Dear Guitar Hero: Yngwie Malmsteen Answers Readers' Questions on Sweep Picking, Amps and Arrogance
FROM THE GW ARCHIVE: He’s the premier neoclassical shredder, known for his love of scalloped-fretboard Strats and walls of Marshall stacks. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is…
What made you want to cover Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” on High Impact? Were you a fan of his, or were you paying tribute because he died? — Teddy Operand (NOTE: You can hear Malmsteen's version of "Beat It" here.)
It was a tribute to him, but I’ve always liked the song. It’s my heavy metal version of the song, with detuned guitars and Ripper Owens on vocals. Unlike the original, I begin with a guitar solo, and there’s another solo in the middle of the track. It’s not too much like the original. I played it my own way, like I did on my Inspiration album, where I covered songs from other artists.
I am from Mumbai City, India. You have a huge fan base here, and I would like to know if you ever plan to tour India. We have huge respect for Indian-classical maestros, and would love to see a legend like you collaborate with some of them. — Khushal Bhadra
I’d love to perform in India, but I don’t book the gigs. It’s one of the few places I haven’t played. One of the Indian instruments that I love is the sitar. I played it on some of my songs, including “Pyramid of Cheops” and “Crucify.” The sitar is a bizarre instrument, because it has a very big neck and no wood in between the frets—the ultimate scalloped instrument. I love all kinds of Indian music, and Indian food as well. If the chance arises for me to play in India, I’m there.
How, and at what age, did you come across sweep picking? — Andy Clark
I don’t really do sweep picking. That’s a big misconception people have about my playing. Sweep picking is when the right hand sweeps down and up the strings in succession. But when you do sweep picking, one note rings into the next, and it sounds almost like you’re playing a chord, and that’s exactly what you don’t want. Playing five- and six-string arpeggios the way I do, like on “Caprici De Diablo,” for instance, you want separated notes that don’t go into one other. People that try to play my stuff often do sweep picking, but the results are usually pretty dismal.
Can you tell me your strategies to build speed and improve fret-hand abilities? — Juan Francisco Purdon
I don’t have any “strategies.” What I’ve done from the very beginning is play everything with extreme accuracy. I never said to myself, “Okay, if I put my fingers this way, it’s gonna result in this.” I’ve never taken a lesson. My way of playing the guitar was a fresh approach to the instrument.
There’s no specific technique to what I do, except for the fact that you have to coordinate your picking and your fingering so they are perfectly in sync, but that’s obvious. You can’t “build” speed; you play it until you have it perfect. There are no shortcuts and no tricks. The saying “practice makes perfect” is truthful. Sometimes people try to play too fast and it sounds sloppy. I can’t stand that.
Not to take anything away from your creativity and technical skill, but why are there so many similarities between you and Ritchie Blackmore: scalloped fretboard, Fender Strat, Marshall amps, black clothing? — Doug Newman
When I was eight, my sister gave me my first record — Deep Purple’s Fireball. Blackmore’s playing on that album affected me greatly and had a major impact on my life. Obviously, I wanted a Strat, and when I first started playing one I realized it was the perfect instrument—the Stradivarius of electric guitars. The Marshall amp is the best-sounding, best-looking amp, and there will never be anything better. I like black clothes because they look good, and I like scalloped fretboards because they allow you to have better control of the vibrato.
But musically, I really don’t have all that much in common with Blackmore; much of his guitar playing is blues based, whereas mine is more classical. Anyone who’d claim that my guitar playing and style of music is similar to Blackmore’s is tone deaf.
In the first of the Pantera home videos, Dimebag Darrell offered you a doughnut, which you didn’t accept. What food would you have accepted from Dime? And what’s your problem with doughnuts? — Joachim Arnt
I’ve never seen that clip, but I’ve been asked that question before. First of all, I don’t remember that incident. Second, I don’t make a habit of accepting food from people. I’m fortunate enough not to have to do that because I can buy my own food.