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Kim Thayil, Steve Vai and Wolf Marshall discuss legendary six-strings in these exclusive extracts from Greg Prato's Iconic Guitar Gear

Kim Thayil and Steve Vai
(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder / Juan Naharro Gimenez / Getty)

Iconic Guitar Gear is a new book from Guitar World contributor Greg Prato that details the tools of the trade of famous guitarists – and you can read exclusive excerpts on Steve Vai, Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil and Jeff Beck below.

In total, Iconic Guitar Gear runs to over 300 pages and examines the essential gear choices of 150 guitarists, including Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Brian May, Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Johnny Ramone, The Edge, Gary Moore, Alex Lifeson, Yngwie Malmsteen, Dimebag Darrell, Zakk Wylde and more.

The book also sets its sights on a list of astonishing bass guitar players, too, including Billy Sheehan, Les Claypool and Mike Watt, to name a small sample.

Prato – who has previously penned books including Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music and MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video – has drawn on a huge variety of research for the book, including many interviews with the guitarists themselves, alongside techs, tutors and other tonal authorities. 

Check out our exclusive excerpts on Kim Thayil, Steve Vai and Jeff Beck below and order your copy of Iconic Guitar Gear via Amazon (opens in new tab) in Kindle, hardcover and paperback formats.

Kim Thayil, Soundgarden on his Guild S-100 Deluxe

Kim Thayil

(Image credit: Christie Goodwin/Redferns via Getty Images)

“I got [my Guild S-100 Deluxe] when I was 18-years old at a used guitar place [in Chicago]. It was affordable, and I sat there and played songs I’d written on that guitar – and I found it so much easier to play than the Strat copy guitar I’d had. 

“It was much easier to play than my acoustic guitar. And I was looking to buy an electric guitar – I had worked all summer and saved up some money. The Les Pauls were more expensive and the Strats – they were all $500-600 at the time. And this Guild S-100 was like, 250 bucks or something like that. Used. I was like, ‘Hey…I’m getting this. I can afford this, and I can play my songs on it with little difficulty.’

My guitar made some weird noises and could do some weird things that my other friends’ guitars couldn’t do. I thought, ‘I don’t have to avoid those. I don’t have to be scared of those.’

“And as I learned more about guitar playing and more about various factors on the instrument – from action, frets, bridge, the nut, pickups – I came to develop how I play along with my learning of this guitar. So, it kind of got married together in some ways. 

“I learned not to be afraid of the noises or incidental things that you could do as a guitar player – because Hendrix did feedback, the Velvet Underground did feedback. And noise and looseness I learned from the MC5, and noise is incorporated in Pere Ubu.

“My guitar made some weird noises and could do some weird things that my other friends’ guitars couldn’t do. And I thought, ‘I don’t have to avoid those. I don’t have to be scared of those.’ And Daniel Ash comes along, and I’m like, ‘My guitar can do some of those things! I like those things!’ And I stuck with it.

“Because I would play other guitars and it’s like, ‘Eh…the action’s different. The neck’s a little bit too wide. I just can’t do this thing. I can’t bend the strings above the nut. I can’t bend the strings below the bridge. It doesn’t feedback as easily. And its feedback is difficult to control. I don’t want to play this Strat – its feedback is just some weird squeal. I like the feedback I get from my Guild S-100 Deluxe.’ So, I just stayed with it.”

Steve Vai on his Charvel Strat aka “The Green Meanie”

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“My first real guitar was a Strat. I loved it, but it didn’t really have the sound that I liked. And when I joined Alcatrazz, I wanted a bigger sound and I needed more options on an instrument. 

It had the sound, it had the feel. And at the time, my tech, Patrick Francis – “Elwood” – was a very colorful guy and he liked doing things to the instrument. And I told him, ‘Go for it.’

“So, I went to see Grover Jackson, and he hooked me up. Besides giving me a couple of his really wonderful Jackson guitars – which I loved, because they were the only ones I could find that had 24 frets and a whammy bar – he gave me a sunburst Charvel. 

“I don’t even know the model or anything. But it was the Super Strat type of thing – with the humbuckers. And once I got it, I was with Alcatrazz and it was great. It had the sound, it had the feel. And at the time, my tech, Patrick Francis – “Elwood” – he was a very colorful guy and he liked doing things to the instrument [Francis would later join ZZ Top as their bassist]. And I told him, ‘Go for it.’

“He had a lot of fun painting it green and putting the stickers on it and all this. At the time, my palm rested on the body of the guitar. And some of those guitars, the tailpiece was kind of high, so the strings were high, so the little pad [that was added to the body of the guitar] helped me to pick more evenly. But that became my main axe. I used that quite a lot on those records after that – Alcatrazz, Dave Roth, Passion and Warfare. And then it was retired.”

Wolf Marshall on Jeff Beck’s Stratocasters and Les Pauls

Jeff Beck

(Image credit: Robert Knight Archive / Getty)

“Jeff Beck also alternated a lot of Les Pauls – as well as the Strat. The famous Strat that has been stripped down to the wood – you can see when he’s playing with the band on Rough and Ready. And there’s TV performances of that – so you can actually see that guitar. 

“That’s probably the Strat that he had on Beck-Ola, and he just kept playing it. I believe he played it with Beck, Bogert & Appice, and I think he played it into his early phase of fusion – when he started playing with people like Jan Hammer and doing Blow by Blow and that period.

Beck had a Les Paul that was put together by Seymour Duncan – which looked black, but it was actually a dark brown oxblood – and was a conversion from an early-‘50s model

“Also, at that point, he had a certain Les Paul that was put together by Seymour Duncan – which looked black, but it was actually a dark brown oxblood colored Les Paul [spotted on the cover of Blow by Blow]. It’s a conversion from an early ‘50s model – it’s not a Standard – but it has humbucker pickups I believe, and Seymour Duncan did those.

“Then, as you can see from Wired, he had a different Strat – a white Strat. So, I think he alternated between that stripped down one and the white Strat. And I know that white Strats always appealed to… maybe it’s Hendrix, but Jeff is using one again now. When you view current videos of Jeff, you see him with a white Jeff Beck Strat. So, that Strat period probably goes back to 1969/‘70. 

“Plus, he sometimes used the Teles, as well – like if you look at the video for People Get Ready, it shows him with a Tele. A converted Tele… but it’s still a Tele. And I believe that was also a Seymour Duncan thing – he had one model that had a humbucker in it. So, those are the three ‘streams’ that he had.”

Iconic Guitar Gear by Greg Prato book cover featuring Eddie Van Halen.

(Image credit: Bill O’Leary)

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Matt Parker
Matt Parker

Matt is a freelance journalist who has spent the last decade interviewing musicians for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk (opens in new tab), which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.

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