I think it is safe to say that if you play guitar, no matter what genre you prefer, you have heard the name Steve Vai. He is arguably one of the most talented guitarists of our era, and his technical precision and skill on the fret board is second to none. Vai stretches the limits of any musical genre, combining many musical styles into his own unique creations. I first got into Vai back in the early 90s with his release of 'Passion and Warfare.' His catchy and vibrant tunes such as 'Liberty', 'For the Love of God' and 'The Audience is Listening' are all instrumental guitar classics.
Steve, a student of Berkley School of Music, started off his professional career in Frank Zappa's band and was also a student for 3 years under the great Joe Satriani. Vai's claims his big influences were Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and progressive rock in general. Under Satriani, Vai leanrned analyze and dissect music allowing him to later transcribe guitar solos of Frank Zappa. Vai said in a 1989 Guitar World interview of Satriani's inflence, "He could listen to a record and tell you in words exactly what was going on harmonically -- the chord changes, the voicings, intervals and everything. I saw him do that and I said. 'I gotta be able to do this. I want to be like this guy.' Vai is not just a guitar player, he truly understands music, knows how to break apart a song and put it back together from the ground up.
Steve Vai has literally put Ibanez on the map with his JEM series guitars. Ibanez approached him and he gave them the specs of the guitar he wanted to make for him, and they passed the test with flying colors. I personally own a JEM77P Blue Floral pattern and it plays like silk. I get an awesome, versatile tone which works well with any type of rock music. Coupled with my Vox AC15 and the Vai double distortion pedal, there is not much I can't play. Vai plays a number of his JEMs but his favorite is "EVO" model, which is a JEM7VWH and is named after the pickups in it . The guitar has gone through several necks, and Vai also uses another guitar named, "FLO" which is the same guitar as "EVO" but with a Fernandes Sustainer. Vai can be seen playing other varieties of Ibanez guitars live. One of my favorites for his live shows was the acrylic LED JEM. It fits his aggressive and flashy stage show that he is so well known for. Vai has also pioneered the 7 string guitar, which he uses to get some amazing and unique sounds. Myself, I have not progressed to the world of seven strings.
If you have ever seen Steve's studio, you know that he owns like every guitar effects pedal known to man. Below are a couple of live rig diagrams that I found online that Steve used to give you an idea of his rig setup. On the amp side used Carvin 100 Watt heads and 4x12 cabinets along with a Fender Dual Pro combo. Steve had his own distortion/drive pedal called the JEMNI. I picked a used one up on Ebay some time ago and I like the tone I get out of it. Steve also had a WAH pedal made for him by Morley called the 'Bad Horsie', which is used on his live rigs as well. A volume pedal is always a friend to have on a live rig and Vai again uses a Morley. Recently Vai seems to have moved to the Axe-FX II for multi-effects on his live rig made by Fractal Audio. Satriani also uses it. The rack version runs a steep $2249.00. One thing is certain, Via is not afraid of technology, and he is one who pushes the industry to develop new a cool toys for the rest of us.
Vai's recording career is now spanning over 30 years. His solo album releases number at 19 and that is not including his many other projects. I personally really dig 'The Story of Light' and it is one of my favorite albums of his. 'Gravity Storm' and 'John the Revelator' are two intense, blazing pieces that exude Vai's intense, aggressive signature tone. Likewise, 'Real Illusions' released in 2012 is also on the tops of my list with 'Firewall', 'Building the Church' and 'Freak Show Access' ranking among Vai's best work. Vai is currently working on releasing a new solo album as well as releasing an anniversary re-release of 'Passion and Warfare.' I am looking forward to purchasing both of these when they come out. Amazingly, Steve still feels that he has yet to accomplish the ultimate guitar album! He has said, “I don’t feel like I’ve made a record that expresses my full potential on guitar,... I’m fighting time on this project because I’m getting older and at some point I’m going to hit a wall physically. While I still have the chops to do it, I want to make my definitive guitar statement.” It will be interesting to see what he has in store for s in the future. Steve owns his own record company and I also admire Steve's other work in helping other aspiring musicians to accomplish their dreams by holding workshops.
It would be an amazing feet just to accomplish what Steve has done in the studio, but let us not forget his amazing and captivating live shows. On stage you get more than your money's worth, and his band of backing musicians are first rate. His shows are engaging, and a sonic wonder to behold. If you can see him live do so, in the meantime I recommend picking up his live DVDs and CD's. His recent release 'Stillness in Motion' is top notch. To top it all off, Steve has played alongside the best of the best in guitar performances with G3, which featured guitar greats such as Eric Johnson, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Yngwie Malmsteen, John Petrucci, Robert Fripp, Paul Gilbert, Steve Morse, Michael Schenker and others. Vai recently assembled his own guitar greats tour project called 'Generation Axe.' Vai along with Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt, and Tosin Abasi have done extensive touring together. At the age of 56, the sky is the limit for Steve ,and I am glad to able to experience the sonic gems he creates with his guitar. He is inspiring and constantly sets the bar higher for all those wanting to conquer that great instrument, the guitar!