Yngwie Malmsteen Explains Why Pentatonic Scale Wasn’t Enough for Him, Talks How Jimi Hendrix Influenced Him

Swedish-American neo-classical guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen recently discussed some of his early influences and how he created his own unique style of hard rock. Speaking to Nippertown in a recent interview, Malmsteen looked back at his childhood and some of his first contacts with music.

When the interviewer asked about how he started playing guitar in the first place, Malmsteen replied (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“I grew up in a very musical family and everyone in my family was a musician — singers, musicians, violinists, and everything else. And I was the youngest, smallest kid.”

Film -- Alcatrazz with Yngwie -- Evil Eye -- 28 January 1984

“For my fourth birthday, I got a violin; on my fifth birthday, I got a guitar; and on my sixth birthday, I got a trumpet. And they tried to make me play instruments, and I wasn’t really interested.”

However, despite the lack of interest at that time, one particular thing sparked the passion for the 6-stringed instrument and he has been playing it ever since. Malmsteen continued:

“And then when I was seven, in fact, the day Jimi Hendrix died, they showed the news about his life, and they showed him smashing the guitar, and I already had a guitar. So I took the guitar off the wall, I started playing that same day, and I haven’t stopped since.”

Very Early Yngwie Malmsteen Interview (1984)

Although Malmsteen cited Hendrix as a major influence, the interviewer pointed out that there’s not much of Hendrix in his music. Yngwie then clarified:

“It wasn’t a musical impact, it was a visual impact, what he did Monterey Pop [festival]. There was no music being played, it was just what he was famous for. And I thought it was really cool.”

“So I just started playing. I could pick up with my ear, and I could learn. I heard that’s bad, and that’s good, and stuff. And I’m talking seven years, I’m seven years old. And later on, [I got into] rock bands and Deep Purple, and basically things like that when I was just like eight years old.”

Jimi Hendrix Sets Guitar On Fire at Monterey Pop Festival 1967 - YouTube.flv

Malmsteen was fond of these two worlds that were seemingly so different. But he made it all work by fusing some standard classical elements with the conventional hard rock of his era, proving that Marshall stacks and loud amplified bands could also pull this off and sound great:

“I got into classical music really early on. But I love the hard sound, the hard rock sound.”

“But I love the classical tonalities, the inversions and pedal notes and arpeggios and harmonic minors… All the interesting note choices of Bach, and eventually Paganini with his violin work, that became my biggest influence.”

“But I still have electric guitar. Lots and lots of Marshalls, smoke machines, and all this stuff.”

Yngwei Malmsteen - Live In Seoul 2001

When asked about what were some of his favorite classical composers when he was a kid, Malmsteen replied:

“Well, what happened was that my mother had probably thousands of records. It was a lot of records, a lot of classical ones. I just pulled one out. And it happened to be Johann Sebastian Bach, and I immediately connected.”

“To this day, when I hear Bach, it’s almost like hearing God. It’s so perfect. And then Antonio Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, Albinoni, and then baroque, classical music.”

“And then of course, I got very influenced by Niccolo Paganini’s Caprices, which is a solo violin piece from the 1800s.”

Guitar Solo, Coming Bach | Yngwie Malmsteen, Alcatrazz 1984

However, despite loving these composers, young Yngwie wasn’t all about being your usual classical music performer:

“I wasn’t really interested to be reciting classical music, even though sometimes I actually do play verbatim classical stuff.”

“But I was interested in infusing my own thing about it — that’s how I ended up doing my concertos and stuff like that.”

Yngwie Malmsteen Badinerie

As he then adds, the main reason why he started getting more into classical music is that he could get technically better in rock music:

“Very early on, it was just the fact that I did this to get technical in blues, rock or rock ’n’ roll-based blues. Even bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and stuff like that, AC/DC — it’s blues-based.”

However, it turned out that the pentatonic scale, no matter how effective for rock music, just wasn’t enough for him. Malmsteen continued:

“Blues is based on the pentatonic scale of five notes. And I realized, very early on, that for me… I love all of those bands, but for me, I needed to go in wider avenues, harmonic minors, and different inversions, and Phrygian, and diminished and stuff like that, that you can turn around the scales and you can add a lot of linear notes, instead of just the boxed guitar thing. That’s what I did.”

Yngwie Malmsteen - Blues Demostration

“Many of my family members were classical musicians, or opera singers, very rigid — they would read a piece of music and that was it. I don’t want to do that, I want to create my own thing, what I love to hear.”

When asked if he ever performed with an orchestra, Malmsteen replied:

“Absolutely. Like I mentioned early on, I composed entire concertos. I didn’t only play with them, I composed all the parts — violin one, violin two, cello, viola, woodwinds. I composed every piece that’s in here. Actually, I wrote it in [my studio].”

Yngwie Malmsteen - Live with Japanese Philharmonic Orchestra

“And I originally recorded with the Prague Philharmonic in Prague, with Yoel Levi from Atlanta Symphony conducting. And then I did a few live performances. One was in Japan. Actually, a few, one was filmed with the New Japan Philharmonic. And I played in Taipei out of all places.”

“So when I go on stage, every night I actually bring my Prague Philarmonic and my Stockholm Symphony there with me. Because I do a couple of pieces of my concertos. You know, obviously me playing to the recording of the orchestra, without the guitar. I play the guitar live. And it’s fantastic. I love it.”

Yngwie Malmsteen - Prelude to April & Toccata (Live with the Japanese Philharmonic)

Photos: Alterna2 (Yngwie Malmsteen 5), Public domain (Jimi Hendrix 1967 uncropped)


  • 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.