Steve Vai Was Never Into Classic Marshall Tone: ’It Needs to Be a Friendly Sound’

According to Steve Vai, the usual Marshall sound isn’t something that he was ever into.

Although both Marshall and Steve Vai are names we associate very closely with all things guitar, it turns out that these two don’t blend together. Of course, Vai has absolutely nothing against Marshall amps and the classic Marshall tone. But for his particular style, it’s not something that works in his favor.

As Vai told Dean Delray in a recent interview, he did use some Marshalls over the years, but they’re not the stock ones. He said (transcript via Ultimate Guitar):

“I used the Marshalls that were heavily customized by Jose Arredondo in the Roth days. They’re great amps. I still have a couple of them.”

#733 : Steve Vai #guitar

For those who may not know, Jose Arredondo was a guy who modified Marshall amps of some of the biggest guitar players of the 1980s. Not much is known about the man himself, but based in West Coast of the US, he was an important figure in defining modern guitar tone.

Discussing the matter, Steve added:

“But they’re Marshalls — and Marshalls, of course, were the workhorses of the Hendrixes and all that — but I wanted to have a tone that was different than everybody else.”

And sure enough, he did. There’s obviously nothing wrong with Marshall amplifiers. But to some guitar players, including Vai, they might feel a little too harsh, even on lower-gain settings. He continued:

“Because I’m getting on the stage and playing melodies and solos all night on the guitar, it needs to be a friendly sound. It needs to be something that’s not going to be like an ice pick in the forehead.”

Maybe the “ice pick” comparison could sound too harsh, but we could get Steve’s point. So, instead of going with Marshalls, Steve fell in love with another brand of amplifiers. Eventually, he’d become one of the most famous Carvin amp players.

“In the early days, Carvin approached Frank and gave him some amps,” Vai recalled. “I liked the one I got. I never owned amps — if I wasn’t spending money on drugs, I wasn’t spending it on amps because they were really expensive. I just saved and bought a house.”

Financially wise, this was definitely a smart move. However, if you were looking to be a professional musician back in those days, you needed a good amplifier. Thankfully, Carvin helped him out. Steve continued:

“But, at one point, Carvin did give me a whole X-100B amp stack. That was my first stack, and I was just nuts about it. I mean, I’d just sit and stare at it.”

However, even though that he was impressed, it wasn’t his thing. The X-100B was a very modifiable one and you could get EL34 or 6L6 tubes in there. But it still felt too much like Marshall to Vai.

“It sounded okay,” he added. “I wasn’t a big fan of the Marshall sound. So, I played that for a little while, and then I moved on.”

After a while, however, Carvin got in touch with Steve again. And this is how the company came up with his now-legendary Legacy 1 amplifier, which ultimately became his favorite. After some discussion with the company, Vai had his idea of what he wanted:

“I just said, ‘I want all this.’ Because they were a home-run kind of business, they could build very high-tech things at a reasonable cost to the consumer.”

Steve Vai VL100 Carvin Legacy Interview

“We spent probably three years on the Legacy. It was a great opportunity for me to sculpt my inner ear with the outer world, like, ‘What am I hearing? And why is this not delivering, and how can we change it?'”

“It was a great situation,” he added. “I mean, that’s really a fantastic place to be, and Carvin was all too willing to make it just perfect for me. So, when we came out with the Legacy 1 [in 1999].”

“I mean, that was the amp for me. To this day, it’s still my favorite amp.”

Three years might seem like a lot of back-and-forth for just one amplifier model. However, when Steve Vai has an idea, he’s willing to go all the way until it’s perfect. In a way, that’s how his legendary Ibanez JEM series came to be, as well as his 7-string Ibanez Universe guitars.

Steve Vai Carvin Legacy V100 Amplifier - How Has This Amp Held Up Over The Years?

However, as Steve recently told Ultimate Guitar in an interview, they almost gave up on the whole thing.

“Ibanez was considering discontinuing it,” he recalled. “And I said, ‘Just wait a little while, give it another few years, even if you have to make ten per year or something because somebody’s gonna get it.'”

“And sure enough, not long after that, I was driving down the street, and I heard this incredible heavy music on the radio, and I knew it was a seven-string. I pulled the car over, and I listened, and it was what I was expecting, in a way.”

Steve Vai on Korn, Satriani & 7-string guitars | On The Record

“The band that was playing was Korn, and it was brilliant. It was like, yeah, that’s the use of the seven-string that I didn’t do, that I was hoping somebody would do, and they certainly did. Then, from there, it just took off.”

“So, I may be the godfather of the production model seven-string because they existed before I did that, but bands like Korn, Fear Factory, and a bunch of those bands from that period gave it the kick that it needed to start the subculture.”

Photos: Wojciech Pędzich (Steve Vai, 3-Majówka 2023 08), Cjp24 (PDB 2022-30, Marshall JVM)

  • 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.