UV7 and UV77 models, which made their debut in 1990, as well as every other Universe seven-string model introduced over the following years. Initially the Universe attracted a cult following amongst players who appreciated its extended range, but the model reached peak popularity when nu-metal bands like Korn, Fear Factory and Limp Bizkit adopted it as well in the mid and late Nineties.

"The Universe originated during a very simple moment," recalls Vai. "I was talking about guitars with someone from Ibanez and he said that he had an eight-string guitar. I thought the neck on an eight-string guitar would be too big, but I imagined that a seven-string guitar would be playable. He mentioned Uli Jon Roth (formerly with the Scorpions) and some jazz players like George Van Eps who played seven-string guitars, and I thought that we could take my signature JEM model and put a seventh string on it. It took about two minutes to come up with the idea."

Fast-forward to today, and Vai and Ibanez are now celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Universe seven-string guitar. "I knew that as soon as we introduced the Universe people would use it in various genres," he says. "I knew that some kid sitting in a basement somewhere was going to start making records and use that low seventh string to create a completely different evolution of metal music. I remember the day I heard this music on the radio and I said, they're using a seven string. It was incredibly heavy, gorgeous, rich, melodic music. I pulled my car over and just listened. I found out it was Korn's first record. Then the floodgates opened up and the seven-string defined a genre. People still use it today, but in many different ways. It's changing, as things in music always will."

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Universe model Ibanez has introduced the UV77REMC Universe reissue, which features the same unique multi-color swirl finish found on the original UV77 guitars. Ibanez is making only 60 of these very special instruments, 16 of which Guitar Center is proud to offer to its customers.

"The fact that the Universe has been viable for 20 years is just extraordinary to me," says Vai. "One of the reasons why my Universe and JEM models are so popular is because they've transcended my appeal as an artist. If the Universe and JEM were just signature guitars based on me as an artist they would never have lived for so long.

"We're always looking for crazy things we can do with the guitar that will make it unique," Vai continues. "The multi-color swirl finish is one example of that. Darren Johansen had this process of dipping the guitars in vats of colored paint, and every one would come out different. The reissue uses the same process, so no two are exactly alike. Making it is a very arduous process. It's not something you can do on an assembly line. It's easier to do that finish when you're only making a few of those guitars, and it also makes it highly collectible."

Several of Vai's Ibanez JEM and Universe models have featured some very unique finishes over the years. One of his favorites is the floral pattern JEM77FP model, which used the same fabric as a set of curtains that Vai has in his home. "The fabric underneath the finish does something to the sound," he says. "I've always thought they were the best-sounding JEMs."

The JEM2K-DNA, introduced in 2000, features a multi-color swirl finish similar to the UV77REMC with one extra-special added ingredient—Vai's blood—added to the vats of paint. "You can see the actual blood in the swirls. It wasn't like a KISS comic where a drop of blood was added to the ink. I went to the hospital and had several pints of blood taken out. Maybe a hundred years from now if they ever get cloning perfected and they get one of those DNA guitars they can make another Steve Vai. Maybe that guy can get his music on the radio."

Vai's love of guitars is essentially the equivalent of Hugh Hefner's love of women—he admires them all. "I love all of the guitars in this room," he says as his eyes lustfully scan the guitars hanging from Guitar Center's walls. "Every time I see a guitar I feel like a kid at Christmas. Guitars are gorgeous, beautiful creations and instruments of expression—every one of them. They're a cathartic expression and tool of self-discovery. They resonate with their own little vibrations whenever I see them. I love coming to Guitar Center because it gives me this feeling of joy. There are oceans of gorgeous instruments here. It's almost too much to take in."

However, he's somewhat monogamous when it comes to the guitars that he has "settled down" with: "The reason why I've had such a long relationship with Ibanez is because they created an instrument that's a reflection of my idiosyncrasies when I play. When I find something that works, I like to keep it working. I was looking for something with 24 frets and a whammy bar that would let you pull notes up as well as drop them down. There are so many unique elements to my JEM and Universe guitars that don't seem unique anymore because a lot of instruments have incorporated those features over the years.

"I wanted to be able to play freely up the neck," he continues, "so I chopped out a deeper cutaway. I like the way Strats look, but I wanted something sexier so I designed the body with sharper edges, which is just more attractive to me. The pickup configuration is unique. It allows you to get all of the standard humbucker tones, but we devised a switch that also split the pickups to produce those clean, sweet Strat-style tones that I love. I wanted to scallop the last four frets because I always found it really hard to get under the strings when you're playing way up the neck. I moved the volume control, and I wanted only one tone control. We even designed the jack so your cable doesn't get pulled out when you accidentally step on it. It's a practical application, but nobody else was doing that when we designed the JEM. Then one day I decided to put a seventh string on it. It wasn't a unique idea. Seven-string guitars existed before, but no one popularized them in rock and roll."

The Ibanez JEM and Universe models are just a few examples of the many ways Vai has shared his experience and knowledge with fellow guitarists over the years. In addition to playing on stages all over the world, he also enjoys teaching and giving constructive advice to aspiring players through his Alien Guitar Secrets seminars. Unlike many guitar clinics where attendees simply learn to imitate a few licks, the Alien Guitar Secrets seminars cover a much broader perspective.

"I talk about things that I feel are most important," says Vai. "You can learn things like technique, where to put your fingers, and music theory in a million different places. I can talk about that stuff if somebody is interested, but the real issue to me is the mental approach to playing an instrument. Without the right attitude you won't even pick up the instrument. When I look back at my career, I had several pivotal moments of clarity or epiphanies. When I explain them it can inspire other people, so that's what I talk about the most. How do you make a record, sell it, and become successful? How do you discover your own voice on the instrument? Should I become a musician? How do you discover God on your instrument? These are the burning questions, and I do my best to answer them or give constructive advice."

Steve will be participating in a very special upcoming Guitar Center Sessions event where attendees can seek his wisdom and advice in person. Even if you don't live near a Guitar Center you still may be able to attend as Guitar Center is holding a competition that will give several aspiring musicians a chance to participate.

"I enjoy speaking to young guitar players and musicians," Steve says about the upcoming Sessions event. "I've had a wonderful career and I've been blessed. I've achieved much more than I ever thought I would. I've toured the world many times. I've made many records. I know the business and the studio intimately. I have a lot of knowledge and experience that I can share with people who haven't been through all of this and are fascinated with it."

Vai's enthusiasm and passion for the guitar is so infectious that attendees are certain to walk away from the Sessions event with a new appreciation for the instrument. One of the reasons why Vai continues to feel inspired is because other players feel so inspired by him and his contributions to the guitar.

"I've been with Ibanez for 23 years now," he says. "We're about to celebrate the 77,777th JEM guitar sold, and people are still interested in it. When I designed the guitar and Ibanez said that other people might want to play my guitar too, I wondered why because this guitar was so personal to me. But it also has a lot of practical features, and that resonates with people. I had a vision, and that was the important thing. If Ibanez never made me another guitar, I would still have this guitar and play it all the time."

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