According to Joe Satriani, there’s one thing that’s, as he says, driving him “insane” about his upcoming tours in 2024.
As you already may know, Satch has a pretty busy year ahead of him. The first in line is the revamped G3, featuring the original formation with Steve Vai and Eric Johnson. The schedule then continues with Steve Vai, where the teacher and the student will be hitting the road in the US. And finally — what everyone’s been waiting for — Satriani will be joining Sammy Hagar for the Best of All Worlds tour. Also featuring Michael Anthony on bass and Jason Bonham on the drums, this special lineup will be doing a mostly Van Halen-oriented set.
But the biggest problem for Satch that comes with such a busy and diverse schedule is about string gauges. Yes, you read that correctly. Best known for using 10s in E-flat standard tuning, Joe now also has to use other setups and tunings. Appearing on the podcast by Testament’s Alex Skolnick, the guitar legend addressed the matter by saying (transcript via Ultimate Guitar):
“The equipment thing is really challenging for me. Because I play 10s at E-flat. The G3 jam is going to be [in E standard tuning]. So I’ll probably have nine and a half. So nines on some 440 [A=440Hz, E standard tuning] guitars.”
Meanwhile, Joe also explains how the Best of All Worlds tour is a whole different territory. After admitting that his choice for strings wasn’t good at a recent live performance at the Howard Stern Show. He continued:
“The Hagar tour is D standard tuning. And I’m still trying to figure out what gauge to play. For those radio shows, I did a set of 11s. It was a big mistake.”
And yeah, the 11s could make sense if you’re tuning down on a guitar that has conventional scale lengths. But although it helped a little with the tuning, this approach had its flaws. Joe added:
“I mean, it helped with the tuning. But getting around the guitar was almost impossible. I didn’t realize it — I was halfway through the show. I’ll probably try 10-and-a-half, 10s or something.”
And then comes another obvious problem — with multiple tunings and string gauges, you’ll need multiple guitars. As Joe explained:
“But having those three or four guitars, setups, and going through the day is just driving me insane. I wish it was just one guitar with one set of strings and one tuning.”
“I never thought it would bother me so much. It doesn’t in the studio, but when you’re performing live, having that little bit of the rug pulled out from underneath you is disconcerting. Especially with vibrato and intonation. It’s really odd.”
Satch also touched upon the issues of scale lengths. According to him, the best way to actually keep the tone and feel isn’t about using thicker gauges but longer scale lengths. But even the longest “standard” scale length of 25.5 inches isn’t enough, as he said.
“The scale length is what does it in,” Joe offered. “I think, once you get past, maybe C sharp, the regular Fender scale length still just isn’t long enough. The harmonics are different.”
“The harmonics of each string don’t support each other as well. Like 9s at 440, it’s just kind of beautiful-sounding. Almost every chord works. And you turn more sharp, you go higher, it just gets better and better.”
“If you play a song with a capo at the fifth fret, and you go, ‘Oh my god, this guitar sounds amazing. It’s just all sparkly.'”
“And so when you go the opposite way, it may match your mood, but it’s actually kind of dark. Not like treble control dark. There’s something about it that’s dark.”
In another recent interview, Satriani also discussed the challenges of performing Eddie Van Halen’s parts. And as he pointed out, one should never attempt to play them verbatim.
“What surprises me about guitar playing — and a couple of times, it’s come up in my career — has to do with trying to copy somebody or learn something note-for-note,” Joe said. “Every once in a while, you come up against these players who it doesn’t matter if you learn it note for note, it’s still not even close.”
“Certainly with Eddie Van Halen. It’s the truth because he had this magic. He was just magical. And every time he played something, he played it differently, and he just added to the magic that he already created.”
“And part of what I think makes it really unique and difficult to copy is that, when you think about, let’s say, Eddie Van Halen’s ‘Eruption’ — every little eight-year-old can play that thing now. They’ve studied it to death, and you can see them play it on YouTube, but it never sounds as good.”
“Now, it’s because everyone studies the one version that’s on the album because it’s so brilliant. It’s beautiful.”
“Eddie, of course, knew how to play that 10,000 different ways. And every time that he played it, that amount of variety that was right there, just milliseconds away from him, changed direction added to that energy, that life, that spontaneity to it.”
Photo: Eduardo Peña Dolhun