Michael Schenker: Dear Guitar Hero
He's played with the Scorpions, UFO and MSG, struggled with alcohol and pills and was left nearly penniless in 2002 after an ugly divorce. But what Guitar World readers really want to know about the legendary shredder is…
How old were you when you started playing guitar, and what inspired you to start playing? —Keith Loeb
I was around nine years old, but I had been very keen on music since I was three or four. I always loved going around the house singing and expressing my love for rhythm by banging on pots and pans and stuff like that. My dad played violin and my mom played piano, so I would fool around on those, and on my brother Rudolf’s 16th birthday, he got a guitar. When he would go to work, I would play his guitar—even though it was against his wishes.
Who were some of your early guitar heroes? —Mike Bentivoglio
When I started playing, I hadn’t heard about guys like Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, so for me it was more about bands like the Shadows [the British guitar group]—instrumental music, clean guitar sounds and so on. I knew from listening to that type of music that the guitar was something I wanted to pursue. I didn’t hear my first distorted guitar until I was around 13 or 14, which was when bands like Led Zeppelin started getting popular. During those years all I did was copy anything I heard that had that distorted guitar sound.
What was the first guitar you ever owned? —Rita Dullaghan
I played whatever my brother didn’t need anymore—it’s the same way that I got my suits and clothes. [laughs] Whatever he had first, I had second. And that lasted for a while, but eventually I realized that I had my own idea of what I wanted. In the beginning we had a Framus and a Hofner, and then my brother went to a big-bodied Gibson and I went more for the Fenders, like the Jazzmaster. Then I got a Les Paul Custom, a Les Paul Deluxe, and I ended up with the V.
Do you still suffer from stage fright? —John Luftig
It doesn’t exist for me anymore. I don’t know exactly what made it go away, but it did. It’s not something that happened overnight, but in the past few years it has slowly gone away.
What’s it like to be a hero to players like Kirk Hammett, Yngwie Malmsteen and Zakk Wylde? —Daniel Levine
The truth is I wouldn’t know where to place myself on a scale, or know if I’m even good or bad as a player. But those guys tell me how much I mean to them, and it helps me understand where I fit in, which is great. Without their statements, I would have no idea.
How did you come to join the Scorpions? —John Zane
My brother always got me my gigs in the early days. I had been in bands since I was 11, and one day my brother told me that he wanted me to hook up with this great singer he knew, and that was Klaus Meine. Rudolf introduced us, and we started a band together called the Copernicus. Our rehearsal space was right next to the Scorpions, and one day we were rehearsing and they were listening to us—their singer was late for rehearsal— and they approached Klaus and me about joining the band, and we did.
What is it about the Flying V shape that you like so much? —Tom Giordano
For me, it’s not really about the shape; I came to play a V by accident. I was playing with the Scorpions, and I broke a string and had a solo coming up, so my brother and I swapped guitars really quickly. He had been playing a V, so that’s what I ended up playing, and I just loved the combination of that guitar and a 50-watt Marshall. And once I got used to the shape, there was no going back. Plus I loved Leslie West, and he used to play a V.
Are you more comfortable as a solo artist or playing in an established group? —Bonnie Parenti
Definitely as a solo artist. It was very important for me to create MSG, which I did for creative freedom. It let me express myself in so many ways and not be held down by any one particular type of monster machine. I hate being a box, and I’m glad I didn’t get stuck in one for my entire career. I love the fact that I don’t know what’s going to happen next for me. And that’s the difference between me and my brother: he looks at the big picture, I look at the details. We’re opposites, even though we have the same genes and share a lot of the same emotions when it comes to music.
Your parents must have been proud to have two famous sons. —Phillip Wills
I never asked them about that, but they always supported us; they would always come to the shows. My dad was an architect and would design our posters, and my mom would work the door, and they’d give us money for equipment and things like that.
What gear do you have with you on the current tour? —Brian Dorsey
Just a 50-watt Marshall JCM800 2205, which can be very hard to find. When I have to find a new one, I can’t! [laughs] I’ve tried quite a few amplifiers over the years, but that’s the one I like best. And the Dean guitars are so perfectly made. The guitars just sing. I usually have three of my signature Dean models on the road with me: my main guitar, one for the hotel and one as a spare.
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