NEWS: It’s true! Thrash ‘Big Four’ shows are happening!

Forgive the netspeak, but… ZOMG! WTF! The rumours are true! Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax are hitting the road together! The mythical Big Four Tour is going to become a reality… at least in the form of several festival appearances in mid 2010.

A posting on says:

Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax . . . the rumors are true!

You’ve been posting and chatting about it for months and we’re here now to confirm it . . . Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax will all share the same stage for the first time EVER! Look for the four of us at the Sonisphere shows in Warsaw, Poland and Prague, Czech Republic on June 16 and 19, 2010 with a few more of the festival dates still in the works, you can be sure these shows won’t be the only ones.

In the words of Lars: “Who would have thought that more than 25 years after its inception, thrash metal’s big 4 would not only still be around and more popular than ever, but will now play together for the first time…what a mindfuck! Bring it on!”
What more can we say??

So it won’t just be Sonisphere, it will be some other festivals too… could a full tour be in the works after that? We shall see!

CLICK HERE for my September 2009 interview with Dave Mustaine.

ESP KH-2 Kirk Hammett Ouija Signature Series Electric Guitar white w/ Ouija graphic
ESP KH-2 Kirk Hammett Signature Series Electric Guitar Black
ESP Kirk Hammett Junior Standard
ESP James Hetfield LTD Truckster Electric Guitar Aged Primer Gray
Dean Dave Mustaine V VMNT Gears of War Signature Electric Guitar Graphic

JUST BRAGGIN’: I Heart Guitar in Australian web archive, Jemsite recommended reading list

Just a little post about a few cool site developments recently. The first is that I Heart Guitar has been selected by the National Library of Australia in Canberra for permanent archiving. This especially tops out my Awesome Meter because my grandma on my dad’s side (I was too young to remember her when she passed away) used to work at the National Library. To access the archived version of I Heart Guitar, go HERE (although there’s really no need to right now since it’s all here on the site too – but it might be fun to look back on in a few years to see how things have changed).

Also, I Heart Guitar (and Guitar Noize) have been included in the Jemsite community’s new list of recommended sites. – head on over to vote for your favourites!

REVIEW: DBZ Guitars Premier Cavallo FR

When Dean B. Zelinsky left the guitar company that bore his name, a lot of things were uncertain. What would he do next? Would any well-known Dean endorsers follow him? Would his new designs be similar to the old ones or a complete departure? But then again, a few other things were certain. 1: Whatever he did next was bound to get a lot of attention. 2: Much of that attention would come from metal guitarists. 3: Those guitarists would be from all walks of life and would be buying guitars at all price points. Dean Z’s new venture, DBZ Guitars, designs guitars with all three of those points very much in mind, from relatively low-cost guitars like the Barchetta LT FR to the high-end, USA-crafted Bird of Prey – along with some surprisingly jazz and classic rock-oriented models.

The Cavallo on review here is from the reasonably-priced, Asian-built Premier series. The body is an artfully routed chunk of mahogany, with a mahogany neck and ebony fretboard (the latter a surprising inclusion at this price). The scale length is a slinky 24.75” and there are 22 frets. Tuners are Grovers and you have the option of the string through (ST) or Floyd Rose (FR) models. Pickups are a set of DBZ’s own DBZB and DBZ5 humbuckers. Controls are brutally simple: Master volume, master tone, and a 3-way switch. But what’s this? The tone control pulls up to split the humbuckers for single coil operation – a surprising feature since it’s not listed on the DBZ website. Cool! Ergonomically, The whammy bar itself might get in the way of the controls for some players, and the fretboard is a little too narrow for larger hands, but these are very much style and player-dependent issues rather than a design flaw. Aside from a few small rough spots in the finish (which could probably be buffed smooth, including a little bubble in the finish on the back of the neck which would probably wear down with regular playing) the workmanship was of a quite high standard – especially the fret finishing.

There are three features which really stand out about the Cavallo. The first is that wicked headstock, with the 3D DBZ badge (an eagle holding a big DBZ logo in its talons – pretty badass); the sculpted body contours – which don’t feel overly ergonomic but certainly go a long way towards setting the Cavallo apart from everything else on the market – and the V-shaped neck profile. This isn’t the first guitar to feature this shape and it won’t be the last but I’m always surprised which I encounter a guitar that has it. That surprise always gives way to a knowing nod though when I remember just how perfectly this shape places my fretting hand for speed, comfort and reach – and that knowing nod gives way to the metal horn hand gesture when I realise that playability-wise it’s almost ridiculous how quickly and cleanly you can play on this type of neck in general, and the Cavallo in particular.

Plugged in, the Cavallo sounds a lot smoother than you would expect. On the bridge pickup there’s a very refined, dry ‘grind’ character to the tone which makes for perfectly thick, chunky power chords and punchy extended voicings – it actually reminds me a lot of my old Japanese-made 1993 Ibanez RG370 with Ibanez V6 pickups. It’s a great sound for 80s/90s thrash and current metal styles, but it has surprising adaptability for more conventional rock tones too. In fact, back off the distortion a bit and you’ll find some surprisingly useful classic rock sounds. While some pickups and body woods combine to emphasise the separation between notes in a chord, there’s a very cool ‘unity’ to the sound here – voicings are knitted together nicely without any one note jumping out above all the others.

The neck pickup has a similar smoothness to the bridge unit, augmented with a bit of a midrange spike which enhances articulation of speedy alternate-picked lines, and really allows sustained and bent notes to scream. It’s equally at home with Slash-style bluesy soloing or intense metal shreddage. Flipping to single coil mode I was instantly taken by the neoclassical girth of the tone. Think of a certain Swedish virtuoso – that’s the kind of character these DBZ units have in single coil mode. This is a sound that would work really well for cleaner textures in the studio, but also has enough cut and character for great dirty blues and country tones (believe it or not!). It’s not a particularly sparkly clean tone: more coarse, fat and gritty.

The DBZ Premier Cavallo FR is individual and unique in both looks and character, yet extremely adaptable in playability and sound. It may look like it wants you to play metal on it and nothing but, yet if you’re game enough to try other styles you’ll be rewarded with a great-playing guitar that can cover a surprising number of musical bases without losing its own identity.

PS: I’ve shot some video of me noodling on the Cavallo. I’ll post it on YouTube when I get a chance to edit it, hopefully some time this week.

LINK: DBZ Guitars

FEATURE: Guitars of the Vampire Stars – yes, it’s a Twilight cash-in

Vampires are a pretty big deal right now. Personally I’m kinda over it. I think it’s time for both vampires and zombies to move on from the pop culture zeitgeist and make way for the wolfman and the mighty kraken. However, I’ve been in this journalism game for a long time – once upon a time I even wrote for an archaic publication known as a ‘newspaper,’ which was a thing printed on paper which people read news on before they had iPhones – and I’m thus well aware of the importance of giving the public what they want. And if the public wants vampires, well goshdurnit I’m gonna give ‘em vampires.

So here, if for no other reason than because I like the sound of clacking keys early in the morning, I present Guitars Of The Vampire Stars.

Count Orlok
The breakout star of the classic silent creeper Nosferatu, the mysterious Count Orlok had a bald head and wore mysterious flowing frock coats. Like Billy Corgan. He also slept in a coffin filled with plague-infested dirt, and was followed everywhere by rats. Like Billy Corgan.* He was an efficient yet inelegant killing machine (like… nah, that’s going too far…), and there can only be one guitar that embodies this chilling mix of traits: the Fender Billy Corgan Stratocaster.

Count Dracula
Dracula’s a classy dude. Sure he’ll seduce you just to taste your sweet sweet lifeforce, but he also has an appreciation for the finer things in life. Maybe that’s why he wants to taste your sweet sweet lifeforce. Take it as a compliment. Anyway, I’d like to think that if Dracula were around today, he’d probably get about in tailored smoking jackets, drive a customized Aston Martin, live in a penthouse apartment in Docklands, and drink Dos Equis. So if Count Dracula was a guitarist, he’d want a fine guitar with a rich tradition but also something a little bit refined. That’s why he would play a Paul Reed Smith Custom 22.

Edward Cullen
Okay, I’ve never read Twilight. I’ve never watched the movies. But I’ve seen Robert Pattinson on talk shows and I’ve read some of the press about the Twilight phenomenon, and I think I’ve got this one sorted. Hear me out: The pasty complexion. The big hair. The sullenness. The emotional vulnerability. That’s right, if he was a guitarist Edward Cullen would be a member of The Cure. Therefore he would play either the Schecter Ultracure Robert Smith model model or theSchecter Porl Thompson Corsair.

Cody Devereaux
Conan O’Brien’s sullen vampire assistant is moody and intense, and there’s only one place that kind of moody intensity can come from: an afternoon spent changing the strings on a guitar with a Floyd Rose bridge. Admit it – when you look into Cody’s cold eyes you see not the smouldering sensuality of a modern day vamp-emo – you see a soul tormented by stripped Allen key threads, fingers poked by string ends, negative return-to-pitch and the dreaded Stupid Intonation Screw That Wasn’t Secure Enough So The Whole Saddle Shot Forward The First Time You Did A Divebomb. It’s enough to turn one’s blood cold. The difficulty of restringing a Floyd is compounded when it’s a fully floating system, and it gets even worse when there’s an extra string involved, so for Cody I’ve assigned the Ibanez UV777BK, for the reasons outlined above and also because that particular model has a mirror pickguard, and it’d be hilarious to see him playing it on stage and to have only the guitar pick reflected. The UV777BK also has additional vampire cred because there was one in Queen of the Damned. Yeah, it’s called research, motherfuckers.

Count Von Count (Sesame Street)
One of the Count’s most defining traits is, of course, his love of numbers. And Sesame Street is a very colourful show. So what guitar could possibly combine these two elements to become the perfect instrument for everyone’s favourite blood-sucking number fetishest? The Paradise Guitars Jason Becker signature model, of course. Dig the colour scheme. Dig the numbers on the fretboard. Of course, the only problem with this guitar is the natural wood finish – a splinter could come right off and skewer the Count through the heart, and that’s something my inner child just doesn’t want to think of.

And now for the most dreaded and charismatic of them all…

Count Duckula
Duckula is my all-time favourite vampire. He was rich. He was dapper. He was clumsy. A lot of stuff went right over his head. I can relate to that (except the rich part). And frankly, yellow and purple is a cool colour combination, and that stuff really sticks with you as a kid. If Duckula was a shredder (and you know he would suck at it but think he was great – but don’t hold it against him. He tries, dammit. And who are you to judge anyway, buddy? He’s a freaking vegetarian vampire duck whose molecular construction includes a mistakenly substituted bottle of ketchup. I’d like to see you shred with full velocity and tenacity if your inner workings were comprised mostly of tomato puree and potassium benzoate), he would rock the Gary Kramer Guitars Turbulence. Partly because it looks like a big yellow duck bill, and partly because those pointy ends are bound to have somebody’s eye out eventually, and we all know that with Duckula’s ineptitude, he needs all the help he can get in spreading a bit of the ol’ vampire fear about.

*Just kidding, Billy. I’m actually quite the Smashing Pumpkins fan. But c’mon, you gotta admit that was a pretty sweet joke.

Top to bottom:

Count Orlok/Fender Billy Corgan Stratocaster
Count Dracula/Paul Reed Smith Custom 22
Edward Cullen/Schecter Porl Thompson Corsair
Cody Devereaux/Ibanez UV777BK
Count Von Count/Paradise Guitars Jason Becker Signature
Count Duckula/Gary Kramer Guitars Turbulence


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?

Zakk Wylde: Peter! How ya doin’, brother?

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.

IHG: I saw your posts on Twitter from China. That looked awesome!

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.

Christmas gift ideas for guitarists (from someone with far better taste than I)

The ever resourceful and Christmas-loving Pilgrim Lee (that’s Mrs I Heart Guitar to you) has trawled the internets on your and my behalf to uncover the most interesting Christmas gifts for the guitarist in your life. Now, I’ll be doing one of these lists myself (which will be a lot geekier, and probably more of a ‘Christmas gift ideas for yourself’ kind of thing), but everything in Pilgrim’s list is bound to make you a lot cooler than anything I’d recommend.

Click here for Pilgrim’s site,


Guitar Vintage Kay – this looks similar in several ways to my first acoustic, especially the headstock shape, the tuners and the ‘Steel Reinforced Neck.’ Cool!

1960’s Fender Music Bass 637972 Turquoise, Sea Foam Green, Music Guitar, Instrument, Rock n Roll, Bass Guitar

Inaugural I Heart Guitar Gear Of The Year Award

If you’re a regular reader of I Heart Guitar, you probably know that I write for Mixdown Magazine and Australian Guitar Magazine (and I’ve also been known to do the odd interview for Australian Musician Magazine too). So in addition to gear snooping for my own amusement and stuff that crosses my desk for I Heart Guitar, I’m lucky to get to check out a lot of gear over the course of the year. Most of it ends up as reviews here on I Heart Guitar. So now that it’s the end of the year I’ve put my slippers on, put my feet up, kicked back with a brewski and pondered just what I should name inaugural I Heart Guitar Gear Of The Year. And what factors should inform my decision? Innovation? Price? Sound? Utility? Looks? They’re all important. But then again, this is a blog about one dude’s love affair with the guitar, and at the heart of it this site wouldn’t work if I tried to satisfy everyone by rating gear on such arbitrary terms. So what it comes down to is, what’s the piece of gear that’s had the most impact on me as a player, and the music I make, in 2009?

There have been a lot of cool gadgets, gizmos and git-boxes this year. A short list of my favourites include:

Morpheus DropTune – a clever pitch-shifting pedal that finally makes realistic downtuning sounds without crippling lag.

DigiTech TimeBender – great delay sounds, of course, but this pedal really comes into its own when you start messing about with the pitch-shifted repeats.

MXR Fullbore Metal – I haven’t had time to review this one yet but the tones are so aggressively metal that it’s unleashed my inner riff monster once more. Watch out, eardrums.

Gibson Dark Fire – a self-tuning axe with over 20 pickup and tone combinations? Sign me up!

Taylor T3/B – One of the nicest Bigbsy setups I’ve ever played, tone for days, and it looks classier than a Mercedes with its pinky out.

Sterling by Music Man AX20 – Plays quite well and looks super cool, but the thing that pushed this plucky little axe over the edge was the pickups, which are far nicer than you’d expect in a guitar of this price.

IK Multimedia AmpliTube Fender – Killer models of various famous Fender amps (including one of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s actual modded Vibroverbs).

But the grand prize winner, the piece of gear that’s made the biggest impact on my music-making in 2009 (and isn’t that what it’s all about?) is…

The DiMarzio Crunch Lab John Petrucci signature pickup

This pickup’s had a huge impact on the sound of my guitar tracks this year. And when your sound is better, you play better and you enjoy the experience of playing more.

Congratulations to DiMarzio and John Petrucci for coming up with such a cool piece of gear.
To mark the awarding for the inaugural I Heart Guitar Gear of the Year title to the DiMarzio Crunch Lab pickup, I interviewed John Petrucci. CLICK HERE to read the interview with John Petrucci!


INTERVIEW: John Petrucci

When I looked back on my favourite gear of the year and realised the DiMarzio Crunch Lab pickup was the product that had made the biggest impact on how I played in the past 12 months, I thought, what better way to celebrate the inaugural I Heart Guitar Gear Of The Year award than by talking to the pickup’s inspiration and co-designer, John Petrucci? Dream Theater happened to be in town so thanks to Roadrunner Records John and I had a little chat backstage at The Palais Theatre here in Melbourne on December 7. Here’s the conversation.

I Heart Guitar: So as you know I’ve picked one of the new pickups as my gear of the year…

John Petrucci: Which one did you like?

IHG: The Crunch Lab. That’s my one!

Petrucci: Oh great. What kind of guitar do you have?

IHG: An Ibanez RG7620 seven string.

Petrucci: Oh great! And it works well in the Ibanez?

IHG: Yeah, love it!

Petrucci: Good! What amp?

IHG: Marshall DSL50.

Petrucci: And it works good for you? Cool, man!

IHG: So I just wanted to talk a little about the new pickups. So what led to the decision to do these new pickups?

Petrucci: The pickups are like a work in progress, y’know? From the very beginning, even with Ibanez, there were DiMarzios in the first Ibanez that I used, so that started the relationship – Larry DiMarzio, Steve Blucher – and it’s been like 20-years-plus that I’ve been working with them. Steve Blucher is instrumental (CLICK HERE for I Heart Guitar’s interview with Steve Blucher). He knows what I want at this point. He knows what I play through, he knows the Boogies, he knows what the guitar is made out of and he knows what I’m going for. So based on that, he developed the pickups. The pickups have made a couple of changes since they’ve been in the Music Man guitars over the last ten years. And those changes are based on him calling me up and saying, “Hey, I’ve found a way to make the higher strings fatter and the lower strings tighter.” And I’ll be like, “Alright, cool! Let’s hear it!” And he’ll come in, swap out the pickups, and I’ll try it. We had a conversation before I started the latest album about the neck pickup and trying to make that different, get some more clarity out of it. So we finally did that and loved the pickups, loved the way they worked with the BFR, the wood, the way they worked with the Boogies. Then finally Steve said, “We’ve never done a signature pickup for you in 20 years.” So we pretty much both were really, really happy with where the pickups are at now. So we felt it was great timing. We’re not making any more changes. Not to say that we wont! But as of now we’re really happy with them. So then we tried to come up with names, which was real funny.

IHG: What were some of the rejected ones?

Petrucci: A lot of ‘crunch’ ones, like Crunch Factory was something that I really liked but someone had a patent on it or something. LiquiFire was something I really liked…

IHG: You can’t say it without doing the metal horns.

Petrucci: (Laughs) Exactly, right! I always have to tell people it’s F-I-R-E. I just love the double meaning of that. One of the funny things was trying to think of the spelling for it. Y’know, lick, L-I-C-K W, FIRE…

IHG: The decision to make them available to everyone was pretty cool. People are always going to the Steve’s Special, which I believe are what the original pickups in the Music Man evolved from…

Petrucci: Yep, absolutely!

IHG: And now they can have the real thing, which is cool!

Petrucci: That’s a good point, because when I started with Music Man we wanted to really make the pickups only for that guitar, so you couldn’t go out and get only the pickups. So this is the first time we’ve made them available.

IHG: And also with the Sterling by Music Man guitars, people can upgrade the pickups to what’s in the Music Man version.

Petrucci: I’ve never thought of that! That’s good!

IHG: Did you use the new pickups much on the new CD?

Petrucci: It’s all of the new CD. All of it. In fact Steve came in and once we nailed it… he actually, at the beginning at the sessions, a lot of times I’ll ask him to do something because I want to hear what it’ll do. And he’ll say “You’re not gonna like it, but I’ll do it,” and we’ll just do it. Or he’ll say “Try this out,” and in doing that you kinda eliminate all the mental chatter. It gets rid of all those questions. You say “I tried all that stuff, and this works.” So we did a bunch of that in the studio, but once we were like, “This is great, I love it,” Steve so kindly came in and changed all the pickups out of my guitars. Out of all the guitars – and I have a lot (laughs). I have an A rig and a B rig, and he changed them all out. So he was changing like crazy.

IHG: So you recently changed your amp rig?

Petrucci: Here in Australia I’m actually using what I call my B rig… I have many rigs, with many different letters, but we’ll call this one the B rig, which is actually a rig comprised of [Mesa Boogie] Mark IVs. I used that rig to do G3, I used it to do Liquid Tension Experiment, I use it when we do fly-in dates – it’s a big smaller. So Mark IV’s down here in Australia. But I did build a new Mark V rig and I used that all throughout the North American run.

IHG: So what’s next after this tour? Are you gonna do another solo album soon?

Petrucci: You know, a lot of people ask me about that, and I did start to write, finally! I got the bug, I got bit by it, I started to write this music and I’ve been in a nice writing flow. So I hope to finish writing the material and get to record next year. So I’m psyched about that.

IHG: Any idea where it’s heading yet?

Petrucci: Yeah, I have a total idea where it’s heading. I don’t like to really talk about it but I think by now people kinda know my style and what I do, and hopefully it’ll be more of that!

IHG: Well that’s our time up.

Petrucci: Well I’m glad you like the pickups!

IHG: Yeah, I love ‘em! They’ve turned that guitar from my backup beater to my main recording guitar.

Petrucci: What did you notice different about it? What did it do for ya?

IHG: The brownness, and the fuzziness but you can still palm-mute stuff and you don’t get that ‘ksh, ksh’ sound between notes.

Petrucci: Yeah, there’s a lot of clarity.

IHG: And the LiquiFire’s great for the bluesy stuff as well as the really fast stuff.

Petrucci: Yes, that’s a good point. We wanted it to be bright enough that it sounded nice on the blues stuff but where you also really got that pick attack sound. And the bridge pickup, it was more of that: fatten up the high strings, tighten up the low strings.

IHG: And the split sound with the two in single coil mode is kinda thicker and less hi fi.

Petrucci: Yeah, I know what you mean! Cool! Awesome man, glad you like it!

Thanks to DiMarzio, Roadrunner and John Petrucci!

Photo by Larry DiMarzio

[geo-in country=”Australia” note=””]DiMarzio is distributed by Australasian Music Supplies.[/geo-in]

[geo-out country=”Australia” note=””]Buy Crunch Lab & LiquiFire at Musicians Friend.

DiMarzio Crunch Lab (Black, F-Spacing)

DiMarzio Crunch Lab (Black, Regular Spacing)

DiMarzio Crunch Lab 7 (Black)

DiMarzio LiquiFire (Black, F-Spacing)

DiMarzio LiquiFire (Black, Regular Spacing)

DiMarzio LiquiFire 7 (Black)[/geo-out]