Joe Satriani is in a good mood. He’s hanging out in Sammy
Hagar’s studio, narrating a playback of the previous night’s webcast. “We shot this right
here in Marin,” he says as the band—with touring drummer Kenny Aronoff sitting in for
Chad Smith—tears through a few tunes. Satriani sounds great as usual: heavy, bluesy, and
melodic with chops to spare, but it’s the ensemble that is striking here. The four guys
sound incredibly solid, cohesive, and natural. They sound, sub drummer notwithstanding,
like a band. Not a supergroup, not some focus-group driven money grab, not a hastily
thrown-together jam session, but a band.
Fresh off the release of their aptly titled second album, Chickenfoot III [Entertainment
One Music], Satch, along with bass cohort Michael Anthony, chatted about what makes
them sound they way they do, as well as how they got to that point.
“There was a bit more drama with the first record because we didn’t know if we were
a band yet,” explains Satriani. “We didn’t know if we had an album until it was done. No
one knew really what was happening. There was a lot more craziness about it. This time
around we knew we were a band. We’d been on tour. We knew each other.”
Here’s what they knew: that each of
them has been at the very tip-top of their
chosen profession. That together they have
sold upwards of a trillion albums. That they
have nothing left to prove—but they kind
of want to prove something anyway, just
for the hell of it. And that’s what they do
on their latest offering. With Mike Fraser
helming the production, the record is a
treasure trove of monster riffs, intriguing
layers, and tones that are simply massive.
Several songs feature guitar sounds that
seem impossibly big, and that’s because
they are—many of the tones are the product
of incredibly tight interplay between
Anthony and Satriani that is usually the
product of meticulous Pro Tools tweaking,
rather than the seat-of-the-pants free
for all of these sessions. “We sometimes
wouldn’t even have a chance to think about
what instrument we were going to use,”
explains Satriani. “People would grab whatever
was handy and all of a sudden the track
would be done.” The guys seem increasingly
willing to trust that their process will
deliver the goods, however. “We’re kind
of crazy,” says Satriani. “You never know
what you’re going to get, but it was very
comfortable this time around.”
Okay, what’s up with the album title?
Satriani: I was in the guitar booth being
photographed in 3D for about an hour and
a half while the rest of the guys were having
lunch or having a tequila fest or something.
But at some point Carter [legendary
A&R man John Carter] came in and said to
me, “What do you think about the album
title?” I said, “What? I’ve been stuck in
this room.” He said, “It’s going to be IV.”
I just kind of laughed it off.
Anthony: We all kind of laughed.
Satriani: Then Sammy switched it to III.
It’s a nice way to avoid the sophomore jinx
though. There is no second record.
Anthony: Exactly. We wanted to throw
everyone for a loop.
Mike Fraser produced this record. You guys
didn’t bring him in until the mixing stage last
time. How was it different from working with
Andy Johns on the first record?
Satriani: Their personalities are like
night and day. Andy was at a slight disadvantage
in that we were recording the first
record over a 12-month period separated
by two or three months at a time. He had
to record us here and then he had to record
us at Lucas [George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch]
towards the end of the project and he had
to put everything together. Rough firsttake
tracks that were going to be redone
wound up being master tracks, and then
we had to do some overdub work. It was
a very different thing.
Anthony: Sammy had done some
upgrades to his studio and suggested doing
the whole thing right here. We decided to
bring Mike in right away.
Satriani: This was a shorter period of
time so it was more condensed and more
normal, let’s say. Everybody knew we had
about ten days to get most of the basic
tracks down. We were at one location with
one guy watching over us. And of course
he’s amazing, which helps a lot. He gets
Anthony: He gets killer sounds right off
the bat and that makes you play so much
better. That’s key because we don’t have
the time to come in and rehearse the tunes
a bunch of times before we put the tracks
down. Joe had sent demos around, everybody
did their homework, and we came in
here and hit it hard. As soon as we started
playing, the record light was on.
So there really wasn’t much rehearsal per se.
Did any of those raw first passes make it to
the final recording?
Satriani: All of them did.
Anthony: That’s something that Chad
really fought for on the first album and I
totally agree. Van Halen used to do this in
the early years: Keep the live takes, even if
there are little mistakes or glitches. If the
vibe’s there and the magic is happening, you
don’t want to go in and replace everything.
How much separation did you insist on between
Satriani: This time around, my cabinets
were in a secondary warehouse, around
the corner from the vocal booth. I wound
up in the vocal booth and was monitoring
through a small set of speakers that
I could get feedback from if I wanted to.
It was better, because on the first record
I was in a room with Mike and Chad and
Chad was so loud I couldn’t really tell what
I was playing. Everything wound up sounding
too bright because I was overwhelmed
with volume. This time was a lot more comfortable
for me. But Mike was still in the
room right next to Chad.
Anthony: My amp was in a little isolation
booth out of the room, but I was in
the room with Chad banging. I like it that
way. I can groove a lot better when he’s
right there in front of me rather than looking
at him in another room.
Talk me through the process of tracking a
Satriani: “Three and a Half Letters” is
a perfect example of what the vibe was like
in the studio. We knew that we were going
to get the take. About the third or fourth
pass, it just got totally magical and that’s
what you hear on the record. I think we
overdubbed an extra rhythm guitar for the
choruses. It’s kind of a trio recording, so
when the chorus came in we added a guitar
on the other side, panned at 10 o’clock
and 2 o’clock. Anytime the live track went
into a solo, we shifted it to the middle and
brought up some ambience on the sides.
That’s the only weird thing when you’re
tracking as a trio: balancing the stereo
feel. We recorded all the basics live, with
no click tracks or sequences or anything.
You weren’t recording to a click?
Satriani: No. Not on any of the tunes.
That’s why we had to look at each other.
There are a lot of big downbeats that you
two will hit together with the drums, and those
have to be dead on. Just being able to see Joe in
the booth was enough for you to nail those downbeats
and the unison runs that you guys do?
Anthony: Definitely. But you’ve got to
be on your toes.
Satriani: It pushes you into a new realm
of playing because you have to pay attention
every half a beat. Something surprising
might come from somebody, including Sam.
He may start to sing in a different rhythmic
style that changes the way you want to play
your rhythm part. And of course Chad is
always going crazy. Every take he’s going
for it with something totally different. So
you can’t just sit back and go stream of
consciousness. I think about that because
when I’m doing my solo records I generally
will arrange the rhythm section to get me
into that mood where I can rhythmically
disassociate a little bit and kind of float on
top because I know the guys are into this
groove. It’s so hard to even think like that
when I’m playing with the Foot because
we change something every beat. We’re all
making it up, all at the same time. You’ve
got to pay attention.
How did the tune “Up Next” come to be?
Satriani: I came up with the riff in a hotel
room towards the end of the last tour and
then kind of tucked it away with 100 little
QuickTime files on my computer. After finishing
the Black Swans record last August, I
had three weeks to write some Foot songs
and I busted out all those little riffs. That
demo ended up being very complete. I’ll sit
at home and play guitars, keys, bass, and
program drums, and I’ll send the demo to
everybody, but it’s just a guide. It’s going
to change and I’m used to that. That particular
song stayed pretty much like the
demo, but most of the others actually got
Having done solo records for so long, where
you have a tremendous amount of control over
the tune from the demo stage to the finished
product, was it an adjustment for you to have
to let go of these songs?
Satriani: It’s definitely different, but
I’ve got to say, it’s exciting. It’s both a relief
and something that brings new responsibilities.
With my solo stuff, the weight on
my shoulders is to brainstorm all these
things. The opposite happens with Chickenfoot.
I could bring in a two-note melody
and Mike will finish it, Chad will come up
with a new drum part, and Sammy will
come in and say, “Oh man, I’ve got this
idea of what to sing over it.” At that point
suddenly all that responsibility is off my
shoulders because I have collaborators. On
some of the pieces, the demos were so light
that I was surprised when we went with
them. “Something Going Wrong” was just
a two-minute demo of me playing acoustic
guitar—but Sam was extremely excited
about it, and the other guys sort of elevated
it. It was one of those days where
we recorded the version—I think it was
the second take—before any of us had a
chance to even think about what gear we
were going to use. Everybody was just
grabbing whatever he could and all the
sudden it was done. Suddenly I realized
that it wasn’t an acoustic 12-string song
after all. Surprise, surprise.
What gear did you rely on the most for this
Satriani: There were three amps used
on the record, but 98 percent of everything
you hear is the prototype for my signature
Marshall JVM 410H. We had a cabinet
with 75-watt speakers in it, a cabinet
with 25-watt speakers in it, and we also
had a Wizard cabinet set up. For “Something
Going Wrong,” there’s a ’53 Fender
Deluxe that the 12-string got fed into as
well, with a little bit of vibrato on there,
and I’ve got a Fender ’59 Twin amp that was
used for one of the guitars on “Different
Devil.” Everything else was the Marshall.
The guitars were my Orange JS2400 and
two other white ones—one with a Sustainiac
pickup. I also used the blue Ibanez
prototype. We don’t really have a name for
it, but it’s got three single-coil DiMarzio
Chopper pickups. Outside of the Ibanez guitars,
I had a ’55 Gibson goldtop that made
it on a couple of songs, a ’59 ES-335 that’s
on a few, and a 2007 Jimmy Page Les Paul.
Anthony: I used the same gear I used
on the first Chickenfoot record: two of my
signature Yamaha BB3000 basses and my
Ampeg B-50R Rocket amp.
Which guitars made it onto the song “Last
Satriani: The main rhythm is the orange
2400 and the Les Paul, and then the solo
is the single-coil prototype.
Is the gain coming from the amp or did you
use your Vox Satchurator pedal?
Satriani: It’s all from the amp. I didn’t
use any pedals for gain on this record except
for the Proctavia, which isn’t really gain—
it’s a whole other thing.
What about “All Right, All Right”?
Satriani: That’s the JS2400, a ’58 Fender
Esquire—I forgot about that one—and
the 335. They’re sort of a trio of guitars
that create that sound. I think in the very
beginning all you hear is the Telecaster
and the 335. The JS2400 doesn’t make its
appearance until the chorus riff. After that
it stays in and does all the solos, all the way
to the end of the song.
There’s a nice, open ringy quality to that
intro tone. How did you have the amp set to get
that kind of sound?
Satriani: My guess is we used Channel
2, which is called Crunch, probably
on Red or Orange. Each channel has three
modes—Green, Orange, and Red. There
is very little gain on the intro tone. Those
guitars are very dynamic so when you lean
into them, they push a lot into the amp
and I think it gives it that dimension—
the open quality you mentioned. The more
gain you use, the less dimension you get.
It’s got to sit right in front of your face to
have an impact.
How do you balance getting enough gain
to be able to play the way you play, but have it
still maintain definition? Is that tricky?
Satriani: It is tricky, and I think all guitar
players generally go one number too far. We
all just habitually go to 11. Everybody else
in the band will eventually say, “What if it
was like ten, Joe? How about that?” Fraser’s
always really good at that. We’ll get
a sound and he’ll say, “Can you get anything
a little cleaner maybe?” I’ve made
enough records with Fraze, going back to
1996, that I know that trick. That riff had
been circulating in my head for about two
years and I played it with a lot of different
tones. I finally realized this thing needed
to be ballsy but it’s got to have a lot of air
around it. You’ve got to turn the gain way
down and just whack the guitars.
A lot of your tones do have a ton of gain,
though. Do you have any tricks for getting
away with extended voicings like 7ths and
9ths with a saturated tone?
Satriani: It’s the way you strum it. When
you have a lot of gain you get compression.
As the gain gets higher, you get even more
compression. So as you’re raking the strings
with a pick you can use a little bit of your
skin to bring a harmonic out that you’re
looking for. I think that’s a really great way
of doing it, and palm muting. Those two
things together are what you use to control
Will you make little subtle adjustments
with your left hand on the fly to kind of bend
an interval in tune?
Satriani: If it sounds out of tune, yeah.
For instance, a major third can sound a little
creepy when there’s distortion on it. When I
listen to your stuff, it sounds like a lot of those
intervals are just more consonant than they
Satriani: The credit for that really goes
to Gary Brawer, for setting up the guitars
so well, and to my tech Mike Manning, for
maintaining them on an hourly basis. When
I’m in the control room doing overdubs
I’ve got Fraser and Mike Manning going,
“Hey Joe, when was the last time you tuned
that?” because they know when I’m playing
music I’m not in my right mind. I’m just
completely in a creative, musical state of
mind. I would have to be reminded every
six minutes. But I do remember listening
to the mixes thinking, “Man, that stuff is
so in tune.” So I called Gary and Mike up
and thanked them.
What’s going on in the intro to “Lighten
Up”? That tone is like the bastard child of a
guitar and an organ.
Satriani: That’s the Electro-Harmonix
POG pedal. It’s like you make believe
you’re John Lord and you’re on stage in
front of 100,000 people. That pedal is
great. I remember pulling it out of its box
for the first time and I think I wrote the
song “Super Colossal” in about two minutes.
I didn’t even adjust any of the sliders.
It’s got a beautiful sound and it works
really great into the front of an amp. It’s
very pliable and it’s huge, but it doesn’t
stand in front of the guitar sound. Somehow
it still feels organic. I’ve got a POG, a
POG 2, and I think I’ve got a Micro POG,
but I prefer the original.
What about the verse and the solo tones in
Satriani: That’s the orange 2400 guitar
and I know there’s that Jimmy Page guitar
in there somewhere. The first solo is the
single-coil prototype and then the second
solo is the orange 2400 with the Vox Big
Bad Wah pedal.
That orange Ibanez has a 24-fret neck. Is
that a new thing for you?
Satriani: I guess it’s been two years
now. I went through a definite transition
where I realized I really wanted to pursue
this 24-fret thing but I had to see if I could
actually do it. I used it on the last solo record
and then during the tour it was really a
lesson on how difficult it is to move on—
to change gear that you’re so used to. I
would find myself sometimes onstage with
the memory of a 22-fret guitar and staring
at this new thing. Then, when I would
pick up the 22-fret guitar for a song or two,
that would throw me off. A couple times
a night I’d find myself waiting for half a
second going, “D? E? Which one is that?’
When I started on this project I said, “I’m
just not going to do anymore 22-fret guitars.”
Of course I broke that rule immediately
with all the vintage guitars and my
own three single-coil prototype. But I’ve
got to say I’m totally comfortable with it
now. I never thought that two extra frets
could throw me.
What about from a tonal standpoint—what
it does to the placement of the neck pickup?
Did that throw you at all?
Satriani: We worked on that quite a bit.
I’ve never liked the neck pickup sound of
guitars when they moved the neck pickup.
It just seems less useful to me. So I went
to Gary Brawer and I said, “How far can we
go?” I went to Steve Blucher at DiMarzio
and I said, “We want to put a pickup right
against the last fret if possible.” Steve sent
over a whole bunch of ideas that we could
check out and it was Gary who made the
first prototype and sent it to Ibanez and
said, “Could you do this on a regular basis?
Can this be manufactured?” No one knew
how little fretboard you needed to support
that last fret. But that’s what we did. So
we basically put that pickup right where a
Les Paul’s humbucker is supposed to be.
I think that’s why it functions so well for
me. I really like the tone of it.
You said that the recording of “Three and a
Half Letters” was pretty spur of the moment.
Do you remember how you got the super-high
harmonic at the end of the solo?
Satriani: That was a once-in-a-lifetime
thing. Sam had said that he just wanted the
guitar to go crazy. “Don’t work anything
out. Don’t do any of that fancy stuff you
do on your solo records. Just go crazy.” So
we’re there that day recording live and I’m
stepping on different pedals at different
times. On that take I’m using the Proctavia
and I just went for something. As anyone
who’s tried to make those noises knows,
sometimes nothing comes out. You just
get silence. Other times it sounds gratuitous.
But at that particular moment, something
very wonderful happened and that
perfect sound came out. I was using the
OD-1 channel on the JVM 410H. I had the
orange JS2400 and I stepped on the Proctavia
pedal for that solo. So it’s a little bit
of overkill when it comes to distortion, but
the harmonic goddess blessed me at that
perfect moment in time.
You used to be really into discovering
weird noises back in the day—like pulling the
B string around the neck or your lizard down
the throat sound in “Ice 9.” Do you still look for
weird sounds on the guitar like that?
Satriani: I do. They don’t always function
the same way because weird sounds are
so much a part of our everyday life now. If
you go back 30 years, there were less weird
electronic sounds. Today, we’re bombarded
with them from all of our devices and they’ve
worked their way into music. Pop music is
filled with what decades ago would have been
called musique concrète. It’s just odd sounds.
I think because those sounds are so common
these days, they can be less effective—but in
“Three and a Half Letters,” at that moment it
felt so appropriate to make a scream like that.
But you can’t put it in every song.
The intro on “Dubai Blues” has this huge
crunch to it, but also a slicing top end. How
many tracks are we hearing?
Satriani: There are two tracks of the
JS2400 and two tracks of the ’55 goldtop,
which is the brightest Les Paul I’ve ever
played, but woody. For this song, Fraser
suggested that we look for something
brighter, more traditional sounding. So
we had the 2400, we had the ’55 goldtop.
I think we also added some of the Esquire
and I think I did two tracks with a regular
Les Paul. I don’t know exactly when Fraze
featured all eight of them or whatever, but
I know that at times I can hear three sets. I
can pick them out because of what they’re
doing. Fraze is really good at memorizing
somebody’s performance, whether it’s a
rhythm part, a solo part, or a bass part.
He’ll remember, “Mike’s going to do this
thing halfway through the tune and I want
that to be loud.” He takes each musician’s
performance and he kind of writes a script
of how he’s going to feature it in the song
as he’s mixing. It’s really quite brilliant.
Does he actually write it out?
Satriani: No, it’s in his head. If I lay
down two tracks of the goldtop and two
tracks of the 2400, I know that he’s going
to be looking for the magic and he’ll feature
the best parts.
Talk about the blend of acoustics in “Something
Satriani: That was a funny day. Right on
the spot we all decided to record it. It wasn’t
really totally written. We all went to our corners
looking for something to play. My prototype
Ibanez JSA 12-string hadn’t had its
pickup hooked up properly yet, so I said,
“Sam, do you have a 12-string somewhere?”
He said, “Look upstairs.” We found an Ovation
12-string with the grimiest strings on it.
I don’t know the last time he ever played that
thing. We miked it up, we took a D.I. out,
and we also sent it to the ’53 Fender Deluxe
amp and had a little trem box on it. Mike
created a stereo image of it and that ended
up being the main guitar. We added a JSA
6-string to balance it out. Then, we added a
Deering banjo with a capo on it. Because it’s
a 6-string banjo and not a 5-string banjo, you
have to get the pitch up to get that real banjo
sound, and the capo worked really well. So
that’s what creates that sound: the 12-string,
the 6-string, and the banjo.
You did some capo-ing on the first Chickenfoot
record that I found interesting. The
whole guitar was tuned down a full-step and
yet you capoed on the 2nd fret. Why would you
Satriani: It’s all about intonation. On
that particular guitar, like on just about
every guitar, the first fret is sharpness. Either
the track will allow you to be slightly out
of tune there or you’ve got to figure out
another way of doing it. My way around
it was to tune down and use a capo so the
distance from the string to the fret is a lot
more forgiving for pitch.
Michael, you’ve worked with two of the biggest
rock guitarists of all time. How would you
characterize the difference between playing
with Eddie Van Halen and Joe Satriani?
Anthony: Because Eddie would always
go off and play quite a lot, I would have to
stick to playing the root most of the time
to keep a solid foundation under what he
was doing. He would ask me to just pump
out eighth- or sixteenth-notes so he could
do his thing. Joe’s writing is such that I
can actually stretch out a lot more and
come up with more melodic bass lines.
Also, Eddie’s guitar tone was so big, fat,
and broad that it was always a challenge
to find a bass tone that would fit around
it. And Alex’s drums were also so big and
fat that I would have to squish my tone to
a more midrange-y sound to fit in. It was
very hard at times. With Joe and Chad,
our sound meshes so well I can fatten up
the bass quite a bit, giving me a lot more
tonal range. I try to get a sound that gels
with the drums, especially the kick. This
makes for a tight rhythm under Joe’s guitar.
For an off-the-cuff record, it sure sounds
like a lot of thought and care went into the
tones and layers.
Anthony: It amazes me. Most of the
guitar players that I’ve played with, they’ve
got their tone—their one sound that they
get—and everything else is pretty much technique.
With Joe, he really treats every song so
differently. You’ll have a straight-ahead song
like “Big Foot,” where we can lock together
and do this big heavy thing. Then on “Something
Going Wrong,” he brings in the banjo
and different guitars. It blows my mind in
the studio. That’s really what contributes so
much to the sound of Chickenfoot.
Satriani: Our heroes—Hendrix and
Page, especially—that’s what they did.
People don’t really remember Hendrix
that way. Everyone knows that Jimmy Page
produced himself for every song like
it was a unique moment, but Hendrix
did the same thing. He was not that
sort of “this is my tone”and every song
sounds the same. Everything sounded
different. He always sounded like 12
different guys on every record. I love
that, and that’s what I was working off
of on the new record.
Do you have a favorite tone on this record?
Satriani: The tones I like are the ones
where Mike and I are playing very tight
together. That was something that I found
from touring. After the first record, when
we were out on tour, I thought, “We’re so
much better playing together. Why didn’t
we record more of that thing happening
between us on the album?” So, in getting
prepared for this album I kept thinking
about writing tunes that allowed us to
play that way together. With “Big Foot” or
“Up Next,” it just sounds like we’re unified,
and it makes a much more powerful
statement. I think my favorite guitar solo
tone on the record is in “Something Going
Wrong,” which I cut on the blue prototype
single-coil guitar. But a lot of it has to do
with the freedom I felt at the moment.
When I hear that tone, I remember sitting
there in the control room, listening to
background vocals, listening to the banjo
and the 12-string and everything and I was
just so moved to really go for it. From an
artistic point of view, that’s what inspires
me: getting all those ducks in a row. Get
all those things lined up and you have that
on Satriani’s Guitars
over the Years
Gary Brawer has been Joe Satriani’s Bay Area guitar tech since 1988 (Mike Manning takes care
of Satch’s gear on the road and in the studio). He is intimately familiar with Satriani’s likes and
dislikes when it comes to the tone, feel, and vibe of his instruments. —Matt Blackett
What was Joe playing when you first started working with him?
Mainly his Black Dog Ibanez—the black guitar with the purple squiggles on it. That guitar was
sacred to Joe, and we did a lot of work on the frets and bridge to keep it running until he moved
on. There was also a lot of love for the old Kramer he used in the Squares. From what I recall,
that guitar was the first holy grail of tone.
How did his signature model develop?
I had been working on his guitars for a while when Joe asked if I would work with the Ibanez
folks on what would become the Joe Satriani model. It was based on Black Dog. Dan Ransom, the
custom guitar builder I share a shop with, and I worked with Ibanez and built some prototypes and
did some carving on guitars that they sent over. It took some doing but Joe settled on a design.
What does he look for in terms of setup?
I think Black Dog kind of set the bar for the shape of a “good” neck. Joe loves the feel of a
rounder fingerboard radius that’s closer to a vintage Fender than a Gibson. The problem is, he
likes super-low string height and it’s very difficult to bend the high-E and B strings without the
note choking out before you get your full bend in. So, I left the 9-10" radius of the neck alone
but flattened the radius of the frets themselves. You can’t go too far or you lose fret height and
it becomes hard to bend. I also played with the radius
of the trem’s bridge saddles, raising them as needed
with shims to make the radius of the strings match
the radius of the neck. I would sometimes bump the
high-E string a little higher in the arc to aid in clean
bending. Once in a while I would try to sneak in a refret
with a slightly flatter fingerboard but it would never
feel right to him.
How have his preferences changed over the
He’s playing 24-fret guitars now, and I did not see
that coming. Joe has always been very particular about
neck pickup tone and the position of the neck pickup
coil at the 24th fret is very important. He asked me
to remove as much of the neck past the 24th fret as
possible and move the pickup right up to the end. Then
we had to reshape the horn a little to fit it all together.
We recently installed Evertune bridges onto four of
Joe’s non-trem guitars. There are a couple of Chickenfoot
songs that have some intricate rhythm work
on them and Joe was interested in trying that bridge.
It was a great match. He loved how the bridges kept
the chords in tune on those songs.