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20 guitar virtuosos on their favorite Joe Satriani moments

Joe Satriani
(Image credit: David Redfern/Redferns via Getty Images)

For many, Joe Satriani represents the ultimate voice of instrumental rock guitar. With his new album The Elephants of Mars in record stores and melting brains with its invention and technical audacity, we are provided once more with an example of Satriani pushing the limits of expression with the electric guitar.

It is an album of rare beauty, and typically Satch, with sci-fi references, playfulness, and a humanity to the note choices. To mark the release, we reached out to 20 top players to ask them what makes Satriani so special, so unique. And also, which of his songs is their favourite?

Steve Vai

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“Joe is connected to the inspired melodies in his heart and has the musical ear and a command of the technique to manifest them in an effective and powerful way.” 

What is your favourite JS track and why?

Cryin’. Besides the flawless intonation, complete mastery of phrasing and finger tone, the melody is the voice of God flowing through a human.”  

Joel Hoekstra

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“Joe writes great melodies and songs, not just technical showcases.”

What is your favourite JS track and why?

Midnight. It’s just a very musical and unique tapping piece.”

Steve Morse

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“Joe combines a great melodic sense with an exciting instinct for sonic flourishes, such as right hand hammering, effortless harmonics, vibrato bar gymnastics and more.” 

What is your favourite JS track and why?

“My favourite track is still Satch Boogie because it has that tempo and feel which I already love, but he does such a fantastic job of making it interesting and ever changing. Putting the middle breakdown part in, even though the radio play executives wouldn’t want it, is icing on the cake.”

Geoff Tyson

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“Joe has such a deep understanding of different music styles and sonic spaces, and his ability to express these elements in catchy, exciting songs makes him a master musician not just a great guitarist.” 

What is your favourite JS track and why?

“From the first JS album, Banana Mango. I remember Joe playing this to me during one of our lessons, and him explaining that every sound on the album is made with an electric guitar. So weird and fantastic!”

Steve Lukather

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“Joe is one of the finest guitar players ever to pick up the instrument. He is a flawless player. I have had the honour of standing next to him on many occasions. He never makes a mistake or plays something lame. It’s always world class and fun and interesting and his jaw-dropping chops always done with taste.”  

What is your favourite JS track and why?

“This a hard question. I first heard Surfing With The Alien and was floored. I actually met him at NAMM that same day many years ago. We were destined to be friends. Ice 9 and Summer Song and I could go on and on... too much great work there. 

“He always has evolved and experimented and writes such perfect melodies to go with blistering tracks. It’s no wonder he is one of the most loved and respected guitar players of all time and is also a dear friend of mine.”

Oz Noy

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“What makes Joe special is his strong pop sensibility with very strong hooks and grooves. That’s what puts him above most others. I really enjoy his vision of sounds, concept and writing on his records. Also, his tone is unbelievable.”

What is your favourite JS track and why?

Satch Boogie and Always With Me Always With You (it’s hard to choose between them!). I grew up with those songs, they are the sound track of my teen years, growing up playing guitar. His playing is fantastic but again, he makes good songs!”

Nick Johnston

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“I spent a lot of time listening to Joe’s records growing up. What always stuck out was his focus on melody and harmony. I also loved his prolific output of experimental music whether it was Engines of Creation, Chickenfoot, use of acoustic instruments and vocals, he was and is always trying to expand his universe. 

“I try to follow in his footsteps by letting the artistry come first, and what people expect and think come last. Also, I respect his restraint. Joe can burn, but he often plays phrases and lines that serve the moment, rather than the guitar playing listener.”

What is your favourite JS track and why?

“My favourite piece of his would change often, but usually it comes back to Friends from The Extremist. Melody, arrangement, guitar tone, performance and production are spot-on. The record as a whole is one I would consider his masterpiece. 

“I think it’s much more difficult than people realise to write a melody in the high octave on a guitar and not only have it work for the song, but have it become iconic and immediately recognisable.”

Brett Garsed

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“Besides Joe’s otherworldly musicianship, the thing that’s always set him apart for me is his songwriting. I really like the way he applies a pop-rock format to a challenging instrumental. His songs always have an incredibly strong hook, even when he’s using exotic scales.” 

What is your favourite JS track and why?

“My favourite is actually the first one I ever heard which is Not Of This Earth. I fully expected the song to be in C# Minor as the intro chords had a very dark sound and mood to them but when that E bass kicked in and flipped it around I was an instant fan. Those kinds of twists and turns are what define a great songwriter for me and Joe’s songs are full of them.”

Carl Verheyen

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“Included in his command of insane rock guitar technique and modern tricks there is a deep connection with the blues. This is missing from so many of the current crop of shredders.” 

What is your favourite JS track and why?

“I’m a Chickenfoot fan. Joe has such solid time it’s great to hear him with drummer Chad Smith.They can play rock eighth notes all day and I’ll be happy. Check out their live version of Highway Star.”

Marty Friedman

Marty Friedman

(Image credit: Susumu Miyawaki)

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“Joe is not only a wonderful guitarist, but he has mastered this elusive algorithm: his playing is not only impressive to seasoned professionals, but is exciting and inspiring to people who have never touched a guitar. 

What is your favourite JS track and why?

Always With Me, Always With You. It seems aimed at the kind of audience that likes my emotional ballads, but reaches a wider demographic. Joe knows how to deliver quality guitar work in such a way that it trains them to subliminally understand and crave good guitar playing.”

Paul Gilbert

Paul Gilbert Werewolves of Portland video

(Image credit: YouTube/Paul Gilbert)

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“Joe has the biggest notes. I don’t know how he makes them so big. They are wonderful! And they move an audience. I want big notes like that, but mine keep being little. After Joe let me tour with him, my notes got a little bigger. I think I need to hang around Joe more.”

What is your favourite JS track and why?

Satch Boogie was the first song I heard from Joe, and it was a, ‘Pull the car over and listen’ moment for me. That’s still my favourite. Why? First of all, I like boogies. Second, Joe tells a story with his playing. His parts are well-composed, while keeping the fire that most players can only get by inspired moments of improvisation.”

Alex Sill

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“I think he holds an important place in guitar history. He’s influenced so many of my own influences, along with legions of other players, so he’s had a pretty ubiquitous effect in that way. 

“Joe was at the vanguard of a new generation of virtuoso technicians who not only had the chops, but also brought with them all the understanding of mechanics and theory of music in such a way that gave rock guitar players a beacon as to what being a more well rounded, learned musician can offer. 

“Joe can shred, while always bringing along a strong melodic voice that is influenced by the blues tradition, and supplemented by a unique sense of harmony.”

What is your favourite JS track and why?

“I’ve always dug the entirety of the Surfing With The Alien album, so my favourite track would probably be amongst those tracks. Satch Boogie, Ice 9; these pieces have all the alien-like technical flair, while also being grounded in catchy, ear worm melodic sensibilities.”

Reb Beach

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“I was a session player for Atlantic Records in New York city when I heard that the guy who taught Steve Vai was playing in the Village. I went to see the show not knowing anything except that. I remember being blown away by two things: how precise he was, and how many tricks he knew. He did every trick in the book, and his legato was to die for. It was perfection, and it rocked!”

What is your favourite JS track and why?

“My favourite is Lords of Karma. Lydian is my favourite scale but I had never heard a rock song in Lydian! It really stood out live, and I remember the audience went crazy. It’s so unique and cool, and the solo is magical.” 

Dan Patlansky

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“Joe explores the outer boundaries of the guitar with extreme authority and zero limitation. He is one of those players that completely redefined what’s possible on the instrument, and continues to do so.”

What is your favourite JS track and why?

Slow Down Blues has always been my favourite. It showcases his acoustic playing, songwriting, and electric blues playing. The acoustic intro part is jaw-droppingly beautiful, and he plays the blues like he was born to. Always blows my sock off!”

Andy Timmons

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“What sets Joe apart from everybody is his great songwriting abilities. He, of course, plays with incredible technique and the perfect balance of precision and wild abandon, but he manages to wrap it up together in extremely catchy riffs and melodies. Easily one of my biggest influences.”

What is your favourite JS track and why?

“For favourite song (impossible!) I’m going to go with Unstoppable Momentum as it has everything! Great melody, clever modulations, unique tones, great sound, and I’m a huge Vinnie Colaiuta fan!”

Mark Lettieri

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“He’s a master of melody. He also has a trademark way of incorporating harmony you might not necessarily hear in pop or rock, while still keeping it accessible. Of course his technique is other-worldly, but it’s all about how he uses that skill to serve the composition, rather than dominate it.”

What is your favourite JS track and why?

Cool #9 has always been a favourite. I love the organic, jamming nature of it, and it grooves so well that whole album has such a killer vibe. Memories and Time Machine would be up there too; the former has what might be my favourite Satch solo, and the melodies on the latter are super-anthemic.”

Jeff Kollman

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“His music has always been so catchy it didn’t need lyrics. The guitar melody was the vocal. And it was rare to hear an instrumental guitar-driven single on the radio.”

What is your favourite JS track and why?

“A standout track for me is Hordes of Locusts from the live Dreaming #11 album. I love the raw, live three-piece sound and fat groove that’s going on. It is a bit more harmonically complex as well.”

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson

(Image credit: Max Crace)

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“Joe is unique because of his consistent, endless virtuosity. He always puts on a good show. He also combines his fiery playing with softer moments very well.”

What is your favourite JS track and why?

Always With Me, Always With You because it’s just a beautiful song.”

Mattias IA Eklundh

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“He has a tremendously distinct tone, immediately recognisable, but most of all his sense of melody. So many players can shred in the most insane of ways. Very few can write and deliver the most beautiful of melodies the way Joe can.”

What is your favourite JS track and why?

“I listened to most of the early stuff and those albums have a special place in my heart. However, my all-time favourite album is the self-titled one from 1995 and the track Cool #9. Glynn Johns did a great job producing that one. To the point and extremely laid-back. I love it.”

Gus G

What do you think makes Joe Satriani unique?

“It’s his phrasing, his melodies, his tone. He’s a guitarist that you identify right away with the first note and his compositional skills are a school of their own. Joe makes instrumental music that can appeal to the masses. I can’t name many other players that have achieved that.” 

What is your favourite JS track and why?

“I don’t have just one. I love many tracks of his. Ice #9, The Crush Of Love, War, Flying In A Blue Dream, the list can go on!”

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Jason Sidwell (BA Hons, MA, ALCM) is senior tuition editor for Guitar Techniques, Guitarist and Total Guitar who has written and edited over 20,000 articles since 1998. As an educator he is an advisor/guest tutor for UK music academies/examining institutions, a director for the International Guitar Foundation (IGF) and author of How to Play Guitar Step by Step (Dorling Kindersley) and tutorials for The Guardian and Observer newspapers. Outside of journalism, he is a classical guitar performer and works regularly for theatre productions and studio sessions.