Since the moment Michael Angelo Batio debuted his Star Licks Master Series in 1984, he’s been regarded as one of the most shred-savvy players to ever step foot in the metal scene.
Perhaps his most recognizable trademark, the Sawtooth double-neck guitar, now sits on display at the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – and has done shifts at other exhibits like Hell Creek Music and More in Glendive, Montana.
A prolific guitar educator, Batio began playing piano and composing music at the age of five, later applying what he'd learned to the guitar at 10. He later attended Northeastern Illinois University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Music Theory and Composition. So it's fair to say he knows his stuff.
But learning theory and teaching aspiring guitarists only makes up half of Batio's sprawling career. The other half consists of getting out onstage and playing to crowds in order to maintain his hard-earned skill, an endeavor he recently signed on to do with longstanding New York metallers Manowar in 2023.
Other acts Batio has lent his formidable six-string chops to include Holland, Nitro and the MAB Band. Whether it be live or in the studio, Batio strives to bring 100 percent of his musicianship to any session or show.
Here, Batio shares his advice on maintaining good technique, his journey in studio recording, solo work, and more.
You are known as a prolific guitar collector. How many do you currently own, and is there any gear you'd like to add to the collection?
“I have exactly 205 guitars right now, soon to be 207. I’m getting a new seven-string and another guitar for a tour. I don’t want to sound like the guy who has everything, but there’s not too much more that I feel I need.
“I’ve got great Sawtooth tube amps and a nice DAW system. I just love guitars. The newer part of my collection will include some autographed instruments from some of my fellow musician friends.”
You do weekly livestreams talking about various guitar tips and tricks. In one episode, you expressed the importance of focusing on the little things, like the way a guitar should be held and watching the picking hand when practicing. Why is focusing on these things so crucial, and how do they help in not developing harmful habits?
“People tend to believe that as you get older, your playing skills diminish, and many times that’s true. My whole life I’ve paid attention to the little details, such as always having good posture and keeping my back straight. With guitar, the details are what matters, too. I watch little nuances when I’m watching my picking hand. It’s very ergonomic.
“When you grow older you tend to lose hand strength, which directly impacts your playing. I still practice vibrato over and over. It determines whether you will be a great player when you’re older or not. It also separates you from becoming injured while playing, and not.”
At Montana's Hell Creek Music and More, you have your very own MAB exhibit. The Sawtooth Double Guitar was recently placed on display. What is your favorite feature of this guitar?
“Yes, I invented the double-neck guitar and there is also one in the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The double neck has actually always been two guitars. I just put the guitars together with the flight case latch, which takes a couple of seconds, and then it locks. The features on this one are amazing.
“One feature is it’s really lightweight and made from sycamore. The only thing that adds some weight to it is the locking trems – not for the whammy bar, but for the micro adjustments.”
Recently, you have been posting some acoustic versions of your original music. Will the guitar community ever get an all-acoustic record from MAB?
“Yes. Prior to covid, that was my goal to record acoustic music. When I'm with Sawtooth, I play a lot of acoustic guitar, so there will definitely be a record coming. As far as Manowar, I’ve already done some recording with them. Their new song with me, Immortal, is on their new EP, The Revenge of Odysseus. Their themes are often mythology-based which is very cool.”
You’ll be playing guitar with Manowar next year on the Crushing The Enemies Metal Anniversary Tour. How do you like your guitar action set up when playing live?
“Manowar is in the Guinness book of world records for being the loudest band. They are true metal… and so am I!
“People tend to think that because I play fast I prefer my action set very low. It’s the exact opposite. It’s about medium on the lower strings and I raise it slightly on the upper ones.
“It really gets that vibrato, and that’s where I get a lot of my sound. My sound is hopefully round and clear. Because the action goes higher, there is absolutely zero buzz. It allows a string to completely ring out. I got this from guitar clinics.”
You noted that it “doesn’t get more metal than Manowar”. What about the group’s guitar tones and instrumentation stand out, and how will MAB add flavor to the existing repertoire?
“Well, in bands like Nitro we have singers. For example, Jim Gillette can sing anything and Eric from Manowar is really fantastic. However, I always listened to instrumental [music] when I was a boy. There was a time when instrumental music was more popular than vocal – Bach, for example.
“I enjoy being in bands that have cool instrumental sections. I believe I add flavor because my writing is very melody-based but in solo sections I completely riff out.”
You’ve worked with engineer Andy Zuckerman at Sawtooth Studios. How do you go about structuring leads for the MAB band?
“It’s so much different playing live compared to playing in a studio. We go through the riff stage by listening to my solos & rhythm, going through the parts, and filming it. I just riff out. That is pretty much how it’s structured. I’m the only guitarist in the group but it still sounds full.”
As a teen, you and some friends turned your parent’s basement into a studio space. This gave you an early start in picking up knowledge of recording music. When it comes to tracking guitar, what is something you learned immediately that still sticks with you today?
“Something I learned a lot about is mic'ing an amp for recording. I also learned to practice a lot before going to record. Little nuances that you never hear live are really exposed in a studio.
“In Nitro, we had to play live. There was no copying and pasting. In the old days, you literally had to cut the tape and piece it together. Every single solo was unedited from start to finish. To capture in the studio what you do live is the secret.”
You have always done things that stand out – for example, your Star Licks Master Series was the very first shred instructional video ever to be released. Tell me more about your guitar teaching journey.
“My lessons were based on classical music, as I studied classical piano and theory. Short exercises that focus on techniques is something I emphasized. I showed the Am sweep arpeggio for the very first time, and I invented the over under technique.
“There have been many honors along the way. The song I wrote, No Boundaries showed the techniques I featured in Speed Kills lessons. I refer to my older videos to make sure my hand position is still as it was.”
What are the most common mistakes students make?
“The most common mistake my students made was not concentrating on mastering the different techniques. They would just learn a song to be able to play it instead of playing it correctly. Musical people find a way to make music. This wasn’t all of my students, just a few. Working on proper technique and applying it to making music is where you can become a virtuoso.”
- Catch Michael Angelo Batio on tour with Manowar from January, 2023.