TOOLS OF THE TRADE: Ibanez Jem, Carvin Legacy amps, Morley Bad Horsie wah, Eventide H3000
KEY ALBUMS: Flex-Able, Passion and Warfare, Real Illusions: Reflections
SIGNATURE SONGS: "For the Love of God" "The Attitude Song," "Juice"
HIDDEN GEM: "Eugene's Trick Bag"
HALLMARK: "Talking" guitar, Zappa-esque phrasing
Aside from his mentor Frank Zappa, Steve Vai may be the most eclectic, daring, and mind-boggling guitarist of our time. Simply said, Vai can do anything with a guitar—he can probably even cook you breakfast on it.
To put Vai's versatility and cops into perspective, you need only look at some of the shoes he has filled as a hired gun. When Yngwie Malmsteen left Alcatrazz, Vai stepped in to shred. When Van Halen broke up, singer David Lee Roth found his new right-hand man in Vai. And when Whitesnake's David Coverdale was looking for a new guitarist with badass chops and rock-star stage presence to match, yep, you guessed it—he hired Vai. And all along, Vai maintained a brilliant solo career as an outlet for his creative zest.
While Vai is more than capable of searing scalar shred, he has earned his cred by producing twisted and warped sounds not typically associated with the guitar. A short list of his unusual techniques include pulling strings off the neck to produce large-interval leaps; whammy-bar abuse resulting in hiccups, warbles, and other gurgling goodies; and of course, his trademark "talking guitar" as heard in the intro to Roth's "Yankee Rose" and on the final track of Flex-Able.
Vai has made as big an impact on guitar gear as he has on technique. In 1987, when he designed his signature "Jem" guitar with Ibanez, who would have guessed that the related Ibanez RG series of guitars would become the second-best selling guitar line of the past 20 years? Vai also helped design his signature Carvin Legacy amp, Morley Bad Horsie wah pedal, and brought harmonizing effects mass-market appeal.