Marty Friedman: Big in Japan
GW Your tone has a very fluid midrange with great definition. Is that coming more from your amp or guitar?
FRIEDMAN To me, tone has so little to do with gear. Guitar players put a whole lot of thought into their gear, but that’s a big misconception. If Eddie Van Halen and Brian May played through anything else they’d still sound like themselves. I honestly couldn’t tell you what gear I’m using. I know what brand of gear I’m using. Right now I have Engl amps. My guitar tech put together a rig for me with a bunch of stuff in it, but I have no idea what it is. I think there are a couple of Boss pedals in there.
On the live album I used an Ibanez signature model guitar, but my contract with Ibanez has lapsed, and I decided to not continue with them even though they’re a fabulous company. On the subsequent tour I used other guitars—a Gibson Les Paul, a PRS and lots of others. I started to think that other guitars looked better or held their tuning better. I didn’t want to limit myself to one guitar unless it was the absolute best. The Ibanez Marty Friedman model was a great guitar, especially for the price range it was in. It sounds pretty good on the live record, but I found that there were other guitars that I enjoyed playing as much if not more. I’ve had two signature model guitars in my career. The Ibanez was a good one and the Jackson was good, too, but I figured if I’m going to put my name on a guitar it has to be the absolute ultimate.
GW Guitar World interviewed Dave Mustaine about a year ago, and he said one of the funniest things about working with you was that he had to show you how to play rhythm. He said that not knowing how to play rhythm was like being able to use a knife but not knowing how to use a fork.
FRIEDMAN Saying that I didn’t know how to play rhythm is a broad statement. Of course I could play rhythm fine before, but Dave isn’t someone who would listen to my playing and say, “Wow. That’s a really unique rhythm style.” You could say that I was not familiar with his way of rhythm playing, which is quite unique, just like my style of lead playing is unique. It did take me some time to adjust to it. His style of playing rhythm was completely alien to me, but it was great for me to expand and learn to play another person’s rhythm style. I get really detailed and picky about my solo playing, and he’s exactly the same way about his rhythm playing, paying a lot of attention to details like where a part should be up-picked or needs to be muted.
GW Dave isn’t shy about letting people know that Megadeth is his band and the other guitarists in the band play a supporting role.
FRIEDMAN Absolutely. And he always knows how to get good weapons in his arsenal. He has a good vision of what’s going on. I’ve always respected that about him, and that’s why I was in the band more than 10 years. We had great chemistry, and we made a lot of great music. You couldn’t ask for two more different guitar players. As strange as my lead playing might be, his rhythm playing was equally strange. Dave really has a sound. The second you hear it, you know it’s him. I love that. He was one of the first guys to play thrash like that.
GW You recently collaborated with Jason Becker for the first time in years on a track that appears on his new album, Collection. How did that go?
FRIEDMAN It was awesome. I’m so ecstatic that he put out a record with some new material. When he asked me to play a solo on one of his songs, I flew at the opportunity to do it. He has me and Steve Vai playing on the same song. It’s always nice to be in good company.
GW What was the inspiration for your 99 Secret Lead Guitar Phrases DVD?
FRIEDMAN My whole idea of playing isn’t necessarily theoretical. A lot of players think you need to use a particular scale or mode when you play a certain chord. I think that if you have something interesting to say, it doesn’t matter when you say it. A lot of guitarists know the rules but they don’t have anything interesting to say. What the hell is interesting about a mode? Nothing. Music should be like a conversation, and you need to have a lot of interesting things to say. I’m not talking about note sequences and patterns; I’m talking about distinct musical phrases. Phrases—not scales, exercises, arpeggios, or techniques—are like a musician’s vocabulary. Any musician should have the ability to play an infinite number of phrases, and you should steer clear of anything that has a name for it, like “string-skipping Mixolydian exercises.”
A lot of guys will explain how they play their songs or show you some guitar tricks or scales, but nobody ever gives you a bunch of phrases. The idea behind the DVD is to give guitarists 100 phrases to learn. Once you know all of them, your mind should be capable of creating your own phrases. It’s about getting your mind and fingers to react in a way they don’t normally respond. I think that the DVD will help advanced guitarists more than it will help beginners.
GW Do you think you’ll ever return to America or join another band like Megadeth?
FRIEDMAN Right now Japan is my top priority. Ideally, I’d like to continue doing exactly what I’m doing right now, although I’d also like to do more touring outside of Japan as well. It would be nice to tour Europe and America more, but it is so hard to get away from the commitments I have here for more than a week. It’s also hard for me to promote anything outside of Japan. I get complete press coverage in Japan but absolutely zero outside of Japan.
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