Zakk Wylde recently burst into town on an international jaunt to show off his three new signature guitars: the Gibson Zakk Wylde Les Paul BFG Buzzsaw and Bullseye and the Epiphone Graveyard Disciple. Zakk’s departure from Ozzy Osbourne’s band this year has been well documented, so I thought it would be fun to instead focus on Zakk’s new axes. Oh and um, warning: if you’re offended by salty language, you might wanna skip this interview, ok?
I Heart Guitar: Zakk! How ya been?
Zakk: Everything’s going good, man. We did an instore the other day, now I’m just hanging out with the rest of the Sydney chapter of Black Label. Just chillin’ out today, doing a batch of interviews, hanging out with the guys from Guitarist magazine over here. So everything’s cool, man. Heading back to the States tomorrow, have the holidays with the kids, then fire up the Black Label machine in January, start working on the new album. So that’s about it, brother.
Zakk: Oh yeah! We actually had one day that we could actually go sightseeing, so we went up to the Great Wall and then the Forbidden City. But usually there’s never any time to go anywhere because you’re workin’, you know what I mean? Most of the time, especially when I was drinking it was like ‘Let’s go sightseeing,’ but it’s like ‘Dude, if we’ve got a day off you and I are gonna go hit an Irish pub,’ you know what I mean?
IHG: You gave us quite a scare a few months ago!
Zakk: Oh yeah, totally, man. Between the blood clots and all that shit… we were out on the road with Mudvayne and Static-X on the Pedal to the Metal tour and we were having a blast out on that thing. Then next thing you know I’m sitting there hanging out and my leg was friggin’ killing me, my left leg behind my knee. I just figured maybe I’d pulled my calf muscle, I’d pulled something behind my knee. It wasn’t like I fell or anything, like maybe I dislocated my knee or fucked up my ankle up or anything. It wasn’t like I was doing David Lee Roth splits off the drum riser. I’d be icing down my leg and everything like that… just in the middle of the night it was a major production to take a leak. After that, we had like a 24-hour drive and I said ‘Before we do this, I just wanna get an ultrasound…’ the guy goes ‘Dude, you’ve got two huge blood clots behind your knee.’ I was like ‘Dude, you fuckin’ kidding me?’ He says, ‘No, do you do a lot of travel?’ I said ‘Well yeah, of course. I’m either on a tour bus or I’m flying or I’m on a ferry or something. I’m always travelling. I’m a musician, that’s what we do for a living.’ He said usually airline pilots get this shit, or truck drivers, you know what I mean? I said I’m not usually stationary, I can move around on a tour bus – it’s not like I’m driving the damn thing. But he said that’s probably where I got it from. I said ‘Would drinking have anything to do with this?’ He just goes, ‘No dude, if anything drinking was thinning your blood.’ I said ‘Well good, alcohol is a good thing,’ and my wife says ‘You’re fucken’ dreaming, buddy-boy. The bar’s closed for you, jackass.’ So I’m takin’ this Coumadin shit, and I had to get myself shots and everything. I haven’t even been drinking the last three months or whatever. I haven’t even had a beer, because if you drink alcohol on this shit you start pissin’ blood out your ass and your dick.
IHG: You don’t need that!
Zakk: Yeah, I’m like, fuck that, it’s a pain in the ass.
IHG: Well let’s talk about the new guitars. I saw one of the new BFG models the other day at Allans in Melbourne and it seemed like a really cool stripped down axe.
Zakk: About 10 years ago I got a prototype up at the house for the BFG guitars. Mine was more like corrugated cardboard and it wasn’t as chambered out as the ones they have now, but I said it would be killer if it had no binding, no paint, no lacquer, all you’re hearing’s the actual wood of the Les Paul. And it is a different model Les Paul. It’s not just a different top on it. It’s chambered out and it has a different feel than a Standard, and it’s definitely different than a Custom. If anybody said they never played a Les Paul cos it’s too heavy, wait til they play one of these things. It’s more like the weight of an SG. It’s definitely lighter. It’s got more top end and everything. The guitar sounds killer. The wood’s beautiful on it. They did a really killer job with these things.
IHG: And the Graveyard Disciple?
Zakk: I remember talking about the Bo Diddley guitar and the Billy-Bo, Billy Gibbon’s guitar, and I was going, ‘These guitars are so god-awful ugly!’ I just dug ‘em. Then I was looking in Vintage Guitar magazine guitar, the Vox Phantom, the Vox Teardrop, just how butt-ugly these guitars are, when they were doing the surf music and all that type of shit. Then I remember getting a coffin thing… it was a promo item with the Black Label logo on it, and inside was a bunch of lollypops my merch company with all the song titles: Genocide Junkies, Graveyard Disciples, House of Doom, Death March, written on the lollypops. I was just like ‘Dude, you know what’d be cool? To put a guitar neck on it.’ So Epiphone went out and made it for me, and I was like, ‘Dude, this thing’s fucken’ slammin’.’ The body is all mahogany like an SG, and the neck, instead of it being mahogany and rosewood like on an SG it’s maple with Ebony like on my Les Pauls. But the neck is a thinner taper – it’s not as thick as my Les Paul Customs. And the thing plays fucken’ great. When you’re sitting down, when they put the Steinberger kickstand on it, you can sit down and play it, otherwise the thing’ll slide right off your fucken’ leg, you know what I mean? But you can sit down and jam on this fucken’ thing like it’s nobody’s business, so man, the thing plays great. And it’s got the Floyd Rose on it so you can dick around with that thing. They did a good job with the guitar – I really dig it.
IHG: And the cool thing is, it’s Epiphone so it’ll be cheaper and more kids can get their hands on it.
Zakk: You can get it for around 800 bucks US or something like that, because it has the passive EMGs. I always put the active ones in it, because it’s always a money issue with that shit. They’ll put the passive ones in it to keep it under a thousand dollars, and if anyone wants the actives they just buy the active pickups and throw them in. So I understand all that shit – they gotta do it that way because it’s the business side of crap. But the guitar plays fucken’ great. Usually if it’s a cheap model you’ll just got ‘Dude, it’s a cheap piece of shit, I ain’t gonna play the fucken’ thing.’ But the guitar’s slammin’. I jam on it all the fucken’ time now. I play it live.
IHG: The quality of lower-priced guitars has improved so much since I started playing.
Zakk: Yeah, without a doubt. The crazy thing was, in the beginning Epiphone was a bigger company than Gibson back in the day, which a lot of people didn’t know. But the craftsmanship on them is slammin’. Some of my buddies like the Epiphones better than the Gibsons.
IHG: And like you say, you can upgrade them with better pickups later and still use the guitar even when you’ve moved up to more expensive ones.
Zakk: I agree. Like with the Randy Rhoads models, you’ve gotta have the student model, then when the kid’s ready to step up and get the one with the binding on it and the really nice shit, and they’re willing to drop $3,000, $5,000 on a guitar they can get it, you know what I mean?
IHG: I did that with Ibanez – I started out with a cheaper RG and eventually kept getting better ones until I ended up with the Jem.
Zakk: Yeah, and even though you got the cheaper one, it was good and it was still good enough that you can wail on the fucken’ thing, you know what I mean?
IHG: Speaking of wailing, I was watching some videos of you playing the Graveyard Disciple the other day and I find it really interesting to see the way you pick. You seem to get your whole forearm involved. How’d you develop that?
Zakk: I dunno, just years of practice. Some people are all wrist, but I use a bit of everything. The way I pick is pretty aggressive. I know a lot of other people pick really light. Even Randy Rhoads – Rudy Sarzo was telling me Randy Rhoads was the lightest picker he ever saw in his life. A lot of stuff Randy was doing too was real legato. But even when he picked everything, Rudy said Randy’s touch was really like.
IHG: One of my friends gave me something really cool recently – a Guitar World from 1988 where they had an article introducing you as Ozzy’s guitarist. And it said you’d be using Strats on what would become ‘No Rest For The Wicked.’ Did that end up happening?
Zakk: No, I never ended up trying a Strat. I think I might have got one of those Yngwie Strats back in the day. Actually I don’t know what the hell I did with that guitar. I fucken’ couldn’t stand the paint job – it was fucken’ terrible. But the guitar was fucken’ awesome. I wish I still had it around the fucken’ house. I’d take it and just fucken’ strip the fucken’ paint off it. I’ve gotta have it in my lock-up somewhere. I remember that guitar was fucken’ kickass though.
IHG: Do you ever look back on those old magazines for old times’ sake?
Zakk: Oh yeah, without a doubt. I saved all that shit. I’ve got a batch of that shit in the lock-up back in California in the compound. So yeah, with the goofy hair and all that shit.
IHG: Well I’m looking at the magazine right now and 20 years ago you looked pretty much like kids today!
Zakk: Oh yeah man, every 20 years everything old is new again. We were just over in Singapore and a lot of the kids fucken’ love Motley Crue, like when Motley was wearing the big hair like in the beginning. I was like, ‘Dude, that shit is the fucken’ coolest shit.’ Then they were telling me, ‘Dude, we didn’t even know about you until we saw that Rock Star movie.’ I was like, ‘Are you fucken’ kidding me?’ And they’re like, ‘No dude, we know about you through that, and dude, that movie is fucken’ awesome.’ But they fucken’ love that 80s shit, y’know what I mean?
IHG: Speaking of movies, you’re acting in a film called Bones that’s coming out soon? (See the trailer below)
Zakk: I had a great time making it. Whenever I do that kind of stuff I had a great time. It’s about this little kid who’s trying to make it, and I’m like his surrogate dad, and I end up mentoring him and shit like that.
IHG: Well that’s time up. Thanks Zakk!
Zakk: Alright brother, good talkin’ to ya, buddy. You take care brother.
Huge thanks to the mighty fine folks at Gibson for arranging this interview.