5 minutes alone with Yngwie Malmsteen: “Some people misunderstand what I’m doing; they believe I’m an egomaniac”

(Image credit: Austin Hargrave)

Returning this year with Blue Lightning, shred lord Yngwie Malmsteen ponders breakthroughs and misunderstandings.

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“It was a cheap steel-string acoustic that I got for my fifth birthday. I don’t know the brand but I started modifying it - putting a pickup in there, a whammy bar and all this shit that totally ruined it. Then a little later, my older brother realised I was getting pretty good and started getting jealous, so he bought a Strat copy... 

"But he was never home, so I got to play the guitar all the time, through his wah pedal and all his gear. I was only seven or eight years old! My mum saw this and decided to buy me the guitar from my brother and he got a Les Paul. Eventually I started to own good guitars, but those were my first.”

Say what you want

I don’t have a band; I’m not in a band. I look at it more like a painter who locks the door of the room and just paints

“There are quite a few misconceptions about me. I think some people misunderstand what I’m doing; they believe I’m an egomaniac. The truth is, I’m a very focused person. My way of creating things is unlike rock ’n’ roll musicians. I don’t have a band; I’m not in a band. 

"I look at it more like a painter who locks the door of the room and just paints. I do the foreground, I do the background. I frame it. Then I take it outside and say, ‘Here’s my painting!’. I don’t let anyone else put their paintbrush near it. People might think that’s an egomaniac thing - no, it’s an artist thing; I’m a creator.”

Riding with the king

“If I could pick any guitarist alive to jam with, Eric Clapton would be good. Or maybe Eddie Van Halen; I love that guy but he doesn’t say hi to me. I don’t really know what he’s doing these days, so probably Clapton then! 

"I think the first kind of blues I ever heard was that first John Mayall And The Bluesbreakers record. And then what he did later with Cream on songs like Steppin’ Out was also really good. I’ve never met him, which is too bad because we’re both Strat and Ferrari men... he knows the deal, ha ha!”

How to win friends and influence people

“It depends on where you are coming from, what you want to do and how good you want to be. What are you aiming for? I’ve found being focused is a very important thing. There will always be a lot of bullshit going on in the sides; the less of that distraction you have the better. 

"I’m not preaching to anybody, but I don’t drink, smoke or do anything. I’m clean-living, I wasn’t always, though I have been for the last 15 years. That makes me function at my top level all the time. I can stay focused through the distractions. There’s only one way to find yourself and that’s your own way.”

Break on through (to the other side)

I started playing the day I saw Jimi Hendrix on TV and no one taught me how to do anything

“I’m not sure if I’ve had one major breakthrough, but I guess there were some watershed moments. I started playing the day I saw Jimi Hendrix on TV and no one taught me how to do anything. 

"Everybody in my family was a musician; they might have shown me a C chord at one point but that’s about it. I realised I could figure it out myself pretty quick and within days I had some shit already down... at seven years old! Later on I heard Niccolò Paganini, who pointed me in a new direction - to apply virtuoso violin techniques on guitar, which had never been done before.”

Breaking the bank

“My most expensive guitar? That’s hard... I own the first 10 Fender Strats [produced] during that first year, in March 1954, and all made by hand. Then later in October, they started to get the equipment to make them by machine. I have ’55s, ’56s, I have them all, plus a shitload of Les Pauls, Flying Vs and more. Actually, I’ve been offered a lot of money for [prized ’72 Strat] The Duck - it could be that!”

Yngwie Malmsteen’s new album, Blue Lightning, is out now via Mascot

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