10 questions for Joe Satriani

The virtuoso's virtuoso on first, oldest and most valued guitars, and more

Joe Satriani
"Turn off the metronome and stop trying to play your scales at 220 beats per minute."

1. What was your first guitar and when did you get it?

"A Hagstrom III. I came home one afternoon after finding out that Hendrix had died. I had quit the football team, and I announced to my family that I was gonna be a guitarist. And my older sister, who had just started teaching at a local high school, stood up and said, 'I'll give him my first pay cheque.'

"There was this white Hagstrom in the local music shop, that for some reason, to me, looked like what Hendrix played. I was so naïve then, I didn't know what a Fender Stratocaster was. It was $124 – that price sticks in my mind."

2. The building's burning down: what one guitar from your collection would you save?

"Oh, what a horrible thing to think about. I wouldn't think for one second about any material object. I'd think about any human beings, then animals, then myself. All the rest is replaceable.

"But to play along with the fantasy, I'd probably pick the guitar I played most in that last week. I'm in my studio right now, and I'm seeing the original orange prototype [Ibanez JS2410] that we put out a year or two ago. I'd probably grab that one."

"I'm down to about four old Strats, old Gibsons, old Martins. It's less than 20 vintage guitars, as opposed to, let's say, 50"

3. What's the oldest guitar you have?

"Currently, it's a 1948 Martin 000-21. I used to have a ton of vintage guitars, but they started to really bug me. I don't like being a collector.

"I don't want to be a guy that's surrounded by all these mouldy things, so I've gotten rid of about three-quarters of my vintage stuff. I'm down to about four old Strats, old Gibsons, old Martins. It's less than 20 vintage guitars, as opposed to, let's say, 50, like, 10 years ago."

4. What song would you play on acoustic round the campfire?

"I'd play every Rolling Stones song that's in an open G tuning. It's like, that material and that tuning, they were just made for each other. Led Zeppelin III has a lot of beautiful stuff that's very down-home, too. Y'know, you can play it out in the middle of a field and it still translates.

"Some of the fancier stuff like The Rain Song, I was never really attracted to it – it just sounded too worked-out for me – but Friends was something that always appealed to my core personality."

5. When did you last practise and what did you play?

"Well, I've been practising for the last couple of weeks, ready for Acoustic-4-A-Cure. It's a benefit concert for the children's cancer hospital here in San Francisco, with Sammy Hagar and James Hetfield, and Linda Perry and Chad Smith are gonna drop by.

"The guys at Ibanez made me a JS 12-string acoustic, so I've been playing Jefferson Airplane songs, Led Zeppelin, Chickenfoot…"

"Man, I hate changing strings"

6. When did you last change your own strings?

"Man, I hate changing strings. There should be some sort of iPhone app. I only ever do it when I have to. Very often, my engineers will go, 'What the hell guitar was that and why does it sound so funny?' And I'm like, 'Well, the strings are four months old, and I didn't bother changing them before I played that solo.' But new strings can be a problem. They can be too bright. You know what? I haven't changed my strings since December 2014."

7. What advice would you give your younger self about guitar if you had the chance?

"I'd tell myself, 'Turn off the metronome and stop trying to play your scales at 220 beats per minute.' All those anxieties you have when you're young and you're practising, y'know?

"It takes a long time to get over that, but eventually you grow up and you go, 'Oh, what an idiot. I've been spinning my wheels. I should have just been writing songs.'"

8. If you could change one thing about a recording you've been on, what would it be and why?

"There was one thing that I remember was just too damn loud, which was the first guitar solo on Big Bad Moon, from Flying In A Blue Dream. I remember thinking that when we finished mixing it, but [producer] John Cuniberti said, 'That is so exciting.'

"I remember, right after I mastered the record, I went over to Steve Vai's house, and we're playing it, and that solo came on, and Steve's hand couldn't have reached any faster for that volume knob."

9. Is there a guitar, or piece of gear, that you regret letting go?

"That Hagstrom III, I wound up selling to a student of mine who used to take lessons with Steve Vai. The pair used to come together and pool their money to take lessons.

"But a few years ago, when I was on tour with Chickenfoot, a fan had heard the story and presented me with a perfect replica of that guitar. Somehow, she had found the perfect example of the right year and model."

10. What's the closest you've come to quitting music?

"Every night, when I play the last note, I feel so played-out. I'm crawling onto the tour bus and I'm thinking, 'There's got to be something else, so that you don't kill your hands and body with this travelling and volume.' But then, eight hours later, I'm dying to jump on stage again.

"It's hopeless. I'm a musician. That's all there is to it"

"So it's a short-lived little moment of desperation, where I'm like, 'I could be making croissants in the south of France,' or 'I could go back to school and become an astrophysicist.' But, no. It's hopeless. I'm a musician. That's all there is to it."

Joe Satriani's new album, Shockwave Supernova, is out on 24 July. He tours the UK in November – for info, see www.satriani.com

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