Take a tour through Steve Vai’s career-defining guitars followed by an in-depth gear interview with the man himself

Steve Vai
Following Steve Vai's impromtu appearance during Thomann's tour rig interview with techs Doug and Thomas, the guitarist takes up the reins and delves into his amps and effects with presenter Kris Barocsi (Image credit: Thomann/YouTube)

Much like his music, Steve Vai’s guitar collection is in a state of constant evolution.

Unveiled at the 1987 NAMM show, his Japanese-made Ibanez JEM signature guitar signalled the birth of a modern classic.

Since then, the design has been tweaked into new and interesting areas. But testament to its winning formula the apple never seems to fall too far from the tree.

Featuring a host of instruments from Vai’s decades-long career, Thomann have released a new video in which guitar techs Doug and Thomas share some rare insights into these iconic axes.

Here’s a rundown of just some of the incredible electric guitars in Vai’s current rig…

Ibanez JEM Evo

Ibanez JEM Evo

Evo (Image credit: Future)

Kicking off in style with Vai’s treasured 1992 Ibanez JEM named Evo, guitar tech Doug explains how he sets up the instrument using a regular .009 to .042 set of electric guitar strings while measuring in increments of 1/32-inch.

“He doesn’t like very low action,” says Doug. 

“He likes to really be able to grab the note.”

Ibanez JSM100

Ibanez JSM100

Ibanez JSM100 (Image credit: Ibanez)

This John Scofield dual humbucker signature semi featuring a figured Anigre top, back and sides is used by Vai for a single song called Little Pretty (from his most recent studio album, Inviolate).

“Steve really likes the way this guitar sounds. And for that song, it’s perfect,” enthuses Doug, who sets the instrument up with a slightly heavier .046 bottom string.

Ibanez JEM Flo & Flo III

Ibanez JEM Flo

Flo (Image credit: Thomass/YouTube)

One of the oldest members of Vai’s guitarsenal, Flo has made a reappearance with a newer neck.

According to Doug, this stock Ibanez neck has been lightly scalloped and fretted with EVO Gold wire.

Ibanez JEM Flo III

Flo III (Image credit: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

Flo III is one of the most treasured electric guitars in Vai’s collection.

“There are two JEMs that I reach for,” Vai recently told Guitarist magazine. “One is the one I call Flo III: it has a sustainer and it’s the one I’ve used the most in the last 10 years.

“The other would be Evo [see above], which doesn’t have a sustainer and has a pretty different sound. But they’re both the same guitar, basically.”

Ibanez Onyx PIA

Ibanez Onyx PIA

Ibanez Onyx PIA (Image credit: Future)

The Onyx PIA, meaning “Paradise in Art” (also named after Vai’s wife, Pia) is an advanced version of the guitarist’s signature JEM guitars.

“These have stainless steel frets,” highlights Doug. “You can’t wear them out. They’re very durable and they have a very glassy feel for vibrato.”

This particular guitar has been fitted with a Sustainiacsomething Vai is still experimenting with having used Fernandez Sustainers for many years.

Ibanez JEM Bo

This guitar gets a live outing on the Inviolate track Avalancha and is tuned to drop C.

“Steve lightened up his gauge for drop C,” reveals Doug. “He always used to use .010 to .052. It’s .010 to .046 right now.”

Martin Sims: he was the first guy in the UK who came up with LEDs in the neck in 1999,” adds Vai’s long-time guitar tech Thomas Nordegg.

Ibanez PIA Envy

Ibanez PIA Envy

Ibanez PIA Envy (Image credit: Thomann/YouTube)

Dubbed Envy (after the finish Envy Green), this Ibanez PIA has also been fitted with fretboard LEDs.

“This one is set up for Bad Horsie,” points out Doug, referring to the famous track from Vai’s 1995 release Alien Love Secrets.

Fitted with a Sustainiac it also has a slide conveniently attached to the back of the headstock.

Interspersed with live performance footage the film later delves into Vai’s mind-blowing array of guitar amps and effects.

And who better to explain it than Vai himself?

Rod Brakes

Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar WorldGuitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.