Even a guitarist as advanced as Joe Satriani can learn how to play in a different way. © Daniel Knighton/ZUMA Press/Corbis
"Each time I go to record a new album, I feel as if I'm setting up a test for myself," says Joe Satriani. "How can I do something I haven't done before? How can I not repeat myself? It's hard, but it's fun. You have to try to break through boundaries, even if you don't know what they are."
During the making of his last solo record, Black Swans And Wormhole Wizards, and Chickenfoot's recently released second album, Chickenfoot III, Satriani searched for certain tones, which led to him altering his playing technique on a couple of tracks.
"In trying to make some songs have a lot of body in their individual guitar sounds, I found that the pressure I applied to the strings came into play more than amp or effects settings," Satriani says. "There's a Chickenfoot song called Something Going Wrong, and on that one I've got a 12-string acoustic, a six-string banjo, an Ibanez prototype with three single-coils, and a vintage 1959 335. That's a lot of different guitars and tones all fighting for space.
"While working on that track, I pressed down on the strings lightly with my fretting hand but was very aggressive with my right hand. I got a very different result than if I let the same amount of energy flow through both hands. Usually, guitarists do one of two things – they fret softly and pick softly, or they fret hard and pick hard – but I went somewhere else."
Satriani first utilized this approach on his solo song Wind In The Trees. "That track definitely changed things," he says. "I wanted a baritone sax kind of tone from my guitar, and I started to put a lot of thought into the aggression I put into my fretting hand versus my picking hand. Again, I fretted lightly with the left hand and picked harder with the right.
"I really like the sounds I got on these two cuts. It was very exciting and eye-opening to control my hands in dissimilar ways. I'll probably try to do this some more in the studio, and I'll mix up the ways I do it, too. I might pick softly and fret hard, and of course, there's varying degrees to interchange everything."
According to Satch, this manner of playing can have a place on stage, as well. "During my last solo tour – and you can see and hear this in up coming Satchurated film and DVD – I did put this level of attention to detail during the set. My solo shows are where I can do that, because I'm usually not jumping around, and I can work on certain subtleties.
"Chickenfoot's live shows are another matter altogether, only because I'm on stage with these crazy individuals who couldn't give a shit about how I fret the guitar. [laughs] They just want to have a great time, and they want me to go as nuts as possible! And God bless 'em – it's nice to be shaken out of your tree.
"It's been cool, though, figuring out a new angle to my playing. You never know how it'll happen, but when it does it's amazing."