Personalities | Steve Vai | Legend Among Legends | Guitar Heroes

Schooled by Joe Satriani, trained by Frank Zappa and turned into a guitar hero by David Lee Roth, Steve Vai (b. 1960) has combined an energetic technique with a distinctive and often unusual sense of tone.

Born and raised in North Hempstead, New York, Vai began taking guitar lessons from his schoolmate Satriani when he was 14. He attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he developed an obsession with transcribing Frank Zappa guitar solos. Zappa hired him in 1979, and he appeared on Tinsel Town Rebellion (1981), Shut Up ‘N Play Your Guitar (1981), You Are What You Is (1981), Ship Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch (1982) and The Man From Utopia (1983).

He left Zappa’s band in 1982 and recorded his first solo album, Flex-Able (1984). That year, he joined Alcatrazz, replacing Yngwie Malmsteen. After Disturbing The Peace (1985) Vai accepted an offer to join Roth’s post-Van Halen band. Eat ‘Em And Smile (1986) and Skyscraper (1988) combined the band’s fire with Roth’s showmanship, and both albums went platinum.

Vai left Roth’s band in 1989 and temporarily joined Whitesnake before recording a solo album, Passion And Warfare (1990), which went gold. He formed a conventional rock band for Sex & Religion (1993), but returned to his standard format for Alien Love Secrets (1995) and Fire Garden (1996). In 1996, he also took part in the first G3 tour with Satriani and Eric Johnson and has played on almost every tour since.

Vai has continued to release studio albums like Real Illusions: Reflections (2005); live albums like Alive In An Ultra World (2001); and compilations like Elusive Light And Sound (2002), which featured his film work for Crossroads, PCU, and Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure. He has taken part in classical projects with the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra and the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and has been active in creating music for the video game Halo 2, which also became available as downloadable tracks for the game Guitar Hero 3. In March 2011, together with Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Vai set the Guinness World Record for the largest online guitar lesson, attracting thousands of participants.

Like Satriani, Vai favours Ibanez guitars with a DiMarzio pickup. In the 1990s he pioneered the use of seven-string guitar, which was used by Korn and other bands to create the nu-metal sound.

Essential Recordings

with Frank Zappa: You Are What You Is

with David Lee Roth: Skyscraper

Solo: Passion And Warfare

Solo: Alive in An Ultra World

Personalities | Eddie Van Halen | Hail to Heavy Metal | Guitar Heroes


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