Seven-String Summit: Korn's Munky and Incubus' Mike Einziger Worship at the Feet of Steve Vai
Is the guitar solo a thing of the past?
EINZIGER: No. I'm still a big fan of the guitar solo.
SHAFFER: I am too, but I never could play guitar solos the way I really wanted to. Instead of a solo, our songs have a middle part where the whole band plays and creates a huge, driving groove. The way I see it, I'm part of a band -- not just a guitar player. It's cool to do the solo thing, but for us it's not part of what we do.
VAl: From the time I was a kid, my whole focus in life was to play guitar solos. It's nice to hear players branching off in other directions that are creative. There were a lot of things that I couldn't do, so that forced me to go in a different direction. I hated the blues when I was a kid. I'd hear a classic I-IV-V blues and go, "What is this crap?" Out of that hatred I developed this weird, perverted type of playing. It wasn't until later on that I started to appreciate the blues.
I was so neurotic that I'd sit on the toilet and do scales and exercises. I'd eat with one hand and do exercises with the other. You can't expect people to do that anymore. Enough is enough. Because now, even if they don't play perfect notes at the speed of light, you get people doing other creative things -- amazing things. Like Reeves Gabrels and David Torn.
Steve, the seven-string guitar that you designed for Ibanez, the Universe, has had a big impact on bands like Korn. What led you to develop a seven-string guitar?
VAl: I was just looking for something different, looking to expand the instrument and get a different sound. It wasn't a great revelation. It wasn't like the skies opened up and this instrument fell down. It was just a JEM guitar with an extra string. We tried to put a high string on it, but they kept breaking so we added a low string instead. It works really great, especially when it's cranked up. It really moves air.
And it's not like tuning down -- if you tune down you get a Iight string that's flopping. But when you have a .053 string on the bottom instead, you get that low sound without the flopping. But you guys tune down as well, don't you?
SHAFFER: We tune down a whole step, with the bottom string at A, and we use a .060 string on the bottom. There's still a lot of string tension so it doesn't go out of tune when you fret it.
EINZIGER: I don't use a seven-string, but I wanted to. I was 13 years old when the Universe came out on the market. I'm small as it is, but at that time I was smaller. I had enough problems playing a six-string guitar because my fingers were really tiny. I remember seeing it up on the rack at Guitar Center and going, "Oh my God! It's God! I've seen it. Can you take it down? " Of course, the nice guy at Guitar Center was very anxious to take it off the wall for me. I started playing it and thought it was the greatest thing ever, but after five minutes my wrist hurt.
How does a six-string player who wants to start using a seven-string overcome the initial intimidation?
VAl: You should be intimidated. [laughs] Actually, it's not like a weird hybrid. To me, an hour or so after someone picks it up for the first time it doesn't feel like a six-string guitar plus one string. It feels like a seven-string guitar. It's very natural. After a while you get used to it, and you feel very manly. It's like testosterone to the extreme.
Have you ever had any problems amplifying the seven-string?
VAl: I've never had any problems. It's actually tighter sometimes. Sometimes the speakers will get worn a little quicker. I use a combination of different cabinets -- one with 70-watt speakers and the other with 30-watt speakers. The 30-watts can be a Iittle mushier, but it actually adds to the sound, especially when used in a clean context.
SHAFFER: We had problems with mud in the studio while we were doing our first record [Korn (Immortal/Epic)] because we tune down and use a lot of gain. When you have two guitars that sound like that, it becomes too much. We tried to get rid of the mud by bringing in a Big Muff pedal that we turned all the way up, as that usually compresses the frequency response and tightens up the sound. The Big Muff actually made it sound even more muddy, but it also created this really cool texture, so we decided to take what initially appeared to be a problem and incorporate in into our music.
What approach do you take when arranging music for the seven-string?
VAl: The good thing about it is that the seven-string is largely virgin territory. It's a new medium, so you have to rely on your own devices to be creative. Sure, you can do some of the things that I've done, or you can sound like Korn -- you can try to, good luck -- but it's not like you've got a lot of examples to listen to. You're left to exercise your own brain power to come up with something unique.
Right before Frank Zappa passed away, he was putting together a project that included myself, Terry Bozzio and a bass player with this 35-piece ensemble out of Germany called the Ensemble Modern. We were going to do all of Frank's most difficult music. There was this one piece called " Mo 'n' Herb's Vacation," which has really ridiculous, intimidating melodies. It was written for clarinet, which goes lower than the guitar, so I explained to Frank about the seven-string guitar. He got so excited because he knew I could play the melody on the seven-string. Unfortunately, it was the last project Frank started, and it never happened.