Backing Guitarist Reveals What Working With Steve Vai Is Really Like, Reveals What the ’Hardest Parts’ Are For Him

Everything changed for young Dante Frisiello when he switched over from being Dave Weiner’s guitar tech to becoming a backing member of Steve Vai’s band. When Weiner parted ways with Vai after many years of working together, Frisiello finally made his live debut with the legendary guitar virtuoso with a super-stressful first gig.

And now, in a new interview with Guitar World, Frisiello explains in more detail what it’s like to work as Steve’s backing guitar player. When reminded that it “must be very inspiring to have the opportunity to play alongside Steve each night,” Frisiello said:

“Oh, man, it really is. My first guitar hero was my older brother. But after him, my second one was Steve Vai. Both those figures came into my life from a guitar perspective when I was 13 and were huge for me. I grew up listening to Rush and bands like that, so interesting music was always around me.

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“But I didn’t start playing guitar until my brother picked it up in high school. And two months after that, I discovered the music of Steve Vai on YouTube, which changed my life. I saw the sounds he was making, and I just thought, ‘I want to do that. I want to make sounds like that. This is my purpose.'”

When later asked about what’s the “trickiest part” of playing the rhythm parts for Steve Vai’s compositions, Frisiello answered by sharing a broader scope of challenges:

“The hardest parts for me are the delicate arpeggios, like the solo in ‘Little Pretty’ when I have to play all those insane, weird, non-diatonic chords that are also in odd time. But don’t get me wrong – it’s fine. I love odd time signatures and all that stuff. But it’s tough because I must pick every note perfectly because they all have to ring out in particular ways.”

Steve Vai 07 Dante Frisiello Guitar Solo Live 07.04.23@TeatroDal Verme

“And that’s hard for me because I’m much more comfortable in rock situations where I’m strumming. So, those super-clean arpeggiations and all the difficult chords have been the most challenging parts of the set for me. In Steve’s band, it’s essential to ensure that every note is perfect, which is a beautiful challenge.”

Joining Steve Vai’s band also means that you need to adapt your setup to his needs. When asked if anything changed in his amp and pedal setup for this new role, Dante replied:

Yes, I’m working with Victory Amps now. Specifically, I’m using a Victory Super Kraken, which is an absolute terror. Beyond that, I’m also working with a Fractal FM9. I came up with that combination of stuff because I needed gear I could travel with.

“And that’s what’s cool about Victory heads – they’re small enough for me to carry onto a plane even though it’s a 100-watt valve amp. So, that and the Fractal FM9 make up most of my tone.

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“Regarding effects, I’ve got a Horizon Devices Precision Drive. I think that it’s the best pedal ever, and I refuse to play the electric guitar without it. It makes every rhythm guitar sound better and is a staple of my tone. But sometimes, I mess around with other things; I have an Origin Effects M-EQ Driver, which I call my ‘oh, shit’ button. If I need more gain or harmonics without boosting the volume, I can switch on the M-EQ and make that happen.”

Of course, the faithful night of making his live debut with Steve Vai back in March 2023 will go down in history as one of the most stressful first gigs ever. Remembering this performance, which took place at the Cultural Centre de Belem in Lisbon, Portugal, Dante offered:

“Dude, it was crazy. There’s a part in the show where I play a solo. And during this part, Steve introduces me by saying my name, pointing to me, and that’s when I unmute my signal.

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“So, I did that, and all I heard was a blaring sound and no guitar. And I instantly was like, ‘Okay, don’t panic. How do we fix this?’ And my tech, Scout, comes running out and is trying to figure it out, all while I’m just standing there.”

He also added:

You’d think I’d be distraught, but no, I wasn’t. I knew I had to smile and take it in stride. I said, ‘There’s no reason to get upset; it is what it is.’ Because when you’re up on stage, you have to set the vibe. It’s so important that your intention and energy are good tone-setters for the audience and that we’re up there for them, you know?

“So, I wasn’t gonna get upset or mad; I just smiled and waited for it to be fixed. And eventually, we fixed it, and I got to play the solo. Sometimes you gotta take your lumps.”

When asked about how he got this gig in the first place, Dante recalled:

“I started as Dave Weiner’s tech, which came about over years after Dave had been my teacher and mentor. But I first met Dave after seeking him back when he lived in Philly and I lived in Washington, DC. I was in law school then, and I started going to Dave’s jams in Philly. I’d drive three hours just to learn from him how to be a musician.”

“From there, Dave started to give me opportunities to play little gigs or tech for him. And when the tour started, I had been teching for him, and after we found out that Dave was going to be leaving Steve’s band, he recommended me for the spot.”

Photo: Wojciech Pędzich (Steve Vai, 3-Majówka 2023 30)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.