Yngwie J. Malmsteen: Speed King
GW How did you come up with the concept for the scalloped fretboard? Were you inspired by the scalloped-neck guitars that John McLaughlin and Ritchie Blackmore used?
MALMSTEEN All I knew about Blackmore’s guitar was what I saw in a few small photos on Deep Purple album covers. I just knew that he played a Strat. That was it. If I knew that he used scalloped necks, I would have done that in a heartbeat.
When I was a kid, I went to art school and built big airplane models. I did a lot of experimenting with my guitars, like installing new pickups or frets and putting in a tremolo system, so I was never afraid to cut up the wood on my guitar. My wood shop teacher let me use the shop 24/7. I didn’t get along well with other kids in school, but because I got good grades they let me do an apprenticeship my last year. I took a job in a very traditional luthier’s shop. It was not the kind of place where they installed humbucking pickups but rather where you’d take an acoustic guitar to have binding installed.
One day this guy came in with the teardrop-shaped 16th century lute. It didn’t have metal frets, but the fingerboard was scalloped so the tips of each scallop were the frets. I really liked the way it felt, so I scalloped the necks on my guitars. A few years later I found out that Blackmore did that. It was so fuckin’ bizarre.
GW What is the advantage of a scalloped neck?
MALMSTEEN It gives you much more control over the notes. Some people think that it helps me play fast but if anything it actually makes it harder to play fast, especially because I like a high action. It’s a learning process and takes a while to get used to.
GW Do you generate vibrato by pressing down?
MALMSTEEN No. I still do vibrato the regular side-to-side way.
GW You’ve also heavily modified the Strat’s pickup configuration and controls.
MALMSTEEN I only use the neck and bridge pickups, and all of the tone controls are disconnected. The curse with single-coil pickups is the humming. Larry DiMarzio and I came up with the concept for the stacked humbucker, and I’ll never forget when I first heard it. It was dead quiet but it had that distinct single-coil tone.
GW Why do you mainly use the neck pickup when you solo?
MALMSTEEN I think it sounds more vocal. I use the bridge pickup when I play chords. It’s funny because a lot of people call the neck pickup the “rhythm” pickup, but for me it’s the opposite. I switch back and forth like crazy all the time.
GW It’s almost like you’re going for a pure acoustic tone.
MALMSTEEN You’re right, because it’s much more organic. My pickups are not high output at all, so the signal is clean. The DOD-250 [Overdrive Preamp] pedal, which is now the YJM308, is not a distortion but a signal booster that makes the front end and back end of the Marshall much bigger. The end of the chain is the Celestion GT12-75 speakers in a 300-watt cabinet, so the speaker cone does not distort either. The bass has a lot of punch. It’s almost impossible to capture that when you’re recording.
In my house is a former maid’s room that I call the “Room of Doom”—I have all my speaker cabinets in there. It’s loud as fuck in there, but I can get perfect control. I use AKG 414 mics, and the mic inputs and outputs are hard-wired through the walls so I can run the signal to the control room where my heads are. Then the signal goes through a Focusrite mic preamp and a Summit Audio compressor.
GW You also use a noise suppressor.
MALMSTEEN When you use as much gain as I do with a single-coil pickup, noise can be a nightmare. The stacked coils help out a lot, but the noise suppressor keeps things dead quiet. I used to have a Bradshaw rack, but the thing fuckin’ died in the middle of a tour. My tech went out and bought some Boss NS-2 pedals, and I thought they sounded really good. The NS-2 doesn’t choke the sound at all.
GW How do you feel about the changes in the music industry and even guitar playing over the past 25 years?
MALMSTEEN The business has changed dramatically from what it was even just a few years ago. Music isn’t even distributed the same way any more. Even CDs are becoming a thing of the past. The internet has made it easier to get my music out to anyone who wants it, but at the same time I feel like we’re losing the mystique. When I was a kid, all I ever knew about Ritchie Blackmore was what I saw on a few small album cover photos. Now you can find out anything about an artist that you want to know, whether it’s his shoe size or what he had for dinner last night. I learned a lot from other people and was inspired by what they did, but I didn’t copy anyone. I put many different blocks together to become what I am. I don’t know if that would have happened if everything was handed to me on a plate.
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