“I arrived in the United States with one guitar,
a bag of clothes, and no idea how to speak English,” says
Hungarian-born Zoltan Bathory. “After starting about 35
bands, I finally threw everything I love about heavy metal
into Five Finger Death Punch. I wanted plenty of ’80s-influenced
solos, Bay-Area-style and technical German thrash
elements, and old-school songwriting with dynamics and
It took Bathory three attempts to lock down a complementary
guitarslinger for his explosive, bottom-heavy riffing.
First was Caleb Bingham, who currently plays with
Zonaria. Next came former W.A.S.P. guitarist Darrell Roberts,
who joined just as FFDP finished its 2007 debut The
Way of the Fist. Bathory eventually found the perfect foil in
Canadian-born Jason Hook, whose résumé included work
with Vince Neil and Alice Cooper. He joined in time to
record 2009’s War Is the Answer, and has handled most of
the lead duties since then.
It’s not obvious whether the band’s latest release, American Capitalist [Prospect Park], is a boisterous
pro free-market statement or a lampoon,
but one thing is certain: the guitar playing
is inspired. Bathory’s rapid rhythms rage
from the guitar’s sonic depths in clearly
defined bursts, while Hooks’ carefully
wrought solos are integral parts of each
ironclad arrangement. Like a heavy metal
SEAL Team 6, Five Finger Death Punch is
eager to fight for its right to rock on the
road to its ultimate mission: saving guitar-
driven music from the post-everything,
What was it like growing up playing guitar in
your home countries?
Bathory: It took extreme determination
just to get a guitar, because communism
was still raging in Hungary when I
was growing up. The average adult might
have made $100 per month. Imagine how it
felt to discover big rock bands such as Iron
Maiden—I was so impressed. I decided to
be a guitar player, but decent instruments
were not available. At age 13, I acquired
a beat-up, secondhand guitar. I removed
the basically unplayable bolt-on neck and
replaced it with one I made from a coffee
table. I painted it military green because
we lived on an army base. Eventually, I
acquired a playable guitar, and once communism
started collapsing I came to America.
Hook: I thought Toronto was the worst
place for an aspiring guitar player [laughs]!
My neighbor turned me on to Kiss when
I was seven years old, and I immediately
started taking guitar, piano, drum, and
violin lessons all at the same time. I’m
not sure if it’s due to my early training on
violin, but slow, smooth vibrato has always
appealed to me more than the rigid stuff.
Eddie Van Halen was probably my biggest
influence, but my main goal was always to
write music and be original.
What’s the crux of the Five Finger Death
Punch guitar sound?
Bathory: Playing in the baritone range,
which is from B to B rather than E to E.
I fell in love with the baritone’s massive
sound as soon as I first heard it about a
dozen years ago, and I made the switch.
All the scales and chords translate. I used
to play a true baritone guitar, which has a
longer scale length so that the string tension
is not too high. Now I play guitars that
have regular scale lengths with strings like
ship-towing cables—Dunlop Heavy Cores
gauged .013-.066—to get the right tension.
Are you referring to your signature B.C. Rich?
Bathory: Yes. My signature model
actually comes set up as a regular guitar,
but you can put heavy strings on it like I do, drop the tuning down to B, and it will
take it. I also wanted a larger headstock
because I read that a big headstock equals
more sustain, and I find that to be true. I
generally go with maple wood because its
bright sound provides a nice balance to
deep tones. Standard players might prefer
the warmth of mahogany.
What’s your weapon of choice, Jason?
Hook: I play Gibson Explorers.
What’s routed into the front of the guitar
you have in the video for “Over and Under It?”
Hook: I take the pickguard off before I
paint my guitars with my own striped design.
On an Explorer, the channel to the pickup
selector switch at the end of the bottom
horn is exposed, so I put plastic piping
around the wires to keep them isolated.
It looks like an Eddie Van Halen job.
Hook: I always liked the idea of a guy
who really digs in on his instrument and
alters it to suit his needs, and Eddie was
the king of that. I take a drill press with a
sanding drum and gouge out about an inch of wood right at the top of the neck where it
meets the body so that I can play comfortably
all the way up to the 22nd fret. I also
make a contour under my right arm so the
edge doesn’t feel so hard. It’s more comfortable
when it’s beveled.
How do you deal with tunings and play complementary
Bathory: Jason’s strings are lighter, but
he’s tuned similarly. On some songs he drops
his tuning to match mine, and on others he
plays 7-string guitar, so it’s standard tuning
on the top six strings with the seventh tuned
to low B. His picking is similar enough to
mine that he can hang with my rhythm patterns,
which are unusual. When you play baritone,
your sense of rhythm becomes different
because you have to hit the strings so hard.
Do you use a special pick?
Bathory: Yes. I use the Dunlop H10 Speedpick.
The tip is twisted backwards, or up and
away from the guitar if you are in a playing
position. Slinging your guitar down low looks
cool, but your picking will start to get messy,
or your wrist will take a hit. That’s because
your picking angle is now skewed towards
the top of the guitar. The twisted pick allows
you to sling your guitar low and still hit the
strings at a 90-degree angle.
What are the other gear items essential to
getting your tone?
Bathory: The Diamond Nitrox head has
monster transformers that can handle aggressive
rhythms in the lower range. I also use a
Nitrox 4x12 cabinet with two higher-wattage
and two lower-wattage speakers in an “X”
pattern. I don’t use too much gain because
thick strings produce a strong signal, and I
use passive pickups because I like the dynamics.
If I play hard, the signal will overdrive
my amp into a creamy tone and the notes
will ring out. When I play a fast rhythm pattern,
I use a lighter touch so that each note
is pronounced. “The Way of the Fist” is a
good example of the two dynamics. I barely
use any gain in the studio because I usually
triple or quadruple the same part, and with
too much gain that leads to chaos. If you roll
back the gain and play the same pattern four
times, it sounds beefy as hell.
Hook: The TC Electronic G-Major 2’s
intelligent harmonizer allows me to recreate
the harmonies I play in the studio onstage.
You can program, say, a B Aeolian scale, and
the intervals will change to match the key
rather than staying consistent. Sometimes, I’ll use it to figure out harmonies when I’m
tracking a solo. I will play a line and send
the harmony to a different track, then listen
to that track to learn the harmony.
So you generally compose your solos?
Hook: Yes. Painstakingly. It can be a grind,
but I’d rather play something well crafted
that’s an anticipated part of the song each
night on tour as opposed to a wank. I take
a copy of the Pro Tools session to my home
studio, put the solo section on loop record,
and track every idea that flows from my fingers.
The goal is to get my brain out of the
equation, and my heart and gut into it.
How did the solo for the single “Over and Under
Hook: I was thinking specifically about
Van Halen’s solo on “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout
Love.” I remember hearing that he caught
a lot of flak from his band over that solo
because it’s so simple and melodic. I took a
similar approach, and I got the exact same
reaction [laughs]. They were used to solos
with distinctly different ideas for the beginning,
middle, and end. This was deliberately
different. They eventually warmed up to it,
though, and told me not to change a thing.
In the “Over and Under It” video with all the
girls at the pool party, it seems that you are simultaneously
glorifying and mocking the ’80s metal
scene, and perhaps American capitalism altogether.
Bathory: Not really. I don’t mock ’80s
metal because that’s what I grew up on.
Yngwie Malmsteen is still my favorite guitar
player. The video is more a mockery of hiphop
videos—but there’s also a message. In
the ’80s, rock stars were rock stars. That disappeared
in the ’90s, with the whole Seattle
scene. Rappers took over the chicks and
the cars, and I’m saying, “That’s ours—give
We purposely left the lyrics somewhere in
the middle so people could form their own
opinions. My viewpoint is more pro-capitalism.
I’m happy when Metallica, Disturbed, or
Slipknot achieve commercial success, unlike a
lot of metalheads who immediately cry, “sell
out” as soon as a band has a gold record. I
worked my ass of to get where I am today.
That’s what capitalism means to me. It’s a
system that respects your abilities. Communism
tries to equalize people, but people are
not equal. Some people sit around and bitch
about capitalism, but as a guy out of communist
Hungary, I’m telling you, “Get off your
ass and go do something!”