IN HIS BOOK THE 100 GREATEST METAL
Guitarists, Joel McIver reserved the top spot for
Dave Mustaine. Such lists always spark hot
debate, but the person most surprised about
McIver’s choice was Mustaine himself, who
expressed both astonishment and appreciation.
“I don’t mean to gloat, but I feel that I have
persevered long enough to outlive the bad I’ve
done,” proclaims Mustaine. “I’m sure of one
thing: When it comes to my reputation and my
band—people may not like the guitar player,
but they like the guitar playing.”
Mustaine’s notorious rep and recent sense
of vindication stem at least partially from the
continent-sized chip he’s shouldered ever since
being ousted from Metallica just before they
blew up. Mustaine redirected his maniacal
speed, inventive riff writing, and Armageddon
attitude into Megadeth, where he adopted a
more Hetfield-like middleman role. As a result,
Mustaine has enlisted many shredders over the
years to handle the hot solos, most notably
Chris Poland and Marty Friedman.
In 2002, Mustaine suffered extensive nerve
damage in his left arm. While rehabilitating,
he remixed and remastered Megadeth’s back
catalog. Against heavy odds, Mustaine
reclaimed his ability to play, and was reborn
as a Christian who could still rock like a demon.
Fans and critics hailed The System Has Failed
 and United Abominations  as a
return to fighting form, and Endgame [Roadrunner]
continues that trend.
Endgame is severe thrash metal with politically
charged lyrics and a few of the
harmonious hooks that made 1992’s Countdown
to Extinction such a smash. The furious
instrumental “Dialectic Chaos,” and the subsequent
battle cry of “This Day We Fight!” set
the stage for a full frontal assault with highlights
such as the thunderous, dramatic title
track, and the aptly titled “Headcrusher.”
Copious amounts of creamy, melodic solos
played with dazzling fluidity come courtesy
of newcomer Chris Broderick (Jag Panzer,
Nevermore). “I grew up listening to lots of
instrumental music on the Shrapnel label, and
Jason Becker is a personal favorite,” says Broderick.
“My favorite Megadeth period is the
Friedman era, and I loved the challenge of learning
his leads note for note by ear.” Broderick
put away his trusty 7-string, and instead used
an Ibanez S series guitar through Marshall
amplification in order to match tones with
Mustaine on Endgame.
Matching wits with Mustaine is another matter,
and is endlessly interesting. He shoots from
the hip, and you never know where the bullets
Megadeth’s music can be quite complex. Explain
where it comes from technically, and how various
lead players affected or influenced you.
I’m not the greatest example for your readers
because I am self-taught. I know about
chords, and the basics of music theory, but
that’s it. I have been lucky enough to work with
some of the greats. The Mahavishnu Orchestra
influenced Chris Poland, but he kept pretty
much to himself. Tony MacAlpine influenced
Jeff Young, but I didn’t like that stuff, so again
I kept to my own thing, and the playing went
down a level during that period. Jeff didn’t
seem that interested in thrashing out, so it was
cool when Marty joined. He was a gunslinger
who impressed me more then Jeff or Chris—
so much so that I started to doubt my own
ability on the instrument. I consequently broke
my sobriety, and did a bunch of heroin. Al
Pitrelli came next, but he was just there for a
moment. My arm was hurt, the band disbanded,
and I moved on.
How did it feel to lose the ability to play?
Oh my God—it was devastating. I felt like
I had a dead man’s hand on the end of my
left arm for the first four months. I had no
idea how much I identified with guitar playing
until I couldn’t do it anymore. It killed
me to introduce myself as the guy who used
to play guitar in Megadeth. I underwent grueling
physical therapy. It was frustrating
trying to pick up needles with tweezers, and
stick them into a board with a hand as
useless as a seal’s flipper. But I got through
it. I’m as healthy as a horse right now.
What do you have to say about your new lead
Chris is one of the most crushing guitar
players I have ever seen. He’s very shy, so most
people think he’s a snob, but he just doesn’t
talk to anybody. I got him a Korg Pandora.
He’ll wear that on his hip, and stand against
the wall, playing guitar for eight hours straight.
He’s such a perfectionist, and very disciplined
about how he practices his lead runs. I have
to say, “Chris, try the rhythms now!”
Describe the rhythm and lead dynamic between
the two of you.
We use two types of rhythm in Megadeth—
very aggressive and simply holding down
the bottom. If I’m doing a rhythm that’s got
a riff in it, then I don’t want to solo over it.
The riff is too important, and somebody who
understands theory should craft the solo.
Every progression, riff, or scale tells you
where it wants to go if you listen, and Chris
excels at listening. I excel at aggressive
rhythms, so he solos over those, and I solo
over the simple rhythms. That doesn’t mean
that I’m chopped liver. When I showcase my
rhythm playing, it’s like a solo on the bottom
end of the instrument.
One of your coolest moves is the “spider chord.”
How did you invent it, and how you apply it?
When I was in Metallica writing “Ride
the Lightning,” I noticed that when I used
my first and third fingers to play a power
chord, the second and fourth fingers were
available to drop down on another power
chord one string up and one fret higher. It
an economic move that allows you to jump
strings without having to lift everything up,
and then press back down. It works well with
evil-sounding chromatic progressions.
Can you shed some light on your picking technique
using examples from Endgame?
The chromatic stuff that happens once
the title track’s riff gets going is a good example
of how I incorporate jump picking. I use
upstrokes on the higher notes to allow the
previously played strings to ring out. I position
my hand so that any kind of contact is
going to mute the higher strings, and deaden
the lower strings other than the one I’m
focusing on. I do a lot of that—downstroke
pedaling on the low E string, in order to hold
the fort down while I use upstrokes and
chord motion to create interesting riffs over
the top. “Bodies Left Behind” has a really
great pedaling part at the end with some
tricky odd timing. I don’t know where that
comes from. It’s just natural to me.
What are your thoughts on detuning?
You lose response, and it hides the fact
that you can’t play. Songs created in lowered
tunings sound mundane if you play them in
standard because you can actually hear the
melodies. Where’s the melody in all that
detuned chunking? It sounds like a bowl of
What gear are you using to get your tone these
I’m playing my signature Dean flying V
through a Marshall JVM410 head and my
signature Marshall cabinet, which sounds
really tight. I use the same stuff in the studio
because it’s reliable, and I’ve mastered
the tones. I am working with Dean on a signature
reissue of the old Z model, which you
don’t see much these days.
Can you explain the relationship between
yourself and the guitar’s various attributes, such
as size and shape?
Hands are the most important factor.
Understand your hands, and then you can find
what you’re looking for in a guitar. I use thin
fretwire because, although my fingers are
skinny, I have soft skin, and the tabs of my
fingertips flatten out when I press down.
Someone else may have fatter fingers, but
harder skin that maintains its shape, so he
or she can still use big frets. When you understand
how you use your hands to create, say,
palm muting, or how you hold your pinky on
the pickup ring, then you can hone in on the
best design. The most comfortable shape for
me is the flying V. I can practically hold it in
place with my legs, whereas other guitars
such as a Gibson Firebird dive downward as
soon as I take my hand off of the neck.
Describe the process that resulted in Endgame.
I built a new studio equipped with Pro
Tools HD and a Mac G5. I gathered riff snippets
I had collected on all sorts of media over
the years, and put them into Pro Tools. I
lined them up, and built songs around the
best ones. Chris added his parts. Previous
players often came in with ideas that were
off the mark. Even with Marty, or Chris
Poland, the process was often reduced to me
having to sing solos to them. The other guys
weren’t really worth investing that much
into because they couldn’t play what I was
singing. I only had to ask Chris [Broderick]
to change something on three songs, and
this is a very solo-heavy record. He’s proof
that if you are prepared, and understand the
concept, you can come out of obscurity to a
high-ranking gig, and not only handle it, but
actually bring something new to the party.
Chris is going to teach lessons at our studio
in San Diego when he’s not on the road. I
hope people take advantage of that because
he could teach a rock to play guitar.
Talk about where you were when you wrote a
song like “Peace Sells,” and compare that to where
you are today.
I wrote that when I was young, hungry,
and homeless. Today, I live in a big house,
and I’m well fed. But I’m hungry musically
again, and that’s something I needed to get
back. I lost sight of where I was because I
got so caught up in the rat race of trying to
stay viable in an industry that really doesn’t
care about us. Now I’m back to playing for
my fans and myself. It took a couple of
records to get here, and I’m so excited to get
out in front of people. It may or may not be
called Gigantour. It looks like we’re going to
work with another band I can’t name yet,
and we may have to come up with another
moniker. No matter whom we tour with or
what it’s called, we’re ready to hit the road
At this point, doesn’t it feel pretty great to be
the main man in Megadeth, rather than facing the
constant creative and personal battles that come
along with being in, say, your old band?
I’m free right now. Sometimes I think,
“Gosh, what would it be like?” But I didn’t
set out to be the most important guitar player
in the world. I just wanted to make music
with my friends and feel loved. Now I’ve got
everything I ever wanted, and it’s time for
me to play.