Watch John Petrucci and Zakk Wylde jam onstage for the first time ever as they dial up the shred on BLS’s Suicide Messiah

Zakk Wylde and John Petrucci
(Image credit: YouTube/MsBnzz)

John Petrucci’s Guitar Universe 4.0 took place this weekend and kicked off with a bit of electric guitar history as Petrucci and Zakk Wylde performed live for the first time ever, teaming up on an extended rendition of Black Label Society's Suicide Messiah.

Billed as an event for guitar players of all age, John Petrucci’s Guitar Universe is four days of “Non-stop rock ’n’ roll guitar”, masterclasses, beach time (it is in Fort Lauderdale, FL), entertainment, barbecue, and perhaps group therapy for guitar superfans. This year’s lineup bore testament to the Dream Theater guitarist’s convening powers, featuring the likes of Lari Basilio, Ola Englund, Polyphia’s Scott LePage and Tim Henson, Plini, Guthrie Govan, Fredrik Akesson, Tosin Abasi and more. 

That Zakk Wylde was in attendance as special guest tells you everything you need to know about the JPGU’s pull. He is currently on tour with Pantera, supporting Metallica, and the day after his appearance he would hot-tail it up to New Jersey to play the MetLife Stadium before 80,000 people.

Abasi and Petrucci, of course, had just come off the end of the epic Dreamsonic tour, which saw Animals As Leaders and Dream Theater joined by Devin Townsend for the hottest prog metal guitar ticket of the year – highlights of which included Abasi and Townsend joining Dream Theater onstage to somehow make The Spirit Carries On even more epic. Petrucci and Wylde? 

This, remarkably, was something new, but you wouldn’t know it to see it. Granted, Suicide Messiah, from 2005’s Mafia, is a primal riffer, Cro-Magnon biker metal informed by Black Sabbath. There was no way JP was going to trouble locking in with the riff. 

Nailing the solo, though, playing it in lockstep with Wylde was pure shred Jedi, and after the mid section, where Dave LaRue on bass guitar assumes responsibility for keeping the melody going, it was time for Petrucci and Wylde to stretch out, Petrucci taking the first solo, Wylde the next, both sending us back to the woodshed to think again. 

Petrucci sure makes that Ernie Ball Music Man Majesty 6 sing in this fan-shot clip from the event. His tip for making solos stand out? Speaking to MusicRadar in 2016, he said melody – and maybe a little romanticism – was key.

“I’ve always employed a melodic style with my leads, placing strong emphasis on infusing romantic sensibilities into what I’m trying to say. Those big, epic melodies come from influences like Pink Floyd, Journey, Marillion… bands that have these guitar parts that are just soaring!” he said.

Technique and theory will play a part. Once you have that down, however, saucing your lead playing with a delay pedal can add the sort of grandeur you are looking for.

“To get that big soaring sound, I must admit, I’m a sucker for delay,” said Petrucci. “It’s a big part of my tone, this stereo left/right delay that’s been offset by a dotted-eighth rhythm or one side could be 600 milliseconds and the other might be 300. Whenever you hear me solo, you’re gonna hear that delay sound!”

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.