Vinnie Moore

October 1, 2009

VINNIE MOORE FIRST SURFACED IN THE PAGES of Guitar Player back in the January 1985 Spotlight column, when his four-track demo of high-energy neo-classical fusion madness caught the ear of Shrapnel Records founder and shred-guitar impresario Mike Varney. Varney, whose column also helped propel Yngwie Malmsteen, Tony MacAlpine, Paul Gilbert, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, and Greg Howe into celestial orbit, was “quite certain that Vinnie would one day have a place in the rock guitar hall of fame.”

Twenty-five years on, it seems Varney got it at least half right. Sure, Moore’s 1987 Shrapnel solo debut Mind’s Eye proved him to be a first-class shredder and instrumental rock guitar innovator, a place he’s further established through additional solo recordings, tours, clinics, instructional videos, and a sideman stint with Alice Cooper. But since 2003 the Vin-man has also been “moonlighting” in his other career, filling the guitar chair previously occupied by Michael Schenker with seminal British metal legends UFO.

This past year Moore has been doing double duty, penning the brass-knuckle-in-your-face riffage on the latest UFO release, The Visitor [SPV], while also exploring more cerebral musical landscapes with his solo instrumental offering To the Core [Mascot]. The records were released within days of each other, and spinning either will quickly give you an understanding of how the duplicity of Moore’s career fits together. Simply put, Vinnie Moore is a highly versatile guitarist who can paw some serious sextupletshred without letting it derail his overarching sense of melody and compositional stability. Or, as the perspicacious Mr. Varney observed all those years ago, “Moore’s playing is very thematic and balances between carefully constructed lines and savage spontaneity.”

Seeing as your guitar is the main melodic voice on To the Core, do you spend a lot of time conceptual- izing your phrasing the way a vocalist might?

That depends. Sometimes, I’ll hear the melody in my head, pick up the guitar to play it, and everything just falls into place— but often I find I’ll have a good melodic concept that needs a bit more spice. When I play something too straight it sounds like I’m just reading the music and not interpreting it. In that case, it’s time to start experimenting with different ways to phrase or pick or bend. The beautiful thing about guitar is you can play the same melody so many different ways. Where you play it, how you bend, and how much vibrato you use—these things affect not only how it sounds but also how it feels.

So I’m guessing you’re not a strict alternate picker, then?

No. I do use alternate strokes a lot, but lately I’ve been using more hybrid-style picking, where I hold the pick with my thumb and first finger and use my second finger to play notes as well. For example, if I’m playing broken thirds on adjacent strings, I’ll often alternate between the pick and the middle finger. My teacher used to do that when I was younger, so I picked up on it subconsciously. I got away from it for a while, but through the years it’s naturally seeped back into my style. I’ve also noticed that I’m picking less with my elbow and more with my wrist than in the past

What role does your fretting hand play in your phrasing?

I’m left-handed, but I play the guitar righthanded, so I’ve actually got my strong hand on the neck, which has helped my legato phrasing. I’m also pretty particular about having my thumb behind the neck. My hands aren’t huge, so I want as much of a reach as I can get.

Can you comment on your whammy bar technique?

I’m not a dive-bomber kind of guy. I use it more for subtle vibrato coloring. Sometimes I’ll wiggle the bar when I play chords just to give them a little air. Sometimes I’ll start with the bar pressed in and make a flat note soar into pitch. Other times I’ll turn it around backwards to face the back of the body and just tap on it to give notes a little kick sharp.

Being such a melodic player, do you conceptualize the neck in a way other than just playing scales in position?

When I first studied guitar, my teacher made me learn all my scales in all positions, so no matter where I am on the neck I can play in a particular key. I actually don’t see the neck in terms of scales anymore. I see all the notes and think about what notes I can play in the key I’m in. I’ve also spent a lot of time on improvising. I used to turn on the radio and practice improvising over whatever came on. It’s something that has to come together over time, though. You have to cultivate your library of licks and phrases.

Is it challenging to switch between being a solo artist and the lead guitarist in an already-legendary hard rock band?

It’s not difficult at all, really, because I’m always writing and always playing and I pretty much need both bands to be able to bring all my ideas to fruition. UFO is more of a straight-ahead rock band, so it’s usually evident if something’s not going to be appropriate for them. My solo stuff is wide-ranging, so my more stylistically varied ideas usually wind up there.

There are some stylistic surprises on The Visitor, though, like the swampy blues intro to “Saving Me.”

That’s a Dobro doubled by a steel-string acoustic with both guitars in open-G tuning [D, G, D, G, B, D, low to high]. I love that intro because it’s a perfect example of what’s exciting to me about songwriting now: doing something different or new stylistically. Also, on the song “Rock Ready” I’m delving into slide guitar in a much deeper way than I have on record before. Even on To the Core, the funky R&B grooves behind “Transcendence” and “Soul Caravan” have a hip-hop type of vibe that is something I haven’t explored much in the past.

You’ve worked with some truly extraordinary musicians such as Jordan Rudess, Dave LaRue, Steve Smith, Bernie Worrell, Wil Calhoun, Andy West, Alice Cooper, and Phil Mogg. What have you learned from these non-guitarists that may have influenced your style?

That’s hard to put into words, and I’ve found that as I’ve made more records with people of that caliber, it’s just helped me to keep getting better and better at what I do. One thing I’ve learned from several of those guys is to be more direct and to-the-point in recording. I have a tendency to obsess over little things—it’ll bother me if I’ve played a phrase just slightly behind the beat or something—and, left to my own devices, I’ll belabor things indefinitely. It’s a vicious cycle because the more time you spend obsessing over one little thing, the more hypersensitive you get. Now I find it’s best just to get in, get out, and move on. And while these minor imperfections may exist, you have to learn at what point they’re not important anymore.

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