He's the virtuoso lead guitarist in Megadeth and holds a bachelor’s degree in classical guitar performance. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is…
I’m psyched for the new Countdown to Extinction: Live DVD. What was it like having to learn all those Marty Friedman leads and then perform them nightly? —Tim Riggles
Countdown to Extinction was my most enjoyable experience of doing a tour that’s based on an entire CD. Two years prior, we had done Rust in Peace, which happened to be the album that really got me into Megadeth in the first place. I loved it because of Marty Friedman’s playing.
When I learned Rust in Peace, those songs had the highest learning curve for me, because I was learning a lot about how Marty would phrase things and how he crafted his solos. For Countdown, it was much more enjoyable because I had a better grasp on Marty’s playing. So during that tour I wasn’t as much worried about what was going on technically, and I could focus more on the phrasing and musical expression.
Are you using the Fractal Axe-Fx [preamp/effect processor] because of convenience issues when playing live, like easy shipping or being able to run it direct to the P.A.? Or do you honestly prefer it to an amp? — James Thomas
I prefer it over an amp. But I don’t just use it out of convenience, even though that is part of the equation when you’re in a touring band. You need to know your gear is gonna work for you and sound good in any situation. And the Fractal meets those criteria. It also has so many ways you can configure its outputs.
One way that I like to use it is having output 1, left and right, which typically has a cabinet simulator on it, go straight to my ears. It’s always consistent. If you go to different venues and put the mics in your ears, the cabinets will be at a different volume each night. So by using the cabinet simulator in your ears you take those different variables out of the mix.
It’s obvious you take physical fitness seriously. What age did you get into working out, and why? — Alex Kling
I got into working out when I was 19 or 20. It was purely out of necessity. I weighed about 250 pounds…and it was not muscle. [laughs] I actually got into guitar around the same time I started gaining all the weight. When I was in elementary school, I hung out with all the jocks. Then one summer I watched way too many cartoons and ate too much. When school started again, all my jock friends were like, “Who are you? See you later.” So I met some new friends who played guitar, and that’s when I picked up the instrument.
Anyway, I was pretty badly out of shape, and my sister got me into running. So by the time I turned 25, I went from 250 down to 155 pounds. That’s pretty thin for my height. I noticed one day that I could see my chest bones, so I started lifting weights. But I’ll always feel like that fat kid inside. And I’ll never quit working out because of that. I’ve tried dieting in the past, but it was a temporary solution. It wasn’t until I made a lifestyle change and decided that I was gonna work out for the rest of my life that it made a difference.
Is it hard to keep up with your fitness routine while touring? — Roland Morgan
I’ll do whatever it takes to stay fit on tour. Typically I’ll get up in the morning and practice guitar for a few hours. Then I’ll hit the gym or go running outside. If there’s no area to work out in, I bring these heavy stretch bands to make sure I get my workout in. I’ll also run the stairs in a hotel if I have to, which is actually great for your cardio. Then I’ll come back, and play more guitar until we hit the stage.
What was the worst day job you ever had before you became a professional musician? — JJ Holcomb
I would say insulating ductwork and pipes on construction sites. It wasn’t a horrible job, but it was very time-driven. You had to be there at a certain time and had to get a certain amount done so the people coming behind you would be able to put up the drywall or whatever. Then there were the working conditions. You’d be up in crawlspaces or attics, hanging off beams and dealing with all that fiberglass, or whatever the insulation was made out of.
When you finish a tour, how do you enjoy your well-deserved time off? — Anita Gongola
Well, I can tell you that I just got back yesterday from a wakeboarding trip at Lake Don Pedro, which is in the Central Valley of California. I was beating myself up trying my first inverted heel-side back roll, which is basically when you flip the board over you. And in the wintertime it’s all about snowboarding for me.
Which previous Megadeth guitarist is the most difficult to emulate, and which guitarist wrote your favorite Megadeth solos? — Anthony Leyvas
Chris Poland is the hardest to emulate, but not necessarily because of the difficulty level. His playing style is just way more foreign to me than Marty Friedman’s. He does a lot more chromatic, tonic and interesting quarter-note bends that you have to pick up on. And my favorite solos are by Marty. He’s been an influence of mine since the Cacophony days and from when he released his solo album Dragon’s Kiss.
Over the years you’ve played Ibanez, Schecter and now Jackson. Why was Jackson the right company to make your signature guitar? — Gar Griffith
The truth is all manufacturers are capable of producing a great guitar. But Jackson was the only company that stepped up to the plate to do the guitar I had always envisioned in my head. Everyone else said, “We’ll endorse you. Just pick one of our models and we’ll slap your name on it.” There was no difference or reason to have a signature model with that in mind. But Jackson was willing to do the 12-inch continuous radius across the fretboard, with stainless-steel frets and my asymmetrical body, which I designed to sit ergonomically against the player’s body. And the guitar has a lot of nice weight that gives it that Les Paul–kinda tone.
Who would you consider to be your biggest guitar inspiration, teacher or mentor? — Bitia Schweinsteiger
The one individual that I really want to give kudos to is Jason Becker. Obviously he was a great inspiration to me as a guitarist but also as a person. He’s been through stuff that I couldn’t even imagine, and he’s still active and producing music. He’s a got a great personality and is still very upbeat.
It seems like all the biggest shredders say they practice for 10 hours a day. How did you manage to stay focused and motivated? Are you an obsessive dude by nature? — Paco
[laughs] Yes, I am an obsessive dude by nature. And that’s probably how I stayed focused! For me, it’s always about focusing on concepts or ideas. When I pick up the guitar I don’t think, Oh it’s time to practice. It’s more like, I haven’t explored these chord moves that I found in Beethoven’s songs and I want to write some studies around them. It’s all about finding what interests you and keeping that at the forefront.
You’re known for your epic guitar skills. Can you implement them in full force when writing music with Megadeth? Or does the band limit you in terms of your own technical explorations? — Pavel Selivanov
You can always explore all kinds of different styles, but the main thing is knowing whether it’s appropriate for a given song or style of music. For me, it’s not the band that limits me; it’s more about what’s appropriate for the songs. It’s not gonna work if I break out some country licks in the middle of the heaviest thrash song ever written.
I read that you have eight siblings. Do you find that that experience helps you now when you’re dealing with different band personalities…say a certain temperamental lead singer? — Julie P.
[laughs] It is true—I did come from a family of eight children. But I have no idea if it helps me dealing with different temperaments. But I can tell you it made me very aware of how to read people. I’m very conscious about how other people are feeling.
Photo: Travis Shinn