As 2021 drew to a close, Steve Vai managed to outshine practically every single electric guitar drop from the preceding 12 months when he released his single Little Pretty – a track from his latest studio album Inviolate that was accompanied by a beastly creation named Hydra.
Unlike anything the guitar community had seen before, the triple-neck monster could basically do it all: it had one body, two headstocks and three necks, and accommodated seven- and 12-string guitars, as well as a four-string bass and half-fretless neck.
Not only that, it arrived with a wealth of mind-boggling pickup options, offering a sustainer, humbuckers, single-coils and a piezo.
Though intimidating at first, the guitar was quickly confirmed to be more than just a piece of gear eye candy and a spectacle of technical genius. After mesmerizing attendees at this year’s NAMM show and featuring in a close-up video, the Hydra then became the centerpiece to another Vai single, Teeth of the Hydra.
And yes, the single saw Vai wrestle with the many necks and stringed configurations of his monstrous pet. Since then, though, Vai fans have had to wait to catch a glimpse of the Hydra in the wild.
Well, last month, footage of the event finally arrived online, capturing the first time Vai played his mammoth Hydra guitar live.
Unveiling the Hydra from underneath its cover, Vai takes position behind the beast’s purpose-built stand – there’s no way a guitar strap could take the weight of that monster – and precedes to familiarize himself with each fretboard.
The central seven-string neck gets the most attention, but the 12-string helps flesh out the harmony with a few chordal strums, while the bass offers some low-end layering via Vai’s right-hand thumb slides and slaps. Oh, and the harp strings get some love too, by way of open string strums.
It looked to be a monumental effort, one we’d wager that only Vai could envisage and execute, and that deserves even more praise when the guitar’s complex signal processing requirements are taken into consideration.
Revealing the setup in a recent interview with Thomann, Vai explained his “Hydra has an ethernet cable, and the output of the ethernet cable has all of the outputs for the different necks”.
Further, the signal from the instrument is routed through a purpose-built rack unit, before making its way to a Fractal Axe-Fx III amp modeler.
Since its debut appearance on September 28, the Hydra has become a mainstay in Vai’s live guitar arsenal, with Teeth of The Hydra regularly occupying slot 15 on the setlist.
For a full list of Inviolate tour dates, and to find out when the Hydra will next be let out its cage, head over to Steve Vai’s website.