After being tipped for greatness by Steve Vai back in 2022, Matteo Mancuso has since gone on to become a household name for electric guitar fans.
A borderline absurd debut single – propelled by a mesmerizing first live outing – introduced audiences to his otherworldly technique, which assimilates aspects of classical guitar and conventional rock guitar into one devastating playing approach defined by incomprehensible agility and flawless phrasing.
As such, it was only a matter of time before the Sicilian was rubbing shoulders with Vai on stage, and after it was announced that Mancuso would be featuring at this year’s Vai Academy (an announcement that, naturally, was accompanied with a hypnotic playthrough of Eugene’s Trick Bag), that time has finally come.
In new footage published by Mancuso to social media, the Yamaha Revstar-wielding prodigy can be seen sharing the stage, at long last, with the man who labeled him as one of the best up-and-coming young guitar stars of his time.
Taking four bars each at a time, Vai and Mancuso – as well as keyboardist Jordan Rudess – go toe-to-toe with an onslaught of liquid legato licks, flurry of flawlessly executed phrases and relentless two-hand tapping lines that will leave your jaw on the floor.
It is, quite frankly, one of the most absurd displays of virtuosity you’ll likely ever see from a casual jam, and a testament to Mancuso’s generational talent that he holds his own (and, dare we say, even exceeds) against Vai.
His second and third passes are just laughable: after Vai gets busy with some chromatic scale runs and sustain-laden slides, Mancuso combines his classical fingerstyle approach with some Eddie Van Halen-style taps in a quintessential display of his generational chops.
“Vai Academy 7.0 was an unreal experience!” Mancuso wrote in the accompanying caption. “I really had a good time doing the clinics and the performances, plus Steve and his band were outstanding, my jaw was on the floor so many times!
“Thanks also to everyone that came to the academy, it really felt like a big guitar family and I’m really inspired by all the amazing players!”
As alluded to above, Vai and Mancuso sharing the stage is a significant milestone in the burgeoning career of the young virtuoso, whose debut record The Journey was voted one of the best guitar albums of 2023.
After all, Vai was one of the first high-profile players to predict a big future for Mancuso, singling out the youngster as one of the five contemporary guitarists who were changing the game.
“He’s one of these players that has really evolved the fusion-style guitar playing,” Vai told Guitarist at the time. “He has incredible ears, but his technique is pretty remarkable. You know, he can play with a pick, but he plays with his fingers.
“The variations of tone that he gets and the smoothness, and things like his intonation, his ability to play melodically over pretty fierce changes and stuff like that. I think he’s more of an evolution in the fusion department. I’m really looking forward to seeing some of the things that he eventually comes out with.”
Vai wasn’t alone in dishing out the praise for Mancuso: Tosin Abasi called him a “virtuoso beyond virtuous”, and upon hearing him Joe Bonamassa confessed, “I have not seen anyone reinvent like this since Stanley Jordan.”
All praise is good praise, but Vai’s was particularly impactful for young Mancuso. As he explained to Guitar World: “I remember that the videos of Joe and Steve talking about me came up on the internet during the pandemic.
“It feels so unreal to hear these legends talking about my playing, but at the same time you feel more responsible. It was also motivation to give 100 percent on everything I do.”
In a separate interview with Guitarist, Mancuso discussed his gear, playing style and influences, and in the process namedropped Steve Vai as one of the players that put him on his musical path.
We imagine there are plenty more clips of Mancuso's Vai Academy debut out there, so keep your eyes peeled on Matteo Mancuso's Instagram account for more.