I conducted an interview with Dave a few years back and it was actually right before you were officially announced as the new lead guitarist. Dave had essentially described you as the best guitarist that he had ever worked with before. Wow. That's very humbling! If we rewind the clock a bit, how rigorous was the audition process to get into Megadeth? And did you have to learn every song within a pretty short period of time? It was really more of the latter. The first thing is they called me and they asked me if I was interested. Of course, I was very interested. We scheduled a meeting between Dave, myself, and actually James LoMenzo was there at the time. We all sat down and talked about what each other expected and what would happen and how things would occur. At that point it was really like, Let's get to work. Less than a month away they had a European tour coming up, and I had to learn 22 songs. So I wanted to be ready for that! I just started knocking the songs out as fast as I could, just getting them down. That's where we really started working together. There was no question in my mind whether or not I had the gig. I just saw the work that had to be done, and that's the way I pursued it. Things fell into place from there. You had previously offered guitar lessons on your personal website, but it was announced you would have to take a hiatus after you joined Megadeth. Have you continued those again? Yeah, when I have down time. Before this last tour I was able to get in a couple of months of lessons in between whenever there is downtime. I still teach. Are they the same students? Yeah, I have a lot of students that I've had for six or seven years. I've got some students that almost seem like they're lifers. They're great people. They don't know how much I appreciate them. Hopefully they appreciate what I offer to them as well. There was once a rumor that Dave asked you for guitar lessons as well. Is there any truth to that? Not really, no. We always confer on things, but you'll always find aspects of playing that one person excels in that another person doesn't. It's just inevitable with personalities and the way you grow up as a player. If he's got something that's really cool and really unique to offer, then I'll say, What is that? He'll do the same as well. You've got some new Jacksons you've got coming out. It's basically a six string and a seven string version of the same guitar in my Signature Series. Talk about the specs that you prefer to have associated with your guitars. For me, I had experienced a lot with different fretboard radiuses and things of that nature. I knew I preferred a curved fretboard radius. So I went with a 12-inch radius on that. I wanted stainless steel frets because of all the two-handed tapping that I do. That is pretty hard on frets and will wear them out quickly. So stainless steel will stand the test of time. There are very tall, narrow frets. I knew I wanted a really good tremolo on there. The pickups I had developed specifically for my playing style and my tonal preferences. The body design is all my own. We spent months together Mike Shannon and I developing the body style and making it as ergonomic as possible. For me, I think it looks awesome as well. It's great. I wanted the best woods possible, too. I went with maple, with a mahogany back. There's a maple neck. Other little touches are the locking auto tuners. They're really, really accurate and they trim the string for you. So it's an added benefit. I reversed the headstock up there also. And the same specs go for the seven-string model? Yes, both. I love the seven strings! I love to play that guitar as much as I can. There was a Megadeth forum discussing the woods you selected on the Jacksons, and someone had mentioned the reason you left Ibanez was because they were not going to supply you with your requested woods. No, it wasn't so much that. It was that they were trying to stick with the status quo. They weren't really willing to step up to the plate and put out something that I really wanted and Jackson was. Nothing was off the table for Jackson. Ibanez was like, Ah, we can't do stainless steel frets. They wouldn't even do it for me. That's why I love Jackson so much. Not only will they do it for me, but every guitar that will be sold is exactly the guitar I play. To me, it's really important. People who are going to bother to buy a signature series and spend that kind of money want to know they are going to get the same quality that the person playing it and representing it onstage has. That's what Jackson stepped up to the plate and did.
"Th1rt3en is not one of those ones that you'll put it on and every song sounds like the last one."
Do you know the price tags on those yet? They are going to be releasing a mid-line version and an entry level version. The U.S. customs are around $2,400 or something like that. I think we're looking at a price point of around $1,000 for the midline one. We haven't gotten as far with the entry level one. I just hope that everybody who would like one can at least get one at some level. I'm going to do my best to make sure that the kinds of things that are compromised at each price point are more of the bells and whistles instead of the actual quality of the instrument. You have such a wide variety of musical knowledge, whether we're talking about your classical training or your metal experience. Can you suggest some particular methods or techniques that you feel will really take someone's playing to the next level? I think the big thing that I always discounted in the beginning even though I read studies on it was the idea of visual practice. A lot of studies have stated that visual practice is about 80 percent effective as doing real guitar in-hand practice. So whether you're sitting down just listening to a metronome and visualizing yourself playing something or you're actually doing it, it's actually almost as beneficial. In a way, it's actually started to really help me even when I have the instrument on my hands. Instead of looking at my hands, I'll be looking out at the crowd. I'll be visualizing what I'm playing as I'm playing it instead of watching what I'm doing on the fretboard. I think that's a huge thing that people can do or use as an aide. Not only that, in your mind you can play anything perfect, right? You want to make sure that when you do visual practice that you always visualize it being played perfectly. Where did you originally hear about the idea of visual practice? There are studies that I had read about. Some of my prior classical instructors talked about it. I remember reading an article in which Eliot Fisk was on a plane to a gig. He had to play a piece that he had never played before. He gets on the plane and opens up the music, and he starts reading the music and starts to visualize playing it. By the time he landed, he was actually able to execute the piece and play the piece. It's a huge benefit because you can't pull your guitar out when you're in coach! How important do you feel that musical theory is? For me? It's fundamental because it's the type of person that I am. I believe that you follow the path that your personality takes you down. For some people theory is that path. For other, it isn't. For me, I'm the type of person that has to understand everything I play. I want to know everything about it and how it functions. Why does it sound this way to our ears? How can we augment that and extrapolate different tones from that? That's why I like theory so much. But you don't necessarily advise everyone to take that path. No. I see that certain people don't gravitate toward it. To me, that's cool in a way. It's going to produce different results than what I would produce. It just comes back to diversity, and that's something I definitely appreciate. Who were a few of your original influences? And who are a few contemporary players that continue to inspire you? The two that inspired me the most to pick it up were Eddie Van Halen and probably at the time it was Pepe Romero. He was the first classical guitar influence I had. Early on when I first started playing, I remember the guitarist there at this place I worked at and he worked on this classical stuff. He kind of influenced me in a way as well. Now people like Guthrie Govan and Paco de Lucia, they'll always be an influence of mine. Paul Gilbert will always be an influence on me. Per from Scar Symmetry. I really like his playing a lot. He's a newer influence. Even though Megadeth has seen its share of lineup changes, is it safe to assume that you'll be sticking around for awhile? Yeah. If I have any say, I'm not going anywhere! Will you be steadily touring for the next year or so in support of the upcoming record? Definitely when the new album comes out, we'll have a new touring cycle for that CD. We'll have a little time off in between the end of the Mayhem Festival and The Big Four show at Yankee Stadium. That will be a good little break.
"I'm the type of person that has to understand everything I play."
How has The Big Four gone so far? It's awesome. The big thing about it was the camaraderie between all the bands and how open each band was. It wasn't like four individual camps coming in together to do their own thing and then getting off the stage and them avoiding each other and stuff like that. To me, that was awesome because I didn't expect that. I've been on a lot of tours where the bands get up there, do their thing, and then they're absent. I have to admit I'm kind of that way. I'm a little more of a recluse than the socialite. I don't do well in social environments. Do you foresee The Big Four branching off into a full-fledged U.S. tour? We can all hope. I'm as big of a fan as that idea as everybody else is. Regarding the business side of a music career, what advice would you offer someone? I would say definitely with the way the market is changing, you can't rely on any one source to get your name out there. You never know where the opportunities are going to come from. You really need to look at the business side of music and playing guitar or whatever instrument you play as a nice challenge, too. You can't have any expectations from it. You want to see it as something else to develop whether it's posting video clips or getting your own interviews or trying to find management that will get you those interviews, gigs, and opportunities. Finally, just don't turn down any opportunities. You never know if you're going to get that opportunity again. It's a lot of luck. I would tell anybody that you can be the best player in the world, but it's still 80 percent luck. What is your favorite and/or most challenging Megadeth song to play? ChallengingI definitely like that word because it also refers to nerve-wracking at the same time. For me, that's probably How The Story Ends off of Endgame. I love that solo and I love to play it, but I'm always a little bit nervous when I first step into it. I'm always thinking about, Oh, here comes that part. I love playing it and I love the idea that it is a challenge. One of my favorite songs to just go out and play live is Tornado of Souls. It's a great tune and it has an epic solo. Do you find yourself tweaking it a bit or adding flourishes? I try and play it as faithfully as I can. Everybody has their own vibrato and way of bending notes. Hopefully I do Marty justice in the representation and hopefully people hear something a little bit unique about it, too. Interview by Amy Kelly Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2011
"When the new album comes out, we'll have a new touring cycle for that CD."