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Steve Vai offers a tour of his live rig – and shares a glimpse of the complex signal processing needed for his absurd triple-neck Ibanez Hydra

Steve Vai’s gear collection is the envy of guitarists the world over. After over 40 years in the game, he’s amassed a fair amount equipment, and thanks to a new video posted to Thomann’s YouTube channel, we’re granted a look at what he’s currently using in his live rig.

Now, the virtuoso offered a guided tour of his favorite guitars to Guitarist back in March – in which he took us under the hood of his fabled triple-neck Ibanez Hydra – but here, Vai and his guitar techs take some time out of his 2022 Inviolate European tour to showcase his pedals and outboard effects, too.

First, though, one of Vai’s techs – Doug – takes us through his “career guitars” starting with his long-trusted Ibanez JEM7VWH, dubbed “Evo”.

“It’s set up pretty conventionally,” Doug says. “People will ask, ‘How does Steve set up his guitar action?’ I usually measure in units of 32nds of an inch. At the 12th fret, it’s usually around 3.2 – at the high E it’s usually around 3. He doesn’t like very low action; he likes to really be able to grab the note.”

Other guitars on the rack include Vai’s Ibanez John Scofield signature guitar – which he uses specifically for Little Pretty (from his latest album, Inviolate). There are more of his classic Ibanez JEMs – the “Flo” and “Flo III”, the latter of which has been Vai’s main guitar for the past decade – and “Bo”, and the green PIA “Envy”, two guitars equipped with blue and green fretboard LEDs, respectively.

A highlight from Vai’s lineup of live electric guitars is his Ibanez Universe, used during his tenure with Whitesnake, and seen in the music video for The Deeper the Love, from the band’s 1989 album, Slip of the Tongue.

Of course, there’s no denying that Vai’s gargantuan triple-neck Hydra model is the star of his gear collection, although he hasn’t been able to bring it on tour this time as he’s recovering from a recent shoulder surgery.

“I asked my engineer to weigh it but we never got to weighing it,” Vai says. “Everybody asks me, ‘How much does it weigh?’ 1,000 lbs that’s what it feels like!”

But while the Hydra isn’t present for this rig walkthrough, Vai is on hand to detail some of the complex digital routing required to make it work. 

“The Hydra has an ethernet cable, and the output of the ethernet cable has all of the outputs for the different necks,” Vai explains, adding that the signal from the instrument is routed through a purpose-built rack unit, before heading into his Fractal Axe-Fx III amp modeler.

Elsewhere, Vai takes us through his current pedalboard setup, which includes a DigiTech Whammy, Ibanez Jemini distortion pedal, and even a foot-operated button for switching on his onstage fan.

“Without this switch I don’t know if I could do my show,” Vai says. “I tell people: ‘The reason why I have a fan is so it blows my hair back and makes me look cool,’ because that’s what they think. Well that’s partially true, but in reality, these little clubs get so hot… This keeps my fingers a little dryer, and keeps my hair honest.”

The European leg of Steve Vai's Inviolate tour continues tonight (July 4) at the Ultravox Arena in Florence, Italy. Watch the full rundown of his live rig above.

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Sam is a Staff Writer at Guitar World, also creating content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar (opens in new tab).