It’s been quite a year for Matteo Mancuso – the young generational virtuoso whose superhuman electric guitar skills and otherworldly technique have been catapulted in front of global guitar audiences with the arrival of his debut album, The Journey.
With an army of A-list admirers to his name (Steve Vai, Joe Bonamassa and Tosin Abasi included) and a Yamaha Revstar in his arms, Mancuso has taken the guitar world by storm – and he shows absolutely no sign of slowing down.
That much is clear from his latest YouTube video, which serves as an announcement that the Italian guitarist will be performing and teaching at Vai’s upcoming Vai Academy 7.0 next January.
But you’d be forgiven for completely missing that announcement upon first viewing, owing to the fact the video sees Mancuso give Vai’s Eugene’s Trick Bag – the track written for iconic 1986 guitar flick Crossroads – a quite frankly absurd fingerstyle makeover courtesy of his pinpoint picking style.
Even “pinpoint” somehow doesn’t quite do it justice. Just marvel at that right-hand technique as his picking fingers glide across the strings with borderline inexplicable ease and dynamism, then have your mind blown all over again by those lightning left-hand acrobatics.
“This is a little tribute to one of Steve’s most famous solos, Eugene’s Trick Bag,” Mancuso wrote. “I don’t think I will ever come close to the magic of the original rendition, but I tried my best!”
For our two cents, Mancuso is being far too humble with that comment – he absolutely nailed it. Plus, the cover takes on an extra layer of meaning, not least because its original composer once labeled Mancuso as the evolution of guitar.
“He’s one of these players that has really evolved the fusion-style guitar playing,” Vai once said after singling Mancuso out as one of five contemporary guitarists who are taking the instrument to the next level. “He has incredible ears, but his technique is pretty remarkable.”
Just as Vai pointed out back in 2022, it's Mancuso’s picking style that particularly arrests attention – a style that Mancuso began developing when he was very young indeed.
“I started playing with fingers when I was around 10 years old. That was my first approach,” Mancuso recently told Guitar World. “I never played with a pick because I often saw my father playing a lot of classical guitar with fingers back then, and I just thought every guitar was meant to be played like that.”
Mancuso elaborated on his technical approach in a later interview with Guitarist, during which he attempted to play down the unique nature of his style: “I think the unusual thing for other players is that I play electric guitar with fingers, but I don’t think what I’m doing is unique,” he said. “Basically, I mainly use two positions for my right hand: one is a bass-like technique and the other one is more like classical technique.”
Mancuso will be one of a number of young guitar stars to join Vai at his upcoming guitar academy. For the event, Vai has also recruited Tim Henson, Yvette Young, Ichika Nito, Mateus Asato and more – visit Vai Academy for more details.
As for Vai's original performance, he shone a light on his involvement in Crossroads in a previously unpublished Guitar World interview.
“I’m not a part of the fast lane Hollywood scene, and I don’t particularly desire to act but I sure did have a good time doing that film,” he said. “In a nutshell, I got a call from Ry Cooder and he asked me if I’d like to play on the soundtrack because they needed a hot rod guitar player for this guitar-duel scene. I read the script, built a duel concept and we recorded it.”
Vai's guitar for the movie was a one-off Jackson build, which was finally tracked down in 2021 after an epic 20-year journey.