Michael Angelo Batio: 'I Always Wanted My Guitars To Be Different And Unique'

Considered to be one of the fastest guitarists in the world, Michael Angelo Batio is a highly unique individual and gifted guitarist.

Michael Angelo Batio: 'I Always Wanted My Guitars To Be Different And Unique'
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Considered to be one of the fastest guitarists in the world, Michael Angelo Batio is a highly unique individual and gifted guitarist. And when speaking about his playing in interviews, Michael comes across passionate, intelligent and excited about his instrument. His iconic Double Guitar is known to millions of players the world over, while his jaw dropping technique is admired and studied by countless guitarists. On a recent trip to Australia to perform a series of clinics cum performances, Joe Matera caught up with Michael Angelo Batio during sound check on a sunny Melbourne afternoon in this interview for Ultimate-Guitar. UG: You're very passionate about your Dean guitars, what made you choose the Dean over the normal standard choices such as Fender or Gibson guitars that a lot of other guitarists tend to use? Michael Angelo Batio: I have always wanted my guitars to be different and to be unique. And not necessarily, because of that, was I, also wanting to be better than other guitar players too. But I naturally play differently and have come up with different things live, and so I always have wanted to be unique and have my own voice. And when Dean guitars came up with the ML shaped guitar, it was one badass guitar. I do like Gibson Les Pauls and Fender Strats, but I mean, you have already got Angus Young playing a Gibson SG, Jimmy Page playing a Les Paul, and Hendrix playing a Strat, so I wanted to play something totally different. And Dimebag thought the same way too. So that is why I started using Deans. Their shapes are really cool, and they're high quality USA. When they came up with the Blue Burst guitar, when I first saw it, it freaked me out. I used to see it hanging on the music store wall where I was teaching guitar in my hometown of Chicago. And every time I saw it, I'd say 'I have to have that guitar'. And that is how it all started. Are your guitars set-up with a low action to help with your speed playing? No, my action is set pretty high and it doesn't stop me from playing fast at all. You started playing piano and composing at age five and then started playing guitar at age ten. How much did you early piano skills influence your approach towards the guitar? A lot because first up, I'm left handed and so I played piano right-handed as there were no left handed pianos. And since I played guitar right handed too, that's what gave me the ability to do all this stuff because my left hand, the fret board hand, became the stronger hand. And it served me well really early on when I started playing shows at the age of ten, where I developed this whole show of playing over and under. But as I went on, I came to the realization that my right hand was very deficient. When I got to 14 years of age, it suddenly dawned on me that I had this super fast left hand but my right hand just sucked. So I spent two years developing my picking technique, with strict alternate picking. Literally, I'd play hour after hour to get my right hand to equal the left hand. But the piano playing helped a lot when it came to develop my technique on the double guitar as it enabled me to play two different parts at the same time.
"I always have wanted to be unique and have my own voice."
A lot of your playing particularly the speed side of things still has a lot of melodic-ism in it rather than you are just trying to fit in as many notes as possible. Did that sense of melody come from your piano background too? Yes. But also it came from my first band Holland. We got signed to a major label, Atlantic Records and though we were never big outside of the US, we did do really well in the U.S. And we wrote three and half minute kick your ass pop songs! But it was also really good melodic metal. I didn't play really fast but I wrote all the songs with the singer as I had come from a more songwriting background. And the solos always had a melody. But what happened was, because I had the ability to play really fast, people seemed to take more notice of that instead. What about when guys like Yngwie Malmsteen came onto the scene doing a somewhat similar thing with the fast playing, what did you think of their playing at the time? I liked it. But you have to understand that when we were coming up in the '80s nobody was calling it shred guitar back then. We all just wanted to be good. But then during the '90s, the critics, especially in the States were part of this whole anti-guitar movement, where you couldn't play solos. And so they tried to make people who could play, like me, not feel good about it. When grunge came in, all the shred type guitar players either ran away or they went on to become blues players. But I thought to myself, 'why should I change just because some guy in a suit says that what I'm doing is unpopular?' In my career, I've always tried to do things that were different. For example, I came up with the double-guitar, and I had a different sound. While everybody was doing the scooped mids thing, I was doing the exact opposite. And so, I started finding out about the internet, as I knew back then what the way of where records were going to go. Because records had gone to cassette, and then cassettes went to CDs, I knew CDs had to go somewhere else too. And once I realized that CDs were digital and that the internet was a way to transfer digital data, I knew I had to jump on it. So I got on to that horse and rode it. I got the URL angelo.com and with my previous record industry experience of being on a major label under my belt, I began marketing myself and my playing in a different way. And then soon after, it [the net] exploded. As you have mentioned and as many would know, you invented the Double-Guitar. A V-shaped, twin-neck guitar that is played both right and left-handed. What was the inspiration behind it? When I was about 13 years old I was watching a jazz concert in Chicago being performed by jazz saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk. At the time I only had been playing guitar for a few years and was studying jazz. And this dude totally blew my mind. He also had this technique called circular breathing, where he could breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth at the same time while he was ripping. During the show he did this thing which freaked me out, he had taped two saxes together and began playing them both at the same time! And thought, 'here I am, a piano player, am left handed but playing a right handed guitar, so I'm going to do that too'. And that's how I came up with the idea. It came from the saxophone. Even in the way I strap on the double-guitar with a strap around my neck, that idea came from the sax players. It is a heavy guitar and with having to strap it around your neck, wouldn't the weight of it become quite painful over time? Hell yes, but I regularly go to a good chiropractor. But it's never really hurt me. When it comes to speed playing in general, what do you think are the integral elements a guitarist needs to be aware of? I would say that in order to play fast, you have to first learn how to play slow. It is all about coordinating both of your hands so that they're able to play together. I used to make my students play slow first. I learned this technique from having taken piano lessons and I used that to teach speed playing on the guitar. When you slow it down and force people to physically and mentally concentrate, it gets more ingrained in their heads and because of that, they can become a better and fast player. And only then would I show them other exercises. So it really comes down to the discipline of concentrating on what you're doing really slowing and getting that right movement correctly. And I pick unusually too, because I'm left handed and I rest my hand on the guitar like this (demonstrates). I did a study of lot of different guitar players and found that though there are some that pick from the wrist or elbow, I found that its not that important. The majority of players like Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci, Vinnie Moore, myself and anybody who plays really fast and accurately, when they're playing medium to fast speeds, they never move their thumb and index finger. So it doesn't matter if you use your wrist or elbow, what matters is the motion of your thumb and index finger. It has got to stay stationary. There are exceptions to the rule though but 95% of all guitarists do use this common technique.
"In order to play fast, you have to first learn how to play slow."
What about when it comes getting a guitar tone, what do you look for? For me I have to separate it into three sounds; distortion rhythm, distortion lead and, clean. Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifiers are cool for my distortion rhythms but because they don't have the mid range that I like for lead playing, I usually gravitate towards Marshalls for my leads. And for clean sounds, you can't beat any old Fender amp. So what I look for is a really good mid-range tone. My lead guitar tone doesn't have a lot of bass and a lot of treble, but it does have a lot of mids which in the process creates a lot of presence. You know for humans, even if you're hard of hearing you will always hear the mids. I have people say to me all the time how clean my guitar sound is and it is because there are so many mids in the tone, that when you play live it really becomes more present. I used to get so pissed at all these engineers, as whenever we would record and mix an album, they would then master it and add all this brightness to it. And it made my tone too bright. I was like, 'no that's not my tone, I don't want a bright guitar sound. I want bright drums and cymbals'. So ever since, I have not been a big fan of mastering. If I asked you to choose a few guitarists that influenced your style and approach to playing, who would they be? I listen to a lot of different guitar players so it is hard to choose a select a few. But early on, I listened to a lot of Django Reinhardt records. I loved his playing so much that on every CD I have recorded early in my career I always include, some Django riffs. Also, I loved George Benson and Al Di Meola especially some of those Di Meola albums like Elegant Gypsy. As for current guys, I like a country guitar player called Brad Paisley he recently released a new album [Play] that is almost all instrumental and he does a lot of Eric Johnson styled and Joe Satriani styled playing. That, I really like. Jim Gillette recently commented that he would like to see a reunion of Nitro happen possibly in 2009. Yeah he asked me but I'm not going to do it. And Jim and I are best friends. But Jim also doesn't want to do any of the old songs. Jim's idea is for a Nitro 2009, not the Nitro from the past. He doesn't want to redo Nitro, he just wants to get back up onstage again and do what he's doing now. It might be under the banner of Nitro though. But what he is doing now is an album with his wife, Lita Ford. And I've heard some of the music and it is really cool. But for me to do a Nitro reunion and not do any of the old songs, I don't think it would be the same. Interview by Joe Matera Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2008

136 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    MetalUpYourRear
    This guy actually did a clinic and q&a at a tiny music store/small venue right down the street from me. It was awesome because it was a small room with only like 30 people there. Afterward, he stayed and talked to everybody and signed things. I got to meet him and he has a really cool, down to earth, hilarious personality. He was constantly cracking cheesy, but hilarious jokes in between songs. Plus, he was just incredible to watch. I was about just feet away from him when he played his double guitar solo.
    Tosh678
    If you want to hear a MAB song that has emotion listen to "peace"
    I prefer him to Malmsteen in terms of guitar playing, Still love Malmsteen's music though.
    David_Bowie=GOD
    he really needs to change that hairdo, i know he wants to be different but that doesn't mean he has to keep the same ridiculous hairdo he has had since the 80s.
    AmpleSteak
    If unique he means playing fast scales with no soul then yes he has achieved that.
    Flying Couch
    Revhain wrote: " And not necessarily, because of that, was I, also wanting to be better than other guitar players too. " what?
    Yeah, that confused me too. That sentence makes no sense at all. But he's nice guy, for all that's worth.
    NightEmbers
    JOE_DESTROYER wrote: MasterExploder0 wrote: At least he listens to other music, unlike Malmsteen. beethoven didn't listen to music, yet he was one of the greatest composers ever?
    yeah but malmsteen makes it seem like no one has made a good album since 1960, kinda like what Bob Dylan had said... THough I like all these artist music, most of them have opinion like this that makes me think of them less, even MAB
    Peres.T.Peanut
    this guy completly fails to impress me...he is more of a poser than a composer. complete lack of originality.
    CoreysMonster
    his taste in music equals his taste in hair I really respect him as a guitar player, but to me it seems he has been concentrating too much on being "different" through looks and tone than by actual music creativity. meh, never really like his music, at least not with Nitro. But still, he seems like a really nice guy, and I would SO want to have him as my guitar teacher.
    seanieboy123
    David_Bowie=GOD wrote: he really needs to change that hairdo, i know he wants to be different but that doesn't mean he has to keep the same ridiculous hairdo he has had since the 80s.
    true dat he needs a different hair style as much as pat methany does
    hippiemetalguy
    brandon5pennies wrote: I met Batio too the thing I like about him is he plays flawless live. He picked up a Dean off the shelf and played it amazingly. I hate to rag on John Petrucci but he tends to have sloppy moments live from time to time. I saw a video of him playing the intro solo to The Glass Prison and it was a mess. John Petrucci is one of the best as well. I'd have to say Paul Gilbert is the best "shredder" right now his technique and creativity is unbelievable and he's a great teacher
    yeah i totally agree with you oneverything especially that pauls work is amazing like he phrases everything near perfection
    rusty-knives
    pangui wrote: rusty-knives wrote: If you really think about it, the internet hasn't really been around too long in the grand scale of things so guitarist's really didn't have easy access to a wide range of influences. Sorry if someone else already commented on this, but the internet is not the only way to access a wide range of influences... it's called CDs and LPs (and tapes)... etc.
    Sorry if it seemed like I meant that the internet was the only way to access other music. I meant that the internet is the fastest, and the cheapest way of hearing more music. Plus, you can hear unsigned bands and the like a lot easier than if you relied on tapes and CDs.
    brandon5pennies
    I met Batio too the thing I like about him is he plays flawless live. He picked up a Dean off the shelf and played it amazingly. I hate to rag on John Petrucci but he tends to have sloppy moments live from time to time. I saw a video of him playing the intro solo to The Glass Prison and it was a mess. John Petrucci is one of the best as well. I'd have to say Paul Gilbert is the best "shredder" right now his technique and creativity is unbelievable and he's a great teacher
    brandon5pennies
    Shawn Lane was the best of all time. Beautiful phrasing melodic playing fast as all hell and very versatile not to mention one of the nicest people who ever touched a guitar. Not to mention he WAS the fastest that has ever lived. 20 notes per second (NOT SWEEPING) I know a bunch of idiots on youtube put like fastest shredder and speed up the audio or some people are actually fast but it's stupid what do you get out of being super fast? Nothing if you can't write a song.
    Aero|
    Considered to be one of the fastest guitarists in the world
    and now, does he make good music?
    hippiemetalguy
    he is extremely skilled but the thing i really think he needs to do is instead of playing just fast in his solos i think he needs to mix up the rythmn and try and expand his range for basic riffs and stuff he needs to think them through just a little bit more but if he wants his vioce to sound like that its his chioce im the exact same way if i want something to sound a certain way even if most say ur just doing that to copy this person or your using that just because it hides this its like hell maybe i like the sound of that person and im guna use that tone and create something new or maybe yea it is hiding this because maybe im not skilled enough yet like come on as guitarists we have the right to have our own sound and our own way to find it but we also have the right to be stuck up and destroy hotel rooms
    guitaringnathan
    JOE_DESTROYER wrote: MasterExploder0 wrote: At least he listens to other music, unlike Malmsteen. beethoven didn't listen to music, yet he was one of the greatest composers ever?
    is malmsteem one of the greatest composers ever?
    JOE_DESTROYER
    MasterExploder0 wrote: At least he listens to other music, unlike Malmsteen.
    beethoven didn't listen to music, yet he was one of the greatest composers ever?
    Teh Skisgaars
    Razoreater wrote: Yngwie owns MAB. For the reasons Aziraphale elaborated. I have no problem with Mr. Malmsteen comparing himself to Bach. His shreds are works of art and he is one of a kind.
    im sorry but malmsteen is horrible fast is all he is it bores any sane human being to tears to be a good guitarist you need to know how to play slow malmsteen is the guitarist form of axl both complete douchebags
    kranoscorp
    Man, I feel bad just reading the comments. While MAB has his faults, he is not deserving of these harsh criticisms.
    EverybodyHXC!
    SG Man Forever wrote: but I mean, you have already got Angus Young playing a Gibson SG, Jimmy Page playing a Les Paul, and Hendrix playing a Strat, so I wanted to play something totally different. because famous musicians have to all have different guitars.
    +1
    IamGod 666
    listening to him while baked is awesome. I don't like his stuff outside of that.
    philrox
    Mab has good shreds.. I really appreciate him more than Malmsteen.
    tdclarkson72
    No denying he's fast or a nice guy, but to me it's like listening to a metronome. Very unemotional, flat and boring....Give me Guthrie Govan, Andie Timmons, Buckethead, George Lynch, or Petrucci any day.
    pangui
    rusty-knives wrote: If you really think about it, the internet hasn't really been around too long in the grand scale of things so guitarist's really didn't have easy access to a wide range of influences.
    Sorry if someone else already commented on this, but the internet is not the only way to access a wide range of influences... it's called CDs and LPs (and tapes)... etc.
    ALeMmjon
    I think his creative side would show more if he would work with other guitarists. I know I have better lead chops than my other guitar player and visa versa. But since we started playing together our music has come along way. I know my song writing ability has greatly improved. Take Mastodon for example.. those guys feed off each other, and they come up with some of the sickest riffs ever!
    DrPooh
    The title of the article is painful to read , please do not capitalize every word you type! Michael Angelo Batio has got to be one of the most mindblowing guitarists i've ever heard, I was shocked hearing about his action, he must have some pretty good finger phrasing to get that speed down with that action! I always noticed his tone was unusually natural. Love this guy, his acoustic stuff is also very melodic and impressive, I recommend it, he's far better than Yngwie Malmsteem.
    Hirvikala
    Michael Angelo Batio is a really nice guy. You guys should check some of his albums, because he may be really fast player, but he has the melody in his songs, which is very important.
    rusty-knives
    Aero| wrote: Considered to be one of the fastest guitarists in the world and now, does he make good music?
    Ugh. I hate how people like to talk down on shred guitarists. Speed is something that can be measured, how good a song is isn't.
    SpeedLives
    rusty-knives wrote: I don't understand why people think MAB is a douche, after reading this. He seems like a real nice guy.
    anyone thats watched or payed real attention to his character during one of his videos or songs could tell you he is a pretty cool dude. if he was to walk in while youre playing in a guitar store hed probably talk to you like a normal person (and an equal and a friend). people that say hes a !@#$ are probably in fact just !@#$s themselves.
    Maiden88
    Look guys u dont have to be an super guitar player to U don't need to be Bach to know whether the song sucks or not.In MAB case ; when u listen to his studio version, u r just listening to another guitar player nothing special about it,it's fun to listen to but it doesn't blow my mind .However it's different when u listen to Malmsteen and other great guitar players like Paul Gilbert , Satriani...etc , something very soulful about it.
    Planetgazer
    Batio's studio work is nothing short of spectacular. His version of Dream On is NOT a shredfest. It is awesome. great guitar tone, riffs, great vibrato and there is some intense keyboard playing in a breakdown section. I just listened to it before I wrote this. He has another song on that same cd called Pray on, Prey that rules as well. I am going to name a bunch of songs here that are amazing MAB songs. Most of you tools probably have never heard them because you would rather vent bull shit on a great player than actually be informed. 1 East Side Story 2. No Boundaries 3. Peace 4. Time Traveller 5. Science Fiction 6. Instant Glamour 7. Hands Without Shadows 8. Planet Gemini 9. Allegory of the Cave 10. Lucid Intervals and Moments of Clarity. 11. Rain Forest. 12. The Finish Line. I am convinced that if most of you thought that John Petrucci wrote these you would think they were great. That goes with Dream On too.
    Maiden88
    MasterExploder0 wrote: At least he listens to other music, unlike Malmsteen.
    Whats wrong with Malmsteen?
    Aziraphale
    diablo_man wrote: to that guy who said he raped the "dream on" cover, i am pretty sure you are referring to the one with Dio singing, right? that is actually malmsteen playing. very very obviously malmsteen.
    Nope, he did his own cover of it. I got the song sent to me by a guy who wanted to prove that MAB was a great, soulful player and "songwriter". That proved two points: His best songs are covers, and even a song as beautiful as Dream On doesn't stop him from shredding like a maniac. Ugh.
    Domine6377
    did he just put himself in the category of angus young, jimmy page, and jimi hendrix? please tell me he was kidding
    Guitar Sushi
    DrShreddington wrote: Razoreater wrote: Yngwie owns MAB. For the reasons Aziraphale elaborated. I have no problem with Mr. Malmsteen comparing himself to Bach. His shreds are works of art and he is one of a kind. Yngwie has no soul in his playing. I never heard of him comparing himself to Bach, but if he did he is a total douche. He can play fast, but he cant play music. The same goes for most of these super shredders. No matter how you play, if sound takes a backseat to skill, no matter how small the difference, its a bad thing. I would rather listen to a good sounding song consisting of nothing but open e strings, than a bad song with incredible shredding
    But Yngwie's music is modelled on Bach's... Wait so Bach's music has no soul? Wait so all music with "soul" started from a "shitty" type of music? Please, stop the "shred with no soul argument" it's so pathetic and it's been about a million times. Name one guitarist that sounds like Yngwie who isn't a copy of him.
    Hirvikala
    pizzanipple wrote: does he even realise he has that hair?
    I laughed quite hard
    pooo15
    i don't know... i think hes an awesome guitarist with lots of unique technique... his song writing might not be as great as batio's... but for a bunch of people who keep on saying yngwies better, last time i read an article everybody was callin him a douche who just sweeps and plays classical bullshit
    philipp122
    The_String_Man wrote: He's very fast,great technical skills no argument, but i couldn't help but notice that when other guitarists (even shredders) mention their influences, MAB seems to be not included in their list. Or it's just me though.
    There's just not enough of a musical element to his work to actively listen to it enough to be influenced by it, in my opinion. He plays too fast too much. It seems his technical abilities heavily outweigh his phrasing capabilities. If his music was more interesting, I would love it because he's obviously an excellent guitarist. But as far as listening enjoyment, Satriani, Vai, Buckethead, and Gilbert are much more interesting to listen to.