“I never wanted to be a violinist. I wanted to play electric guitar with smoke bombs and flash pots and Marshall stacks”: Yngwie Malmsteen says he is definitely not a frustrated classical player

Yngwie Malmsteen plays electric guitar in front a Marshall amp stack
(Image credit: Steve Thorne / Getty Images)

It is often said of shred virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen that he is a frustrated classical violinist at heart, but in a recent interview with YouTube guitar guru Rick Beato, the neoclassical icon points out his issues with the description.

During the conversation [around 6.27], Beato compares Malmsteen’s unique approach to the instrument to that of Allan Holdsworth – the prog/fusion guitarist who said he “wanted to be a saxophonist” – noting perhaps the same is true of the Swedish maestro when it comes to classical violin. Malmsteen, however, disagrees.

“I never wanted to be a violinist,” says the virtuoso. “I never wanted to be a classical guitar player. I wanted to play electric guitar with smoke bombs and flash pots and Marshall stacks and double bass drums. I never wanted to do anything else.”

Instead, says Malmsteen, it was the desire to be a rock guitarist that got him playing in the first place.  

“I got my first guitar on my fifth birthday,” he recalls. “When I was seven, Jimi Hendrix died and they showed on the news him burning the guitar at Monterey Pop. I said, ‘Wow, that's cool!’ So I took the guitar off my wall and I started playing. But I wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll.”

The guitarist also discusses his early musical loves, including Black Sabbath and Deep Purple’s Fireball, and Clapton-era Bluesbreakers, but says the classical influence – inspired by his mother’s vast collection of J.S. Bach – came from a different place.

“As much as I loved Deep Purple and Black Sabbath and those bands,” Malmsteen tells Beato. “They're hard and heavy but the note choices were 99 precent pentatonic.” 

Listening to Bach certainly changed that for the young Malmsteen, but again, he says it was rock – not the violin – that lit the touch paper. 

“I love the sound of the rock,” reiterates Malmsteen. “The sound of the stacks and the stuff like that! I didn’t want to play classical violin.”

Consider the record corrected. Which reminds us, on that point of correcting the record, alongside many other worthy contenders, both Malmsteen and Holdsworth were left off Rolling Stone’s 250 greatest guitarists of all time list – a straight injustice in our book.

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Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.