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Dear Guitar Hero: Joe Satriani Talks Dive Bombs, Amps, Shiny Guitars and More

From the Guitar World archives:

He was voted No. 5 in our 2012 "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time Poll," his new album, Unstoppable Momentum, will be out in May, and he's just announced a US tour. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is ...

How do you pull off those amazing dive bombs that go up instead of down? For instance, in "Satch Boogie," you go up almost five half steps, just before the solo starts. — Kevin Land

You start by stimulating the artificial harmonic on the G string, in the area between the two pickups. Then, you quickly depress the bar with your fret hand and gradually bring it up, until the note heard is just above the pitch of the note that was originally sounded. That's what creates the illusion that you've started at the note and dramatically raised the pitch. I perform this a little differently every night. I purposely improvise it because I would go insane playing it precisely the same night after night.

Guitar heroes are famous for their big egos. Is that why your guitar looks like a mirror? — Anonymous

Actually, the guitar reflects the audience, not the player.

How does your Peavey signature head, the JSX, compare to the Peavey XXX and the Ultra Plus? — Ryan Fraioli

I've never played an Ultra Plus, but the JSX has a more vintage style of operation and is more articulate than the XXX. I run mine with EL34 tubes (the XXX uses 6L6 tubes — although both amps can be configured to run with either model of tube), and each of the JSX's two circuits has more punch and less distortion than the XXX. Compared to the XXX, I think the JSX is less monotone, sweeter sounding and has more flexibility with respect to the tone, presence and resonance controls, which we made a bit more integral on the amp. The XXX is really trying to point you in one direction, but you can steer the JSX wherever you want to go.

Who do you think got the most out of your teachings: Kirk Hammett or Steve Vai? — Norman S.

I'd have to say Steve did, because he was a complete beginner when he started, and Kirk was already playing in Exodus. Steve and I started at the very beginning: "This is an E chord."

Why have you remained so faithful to Ibanez guitars? — Nick Payne

They make the best guitar for me and have included every little thing I've requested in the design of the JS line. That includes wood composition, pickups, frets, neck radius, paint jobs and so on. There aren't many guitars that allow me to play the oldest and newest styles, which is what I need to do every night. You can't do that with a vintage Telecaster or a reissue Les Paul, great as they are in their own right.

Your head and your guitars are very shiny. Do you use the same compound to make them sparkle? — Pat McIlveen

Of course: Joe's Special Chrome Dome Polish.

Where do you get your oh-so-cool hats? — Evan Horowitz

Finally, an important question! They are made by Project Alabama, a collective of Alabaman women who sew. I haven't gotten used to having a shaved head so I prefer to wear a hat at all times, but you have to be careful not to wear anything too tight, because it will leave a line on your head.

When you have hair you worry about hat hair, and when you don't you worry about hideous red rings. The hats I wear are light cotton and always feel good. I actually have a long history of wearing silly hats and clothing. In fact, the very first time I was pictured in Guitar World, I was wearing an absurd silver vest that looked like it came out of Sonny Bono's closet. I've always tried to poke fun at how rock stars are supposed to look.

Do you have a regular warmup routine? — Brenda Johnson

I like playing simple songs with different chords and running through chromatic exercises grouped in twos, threes and fours, which I put in my Guitar Secrets book. I also do hammer-ons, pull-offs and things like that for 15 to 20 minutes before playing actual parts, which require that I be ready to play anything.

Technology has made the editing process easier, but has knowing you can re-edit and shuffle parts around changed the way you approach playing? And is there anything technologically that still frustrates you as a player? — Scott Conner

I think the advent of Pro Tools and Logic Audio takes some anxiety out of recording. But remember this: prior to digital recording, you could always do 100 takes and use the best parts of each by splicing them together. It was more tedious, but people have been doing it that way forever. Still, I think digital technology has made it easier to fix things, and that helps to eliminate the "red light fever" that goes with studio recording-the anxiety that comes with knowing you're recording. In that respect, I think it has really freed up drummers because they have so much pressure to nail a song from beginning to end.

The most frustrating thing about digital recording is the anxiety that the system will bomb and there won't be anything there. The technology is still iffy, and if you lose something you can spend as much money trying to retrieve it as you've spent on everything else up to that point. As a result, many of us back up our digital recordings to 2-inch recording tape. For instance, Engines of Creation was 100 percent digitally created but all of the mixes were done on analog tape. It sounds backward, but it's still the best way to guarantee that you'll have reliable copies around.

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Since 1980, Guitar World has been the ultimate resource for guitarists. Whether you want to learn the techniques employed by your guitar heroes, read about their latest projects or simply need to know which guitar is the right one to buy, Guitar World is the place to look.