It’s hard to say goodbye. It’s especially hard
after 50 years. So that’s why you have to cut the Scorpions
some slack for the fact that they’ve been on their current
farewell tour since 2010. After all, they have fans all over the
globe, and they want to try to see them all before they call
it quits. In a career as long as theirs, there’s not much they
haven’t done. Sold-out tours? Check. Hit records? Check.
Fans rocked like hurricanes? Duh. But one thing the Scorps
had not done is a show on MTV Unplugged. Acoustic-themed
gigs are not exactly a new thing for the band. They did their
album Moment of Glory in 2000, where they performed their
hits with the Berlin Philharmonic, and released Acoustica the
following year, and that very well could have been enough.
When the offer came in to do the iconic MTV show, however, it seemed like it could be one more feather in the cap of the
great German rock band. But founder Rudolf Schenker and
longtime cohort Matthias Jabs didn’t want to simply rehash
what they had done on Acoustica. If they were to make this
work, they would need to reimagine their hits, dust off some
B-sides, create some new material, and unearth some obscure
gems in order to give Scorpions fans something really memorable.
And it wouldn’t hurt if the concert could be recorded
in an amazing, gig-of-a-lifetime setting.
Well, that’s exactly what they did to create Scorpions MTV
Unplugged in Athens. They crafted a killer set with all-new arrangements
and set up in Greece’s Lycabettus Theater, a 50-yearold
open-air venue with a view of the Acropolis. Schenker and
Jabs made their way through 25 tunes, many of which were in new and different tunings from the originals,
and some of which had never been
performed before. The two spoke at length
from Germany on the day of the release
about the album, the history of the band,
and what the future might hold.
How did this DVD come to be?
Schenker: Well, 2013 was supposed to
be a year for us to relax after three years
on the road. But when the phone call from
MTV Unplugged came, it was a pretty easy
decision, because Unplugged was something
we hadn’t done in our career. They
offered it to us in the ’80s, but we could
never do it because we were on tour or
making a record or whatever. So we really
wanted to do it, but at the same time we
knew that we had already done an acoustic
album. We knew this had to be different.
We spoke to our producer guys, Mikael
Nord Andersson and Martin Hansen, and
they said, “We went through your material
and there are a lot of songs you could do
that aren’t on Acoustica.” Matthias, Klaus,
and I met with them, listened to the catalog,
and found a lot of stuff that we thought
could work. We didn’t want to just replace
heavy guitars with acoustic guitars. We
wanted brand new arrangements, including
open tunings, 12-strings, percussion, keyboards, making songs faster, making an
acoustic guitar orchestra, all of that. And
we told MTV, “We don’t want to do it in a
studio. We want to do it in Greece, in this
amphitheater under the Acropolis. Let’s
not do it in front of 250 people. Let’s do
it in front of 3,500 people.”
Jabs: We definitely didn’t want to do
the same songs from Acoustica over again.
We had to choose songs we hadn’t done
in an acoustic setting or songs we’d never
played live or write some new ones. We
didn’t even want to do “Rock You Like a
Hurricane” or “Still Loving You” at first. In
the end, we did them because the record
company and the fans really wanted to hear
them. But the basic idea was to do something
out of the ordinary and not repeat
Talk about the arrangements. “Sting
in the Tail” has a Cajun feel, “Can’t Live
Without You” is a blues shuffle.
Jabs: I was the only one from the band
who went to Stockholm, and I arranged
the tunes with Mikael and Martin, our
producer friends. Some of these things
were done at breakfast in the studio in
Sweden. We jammed on “Sting in the Tail”
over coffee. We had a few ideas for “No
One Like You,” and the one on the DVD
is my idea. For “In Trance,” we started tuning things down to D and then to
dropped-C. Slowly but surely, we put the
set together, and it was about two and a
half hours of music. We knew we needed
to keep it interesting. I planned right away
to have four acoustic guitar players: Rudolf,
myself, and two others, probably Mikael
and Martin. It turned out that we ended
up with five players—two songs had six
guitar players—and then we added other
instruments. We were very experimental,
adding more instruments, like violin
and mandolin, and then harp and Dobro,
because we wanted different sounds for
every arrangement. Toward the end we
had a relatively complicated setlist with
a lot of different tunings. Everybody had
a guitar change between almost every
song. I think we had 56 acoustic guitars
onstage, not counting the mandolins or
What were some of the instruments
Schenker: It’s funny. Over the years I
have asked Gibson to make me a Flying V
acoustic guitar, and they always said yes
but somehow they didn’t do it. The guitar
tech who works with Matthias came to me
once and said, “Are you interested in an
acoustic Flying V? You should talk to Boris
Dommenget.” I met with him and he makes
very good guitars. I got three 6-strings, one
12-string, and a doubleneck acoustic Flying
V from him. When I was at the Musikmesse
in Frankfurt in 2013, I kept running into
Henry Juszkiewicz. He’s a very good friend
who I’ve known since the early days when
he was taking over Gibson in 1987. I said,
“Henry, we’re doing MTV Unplugged in September.
I had to play Acoustica with a non-
Gibson Flying V acoustic. I want to play a
Gibson.” He said, “Rudolf, I will make it
happen.” So he arranged it. Normally Gibson
is very slow, but I got two Flying Vs in no time. So, I played those, and it was a lot
of fun because one of them had the Robot
tuning system on it, which is great. It was
invented by a guy from Hamburg. It sounds
fantastic and works perfectly.
Jabs: When I was arranging in Stockholm,
I had Martin guitars around me and
I fell in love with them. I used Martins
exclusively for the show, and we used L.R.
Baggs pickups because they sound great
and they don’t leave their mark. You can
remove them and there’s just a tiny little
hole under the bridge for cables. I played
a Martin 000-42 a lot. That’s a guitar you
can use for anything, and it’s especially
comfortable for leads. It helped that a lot
of songs were tuned down to D, so I could
bend strings easily. I also played one of the
special Martin D-180s. Last year was the
180th anniversary of Martin guitars, and
they made very few of these D-180s to commemorate
it. I got number six, and I got it
just in time for the show. It sounded perfect right away—which doesn’t happen with
acoustic guitars all the time. The system
we played through was custom built by this
guy Skrydstrup. He builds amps and speaker
cabinets and makes switching devices that
make no noise. He also makes the Rolls-
Royce of acoustic preamps. It sounds fantastic.
It’s the closest to, or sometimes even
better than, a microphone.
Do you guys play differently together on
acoustic than on electric?
Jabs: Electrically, we’ll do our wall of sound
on tunes like “Blackout” or “Rock You Like
a Hurricane.” We play the exact same thing,
apart from a few fills I might be doing. In
some songs we play something completely
different. The most important thing is that
it sounds like a unit, that the song is interesting,
and that the guitar arrangement is
interesting. As far as the groove, Rudolf has
a different technique in the right hand. I play
my strokes up and down the whole time. He
plays a lot of downstrokes.
On this DVD, everybody plays something
completely different in order to create the
big picture. The acoustic guitar is a totally
different instrument. First of all, acoustic
guitar means no excuses. It’s in your face—
you make a mistake, you can hear it. On electric
guitar with a not-so-clean sound, you
can sometimes hide a little bit or slide into
something. You try not to, but when it happens
it’s not so obvious. Acoustic guitar is
much more percussive and dynamic. Therefore,
if you play with a pick you better play
it softly because too much attack will kill
the sound on an acoustic guitar. If you use
a pick, don’t use one that is too heavy. I play
more with my fingers than I ever did before
because you get a much better sound for
single notes and arpeggios.
Rudolf, any advice on rhythm guitar?
Schenker: First of all, my advice is to find
your style. Create your own style. There’s
always the possibility of using the guitar in
a different rhythmic way. That’s the most
important point. If you don’t try to play
your own way you will always sound like
What about songwriting?
Schenker: Don’t rehearse too much. By
rehearsing too much, you lose the sensitivity
of creating songs. If you rehearse too
much, you go into a routine, and a routine
is the worst thing you can do for composing.
That’s the reason why there are so few
guitar players who are technically great and
also great composers. There are a few. Eddie
Van Halen is one of them. Jimmy Page is one
of them. Even if some of his lead guitar playing
wasn’t super technical, he was always
There’s a long history to this band, with
four great guitarists.
Jabs: Rudolf founded the band in 1965.
Doing the math, that means next year will
be the 50th anniversary of the Scorpions.
So maybe if we do some shows next year it
would be a good idea to get everybody who
ever played with the Scorpions onstage,
because they’re all part of that 50-year history.
I remember a gig in 2006 or 2007 or something.
I was sitting with Michael Schenker
and Uli Jon Roth after the show. We hadn’t
seen each other for quite some time and we
looked back on the Scorpions history. We
realized that Michael was in the band from
1972 to the end of ’73—almost two years.
Uli was in the band from ’73 to ’77, so let’ssay five years. I’m in the band for 35 years
and Rudolf next year will have been in the
band for 50 years. It’s really incredible.
So this farewell tour has been going on
for a few years. Are you guys really saying
Schenker: We never wanted a situation
where we announce a farewell tour, and then four years later we’re announcing another
tour. So we’re doing some projects like this
MTV thing. We will do a cinema film, about
the history and the spirit of the Scorpions.
We’ve done nearly everything in our career.
Whatever else comes up that we find interesting—
apart from another world tour, that
is—we’ll do it and have fun.