Seven-String Summit: Korn's Munky and Incubus' Mike Einziger Worship at the Feet of Steve Vai
Korn uses two seven-string guitars. How do you and Head work out your guitar parts?
SHAFFER: We feed off of each other rhythmically a lot and work together. We play a lot of parts in unison, or I'll play a steady riff while Head plays counterpoint fills, like we do in the beginning of "Blind." But when it comes to big, fat choruses, I'll break off and do a harmony or just play along with Head, only an octave higher or lower. Our bass player, Fieldy, has a five-string, but him and the drummer lock together more than anything. Me and Head do more of the melodic things like coming up with chord progressions and riffs. We all work together on the groove and create this huge, massive sound.
VAl: It's quite a sonic overload. One day I was coming from the zoo and heard Korn on the radio. I was stunned. It sounded like a herd of buffalo wearing iron shoes and blowing fire out of their nostrils. [laughs]
I used to come from this school of thought where everything has to be in its place, with its nice little frequencies in the low-end and really clear in the top. Now it’s like, “We’ve got a seven-string. Where are we going to place this?” Then these guys come along and go, “Kaaaaaang!” [laughs] They’ve thrown that right out the window.
SHAFFER: Our producer, Ross Robinson, is a big part of that. He goes, “Just do it. Does it sound good to everybody? Then just do it.” He wants to break the rules.
VAI: Sometimes you’ve got to do that. You’ve got to have a lot of courage to break down those walls.
SHAFFER: We know we’re breaking through something if we’re all scared about it. When we’re all going, “I don’t know about that,” Ross will go, “See, I know it’s right. You guys are scared because you’re doing something new.”
Beyond the seven-string, are there any other directions in which the physical instrument itself can taken?
VAI: What it will take is someone to say, “I want to play the instrument this way.” And then they’ll try to build it or have someone build it for them. For example: have you ever heard of Uli Jon Roth? He plays a seven-string called a Sky guitar. It’s really wicked. It’s like a Strat, but it has 30 frets and the whole front horn is cut away. He wails on it and his tone is beautiful. All it will take is somebody who wants to do something different.
EINZIGER: I remember that you used a fretless on your Sex and Religion album. I actually took the frets off my guitar a few years ago and messed around with it. There were some things I planned on doing with it on the new record, but it never seemed to fit. I ended up sounding like Les Claypool. I'll probably try something with it again in the future.
VAl: I've done some kooky things that involved dividing up the fretboard. I have a guitar that has 24 frets to the octave and one that has 16 frets to the octave, so they're untempered. They sound like divine dissonance from Venus. And I'm working on a new triple-neck that has a six-string, a fretless and a 12-string. It has three individual outputs for three different amps. I'm writing material where I'll be using all three necks at the same time.
EINZIGER: Do you use your mouth and your toes? [laughs]
VAl: Give me a minute, and I'll work on that one. I'm trying an open tuning on one neck so I can hit it in between playing the other necks. You've got to start really slow while working things out. Then you've got to keep focused that you're writing a piece of music and not an ambidextrous masturbation ceremony.
What's next-an eight-string guitar?
VAl: I played an eight-string, and it felt like the seven-string probably felt to Mike. It was a little too much. I've got very huge hands and long fingers, but there's something to be said for being comfortable with what you have in your hands. The seven-string is just right, but the eight-string is a little too gargantuan.
How do you feel about the current state of rock guitar?
EINZIGER: It's weird how so many people are saying rock guitar is dead. It may not be in the mainstream right now, but there are plenty of kids sitting in their rooms working on all kinds of wacked-out shit. There will always be creative people out there who are going to push guitar indifferent directions. Most people just don't see it. They don't hear solos any more, so they think guitar is dead. But they're not seeing all of this other stuff that is going on around them.
SHAFFER: There still is something about a distorted barre chord that you can feel. That's never going to away. Heavy, distorted guitar drives a band really well -- and that's no matter what kind of band you're talking about, even a techno band.
VAl: A certain type of person is really stimulated by the sound of clanking strings. They may get away from it for a while, but they need to hear it. It satisfies a void in some people. I don't know who says it's dead. That's like saying drums are dead. It's like saying grooves are dead. Grooves are it -- they're just changing. You listen to the grooves of the Fifties compared to those of the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, and they're progressing.
The guitar is one of the best instruments to express yourself with. It bends and moves with you. And every note you hit on the thing is different. Every note ever played on the guitar is like a snowflake -- no two are the same. It's an intimate instrument, too. When you want to play heavy and hard and feel that distortion, there's nothing like a good dose of heavy distortion. It does something to you. But it can also be really tender and subtle.
It's just in a different stage right now. My whole focus was playing fast, cool, melodic and burning. The focus is different right now, but the guitar is still there. As far as I'm concerned, it will always be there.