This interview was originally published in 2004.
Regarded as one of the very best players to emerge from the 80’s, Yngwie Malmsteen raised the bar for all metal players and set the standard which future generations would follow. With his blistering trademark riffs, ferocious style and outrageous showmanship, Malmsteen continues to be a major influence on many rock guitarists today. Be sure to check out Malmsteen’s latest endeavor his blazing new disc, Attack!! [Epic]. Malmsteen will also be featured on the upcoming G3 DVD and CD releases which are coming out in February and March of 2004.
Guitar.com chatted with Malmsteen about his experience performing on the G3 tour alongside Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. Malmsteen spoke about his preferences for gear, and described faithful the rig hes been using for years both onstage and in the studio. He also told us about the monstrous guitar collection he maintains in his home studio, including his most recent acquisitions, and the surprising gifts he received from Vai and special G3 guest Neal Schon.
Guitar.com: What was it like to be a part of G3?
Yngwie Malmsteen: The whole thing was a blast! The guys are great and its really cool that we all have very different styles. I think it was a great combination. In fact, I just got a rough cut of the DVD and our jam from Denver was really cool. It looks really good. There’s going to be an album and DVD, as well, which will come out in 2004. It was a good lesson in discipline for me because for the last 25 years or maybe more, I’ve always been doing exactly what I want, when I want to do it. Of course, when I toured with AC/DC, when I was in Alcatrazz and Steeler, I had to sort of conform a little bit then. But for most of my life, I’ve always been the person who calls all the shots. By that, what Im saying is if I want to play for three hours, then I play for three hours. Or I just throw in things like an obscure Deep Purple song when I want to. The difference for touring like this was that we had to be on and off at specific times. There’s nothing bad with that. It was actually a very good lesson in discipline for me because normally, if I feel like going on five minutes late or half an hour late, thats what Ill do. Or if I feel like doing an encore thats an hour long, I’ll do that. It was really refreshing because we had to tight and we had to be on, and there was no room for anything.
Guitar.com: What was your initial reaction when asked to join the tour?
Malmsteen: It was a no-brainer to me. I thought it would be a perfect thing for me to go out and play with these guys and play nice places in America for a change because the last few years, I’ve been concentrating mostly on Europe and Japan. It was really, really great for me and I had no doubts that it would be a great thing. I called up these great friends in England, Uli Jon Roth, who once did it with them, and Brian May, who has been up jamming with them. They said that I was going to love it and it was going to be great. I think that in the end, it actually turned out better than anybody expected and we virtually sold out every show.
Guitar.com: Had you ever played with Steve or Joe in the past?
Malmsteen: I’ve known Steve for many, many years, but we never played together. When I left Alcatrazz, Steve stepped in and we still had the same management, so I got to be really friendly with him and that was almost twenty years ago. I only met Joe a few times very briefly, and we had talked on the phone. Of course, thats changed now, since we lived together on the road for two months. It was great to hang with them, and to hang with Billy Sheehan again, too. The whole thing was just a blast.
Guitar.com: What was it like for you to participate in the jams at the G3 shows with Joe, Steve and the other guests?
Malmsteen: In the beginning, it was hard to hear. It took me a few nights to get things sounding right for me because I never really played with other guitar players before. I’ve jammed with bands quite a few times, but in a less formal way. The times I’ve actually done it have been in Sweden, like with Ian Gillan from Deep Purple. I went up with him and did Speed King and Black Night. There’s a really great band in Sweden called Sky High. There was a TV show and I was invited to play with them. But I don’t go and jam with people on a normal basis though.
Guitar.com: Had you selected any of the jam songs?
Malmsteen: I chose Voodoo Chile because thats a song I sing. Basically, I was given a list of songs and I was asked which one I want to do. I would have preferred to do a Purple song, but Joe didn’t want to do that. But I love to play heavy songs because they fit my voice and I can sing them. So of course, I chose Voodoo Chile. What I’ve done in the past a lot was Red House, Little Miss Lover, Spanish Castle Magic, and songs like that. Voodoo Chile is a just really cool song to jam on, and thats why I picked that one. Steve was actually going to do another song to begin with. Then he changed it to Little Wing. The funniest part is that I actually never even heard that last song, Rockin In A Free World. I’d never even heard it before!
Guitar.com: Were you varying the material in your set throughout the tour or did you keep the same material at each show?
Malmsteen: I kept it pretty much the same, as far as the set list. But the thing is that its still never the same because I improvise everything I do. Every solo, every introduction, everything I play is never the same. Every night is different. To me, even though the framework of this song is the same, I can play it a million different ways. So it never became boring for me. Normally, when I do my own shows and my own tours, I have the band learn like 50 songs. They usually go, What??? 50???!!! But thats because maybe tomorrow night I want to play Demons Eye, and maybe I’ll want to just throw it in without even telling them, and not even writing it on the set list. So thats what I always do when Im on my own, but we didnt do that on this tour. This was definitely much more disciplined than anything I’ve done before. But then again, there’s only so much discipline that I can take!
Guitar.com: What were some of the highlights of the tour?
Malmsteen: The second night in New York was definitely great. Montreal was unbelievable, Vegas was unbelievable. San Francisco was amazing, too. I think the only night that I didnt feel 100 percent was in Los Angeles, because of the sound. It was so bad.
Guitar.com: Will a technical problem ever affect your attitude and performance?
Malmsteen: My philosophy as a musician is to be the best I can. Some musicians none on this tour let their guard down and they allow negativity to affect their performance. To me, as a rule, no matter how fucked up things are because of a personal or technical problem, that time I’m onstage, I’m going to give 1,000 percent.
Guitar.com: Tell us about your stage guitars.
Malmsteen: It’s all old stuff. My Strats are from 67 up to about 72. I just love the look and the look and the sound of those cream-white Strats with maple necks and the big headstock, like the Hendrix Woodstock guitar. They’re all customized with very deep scallops and very huge frets. You can drive a train over the top of these things. They all have brass nuts. I like them because they dont wear out. The tremolo is stock. The pickups are DiMarzio HS-3 in the back, and the middle and front are YJM models, which are my own DiMarzio pickup. It’s a single-coil sound, but its a humbucking stack. It’s very cool. I never really liked those double-coil things. You don’t get as much attack in the guitar. And they’re all four-bolt, as well. Even if they were three-bolt originally, I’ve had them redone to be four.
Guitar.com: Do you drill the fourth hole underneath the original three-bolt plate to keep it looking original?
Malmsteen: No, it’s a regular four-bolt plate. But not only that, the four screws that hold in the neck are not wood screws, they’re machine screws. Inside the neck there are reversed thread brass inserts that go into the neck. With the machine screws, its as close to having a neck-through-body guitar, as far as sustain and steadiness. It’s ridiculous. You can move the neck around on a stock Strat, but not on mine.
Guitar.com: How do your stage guitars compare to the stock Fender Malmsteen signature model Strat?
Malmsteen: The Fender signature model is really good, and its probably as close as it can get to the vintage ones that I’m using. However, its sort of like a light version, like a light beer a diet version. The frets are not as big and the scallops are not as deep. I guess Fender figured that they want to sell this thing! It is definitely different from a normal Strat, but the fret size and the depth of the scallop is less than it is on my guitars. I’m not saying thats bad, its just different. Other than that, the pickups are exactly the same and the maple cap 68-style neck is unbelievable! It’s a beautiful guitar! It even comes with a Ferrari decal!
Guitar.com: How are your guitars set up?
Malmsteen: I’ve used Fender Super Bullets for years now. I use a strange gauge .008, .011, .014, .026, .036, .048. Throughout the years, I found that if the wound strings are too thin, it really affects the sound and you dont get that massive thick sound. But the high strings never sound better when theyre thicker. The action on my guitars is very very high. Everybody thinks that since I’m playing those fast things, the action is low. But that is what I think makes the guitar sing not the thickness of the strings because it allows it to breathe more. I always tune my guitar a half step down, except for the jam in G3. For that, I was in standard tuning. I also use extremely heavy picks. I use Dunlop 1.5 mm, which they are so kind to make in white for me. If you buy them in the stores it would be purple.
Guitar.com: What is the nylon-string guitar you play onstage?
Malmsteen: It’s an Ovation. Its refretted, but its not scalloped.
Guitar.com: Have you added any instruments to your massive collection?
Malmsteen: I haven’t bought a guitar for a long time. I haven’t seen any like the one I play for a long time. The last time I saw one, I bought it, and that was about five years ago. It was at Guitar Center here in Miami. It was just hanging there and it looked so sad. Actually, the last guitar I bought was a Les Paul. That was three years ago. It was a newer one and it has this very nice tiger top. I don’t know much about Gibsons, but I have a few. I have an ES-335, I have three or four Flying Vs, an SG, and an amazing old goldtop Les Paul with humbuckers. The most amazing guitars I ever bought, I got them all in Sweden, like my 56 shoreline gold Strat. I got a March 54 Strat, which is the first month and the first year. They made ten guitars in that month. It’s not scalloped. I left it completely original, but it might have been repainted before I bought it. It’s all bakelite parts. If you take the neck off, its written with a pencil 3/54. Fender did not have the tooling to make them by machines until October 54, so theyre all handmade up until October. Then I have a 55 and 56, and all the way up. I have a couple of really nice burgundy mist Strats. I used to collect them, but I don’t anymore. But they’re all over the place. I’ve got over 200 Stratocasters.
Guitar.com: So you don’t actively look for guitars anymore?
Malmsteen: No, not anymore. They’ve gotten so expensive and I’d rather spend money on something else. Also, the ones I really like are just not around. I wouldn’t buy a 65 sunburst or even a 64. I wouldn’t pay money for that guitar. But if I found a 55 Mary Kay with the gold parts and blonde finish, then were talking! But there was one guitar that I saw and had to have. When I was in Nottingham, England, this kid came up to me and said he wanted me to sign his Strat. I looked at it very closely and it was a 67 with a maple cap neck and big headstock with a transition logo. They didn’t make maple cap necks in 67, so that must have been a one-off. It was stamped January 67 and it had a maple cap. From 59 to 68, they only made rosewood necks, and in 66 they started making them in big headstocks with rosewood. It was very bizarre, so I got it from the guy. I traded him for one of my guitars and I signed it. But that 67 is a really remarkable instrument. I gave it to the shop to refret it and scallop the fingerboard because I wanted to play it. It’s cream white and has all the original parts. It’s very nice.
Oh, I did get two new guitars during the tour. Steve gave me one of his signature models and I gave him one of mine. It’s great. Neal Schon gave us guitars, too. He gave me a beautiful white 67 Reissue Flying V and and it’s beautiful! He gave each of the other two guys a Les Paul. So go, Neal, go!
Guitar.com: Whats in your live rig?
Malmsteen: I go through a Bradshaw rig, but theres really nothing in it. The main sound is just straight through the Marshalls with everything set full up. They’re all old amps from the 60’s and early 70’s with four inputs, bright and normal channels, and no master volume. They’re very primitive amps, but to me, they have the most organic sound. I brought quite a few Marshalls on this tour more than I normally use.
The Bradshaw system has six presets. The first preset is just dry no effects. Preset two splits the two stacks in stereo. One side is totally dry and the other side has all the delay, so they won’t interfere with each other. I really love that effect its very cool. You can do little improvised fugues and stuff. The delay is a Korg DL-8000R. The third preset is very bizarre, with a dry signal on one side and a delayed signal thats an octave lower on the other side. So the octave divider comes only on the echo feed and when I play with the volume knob for swells, it sounds like a violin and a cello together. The fourth preset is an octave higher up, using a TC Electronic G-Force. I only do that to annoy people. The last preset is an old Roland echo, which I also use to annoy people like at the end of my guitar solo, which is quite annoying. Then I’ve got a Crybaby in there, and a DOD YJM Overdrive, which is a pedal I designed thats based on the original 70s 250 Overdrive. That’s it. Its pretty straight forward. The only reason I want to use these effects is to make it so it really is an effect. A lot of guys always have a little delay or chorus or harmonizer, and thats cool for them. I like it very organic and very straight. The playing should be more important than the effects.
Guitar.com: Tell us about your plans for 2004.
Malmsteen: I’m going back out on the road again at the beginning of the year because I just signed a deal with Sony and Epic, and I have an album which came out on January 13th called Attack!! I’ll be touring in the States, Canada, Europe, Japan, and South America, then I’m going to start another album, which I’ve already written about 40 songs for. When I’m home, I don’t do anything but write songs and hang out with the cats and dogs, and my son. I also recorded a live album in Europe and that’s going to come out, too. Then theres also live DVD with me and a symphony orchestra the Japan Philharmonic thats coming out. I’m really excited about that.
Guitar.com: Did you send your Strat sailing above the orchestra during that performance?
Malmsteen: Toward the end of the set, I couldn’t help myself! But I was definitely concentrating more on playing throughout. It’s so different because when you play rock, you always have that beat because of the drummer and you never have to think about being tight. There’s a musical term called rubato, and that means the tempos not set it kind of flows. There are more difficult things, like colla parte which is when the 96-piece orchestra has to follow the soloist, which is me. So my report with the conductor is so important. He needs to look at me and I need to look at him, and we need to understand each other perfectly because he needs to convey it to the orchestra. It’s very difficult, but its very challenging and extremely rewarding. I want to do a lot more of that in the future. Its not like a band playing with a symphony orchestra, where they play their songs the way they always play them, like the Scorpions or Metallica, and the orchestra goes behind them. I composed a concerto suite for electric guitar and orchestra in E flat minor with no rock instrumentation at all. It’s just a guitar and orchestra, so its very different from what other guys have done.
Guitar.com: What advice would you give to other guitarists on developing their own sound and style?
Malmsteen: Well, to have your own sound is style is probably the most difficult thing to do. Anybody can learn to type write really fast, but not everybody can write a great book. I don’t really know what to say for advice, except if you have a vision, follow it and ignore what everybody else is telling you. If everybody tells you that you cant do it, just try a little harder. I think its important to know theory and harmony, the scales, the relative keys, and learn how to improvise. These are hard things to learn. But there are different goals that people have. My question often is, do you want to be good or do you want to be famous? These are two different things. If you want to be good, you might not get famous. But you might get famous without being good. That’s not impossible. It happens all the time. But really, if your heart is in it, I think you will succeed, although youll have to work very hard at it. Remember, there are 10-million other people that want the same thing.
Guitar.com: What are you listening to for inspiration and enjoyment?
Malmsteen: Nothing. When Im either in the studio all the time or on tour, if I want to relax, I’m really into watching movies. I have a home theater with a 5.1 system and a big screen. I really like sci-fi and horror, and stuff like that. That’s my relaxation, really. I also read a lot of books. I very rarely put a record on, except if I drive. I had a CD changer in my car, and theres mostly Bach and Vivaldi in there. But I also have ZZ Top, Queen, and Deep Purple, so I guess that just shows how old I am. That’s what I listened to when I was a kid.
Guitar.com: Do you ever listen to any new bands?
Malmsteen: There are some new bands I like, especially European groups. There’s a resurgence of classical metal in Europe. I forgot the names of the bands, but those guys have really done their homework for neo-classical metal. It’s a little bit like what I’ve done for years. I can’t say Ive bought any of their records, but I’ve heard it, and its really good. I remember this Italian band called Rhapsody. Then theres a Swedish band called Majestic, which is actually a friend of mine. Its hard to remember the names of some of the other groups, but they’re all quite similar in their style, with a lot of double-bass drums and a lot of operatic singing. It’s very different from what youd be able to listen to here in the States because it seems like in the 90’s which I consider dark days indeed there wasn’t anything like that going on. I’d just try to thrash on doing my own thing and kind of ignore it. It wasn’t very inspiring. I think things can only get better from this point on. I think there are some great groups that came out of it like Foo Fighters. They have a good upbeat sound. But I don’t actively listen to any new music.
Guitar.com: What tips would you offer on becoming a better songwriter?
Malmsteen: Well, thats something that just has to evolve. Improvisation is the genesis of composition. In order to come up with something cool, you have to jam. Here’s what I do: I have a little Marshall amp in my living room and its always connected with a guitar. I just sit on my couch and play around while watching tv. If I come up with a really cool melody or chord progression or riff, it escalates from there. Then I’ll go upstairs into my studio and record it. That’s how I work, but there are different ways to do it. If I had to, I could write a song right now, but I wouldn’t feel good about it. I like it to happen by accident.
Guitar.com: Do you ever write songs when you don’t have a guitar, like when youre driving?
Malmsteen: All the time! Melodies just pop in your head. I write lyrics when I sleep, then I get up and write them down. I dont really think theres a formula to it. It’s creation. As far as creation goes, you have to just sort of let it take you with it, and just go with it. Thats how things happen, instead of just forcing it, and I refuse to do that. The same thing goes for solos. I just roll tape and if it doesnt happen by the second take, I go downstairs, have a beer, and play some pool. If it doesnt happen without me doing it over and over, then I don’t do it. It has to happen right then and there. And if theres a little mistake, thats beautiful. It doesnt bother me because its that spur of the moment challenge of creation that really matters. I’ve even left solos on albums where strings broke in the middle of a solo. I would just leave it and not repair it because it was so cool. I think that same thing goes with songwriting. If it doesn’t happen, don’t try to force it. Just let it happen when it happens by itself.
Guitar.com: Do you think that giving yourself time away from the song is the best remedy to make it happen?
Malmsteen: Not necessarily, but it can work sometimes. There is really no formula. All of a sudden, if you haven’t been working on it for a while, a lot less can get you more inspired. However, if you do it intensely for a long time, that bar just raises all the time and smaller things become less important, and only greatness will give you inspiration. But greatness wont pat you on the back. If you do really push yourself hard, it could result in greatness, but it could also result in shit!