Steve Vai debuts innovative "joint shifting" technique with new song Candle Power

Steve Vai may have just turned 60, but the man who was labeled a “stunt” guitar player by Frank Zappa some four decades ago clearly isn’t done pushing himself on the instrument.

In celebration of his birthday, Vai has just released a new electric guitar instrumental, Candle Power, which demonstrates a new technique he’s been developing that he calls "joint shifting".

As he explains in the caption accompanying the new clip, “This is where you bend a note while fretting another, but I wanted to do this technique with a combination of double and triple stop single note bends while fretting other notes and releasing bends.

“After considerable experimenting, I discovered it created a unique sounding passage. You can hear this technique on a few sections of the song. I certainly hope other ambitious guitar player see the potential in this technique and take it to the moon!”

In addition to the joint shifting technique, Vai also challenges himself in other ways on Candle Power, outlining some strict playing parameters:

“I told myself I would use a Strat style guitar (tougher for me to play then a Jem), use a very clean tone (not conventional for me). no whammy bar (that’s like losing a body part for me) and no pick, just fingers (way out of my comfort zone),” he writes.

Vai spoke about joint shifting – calling it “freaky shit” – in an interview with MusicRadar last year. At the time, he hinted at the song Candle Power, and that it would be featured on his next studio effort, the follow up to 2016’s Modern Primitive.

“I’m working on it right now,” Vai said of the new record. “It’s different, sounding very stripped-down and trio-based.

“For the past two years, in my mind’s eye, I’ve found the best way to improve is to imagine myself doing something beyond my capabilities. That’s how everything has been coming out, like this joint shifting. I just imagine something I can’t do and then I work on it. I’ve found it keeps things fresh and interesting.”

He continued, “I’ve started having visions about playing in new ways… it’s not like they’re fast. I’m 59; keeping up those chops isn’t as interesting to me. It’s all about the bizarre and quirky ways to phrase, moving all around the neck.

“It takes months and months to develop through undisturbed and focused time. And then you have this new vantage point… that’s what makes it so rewarding.”

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.