Dave Mustaine explains why "it's not really that hard to shred fast" and what makes his Gibson and Epiphone models impossible to tell apart

Dave Mustaine with his signature Epiphone guitars
(Image credit: Gibson)

For Dave Mustaine, the last few years have seen the thrash metal icon rebound from knocking at death's door to a cycle of continuous rejuvenation.

2022's The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead! was a victory. And from the outside looking in, relations within Megadeth are better than ever. All that is to say that for Mustaine – a man who has battled just about every physical and emotional malady one can handle in music – things are finally looking up.

With Megadeth back on top of the world, many of those same curious onlookers are hanging on his every word and move. But if you ask Mustaine, his latter-day success is the product of hard work over anything else.

"One thing's for sure, I'm not lazy," Mustaine tells Guitar World. "I work hard. I've always tried to be purposeful and useful. And I think that's probably why this last record appealed to as many people as it did. Because I was going through radiation and chemotherapy, where they were basically trying to kill me to kill the cancer. And then, they saved me in time so I could come back. And I have to say, trying to make a record and stay creative was a challenge. Most people would have said, 'Fuck it.' But I said, 'Bring it on.'"

Music aside, the latest development from the Mustaine camp is a collaboration between the red-haired spitfire and Gibson, which has seen Mustaine unleash a line of signature Epiphone and Kramer Vs. Of course, Mustaine has long played many V-shaped guitars, but an oh-so-long-coveted Gibson-related endorsement has eluded him… until now.

Still, Mustaine is a picky player who is hyper-detailed regarding his instrument's specifications and feel. And so, one has to wonder if Megadeth's leading man would go so far as to deploy his new line of more affordable Vs in a live setting.

"I am totally comfortable playing the Epiphone and Kramer guitars with Megadeth," Mustaine responds. "I've never been a guy who goes out hunting for free things. I paid for my first Jackson, and I've paid for most of my gear over the years. So, when something like this does happen, my mindset is, 'Let me do something in return.' That means I reciprocate. It's like the old-fashioned thing where you exchange gifts when you meet your friends."

"But that's not why I'll play these guitars with Megadeth," Mustaine insists. "I'll play these guitars with Megadeth because they're great. You cannot tell the difference between them and a Gibson. They feel exactly the same in my hands. After all these years and all the guitars I've played, I'm very aware when something that's in my hands is off. But when I had these guitars in my hands, I couldn't tell that it was a different fucking guitar."

During a break from the road, Dave Mustaine dialed in with Guitar World to shed some light on his new signature line, his thoughts on the state of metal guitar today, as well as his seemingly softened stance on Kirk Hammett.

Dave Mustaine with his signature Epiphone guitars

(Image credit: Gibson)

How did your line of signature guitars with Epiphone and Kramer come about?

"The whole thing really was a surprise to me. I'd heard that Gibson was looking for an ambassador, meaning somebody to be one of the faces of their company. And I thought, 'Wow... if I could be somehow involved, that would be great.' But I didn't kid myself that it would happen. I'm not the sort of guy to go into any situation and say, 'I want the world and then some.' But funnily enough, that's exactly what I feel I've walked away with.  

"Anyway, as it turned out, they were interested in doing something with me. So, I went in and met with the three head guys there. These were some new guys because Gibson had gotten rid of some of the previous administration that guided Gibson into a period of struggle. So, these new guys came in, and I must say, they're great. As soon as I talked to them, I felt like I was talking with guys in my band."

Did that inherent trust breed the results we've seen regarding your line of guitars?

"I think so. Cesar Gueikian, the CEO, and I have become very close. He's from South America, where Megadeth is enormous. I think he saw us at a breaking point when we first went down there when the dictators were lifting a lot of the embargos on music, so he was very aware of my career and history. I think his awareness has been a bonus as we put these together because he gets what I'm about when it comes to guitar."

You've played a lot of V-shaped guitars over the years. What makes these different?

When Gibson said they wanted me to do both Epiphone and Kramer, I thought I was dreaming. I honestly did not comprehend what was going on

"As a guitar player, of course, I've always been aware of the Gibson legacy. And after playing guitars made by almost every other guitar company in the world, to have Gibson design a version of the iconic Flying V means a lot to me. And to endorse Gibson products, on top of being able to go in and make design modifications, has been equally incredible. These are different because they're made by Gibson. That alone is a huge difference-maker."

What sort of modifications did you make?

"For starters, my V is a 24-fret V. Before I started doing it, no V had 24 frets, but mine does. I've always had that in all my V guitars. And I also made the neck shape considerably different. I did that because when you're talking about a Flying V, you're talking about a guitar known for two things: reliability and utility. They look cool, but those things are paramount.

"It's a utility guitar, especially in metal. You can look around at any metal band: most – if not all – of them use Vs. So, I took that idea and did things to make it mine. And when they said they wanted me to do both Epiphone and Kramer, I thought I was dreaming. I honestly did not comprehend what was going on. Because to this day, I live with a lot of little personal stuff from how I grew up. It's low self-esteem stuff… I don't know if you know people like that…"

Imposter syndrome often goes hand in hand with the creative process. It's understandable.

"Yeah… well, I have some of that happening. So, I couldn't believe this was happening to me. I still remember coming home from my initial meeting with Gibson, and I was a bit dazed. I was still going through chemotherapy and radiation, and that made it hard for me to keep track of stuff a lot of the time. So, I take notes because I really want to be present in my recovery. However long I have left on this earth, it's important that I'm present and I know what my obligations are.

"But anyway, when I got home from that meeting, I went through my notes, and even with all the shit happening to me, I said, 'This is the greatest thing that's ever happened in your career. Savor this.' Because I've always been a Marshall guy, and I've always loved Seymour Duncan pickups. I've never endorsed either, and I've never looked to have things given to me for free. But those are things that go hand in hand with Gibson. So, to have this happen is wonderful."

Epiphone was considered the poor man's Gibson for a long time. But they've come a long way. Can you tell the difference between your Epiphone and a Gibson?

"No, you can't. During this last headlining tour that Megadeth did, I used them. During the set, the techs will hand guitars to me when I need them. It's quick and no fluff because we need to get on with it. And so, I was getting ready to run up on stage; I grabbed my guitar and was off. And after the fact, my tech said to me, 'Hey, what did you think about the Kramer?' And I'd looked at him, and I said, 'Huh? What are you talking about?' He said, 'I handed you the Kramer when you went out there tonight…' and I said, 'Really? Get the fuck out of here.'"

Dave Mustaine performs with his signature Kramer guitar live

(Image credit: Gibson)

You couldn't tell?

"I couldn't tell. It was a real heat-of-the-moment scenario, so I couldn't even tell you what color it was. I never looked at the headstock or body beyond noticing where the wings ended. If I had looked at the bottom of the wings and seen if they were rounded or pointed, I would have been able to tell it was an Epiphone, Kramer, or whatever. But I didn't even really do that. And the thing is, the guitar has my neck shape. That's all that needs to be said about it. If you're a guitar player and you've ever held my guitar, you know what I'm talking about."

What makes your neck shape unique?

Many men and women have tried to create guitars with looks in mind only – I didn't do that. Because when it comes to guitars, it ain't about what it looks like; it's about how it plays

"Hold one, and you'll see [laughs]. But I created a profile that I hoped would exist for years. Many men and women have tried to create guitars with looks in mind only – I didn't do that. Because when it comes to guitars, it ain't about what it looks like; it's about how it plays. So, if you're one of those guys that has to have your thumb over the top of the neck, hey, great, you play a certain way. And that means you'll need a certain neck. But if you're a guy that presses your thumb on the back of the neck and does legato stuff, you're gonna need a specific guitar. My guitar is that guitar."

Is that to say it's only built for metal? Or is it versatile enough to handle other genres, too?

"It's associated with metal, but I go back to what I said about its utility earlier. My guitar has got the perfect shape where it's like a shredder neck. But it's also got the strength to have that bottom-end needed to get that gritty, chunky rhythm sound that some people need. And the other thing is that the Epiphone is a beast for people who want to do baritone stuff."

Is that why you chose Fishman pickups?

"I really liked the Fishman pickups for that. But we're also doing some research and development with Seymour Duncan about some baritone stuff. I'm not a baritone player, but I wanted the option for people who were. I've done a little in the studio here and there for a few songs, but it's never been a big thing for me. But I do like to experiment. And through that, I found that the Fishmans were satisfactory to me for that. So, we'll see what happens with Seymour Duncan in the future."

Dave Mustaine with his signature Epiphone guitars

(Image credit: Gibson)

I assume you have played Epiphone or Kramer guitars in the past. What surprised you the most?

"No, I hadn't. And you know what? The Kramer was the biggest surprise for me. I'd heard about how Epiphone was supposed to be a shadow of Gibson, that they were the same company, and blah blah blah. And that turned out to be true. But I had no idea what to expect from Kramer. So, I was really looking forward to trying one for the first time.

"It's kind of like when you go out on a first date, or you go someplace new. And I have to say, I was shocked at how great the Kramer guitars were, too. They're quality instruments, and I'm just as proud to endorse them as the Epiphone guitars."

Are there any players out there today who you feel are the future of heavy metal guitar?

You need to be able to layer guitar tones properly. If you can't, you're missing a massive piece of the puzzle

"I've seen a lot of guys and gals that can play well. So, those people are out there. I don't want to name any specific people, but I have noticed that a lot of these people are faster and fancier. And, yeah, they're all doing the proper things. But the thing for me is that it's not about how fast you can shred, you know? I mean… I can do that, so I know how difficult it is. And the truth is that it's not really that hard to shred really fast if you learn the patterns.

"And the other truth is that most people who are watching these people shred really fast don't know what they're actually watching. So, for me, a guitar player is evaluated the most on what type of player they really are. What kind of songwriter are they? What kind of rhythm player are they? How do they execute solos? How do they do with layering? That last one is big – you need to be able to layer guitar tones properly. If you can't, you're missing a massive piece of the puzzle."

Are there any other guitar trends out there that grind your gears?

"You know what? There was a comment of mine out there about the tremolo bar that people think I said recently, but it wasn't recent. And that comment that I didn't recently say was not meant to be a dig at the people who used the tremolo bar, because a lot of people who use it do use it well. Jeff Beck was a great example of that. Dick Dale was another.

"I think those two guys come to mind when you think of the tremolo bar. But I will clarify that I feel a lot of guitar players that are filling the lead position sometimes shake the whammy bar instead of using it to dive in and make a note swell a bit. If you can master that, you'll be able to make a guitar sound beautiful. A perfect example is what you hear at the start of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game."

I'd be remiss if I didn't ask for your opinion on Metallica's 72 Seasons. Have you heard it?

"No, I have not heard Metallica's latest record. But there was a time around 20 years ago when we were not being friendly toward each other when I couldn't listen to their music when it came on the radio. But none of that bothers me anymore, and it's not why I haven't heard the record, especially after the Big Four thing that we did. I really think we should do that again."

Guitarist Dave Mustaine of American thrash metal band Megadeth performs on stage during the third day of the Hell & Heaven Metal Fest at Foro Pegaso.

(Image credit: Carlos Santiago/ Eyepix Group/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

How do you feel Metallica stacks up against the current iteration of Megadeth?

"It's probably not ideal for people to ask if they stack up against what Megadeth is doing. I really do liken Megadeth and Metallica to comparing the Ramones and The Clash. I actually remember one of the guitar magazines said that long ago, and it made sense to me. So, I've always thought that idea is a cool thing. So, it's fun to make comparisons, and I think they stack up just fine against us. We're different in some ways, but we still share many of the same fans."

Do you feel the recent flak that Kirk [Hammett] has taken for his solos is fair?

"It depends on which solos you're talking about [laughs]. Jokes aside, I've always kind of poked fun at Kirk. And unfairly so, as he never did anything to me. Whenever I felt singled out, picked on, or antagonized by James [Hetfield] or Lars [Ulrich], it was really easy to pick on Kirk. But the truth is Kirk did me an honor by trying to play my solos on those early songs the way he did."

How so?

I thought it was honorable that Kirk took my solos and did his best to play them as I did. That couldn't have been easy

"Well, I think that some people would have just started over again. So, I thought it was honorable that Kirk took my solos and did his best to play them as I did. That couldn't have been easy. But as far as his new solos on the new Metallica album, I haven't heard them, so I can't comment. But I will say that I think it's sad how quickly some people can turn on people.

"There was a time when Kirk won every guitar contest in the world, and I don't think he's gotten any better or worse as a player. He's always been really good. Kirk was a good player when he was in Exodus. And he's been steady the entire time he's been in Metallica. But does that mean Kirk Hammett is Dave Mustaine? No. And is Dave Mustaine Kirk Hammett? Also, no."

Signature guitars aside, what's on tap for you?

"We're going crazy with all we've got going on, but it's great. We've got a bunch of headlining dates coming up in the States and Poland coming up. We're going to be doing something overseas that's like a battle of the bands, but I can't give too many details just yet. After that, we've got some dates down in South America, and we've got a lot of festivals planned, too.

"And lastly, my family is getting involved with a wine company. We're taking our first shipment from Italy this week. I'm not much of a drinker anymore – I can't even tell you the last time I had a beer – but I'm excited to see how this goes. It's going to be fun."

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Andrew Daly

Andrew Daly is an iced-coffee-addicted, oddball Telecaster-playing, alfredo pasta-loving journalist from Long Island, NY, who, in addition to being a contributing writer for Guitar World, scribes for Rock Candy, Bass Player, Total Guitar, and Classic Rock History. Andrew has interviewed favorites like Ace Frehley, Johnny Marr, Vito Bratta, Bruce Kulick, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Rich Robinson, and Paul Stanley, while his all-time favorite (rhythm player), Keith Richards, continues to elude him.