Total Guitar - - CONTENTS - Words Amit Sharma / Pho­tog­ra­phy Justin Re­ich


Zakk Wylde has been a busy man. As well as pen­ning and record­ing Black La­bel So­ci­ety’s lat­est opus, half-jok­ingly ti­tled Grimmest Hits, he’s been re­united with the man who kick-started his ca­reer – Ozzy Os­bourne – and tour­ing in his own Black Sab­bath cov­ers band, Zakk Sab­bath. “We did Knot­fest Meets Oz­zfest in San Bernardino last year and I re­alised the last time I’d played in Cal­i­for­nia with the boss was 10 years ago!” he tells TG, perched on the sofa in his west Lon­don ho­tel room. “Well, that just flew by. Even when Gus G was tak­ing care of busi­ness and killing it while I was gone, I al­ways talked with Oz and Sharon… our re­la­tion­ship is big­ger than mu­sic. When I got back and we ran through those songs again, it was like I never left.” Watch any of the live footage on YouTube and you’ll be in­clined to agree. Here metal’s very own ‘miracle man’ talks us through the con­cepts be­hind his world-con­quer­ing tech­nique…


How Zakk came up with that sig­na­ture style…

“When I got the gig with Ozzy in 1988, Yng­wie Malm­steen was at the height of his fame. They were open­ing up wards at Berklee Col­lege Of Mu­sic specif­i­cally to study clas­si­cal pieces, just be­cause of how huge he was. It was re­ally that big. I fig­ured if you don’t want to sound like him, stay away from har­monic mi­nor and di­min­ished scales or sweep pick­ing. The same goes for Van Halen: don’t do any taps. It’s like

cross­ing things off a list of what not to do if you per­son­ally don’t want to sound like any­one else that’s pop­u­lar at that time. I crossed off all these things on the list and looked at what was left; three-note di­a­tonic scales. I got rid of that too, so all that was left was pen­ta­ton­ics, ha ha! I forced my­self to come up with things cre­atively using mainly that. Two notes per string felt dif­fer­ent to three and be­came this whole dif­fer­ent ball game. There are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways for you to do your thing. Think of them as all these sea­son­ings and you have to ask your­self, ‘What do I want to taste?’ It’s your own restau­rant. It’s your own soup. Have a good time com­ing up with your own recipes with the for­mula and in­gre­di­ents!”


Why Zakk favours econ­omy pick­ing over al­ter­nate for cer­tain licks…

“My faster pen­ta­tonic licks are about mak­ing it as eco­nomic as pos­si­ble. Some­times I won’t play strict al­ter­nate and I’ll strike through in­stead. I’ll go down, up and up again, then down if I’m play­ing E mi­nor de­scend­ing on the two high­est strings up at the 12th fret. When every­one talks about the guys that play re­ally fast: guys like Jimi Bell or Michael An­gelo Ba­tio – they barely lift their fin­gers. There’s very lit­tle move­ment and, be­cause of that, these guys can ex­e­cute their chops blaz­ingly fast. Chris Im­pel­lit­teri is an­other one, when he shreds there’s lit­tle move­ment. They make it as eco­nomic as pos­si­ble. Learn­ing it is a mat­ter of rep­e­ti­tion. That’s all it is: rep­e­ti­tion, rep­e­ti­tion, rep­e­ti­tion – to the point where it’s ef­fort­less. When you watch Yng­wie Malm­steen play, it barely looks like he’s pick­ing. But he is pick­ing those notes, man! You might think it’s more legato than it is, but it’s not. He’s pretty much pick­ing it all, whether in sweeps or al­ter­nate.”


Zakk ex­plains how key play­ers made him look at the pen­ta­tonic scale dif­fer­ently…

“I learned a lot about the pen­ta­tonic scale lis­ten­ing to John McLaugh­lin on In­ner Mount­ing Flame by Mah a vishnu Or­ches­tra. Peo­ple al­ways as­so­ciate the pen­ta­tonic scale with An­gus Young or Jimmy Page or Hen­drix, Clap­ton, Beck and all those early 60s/late 70s rock play­ers. At one point, I even thought that the pen­ta­tonic scale was a bit like the easy way out, but when I heard McLaugh­lin and Frank Marino on Ma­hogany Rush Live, those guys just opened up new doors in terms of what you can do with those five notes. That’s what makes gui­tar play­ing

great… it’s lim­it­less. Some­one like David Gil­mour can make those ex­act same notes sound so dif­fer­ent. The fact that he didn’t want to play like every­one else around is what made those so­los on songs like Com­fort­ably Numb sound so perfect.”


The Black La­bel guide to right-hand tech­nique

“The weird thing about play­ing is there is no right or wrong way to hold a pick or run through pick­ing pat­terns. I re­mem­ber read­ing an ar­ti­cle where Al Di Me­ola said he ended up de­vel­op­ing his pick­ing through all the guys he was try­ing to copy and a lot of them were fin­ger­pick­ers. It’s like Jeff Healey, he fig­ured out that’s the way to play be­cause he was blind. When he started, he had no ref­er­ence to come at it with. He just started play­ing on his lap think­ing that’s just how ev­ery­body plays. Al Di Me­ola uses a pick and is try­ing to em­u­late fin­ger pick­ing – he’s try­ing to do the work of three fin­gers with one pick. I re­mem­ber him say­ing that’s the kind of think­ing that re­ally helped de­velop his pick­ing. It re­ally is down to what­ever’s most com­fort­able and works best for you. Guys such as John McLaugh­lin like to, and can, pick ev­ery­thing! Things can be hard when you’re not used to them, but once you get to a cer­tain point in your devel­op­ment, you know any­thing is sim­ply a mat­ter of time. All you have to do is ap­ply your­self when­ever you want to learn some­thing new.”


Zakk sin­gles out the coun­try gui­tarist to learn from

“That chicken pickin’ sound all comes from banjo rolls. The best thing to do would be check out Al­bert Lee on YouTube or watch any of his in­struc­tional videos to phys­i­cally see some­one do­ing it. He uses so many chro­matic and pass­ing tones, and it’s those lit­tle things that make your vo­cab­u­lary more mu­si­cal and colour­ful than just pen­ta­tonic scales. It’s all in the ex­tra notes and lit­tle slides. Plus, a lot of that stuff is ma­jor, so the tonal­i­ties are dif­fer­ent. The first time I saw him play, I re­alised there was this whole other world of tech­niques that I just loved the sound of. Blend some of that into your own style and it will open up new doors in your sound. The ma­jor stuff is more like The All­man Broth­ers, it’s re­ally happy, but say if you went from the sec­ond fret to the fifth for mi­nor pen­ta­tonic in A, it will sound re­ally mean and nasty in com­par­i­son. Just be­tween those two, there are tons of colours and flavours out there.”


Zakk be­lieves the key to prac­tis­ing is pri­ori­tis­ing

“It comes down to what you want to learn. Stuff like chicken pickin’ or string skip­ping – if that sound doesn’t at­tract you, don’t worry about it. I love jazz play­ers like Joe Pass, they’re ridicu­lous vir­tu­oso guys, but scales like melodic mi­nor don’t re­ally fit over what I play so I fo­cus more on blues and rock licks. I re­mem­ber Johnny Win­ter be­ing asked if he liked clas­si­cal gui­tar play­ers and he said while it was clear they were amaz­ing mu­si­cians, what re­ally moved him and made his heart skip was the blues. Imag­ine Johnny Win­ter sit­ting around prac­tis­ing Bach pieces… he’d be won­der­ing what the hell he was do­ing. Truly love what you play and only do things that move you. It’s the same with food, some peo­ple just don’t like raw fish or sushi, which is to­tally fine. Why bother sit­ting around learn­ing some­thing you’re not at­tracted to… it just won’t do any­thing for you. The same goes for a 13-year-old metal kid learn­ing blues stuff like RedHouse – they might find it bor­ing and would rather be play­ing Slip­knot!”


Zakk on why cer­tain play­ers are sim­ply born with a mag­i­cal feel

“Vi­brato plays a huge part in this – if you have great tech­nique but ter­ri­ble vi­brato, it ru­ins the whole thing. When­ever you lis­ten to any of the great play­ers, from Neal Schon to Ge­orge Lynch, War­ren DiMar­tini, Vi­vian Camp­bell, An­gus Young, Paul Kos­soff, John Sykes, Ed­die Van Halen or any of those cats… they all had great vi­brato. Whether it was faster or wider or what­ever, it was al­ways ear-pleas­ing. Ask any of those play­ers I men­tioned and they’ll all tell you that vi­brato can’t re­ally be taught – it’s an el­e­ment that’s just in­nately in­side you and every­one will nat­u­rally have a dif­fer­ent feel. Mine is more of a smash­ing into the song than a slowly creep­ing-in ap­proach. Even if I play on some­thing mel­low, like


on Mama, I’ m Com­ing Home, the vi­brato might not as silly as it would be on Miracle Man, but it still sounds like me. That’s how vi­brato plays a huge part in your phras­ing. On the Gen­er­a­tion Axe tour with Nuno Bet­ten­court, Yng­wie Malm­steen, Tosin Abasi and Steve Vai… I’d hear the sound­check and know within three notes who was plugged in. It’s all in the vi­brato, each of them had their own sig­na­ture take on it.”

NO PAIN, NO GAIN There’s an art of con­trol­ling a gui­tar go­ing through high-gain set­tings

“Prac­tis­ing with dis­tor­tion helps you learn how to con­trol it, which al­most be­comes a tech­nique in its own right. I use a lot of it – on those old JCM 800s I was play­ing through back in the day, I’d have the master on two or three and then gain all the way up. But when I turned all the dis­tor­tion ped­als off, it would ba­si­cally be the sound from Back In Black or High­way To Hell – with no ring­ing in be­tween the chords. It would not feed­back or have any of that back­ground noise be­cause the ped­als are where I get all the sus­tain. I’m do­ing the same with my Wylde Au­dio stuff, the amp tone is al­most like my clean sound. I turn my gui­tar down to get clean, as I don’t use a proper clean chan­nel. When I play songs like Mama, I’m Com­ing Home or Good­bye To Romance live, I just turn the ped­als off and dial the gui­tar down. Then when it kicks in, I’ll crank ev­ery­thing up… the idea is to give you more of what you al­ready have than switch into some­thing new or dif­fer­ent.”

A GOOD SPREAD Big­ger is al­ways better when you’re the only gui­tarist in the band

“I like my gui­tars dou­bled, so when I play live I have the cho­rus on all the time – that’s what helps get me that spread to widen things up. It’s dif­fer­ent when I track the records in the stu­dio, I’ll phys­i­cally dou­ble the gui­tars to get a nat­u­ral cho­rus – I’ve been do­ing it like that since the first Ozzy record. The only al­bum where I didn’t do it that way was Pride And Glory, which was just one gui­tar and that’s it. That record is pretty much live – one take through each song and though we’d try switch­ing a cou­ple of fills around, we’d usu­ally kill it on the first one.”

ABOVE AND BE­YOND Zakk on learn­ing ev­ery­thing you can about the ar­eas of the neck you don’t use

“There’s some­thing ge­nius about how much some­one can pull out of a lit­tle area – see­ing all that crazy shit go­ing on in a tiny pen­ta­tonic box. Some peo­ple can make those sound like an un­lim­ited amount of space, play­ers like Eric Gales – who has a great tech­nique when it comes to this stuff. I ac­tu­ally played on one of his records and he’s a phe­nom­e­nal gui­tarist – and the guy can sing his ass off too. If you force your­self to use only three strings in a small box that you rarely use, you will even­tu­ally learn how to come up with a tril­lion things and phrases right there with­out even mov­ing. That’s kinda awe­some; you learn how to be re­ally cre­ative in a small amount of space. Once you start adding in all the dif­fer­ent chro­mat­ics, there are tons of dif­fer­ent op­tions in any part of the fret­board – you’ll soon get a nat­u­ral feel where things are and just know where you want to go. There’s just so much to learn nowa­days, look­ing on so­cial me­dia, there are so many amaz­ing play­ers. So, when peo­ple say, ‘Gui­tar is dead,’ I just think to my­self, ‘But there are more in­sane play­ers now than ever be­fore!’”

Grimmest Hits is out now on Spine­farm Records. Zakk plays the Down­load Fes­ti­val with Ozzy Os­bourne on 10 June


split the dif­fer­ence Zakk’s coil-split­ting his sig­na­ture EMG pick­ups to cover more tonal ground

dou­bletrou­ble Zakk’s hav­ing a busy 2018; play­ing Euro­pean dates with BLS (in­clud­ing an 5 April stop at the Lon­don Al­bert Hall) be­fore fes­ti­val shows with Ozzy

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