Hi folks, Steve Vai here. AMA!
My short bio: Hi folks, Steve Vai here. I am an American guitarist, songwriter, singer, and producer who has sold over 15 million albums and toured the world for the last 35 years. I’ve played, recorded and toured with Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth, Whitesnake, Alcatrazz, etc (http://www.vai.com/discography-full/) - I have released solo records, DVDs, and performed on countless records, soundtracks and concerts. I’m here to answer any questions you may have about guitar, composing, orchestration, recording, distribution, technology, etc. My Proof: https://www.facebook.com/stevevai/posts/10153842731279026
There's too many to mention. But a recent quote that I remember and that I use is definitely worth sharing. Frank said, "You have to learn how to own and operate the word no."
He also said, "There's only two things to remember. Number 1: Don't stop and Number 2: Keep going."
Well folks I've gotta run. A huge thank you to everyone that stopped by today. Wish I could have gotten to everybody's questions. I look forward to doing this again sometime, and hope to see everyone on the road very soon!
STEVE!! What's your favourite Joe Satriani track (no, you can't pick all of em)?
Are there any specific exercises for increasing picking speed and accuracy that you recommend? I can finger pick decently but my picking is garbage. Thanks!
Too many to mention but the important thing is starting very slow and listening carefully to every note to make sure each is coming out clear and beautiful. If something comes out wrong you have to go back and work on it until it sounds perfect. Then increase the speed form there. Your right hand technique is very important. You need to focus on moving your wrist and fingers as little as possible but making sure the note is coming out beautiful. This way when you start getting faster, you don't have to move so much. I call that economy of motion.
Why a handle in your guitar, Mr Vai?
Surely it came with a case?
Because I knew out of all the unique elements that were introduced when that guitar came out, the handle was one no one would copy.
Are you better than Ralph Macchio in real life?
According to what you are expecting of me.
Hey Steve! I have 2 questions for you:
- What are the top 3 songs that you have the most fun playing on guitar? (From any artist, including yourself)
- Do you ever find yourself lacking inspiration or motivation to pick up your guitar and play? And what do you do to re-inspire yourself?
Thanks for doing this AMA! You've been a huge inspiration for me as a guitar player and musician. Keep up the great work!
- My next 3.
- I'm usually never not inspired to pick up and play. But sometimes uninspired things come out. When that happens, I put my focus deeper into every note and that usually does the trick. Another cool thing I can recommend, is whenever you come up with something that feels inspired, even a little piece of music or riff, try to capture it on some sort of device, like an iPhone, etc. If you find you're in a dry spell, if you go back and listen to something that felt inspired at the time, there's a good chance it can ignite a flame within you in that moment.
Hey Steve! I've been a fan of your insane guitar skills ever since I heard you play in the Halo 2 theme. Did Bungie approach you about taking a part in the soundtrack, or did you already have an interest in the series? A dream of mine is to get involved with making video game / movie soundtracks!
My friend Nile Rodgers was producing the soundcheck. I was in Seattle where he was recording and he asked if I would be interested. I wasn't sure I wanted to record for a video game. I called my kids and told them about the opportunity. I think it was the first time they thought how cool I was. I really enjoyed it and was happy to come back for the anniversary game.
If you could tell your 18 year old self anything what would it be ? I won't say much about being a fan and what not; just that you inspire...
"You're doing fine." And I would tell my 18 year old self that because that's the one thing I really needed to hear when I was 18 that nobody said. On top of that, advice is seldom relished. Especially when you're 18.
I've loved your playing since I was 10 and try to play guitar to a fraction of your ability. I love your signature JEMs, but am wondering something about them. Why have none of the models had a sustainer pickup like your own #2, FLO? I love the possibilities you can get with the sustainer, and think that tons of guitarists would love one in a JEM. Thanks again for the music!!
Good question. Any sustainers that I've purchased in the past have a tendency to be inconsistent. So for every 3 or 4 that I buy, usually one is useful. So I'm uncomfortable putting something in one of my signature models that may potentially be under par. But they're an easy add-on for anybody interested... Well, maybe not easy.
How are you on bass?
It's about as good as my slide playing... Which is about as good as my Italian... Which isn't really great.
Hey Steve! I don't really have any questions for you after spending most of my life reading about you and following your exploits.
Can you just say 'Hi' to me?
Hi, Steve! Your left front tooth used to be chipped, and I always wondered what the story was behind that! Wanna share? :D
In third grade, while standing in line out on the playground, I was holding a cigar box filled with Matchbox cars. Somebody hit the bottom of the box really hard and my favorite green racer shot up and hit me in the tooth and chipped it. I left it like that until I was about 45 years old and then I had it capped. Now I don't look like Jethro.. as much.
Do you think there's a chance for Crossroads 2? Jack Butler changed my life.
Jack Bulter sure hopes so because he wants to kick that little shit's ass.
Steve, how did you manage your anxieties during early years of your career, including fear of public speaking and performing, and how did you eventually overcome them?
There was two kinds of fears. One was naturally based in front of getting in front of people and being the best I could be. But the only fear there, was a concern that everything would go well and that people would appreciate what I'm doing. But that fear dwindled away because I realized that things go wrong sometimes, and you just deal with them if they do, when they happen. And eventually the fear of unacceptance went away because it's foolish to think you can please everybody. One way to circumvent fear of performing is to have the sincere desire to please yourself first, and put your attention in the present moment and nothing else. What I mean by that is, enjoy the process of playing the guitar when you're playing it. And don't let other thoughts enter. Because the only thing that creates fear is your own thoughts that you're allowing yourself to embrace.
Have you ever farted while playing?
The questions is... Have I never not farted while playing? No matter what anyone does or says about it, farts will always be funny. They make one of the funniest noises on the planet, it comes out of your ass, and it smells like...
Hey Steve. As your myth and legend have grown, is there anything you see written about you that you disagree with or refute?
No. Because anything that anyone writes is based on their perspective and everyone has a right to their own perspective. Having said that, I have seen things that were just in error like wrong information that is not opinion based. But thats common for all musicians. I don't get caught up in opinion any more. It took me awhile but the freedom in it is delicious.
Steve, how do you keep yourself feeling good, especially during / after rehearsals, soundchecks, shows and public appearances that would seem to drain a lot of physical and mental energy? You’re always constant, accurate, intense, relaxed, and you enjoy every moment. What are the keys to that?
The key is deciding what thoughts you're going to think about any situation. Within any job or relationship or creative environment, there is always what you're perceiving and if the conditions of your thoughts are more negative, then what you'll see in the world will correspond to the kinds of thoughts you're thinking. And that will be your truth. But there is a multitude of truths for any one situation. I just look for the truths in any situation that make me feel good, and then that becomes my experience. A lot has been written these days about the power of positive thinking, but it could never be underestimated, passé, or trendy. Positive thinking is the key to finding peace within yourself. But the only way to effectively embrace positive thoughts are by first recognizing in yourself the negative thoughts you've been imprisoned by.
Are you disappointed that your awesome riffs have yet to create a neon, rock-centric, time-traveling utopia?
Not if I'm the alien that you think I am. And how do you know I haven't done that?
I have just started to learn guitar at 28 & I was hoping that you had any tips for a late starter?
First tip: don't worry about being a late starter, and congratulate yourself for starting. Second tip: find the thing that you love the most about playing the guitar and throw yourself into it with joy. Third tip: don't worry about the future. Actually, don't worry about anything. If you find what you really like, and you invest yourself in it, you'll always enjoy playing. And that's always the biggest payoff no matter what age you're at when you pick up a guitar.
Steve - what is your LEAST favorite guitar to play? Who is someone you've always wanted to play with but haven't had the chance to?
Personal note - Jibboom, Frank and the rest of Ultra zone is one of my all-time always go to albums.
- One with no strings.
- I would love to sit in a room with Tom Waits and bang out some stuff.
Hi Steve! Really big fan, saw you in Glasgow a couple of years ago (please come back!) I've got a million questions to ask, but I've narrowed it down to three:
1)Out of all the guitars you've played, which is your favourite?
2)How do you approach songwriting? Do you just mess around until something appears or do you systematically use intervals to construct a tune?
3)Apparently you're an avid beekeeper. Do you ever play to your bees?
- I listen for an idea in my mind's ear and then I use any means necessary to bring it into the physical world.
- The only song they recognize is "Wind Beneath My Wings" and oddly enough, the last hive that I had was from Bette Midler's house. Maybe that's why.
Hey Steve! Do you ever miss Long Island?
Yes. I miss the fall and the spring. I miss New Yorkers themselves. I miss old friends and family and i miss the New York state of mind. I get back often enough for a fix.
Do you play sports?
I like to run, swim, bike, and lift weights but I am not a fan of competitive sports. The best way to get better at anything and remain feeling good is to compete against your own last accomplishment. When you see somebody in the world who may have more refined tools then you, instead of competing with them, you can use them as a source of inspirations. It is a better and healthier way to get better at anything.
Happy 25th Passion and Warfare Anniversary!! What about the Passion adn Warfare 25th Anniversary Tour dates? Are you coming to Europe? Can you tell us approximmately when?
Thanks for stepping by!
Thanks. I working on a 25th Anniversary package release that will come out middle of next... so more like a 26th anniversary but there will real surprises in it. And yes I am looking to do a Passion and Warfare world tour where I play the entire record. There will also be other production surprises on the road if I can swing them. They are pretty ambitious.
Who is your favourite guitarist ever? What is the one album you'd recommend for guitar players?
Allan Holdsworth... The album would be according to what style the like. For me Jeff Beck's 'Blow by Blow' is one of my favorite guitar albums.
Do you still need a fan on stage without your glorious long hair to blow around and look amazing?
Yep! Because even short hair looks amazing when it's being blown around.
Do you remember when I played your guitar on stage at wolverhampton civic during some audience participation act?
Ah YOU were that guy...
I saw you play at a G3 concert a couple years ago and I'm totally convinced that you are either an Alien or a Cyborg as your guitaring abilities were simply not of this world.
If you are an Alien, which planet are you from?
If you're a Cyborg, I don't know where John Connor is.
Technically, we're all aliens. I'm an alien but I'm from Earth. And we could all be cyborgs too. Perhaps someone else's experiment. And it doesn't matter.
Hi Steve! Thanks for doing this AMA. I have a few questions:
- From your experience, what are the biggest differences between writing music for guitar and composing for the orchestra?
- Are you planning to write more music for the orchestra?
- What advice would you give to beginning composers?
With an orchestra you have such a vast palette of colors to choose from and have a lot more ability to make harmonic and melodic power and depth. Whereas even though the guitar at the right volume can devastate an orchestra you only have a limited number of strings. Composing for an orchestra makes for a completely unique creative experience.
Yes I do plan to do a lot more. Focusing on getting the most out of my fingers now before they start to revolt.
Exercise your inner ear by transcending technique and music academics because that comes first. The ideas you come up with are paramount and the way you note and understand musical notation is just a tool. At night before bed, I like to sit and listen to music in my head and how it would sound. I don't think about notation at that point. Gardner Read's Music Notation and Alfred Blatter's Instrumentation and Orchestration are both great tools to help you get your ideas to the manuscript paper.
Hey Steve! What are some recent releases from current artists that you've enjoyed? Anything that might surprise us?
I like the new Sonny Landreth record. I like the new Zappa record that was released by the estate, it's called "Dance Me This". I bought the last Lee Ritenour record, and that was a first for me.
Steve, what young guitarists out there do you think are ready to carry the torch once you decide to retire? Any promising young talent out there?
Anybody that really loves the instrument and really finds their own voice on it, which is happening all the time, but i cant point to anyone particular. It could be you.
Hi Steve, what was the most exotic place/venue where you have ever played?
It was in Greece on top of a mountain surrounded by desert as far as you could see. There was a village on top of the mountain with a stage built into the rocks. The audience was amazing. I think it was on the Real Illusions tour.
What is your favorite color?
Alien Love Secrets Green
Hey Steve! I actually just bought my first guitar about a week ago and was wondering, how did you get started playing the guitar?
The first time I saw somebody play the guitar that I remember, had an impact on me. I was 5 years old and the kid that was playing was 9 years old. That's when I knew I wanted to play the guitar. But I didn't actually pick it up and start playing until I was 12, after I heard Led Zeppelin. And I used to watch the Partridge Family on tv and especially Danny Bonaduce. And I thought hey, if he can do it...
Steve, which are your favorite keyboard synthesizers? You have very distinct synth sounds on your recordings since “Skyscraper”.
They've changed constantly. But I do have a gigantic bank of samples that I migrate from one sample player to another. These days I use Kontakt within Pro Tools and many of the libraries that are made for it. But I also create my own libraries of sounds. As far as keyboards go, I usually go right to whatever the latest Korg keyboard is.
Hey Steve! I'm a huge fan and super pumped that you're answering all these questions. I've just got one. According to the liner notes of Flex-Able Leftovers, you buried a handful of coins on the beach in San Sebastian, Spain back in the 80's. Do you know if anyone has found the coins yet?
I've buried multiple things around the world, just for kicks. And I have little treasure maps for them. None have been posted and nothing that I know of has been found. One of my earrings is on the top of Mt. Shasta. There's stuff buried on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. There's things on the islands of Rottnest Island off of the coast of Perth. In the bowels of Russia, in Siberia, Rio, and many others. But as of right now, they're my secret alone.
If you could go back in time and have been a fly on the wall in the studio to see one album being made, which would it be?
Good question... Probably Bone Machine by Tom Waits.
When did you start playing guitar and for how long have you been playing?
I started when I was 12 or 13 and I am 55 now.
Hi Steve, With all yourr history and accomplishements is there still a dream project that you'd want to do?
Far too many to mention. Having said that, I feel great gratitude for all that I have accomplished. I never thought I'd accomplish so much. So anything from here on is gravy.
When did you realise that you were very good on the guitar?
When the day comes that I stop feeling like I'm not good enough and I hope that day never comes. I enjoy striving and thats what it is all about.
Are you a fan of the technical death metal genre and if so are there any bands you're at the moment?
No. I might be if I exposed myself to some of it. But whatever you allow into yourself, has a tendency to transform you into it. And most of the music that I've heard in that genre has an emotional dynamic that just doesn't feel good to me.
What's your favorite Frank Zappa story we haven't heard?
EDIT: been a huge fan of you and you're playing since getting into Zappa and seeing you in Crossroads
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