“There is a great romance in owning vintage guitars but I just don’t resonate with it”: Steve Vai on why vintage ain’t all that for him

The virtuoso recalls the time he chose a $500 Japanese knockoff over vintage Strats.

Steve Vai performing

Image: Medios y Media / Getty Images

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Steve Vai has spoken about his lack of interest in vintage guitars, preferring instead to collect guitars that feature “unique functions”.

“When it comes to guitars I’m not an aficionado,” the virtuoso tells host Dean Delray in a recent episode of the Let There Be Talk podcast. “I can’t really tell you a lot about the guitar. When I’m designing it I know everything – the kind of neck, the fret dimensions, the ohmage on the pots, the wood, everything. But that information is kind of boring to me in a sense and I like guitars that have functionality.”

As Vai explains, the guitars he enjoys collecting are ones that feature “unique functions”: “There is a great romance in owning vintage but I just don’t resonate with it,” he says. “And I’ve tried.”

“I remember once I was recording Alien Love Secrets and there was a song The Boy from Seattle and it required a clean, single-coil Strat. And I always wanted an old Strat just to have it. And I had saved because at the time a really good Strat was like $17,000.”

“And I saved and I had it and I went down to all the music stores in Hollywood and I said ‘Bring me your best Strats. Bring ‘em to the studio.’ And I sat for days and went through Strats – old Strat after old Strat. I ended up buying a $500 Japanese knockoff Strat because it felt the best and it absolutely sounded the best. [It was] what I was looking for.”

“I said, ‘why am I chasing antique instruments for?’ They never really sound great to me in a sense.”

And it isn’t just old-school guitars that Vai isn’t a fan of. “I don’t like new guitars either,” says the musician. “It’s like a new car, some people like that. I like a new car but a new guitar just feels too pristine. It’s not worked in. I like to get my sweat in it. I like it when it gets a few bumps and grinds in it.”

“So I’ve never really had an attraction for vintage. I definitely appreciate the romance behind it but they’re expensive also. If I wanted 10 vintage guitars it’s a million dollars so there’s no need for me. I don’t have that bug.”

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