Q1. Your album 13 JOKES FOR HEAVY METAL MANDOLIN will be released in Japan. According to the information we have, you used
an electric mandolin (heavy metal mandolin) on its recording. What are the specifications of this mandolin?
I used a few electric mandolins on this record. I used:
a) the prototype of my tremolo fitted 1992 Fender Signature “Heavy Metal” Mandolin (see Attachment 1, 2 & 3).
b) the two prototypes of my 1993 Gibson Signature Mandolin. These two prototypes have a Korina Futura body and are well known,
having been featured in various magazines and books worldwide. One of them is signed “Heavy Metal Mandolin Rules! Jim
Marshall 1997” (see Attachment 4 &4b). All my “Futura” prototypes have been endorsed by Ted McCarty himself
(see Attachment 5 and 5b), which is a huge honor. I am extremely fond of these Gibson “Futura” Mandolin prototypes.
You can see me playing one on www.youtube.com/maestroAG. However, the final Gibson Signature prototype, in progress now, is
a ’59 “Burst” Mandolin. I finally decided that the Les Paul styling is better suited to this type of instrument.
c) a Pentasystem Pentalin and my three 2002 Fender 5-string mandolin prototypes, which are tuned from low to high to the notes
I have since passed on the 5 String Mandolins. I feel that the range of the 4-string electric mandolin is adequate to play
Baroque violin music and there is no need to extend it with the addition of a lower string. Romantic violin music extends
further than Baroque violin music but even then I would rather use my 7 String Stratocaster with High A than a 5 string mandolin
with a low C.
How and why did you design this instrument?
The design of the Heavy Metal Mandolin, was a result of my interest in classical violin music and my love for the heavy sounds
of electric music, more specifically Rock and Metal. I got a patent for this invention (see Attachments 6 and 7).
Q2. Basically the mandolin has 8 strings. However, your mandolin has only 4 strings. How come did you reduce the number of
The reason why my mandolins have 4 strings instead of 8 is because they are not meant to be played like a traditional mandolin,
but more like a violin-shred guitar hybrid. The lesser number of strings allows for Blues bends and Rock vibratos, guitar
techniques normally not available to the violin. Additionally, you cannot use a lot of dynamics, hammer-ons, etc. with an
instrument that has 8 strings.
How is it tuned?
My mandolins are tuned from the lowest to the highest note: G/D/A/E which is exactly like a violin or a mandolin, except that
the mandolin has two courses for each note. The G is a G3.
Q3. What kinds parts (i.e. pickups and strings) do you use for this electric mandolin? Do you use ones made for usual electric
guitars or are there a specific models? What about the amp? Do you use the same amp for the electric guitar as well?
Seymour Duncan has made me special pick-ups for these instruments. Such pick-ups have been mostly humbuckers: with 4 pole
pieces for the Fender Heavy Metal Mandolin and the Gibson Futura Mandolins, or 5 pole in the case of the 5-string Pentalin
and the Fender 5-string mandolin prototypes. For the new Gibson '59 "Burst" Mandolin we are going to use a full
size 'Burstbucker' with just 4 poles showing through the cover.
The strings I have always used are D'Addario. They have made me some copper wound strings which smoke everything. The
tone of those strings is perfectly balanced, more like the strings of a Bosendorfer.
The gauges I use are from low to high: copper wound 032, copper wound 021, plain steel 012, plain steel 008.
My cabinet of choice for the Heavy Metal Mandolin is the Marshall Mode Four Straight cabinet with tweaked Vintage 30
Celestions and my amp of choice is the Soldano SLO-100 with KT-66 tubes.
Q4. What do you see the beauty of the electric mandolin? Do you also write your music by this mandolin?
The mandolin, and specifically my prototypes, thanks to their revolutionary specs, allow me to play runs which would be unthinkable
on the guitar and closer to the violin than my top A 7 string Stratocaster. For example, I can hammer-on and pull-off over
a distance of 15 frets. This is due to the combination of huge frets, never associated with a mandolin before, and the very
short scale length of the instrument. The harmonic response from string to string is also hugely different from the guitar,
due to the superior and more consonant tuning in fifths.
Some of the original tunes on the record were specifically written for the instrument and could not be played on guitar.
Q5. In this album, you brought all kinds of musical style from Classical to rock 'n' roll. What concept do you have on this
The basic concept of the record was to liberate the mandolin from 500 years of confinement. I wanted to demonstrate that
electric mandolin is at least as good as electric guitar when it comes to lead and in some cases even better because of its
higher range. Additionally I wanted to demonstrate that the electric mandolin is suitable to any music genre.
Q6. There are two songs by CREAM, "Crossroads" and "Sunshine Of Your Love." What was the reason you picked them?
I picked “Crossroads” and “Sunshine of Your Love” because they are classic tunes that everybody loves
and knows. The familiarity of the pieces and licks would help people to see more clearly the capabilities of the mandolin
by comparison. Had I recorded only original tunes, listeners would have found it harder to understand what the mandolin was
doing. Also, as I wanted to touch all genres, I needed some good blues-rock tunes.
Q7. Originally, this album is released in 2001 as "12 JOKES FOR HEAVY METAL MANDOLIN" with one more song added.
How did you decide to release it again?
By public demand. Amoungst others, eMando.com had constant requests for the record. So much so, that Martin Stillion, the
owner of eMando.com, hounded me into re-releasing the record.
"12 JOKES FOR HEAVY METAL MANDOLIN" had become the underground bible of electric mandolinists worldwide. Armandino
(the number one mandolin player in Brazil, a country where mandolin is huge) performs on prime national television with instruments
copied from my original Fender signature prototype (tremolo, etc.). Sam Bush (the number one mandolin player in Nashville)
is on YouTube playing a Fender mandolin with Humbucker licks based on 13 Jokes for Heavy Metal Mandolin. And the list goes
The world is ready for a Mandolin Craze. Do not forget that it was just a mandolin craze at the beginning of the twenty-first
century that started the Gibson Company.
Q8. Did you use any other stringed instruments besides the electric mandolin?
Yes I used a bit of rhythm guitar. For a lower texture. Not much of it.
Q9. There are so many good phrases in terms of music and technique. Which is your favorite song on this album?
It is hard to choose because they are so different. Perhaps Heavy Metal Mandolin Boogie as that is the tune associated with
me in the July 2008 Guitar World list of the 50 Fastest guitarists, top shredders of all time.
Q10. Now I would like to ask you about your musical and personal background.
First, you were born in a family, which has been engaged in music for six generations. Have you been always surrounded
by classical music since your childhood?
Q11. When and why did you start playing the guitar?
I started playing the guitar when I was a child but I got serious when I was about eleven. I started because it was all around
me. My father's brother was in a Shadows style band. He owned a red Stratocaster and was very inspirational to me. Other uncles
and cousins were in successful bands. I was destined from the beginning to follow this path.
Which guitarists were you inspired by at that time?
The guitarists who inspired me early on were: Ritchie Blackmore, Allan Holdsworth, Jan Akkerman and others.
Q12. What did you do as a musician back then? What was your first job as a professional guitarist?
While in college I was in a Rock and in a Jazz band that had regular work in clubs. When I got out of college, thanks to
a drumming uncle with connections, I was frequently hired by BBC Radio and TV for original shows. Mostly they were half an
hour performances (in the studio or in front of a station audience) of original material, which I was forced to write. That
helped my playing and my writing. It also gave me the opportunity to hook up with several world-class players whom I joined
in various bands. Amongst my favourite were Jack Bruce and the Jethro Tull guys.
Q13. The title "Maestro" was bestowed on you from the U.K. government. When did this happen? How old were you at that time?
By having this title, does U.K. government give you some kind of support? If yes, are you still be able to get that support
even you live in the United States?
It happened in 1983 and for many years the title carried benefits. (See letter from British Parliament, attached) 26 years
later in the age of computers and first name addressing it has lost a bit of the luster but it still carries weight in some
situations. For example, it helped with my Green Card.
Q14. You started to design a seven-string guitar with Fender. How did this happen?
I was very interested in Paganini’s music and it became apparent to me that the only way to play everybody’s favourite
arpeggios, which constitute the intro and outro sections of Caprice n.5, was to use a 7 string guitar with a top A. I also
wanted to play organ parts (Toccata & Fugue in Dm), and it became obvious that the right instrument for that was a 7 string
with a low A (from low to high A2/D/G/C/E/A/D4).
When you talked about the seven-string guitar to Fender, how did they respond to you?
I took the idea to Gibson in 1986 and they made me an offer. I also took the idea to Fender and they made a better offer.
Fender wanted to go into production immediately while Gibson wanted to make me prototypes and wait for a while. Also, Fender
had just started their new Signature Series with Clapton, Yngwie, and to be the third artist would have been very prestigious.
It seemed right and I signed a contract with Fender in 1987. Dan Smith, who was at that time the president of Fender Marketing,
was very instrumental in putting everything together. Dan Smith really understood the greatness of the idea and designs. Other
key people at the time were George Blanda (Research & Development) and John Page (Custom Shop Manager). Though there had
been 7 string guitars before (Ramirez, Gretsch, Russian accoustic 7 string) these were acoustic or acoustic electrified (jazz)
guitars. My Fender 7 String Stratocaster was the first truly electric Rock-N-Roll 7 string ever. (see video)
It is important to understand that the Russian 7 string guitar is not in the family of Spanish guitars, which is what the
guitar is (the Russian 7 string is in fact tuned to an open G major like a lap steel guitar). The Ramirez and Gretsch had
a lower string for bass accompaniment so they really were 6 strings plus a bass string. They really were not viewed as a
range expansion for lead playing. To confirm this point they had only 18 and 20 frets respectively. Also, the design of
any 7 string guitars built prior to my 7 string was not dedicated. My Fender 7 string Signature Strat was the first ever
7 string with dedicated design, 24 frets range, distortion capability, specific neck dimensions for speed, etc. In a word,
my 7 String was not only the first Rock N Roll truly electric 7 String ever, but, also was and still is the Rolls Royce of
Obviously, history has proven I was right as that guitar is the standard for 7 string guitars, copied by everybody.
Were they surprised?
Fender were surprised that I came to them with exact technical drawings as well as the musical concept. But, they were obviously
very happy that the project was so together from the start. I was issued with two USA Patents on my 7 String Strat because
it was truly a new invention (see Attachments 8, 9 & 10). The secret of the 7 String which all of my imitators even today
are missing is the following: you do not have a 7 string if your 7 string has the first 6 strings tuned to guitar tuning and
then you add a bottom string. The major third must be more in the middle like the ancient Vihuela. This is the only way
the fingering is symmetrical throughout the whole range. Symmetry is everything when it comes to the fast violin licks through
3 or 4 octaves that I require. Such efficiency also results in extreme musicality and ease of tremolo-ing together (violin-like)
groups of fast notes. That is why my original 7 String was tuned from Low to High to the notes E/A/D/G/B/E /A(4), and my
low version to the notes of A(2)/D/G/C/E/A/D. You can see that in both cases the major third is the third string and not
the second. That makes all the difference in the world. The Vihuela is 6 string (imagine that the bottom string is missing)
and is tuned to G/C/F/A/D/G. It is so simple and yet, until this interview, nobody but me was aware of that.
Q15. The seven strings guitar you invented for the first time had an extra string in higher range (A above the usual high
E). However, most of seven strings sold now have the extra string on lower range. Is this also your idea to add a string on
As I said my standard Fender 7 String Stratocaster is tuned from low to high to the notes of: E/A/D/G/B/E/A(4) and the gauges
are: wound 042 wound 032 wound 022 plain steel 015 plain steel 011 plain steel 008 nuclear steel 005 I use this guitar for
violin pieces. I also normally use my Fender 7 String Signature Stratocaster tuned from low to high to the notes of: A(2)/D/G/C/E/A/D(4)
for organ or keyboard pieces (Toccata & Fury).
Yes all the electric 7 strings on the market today are derived from my original 7 string electric guitar, the Fender Signature
7 String Stratocaster (see Attachment 11).
Q16. You also invented PENTASYSTEM besides the seven strings guitar and the electric mandolin. Did you have a background as
an instrument builder? Or have you worked in an instruments company before?
No background as a builder. Art training (I won many competitions as a child with painting and sculpture), orchestral instrument
knowledge gained at collage, and mostly natural talent. By being directly involved and supervising the making of my prototypes
at Fender, Gibson, and other companies I quickly learnt about wood-working and manufacturing techniques for musical instruments,
specifically solid body instruments.
Q17. The album "PAGANINI'S LAST STAND" was released in 1992. Here, you are playing the seven strings guitar and the electric
mandolin. This album was also released in Japan, too. During those days, have you thought of competing with guitarists like
Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai, etc.?
I do not really see myself competing with anybody apart from myself, as I do not need to. In fact, I have been consistently
blessed with the most original groundbreaking, and consequently, best ideas of the last 25 years of musical history. The 7
String, the 8 String Piano Guitar, the Celloblaster, the Heavy Metal Mandolin, etc. have all been hugely successful, and widely
copied and imitated by manufacturers, and have changed the lives of a great number of musicians. I know that the American
press has made a lot of unnecessary fuss about the cover of “Paganini’s Last Stand” and a lot of confusion
about my relationships with Yngwie and Steve. It is out of proportion and silly.
The truth is that Yngwie, Steve, and I go back 24 years to the same source. Yngwie, Steve, and I were all managed by the
same guy in the early ‘80s, Andy Trueman, who originally was the road manager for Jethro Tull. Andy came to America
in about 1980 and formed the De Novo Music Group (see Attachment 12) in about 1983 to manage Graham Bonnett. He decided
to form a band around Graham called Alcatrazz and called drummer Barrymore Barlow who had left Jethro Tull to see if he was
interested to come to LA and join Alcatrazz. I was in a band with Barrymore at the time and he asked if I was interested.
I accepted the offer and technically, though I never played, I was the first guitarist in Alcatrazz. Yngwie and Vai followed.
Barrymore also asked Don Airy if he wanted to join. He was leaving Ozzy and said “yes.” We were ready to move
to LA and then Barrymore got cold feet and blew the whole thing off. I then spoke to Andy Trueman and explained that I was
still interested in coming to LA, even without Barry and Don. He said at that point he had, by accident, found Yngwie but
he wanted to manage the best guitarists on the planet and to send him a tape of my best playing.
I sent him some Paganini’s material and he promptly called me back saying: “Please send me more copies of the
same. It’s so amazing that Steve Vai has taken home the tapes.” I did. And he got me to America.
I have always kept in touch with Yngwie and have always been friends. We have always had many laughs and even played together
(see Attachments 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17) I sent Yngwie a poster of the famous cover of Paganini’s Last Stand. And,
he certainly has, as well as talent, humour. So, he is still laughing about it. He got the joke. Even recently Derek Sherinian
emailed asking if I could get him a poster from Capital Records because he and Yngwie were laughing so much about it. They
thought it was truly funny and brilliant.
By the way, Graham Bonnet has a poster of the cover in his studio, too, and loves it.
Q18. After that album, what have you been doing musically? Since there are only few releases of your works, we don't have
enough information about you. Please explain briefly how you were doing those days.
Paganini’s Last Stand was followed by “12 Jokes For Heavy Metal Mandolin”, now “13 Jokes For Heavy
Metal Mandolin”. The record was recorded live in 1994 and recently completed with one more track.
From 1992 to 1997 I was with Gibson and created the instruments of the XXI Century Electric Orchestra which turned into
the Schecter Celloblaster of 1998 and Pentasystem of 1999. I did lots of clinics between 1995 and 2000, records for other
musicians, and was in Focus 2000. Focus 2000 featured guitar legend Jan Akkerman, myself of electric mandolin, and the Dixie
Dregs as the rhythm section. In 2000 I released “Another Millennium?”, which features my greatest invention
to that date, the Pentasystem. Astonishingly, on that record even the drums play chords and melody, all in tune. Also that
is where Albert Lee appeared with me for the first time.
In 2003, I recorded The Holy Grail Of 7 Strings with Albert Lee, Virgil Donati, Matt Bissonette, and John Levesque on vocals.
Eric Singer of Kiss/Alice Cooper actually put Virgil and I together for that record. It was his idea and I shall forever
be grateful to him for that.
"The Holy Grail Of 7 Strings" is a mostly instrumental record which obviously features my Fender 7 String Signature Stratocaster
(see Attachment 19). The first track is the most mind-blowing version of "BURN" by Deep Purple that you can imagine. Albert
Lee and I trade licks and it works great. I do not need to say how fantastic Virgil's playing is on that record and that there
are at least 2 million double-bass-drum notes.
I was often on American TV at that time because of Pentasystem but the shit hit the fan when my best friend Ty Longley was
killed in the Great White Rhode Island fire. My management went down and all my deals with it.
I then felt I wanted to get out of Rock to go more on a Classical route and started working on "Bach On Steroids!" In the
end it turned out to be my best work and as heavy as Hell.
Heavy as it may be, it is also so musical that Sir Paul McCartney of the Beatles freaked out on it.
The record is coming out on September 15th via Fontana/UNIVERSAL and Universal has great promotional plans.
The artwork is fantastic, Arnold Schwarzenegger's best buddy Mr. Universe Franco Columbu honored us with his physique for
the cover with devastating results.
As far as Universal is concerned this record is going to be a MEGA-HIT and the trendsetter for a long time.
Q19. Your latest album "BACH ON STEROIDS" will be in stores soon. What kind of music is inside? What is the concept
of this album?
BACH ON STEROIDS! is fifteen of Bach’s most popular pieces (including the famous Double Violin Concerto in Dm and Oboe
and Violin Concerto in Cm). The pieces are exact but with totally hardcore arrangements a la Symphony X or System Of a Down.
Additionally there are a few solos ranging from Country (Albert Lee) to John Coltrane’s Jazz (Albert Wing).
The players are Virgil Donati (drums), Dave LaRue (bass), Steve Weingart (Hammond B-3, Wurlitzer Electric Piano), Albert
Wing (Clarinet, flute, soprano sax), Albert Lee (Country Guitar) and myself (7 String Strat, Pentasystem instruments, Celloblaster,
The digital booklet and downloads are going to be available on I-tunes amongst other places.
Q20. Are there any new instruments that you are designing currently?
Yes I am finalizing the Fender 7 String Stratocaster with a new high tuning dedicated bridge. I am about to release a signature
electric Mandolin with Gibson. It is going to be a four string mandolin ‘59 “Burst” based on the blue prints
of the soprano Les Pauls that Gibson made for Les Paul in 1956.
I am also working on a new system that features tuning in fifths over 6 string Gibson Les Pauls. The smallest string I use
for that is a plain steel 003 that Garry Goodman at Octave4plus strings makes for me.
Q21. Please give a message to our readers of YOUNG GUITAR.
I want first of all to thank you guys for this wonderful interview and all the people that have helped with it. I want to
thank my Japanese record company, my faithful agent Akinori Nakabayashi, and all my beloved fans. I cannot wait to come to
Japan to perform. Japan has always been one of my absolute favourite places in the world. The food is fantastic, the history
is fantastic, and the people are fantastic.
I love you all. See you soon.