Uli Jon Roth Recalls Yngwie Malmsteen Playing His Song the Wrong Way, Shares Opinion on Al Di Meola’s Playing

Kicking off his career in the Scorpions and later continuing with Electric Sun and his solo work, Uli Jon Roth is known as one of the pioneers of virtuosic electric guitar playing in rock music. Speaking to “Academy of Tone,” Uli discussed his technique, explaining how he prefers a mixture of picking and legato. It’s this approach that works for him since it makes things smoother and more violin-like if you will. Asked about this, he offered (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“You see, I always gravitated to a mixture of picking and legato because, apart from the flamenco — which is very much an on-off kind of thing, very aggressive — I love the violin approach and the legato play. From early on, I found a way of mixing the legato with the attack.”

Academy Of Tone #182: Guitar Legend Uli Jon Roth - Live Interview

“If you play that solo just like, say, Al Di Meola would — it’s great, yeah, but then it’s flamenco and it loses a dimension. Because that dimension of picking, hammer on, picking, hammer on is like a spinning wheel. It’s very round sound-wise, and you have the accents. You don’t get that when you’re doing up-down strokes. The up-down strokes are infinitely less sophisticated.”

While talking about his approach to playing, Uli also recalled talking to Yngwie Malmsteen back in the day. At that point, Yngwie wasn’t still that big and was an emerging, talented young guitar player. Obviously, he was inspired by Uli, and two got the chance to speak to him over the phone. Malmsteen said that he could pick every note of the Scorpions’ “Catch Your Train.” However, as Roth explained, this wasn’t the right way to approach the song:

“I remember Yngwie one day — the first time he called me when he wasn’t famous yet. Mike Varney said, ‘I’ve got this guy on the phone, he wants to talk to you.’ And he was already a little famous. My manager had told me about him when he was playing some of my stuff back then live.”

Uli Jon Roth - Sails of Charon - Der Detze Rockt 16 06 2023

Recalling the conversation with Malmsteen, Uli said:

” ‘I heard you’re playing ‘Catch your Train,” which was one of the Scorpions’ more virtuoso-type of song. And he said, ‘Yeah, and I pick every note.’ Well, this is exactly what you shouldn’t do because if you do pick every note, it will never sound that smooth.”

“It’ll sound more like Al Di Meola,” Roth added, “who sounds smooth but in a completely different way, more like a percussion instrument — like xylophone or piano.”

“To me, the guitar can do more than that. And when I’m coming and just listening to something, I love the combination of attack and legato.”

Talking more about his approach to electric guitar, Uli said that he was inspired by violin players, which could also be said about Malmsteen.

ULI JON ROTH Catch Your Train

“I think I got more inspiration from listening to violin concertos,” he recalled, “Mendelssohn, or my favorite, [which] was the Brahms concerto. And once I heard stuff like that, I heard music and an instrument which was just out of this world to me, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if an electric guitar could have some of that as well?'”

“Not just that which we’ve already seen, but take it to that level. That’s really how it started, so I started doing these arpeggios.”

“Back then, nobody did arpeggios,” Uli said. “The maximum was maybe Ritchie Blackmore, one octave. Then I thought, ‘Why not two octaves? Or like three?’ That was the beginning.”

“I started looking at these arpeggios, and then I realized things like the diminished. Nobody was doing that in rock, and then on the violin, of course, everybody would do that, but on the electric guitar, nobody did it. And I thought, ‘Why?'”

“So I just kind of translated certain things, and they ended up in my playing and that’s how that came — talking about the one that Yngwie played, the ‘Catch your Train’ solo is a good example because that was one of the first times when I use the diminished, in 1976.  It’s the guitar is now tuned to concert pitch, it would be an E flat.”

Roth continued, explaining how he pretty much “nicked” Johannes Brahms’ legendary “Violin Concerto” for “Catch Your Train,” and then many other guitar players started doing it.

Uli Jon Roth - Venga La Primavera - Vivaldi's Spring Concerto

“Which is a normal classical run,” he continued. “Like that’s just basically Brahms’ ‘Violin Concerto.’ I nicked that and put some of that into that solo. And then Van Halen took it and Yngwie did that, they sped it up, and they played it all the time.”

“I mean, Yngwie still does. It was new in rock back then, but in classical this had been done hundreds of years ago, lots of times. So I looked up to the classical world because there was something there which I didn’t see in rock. And I found it extremely attractive melodically, harmonically, execution, the scope, the piano, the violin, the cello, all that.”

“And that was it, that was the inspiration other than Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, which were my early influences from whom I’ve learned so much, and then later on I kind of took my own path, somehow.”

Uli Jon Roth Live - Adagio (Concierto De Aranjuez) BREATHTAKING

Photos: Markus Felix (20180520 Gelsenkirchen RockHard Uli Jon Roth 0107), Alterna2 (Yngwie Malmsteen 4), Gorupdebesanez (Al di Meola, 2013 06)


  • 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.