“I could have been the biggest guitar
player in the world, if only I had been able to handle
my fists—and my thirst,” wrote Dave Mustaine
near the close of his 2010 autobiography, Mustaine:
A Heavy Metal Memoir. It’s a clear reference to getting
axed by Metallica just before the band went
supernova. Mustaine has spent his career trying
to avenge his termination and prove his worth—
and it appears the rusty-haired headbanger has
finally achieved at least some semblance of peace
via sheer perseverance. “Now I’ve got everything
I ever wanted, and its time for me to go out and
play,” he told GP in late 2009, and true to his word,
the now-religious Mustaine has been mega-busy
spreading his guitar gospel.
Mustaine bared his tortured soul in his book,
designed a new signature series for Dean Guitars,
created new songs for guitar video games, launched
his Guitar Prodigy application that teaches fans how
to play Megadeth songs, toured Europe and appeared
onstage with his old mates in Metallica for the first
time, and conjured up another menacing Megadeth
record. Th1rt3en [Roadrunner] marks the return of
original bass player David Ellefson and the continuation
of Chris Broderick in the guitar slinger seat
he’s held since 2008.
Broderick and Mustaine swap rhythm and lead
roles regularly on Th1rt3en, but it’s not difficult to
discern who’s doing what. Broderick’s playing is
impossibly intricate and harmonically involved. His
fluid solo flights incorporate sweep-picked arpeggios,
exotic scale tones, and blazing two-hand tapping.
Mustaine delivers the more primal, less harmonically
involved dirty work, such as the fiery intro
solo on the single, “Public Enemy No. 1.”
Mustaine talked to GP shortly after learning the
song had been nominated for a Grammy, and that
his Signature Dean Zero Angel of Deth II guitar
received an Editors’ Pick Award in the December
cover story roundup of electrics under $500.
Congratulations on creating an exceptional, affordable
Thanks so much. It’s an honor to receive an
The Angel of Deth II is gnarly looking. Was the thinking
that if you’re going to make a metal guitar, why not go all
the way with an extreme shape and grim reaper graphics?
A lot of players choose guitars based on sound
first and comfort second. I believe the first battle is
making it look cool. Then you put in good-sounding
parts and make sure it’s as comfortable as possible
It is surprisingly easy to play. I suffer from repetitive
stress injury, and I’ve been using it as a therapy
guitar to save strain on my arms and hands
when I practice.
You have no idea what that means to
me. I’ve gone through two arm injuries
that stopped me from playing a real guitar,
and the therapy guitar I had was not nearly
as cool. It was it was just a neck on a little
block of wood for me to run scales and
riffs on to get the muscles working again.
I couldn’t squeeze the neck hard enough
to hold a chord.
How does the Angel of Deth II differ from the
guitars you play in concert?
It’s as similar as it can be. For example,
it has the same D-shaped neck. That’s my
favorite because it facilitates playing with the
thumb behind the neck—unlike extremely
V-shaped necks—or with the thumb hooked
around the top of the neck for fretting
notes on the sixth string the way I do on
“Reckoning Day.” The DMT humbuckers
on the Angel of Deth II are really close to
the Duncan Livewires in my VNMTs, but
it’s kind of hard to put $300 pickups on an
I bring five of my Dean Signatures on
tour—four VNMTs and one Zero—but
I actually do play one of my entry-level
VNMT guitars each night for a giveaway
we call “Win the Guitar Off Dave’s Back.” I
play the giveaway guitar on “Symphony of
Destruction,” and nobody notices because
it sounds great. It’s pretty cool because the
winner gets a $500 guitar just for having
the right ticket to the concert.
What was the workhorse studio gear for
I used my Marshall JVM410h, a Fractal
Audio Axe-Fx preamp and effects processor,
and a korina VMNT that I rely on a lot
in the studio. I used to play my main Jackson
in the studio even when I was endorsed
by ESP, but I don’t have to do that kind of
thing now because my Deans sound as good
in the studio as they do live.
What did producer Johnny K bring to the
table from a guitar standpoint?
He made a couple of unorthodox suggestions
on some songs that reflected my
taste and sounded good. He was also able
to recognize when I played a mediocre riff,
and eliminating those from the record kept
the quality high. “Public Enemy No. 1”
is interesting because it’s really only the
main riff and two others, but we split the
riff into three variations—two with tempo
changes and one where half of the measure
is a chord progression. When a riff is
so strong that it can carry an entire song
with only a few changes, that’s awesome.
I remember listening to Foghat when I
was young. The main riff in “I Just Want to
Make Love to You” was relentless, and there
were only two other riffs in the whole song,
which made a great impression on me. But
I guess it all goes back to the blues anyway.
It literally goes back to the blues in that
case, as Willie Dixon wrote “I Just Want to Make
Love to You.”
I like that stuff, and I use the pentatonic
and blues scales a lot. I’m not as expansive
as Chris Broderick or Marty Friedman, who
add in lots of colorful Middle Eastern and
Asian scales. Marty was one of Megadeth’s
greatest guitar players, and Chris is as good
if not better, though some of that feeling
is probably due to Chris being the guitar
player now. It’s also a fact that Chris can
emulate the other Megadeth guitar players
really well, however, and Marty didn’t
want to be bothered with that, which I
understand. Marty was a guitar hero, and
so asking him to play Jeff Young’s stuff
was kind of beneath him. And asking him
to play Chris Poland’s stuff—well, “Poley”
was different. He was a jazz player.
Chris Broderick, Shawn Drover, Mustaine, and David Ellefson (left to right) strike heroic poses.
Marty Friedman got a couple of songwriting
credits on this record.
Those are songs from back in the day
that were never fully recorded and officially
released by Megadeth. “New World
Order” was written right after we had finished
Rust in Peace. We kept the main segment
of “Millennium of the Blind,” but we
rewrote the rest of it and added some new
parts. “Black Swan” was another unfinished
track that ultimately turned out to be
one of the best. “Black Swan” is Th1rt3en’s
“Symphony of Destruction.”
What do you dig so much about “Black Swan”?
It starts off with a guitar solo straight
away, and then it goes into a strong, stark
riff. The C.S. Lewis novel The Great Divorce
inspired the lyrics. I’d also heard things about
my return to the church in the spirit of, “I
doubt that his shadow has darkened many
a church door before” and “It will probably
burn down when he enters.” It was a bummer
to hear, but the shadowy imagery inspired me.
I pictured what it would look like to be in an
old English church graveyard full of headstones,
attempting to outrun the groping shadows
trying to hold you hostage. The power of
the chorus just does it for me. It’s abnormal
because it sounds almost out of time. It’s very
dramatic, and then the song goes back into the
simple, charging British heavy metal verse riff.
It brings Led Zeppelin to mind. Jimmy Page
was the master of crafting riffs.
Do you ever get tired of writing death riffs?
I mean, have you ever just played a major melody
on your guitar?
I’m not sure that I know how. The truth
is I don’t really know the difference between
a major and a minor riff.
Well, theoretically, the major or minor
3rd dictates the overall direction.
I just thought I’d ask figuring that there must
be some sunshine in your life.
There’s a lot of fun in my life. “Guns,
Drugs, & Money” is a fun song about a Mexican
That one and “We the People” are both funky
for Megadeth. The “Guns, Drugs, & Money” riff
reminds me of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” What
inspires your grooves?
I don’t really know. I was probably going
for an AC/DC vibe there.
I bet Angus and Malcolm Young would appreciate
how Th1rt3en kicks off with an intense guitar
freak out during the first minute of “Sudden Death.”
What inspired that?
Two tracks on the record actually started
out as songs for guitar video games. “Never
Dead” was for a Konami game, and “Sudden
Death” was for Guitar Hero.
So that’s why “Sudden Death” is so overloaded
with gonzo guitar.
Exactly. The guys behind the game came
down to my studio and essentially went
grocery shopping for riffs. I played a bunch
of ideas for them, and they picked all the
riffs they wanted for the song. Then I put it
together and sent it to them. They asked me
if I could add more solos, and I just smiled
and said, “Yes I can” [laughs].
How does the guitar playing on Th1rt3en
relate to the current guitar landscape as a whole?
I went through a period when my style of
heavy metal music became unpopular. Guys
who pulled their pants down and stared at
their feet while talking about what jerks their
dads were became popular, and they would
not play guitar solos. That was like having
my eyelids pulled over the top of my head.
It was horrible listening to songs that were
otherwise great become absolutely boring
and monotonous because the guitar players
were afraid to play solos.
My songs will always have guitar solos,
even if a melodic fill is more appropriate than
a burning break. I love my guitar and I love
playing it. Some players take their guitars a
little too seriously. They’ll baby the guitar—
wipe it off before putting it in the case and
whatnot. I look at that and say, “Dude, you’re
never going to reach the limits of what your
guitar can do if you don’t punch it in the
stomach once in a while.”
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