Steve Vai Explains What Guitar Players Today Are Lacking: ’It’s Usually the Same Old Chord Changes’

According to Steve Vai, he’s more than impressed by younger guitar players today, but there’s still one thing “that seems to be evolving a little slower.”

And this is in no way your usual “old man yells at cloud” trope. Quite the contrary — Steve admits that he’s always open to hearing new music. He’s even guested on one of the relatively recent pieces by Polyphia, showing that his musical style transcends generations.

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

What Steve Vai Things of the New Generation of Guitar Players

Speaking to Ultimate Guitar on their recent episode of On the Record podcast, Vai explained his stance on the matter. When asked about whether there are any younger musicians that he finds inspiring, Steve said:

“Most of the time, if I see a guitar player that just loves what they’re doing, and they’re really into it, maybe they don’t even have a lot of technique — I enjoy that. I just love watching people love playing. So, that is my usual go-to perspective.”

Now, at this point, it’s obvious that Steve’s answers and explanations aren’t all that straightforward. Although not naming any names, he did admit that there are aspects of younger guitar players today that he likes. But after explaining that part, he went into his more “critical” side, offering:

“But of course, there’s the critical guitar player in me that has guided me through my voice on the instrument. That guy can be kind of critical because he’s listening for intonation, he’s listening for clarity, he’s listening for feel, timing… Those ears listen with the same ears that listen to Jeff Beck and Alan Holdsworth.”

Steve Vai @ G3 2024 - Opening Night, Tucson, AZ (Avalancha) with 2 amp blowouts

“So that’s my critical side,” Steve said. “When I look into the world, and I see new guitar players, first, I just love seeing people love what they do. And second, I’m fascinated by the evolution of technique that’s been happening, and it’s pretty obvious.”

“One of the things that seems to be evolving a little slower…”

With all this out of the way, Steve pointed out that one aspect where modern guitarists today might be lacking to a certain extent. As he explained:

“One of the things that seems to be evolving a little slower is the thing that I respond to the most these days at my age, or whatever — is the melodic and harmonic portion of the show.

“New players rarely venture into deep, rich, exotic, sort of unconditioned melodic and harmonic atmospheres,” he said. “It’s usually the same old chord changes.”

One of the most important things today is that the wonders of this little thing called the internet allows skilled bedroom guitar players to share their talents with the rest of the world. After praising the likes of Tosin Abasi and Daniele Gottardo, Steve then added:

“There are a lot of fascinating technical players. And with the internet, it allows them to have a platform to build their story very quickly.”

G3 Reunion 2024- FULL SHOW◇FRONT ROW Satriani,Eric Johnson, Vai-The Elsinore Theatre-Salem,OR 2/1/24

What He’d Like to Hear More Of

On the other hand, despite social media allowing musicians to showcase their talents, Vai comes back to his “critical side” by offering:

“My only sort of… It’s not a complaint, but it’s more of an interest is, I would love to hear somebody come along and just take the whole melodic, harmonic dimension of music to a different level.”

Steve Vai has a busy year ahead of him. There’s all sorts of stuff going on, starting with his joint tour with Joe Satriani. After that, he’ll be joining both Satriani and Eric Johnson for the revamped original lineup of the G3 tour.

Understanding Classical

In an interview conducted in 2023, Steve reflected on the matter of music theory knowledge, explaining that guitar players don’t necessarily need to know all of that stuff. Sure, it seems as if it’s contradicting what he said in the interview we reported above. However, what he said last year actually made a lot of sense.

【4K FULL SHOW】STEVE VAI INVIOLATE TOUR / JAPAN, OCTOBER 17, 2023

“I tell guitar players, you don’t really need to know the theory. If you have a good year, you’ll be employing it without knowing it.”

“But if you want to be a composer, no, there’s no messing around, right? [Laughs] You got to know the rules.”

Discussing the matter further, Vai also touched upon classical music and how metal and rock musicians look at it today. Being a highly skilled and trained musician who worked as a transcriptionist for Frank Zappa, he seems to be more than qualified to weigh in on this.

Steve Vai - Teeth of the Hydra (Official Music Video)

“Well, what they do is gravitate immediately to what conventional classical music is,” Steve said. “So they’ll go and listen to, you know, Bach or Mozart, this kind of thing.”

“Which is fine, it’s great… And then [they’ll] try to emulate the atmosphere of that. And that’s fine. A lot of people do that. They do it in rock music but it doesn’t it doesn’t carry the inspiration. It’s the pantomiming of somebody else’s genius.”

Photo: Wojciech Pędzich (Steve Vai, 3-Majówka 2023 62)

  • 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 Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.