THE LATE ’70S IN LOS ANGELES WERE A PRETTY INCREDIBLE time for kick-ass rock guitar. Walk into any bar on the Sunset Strip and you could hear Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, and many others absolutely killing, with amazing tone, chops, and attitude. And right there with them was George Lynch. The Dokken and Lynch Mob guitarist made an instant impact with his razor-sharp guitar sounds (for many would-be rockers, Lynch defined humbucker-into-Marshall tone as much as Van Halen), squealing harmonics, and blazing runs. The L.A. metal scene would ultimately collapse under its own weight, but not before Lynch would line his walls with platinum records and become a bona fide rock god in the process. Rather than sit home and count his money, pathetically work the nostalgia circuit, or descend into bitter madness like so many of his contemporaries, Lynch has worked pretty much constantly, cranking out records with Lynch Mob, as a solo artist, and with his current incarnation, George Lynch’s Souls of We. Let the Truth Be Known [Shrapnel] is full of his trademark heavy tones, ballsy riffs, and inventive soloing. This interview happened as Lynch was juggling promo for Souls of We, gigs with Lynch Mob, teaching at his online Guitar Dojo, and preparing for the Guitar Generations tour with Paul Gilbert and Ritchie Kotzen.
How did the Souls of We come together?
This was a really long process—almost five years. In that period, I had started other things that fell by the wayside. One project morphed into another and they eventually all morphed into Souls of We. There were many studios and as many as 25 musicians, writers, and engineers. I’m amazed that it even came out, much less with any kind of thread of continuity.
Did you stick with the same gear to maintain that continuity?
No, there was a whole bunch of gear. At this point the basics of my rig are my Randall Lynch Boxes, my ’68 plexi Marshall, and my #6 Soldano built in 1987 that was on the very first Lynch Mob record. For the bulk of the rhythms on this record, I used Engl Powerballs through old Hiwatt cabinets. I used some Rivera amps occasionally. I used my plexi for solos, my ’65 Super Reverb for a lot of the cleaner stuff, and one of my secret weapons—my ’70s WEM Dominator with a 15" speaker. It’s a bass amp that’s great for real chimey AC30 sounds.
What specifically went into the super-heavy intro on the title track?
That’s my ESP LTD baritone Vyper running through the Engl. I started using my Hiwatt cabs with the Fane 50-watt speakers, but they were too flabby for the baritone. I ended up going with a more modern Bogner cab with Celestions—the 30s and 75s in an X-pattern. It was a lot more solid in the low end. What I like for the baritone now is using the Grail modules in the Lynch box—those are modeled after an early Boogie Dual Rectifier sound—with my Lynch Box cabs, which are ported. We mic the port, too, and that gives you that thump right in the chest.
Is that intro doubled?
I absolutely double everything. It’s so fun to double guitars in the studio. When you get it, the track just blows up. The painful thing, though, is getting that first track. You have to be very accurate, and you have to play something that you can double. If you throw all these cool little inflections in there like Eddie does, it’s tough to double them, and that’s why a lot of his parts would generally be just one track, at least in the early days. Unless you’re Randy Rhoads, it’s really hard to double everything exactly. It’s unfortunate that I’m not good enough to play stuff on the first track that’s totally off the cuff and nail it on the second track. I can, but what I have to do is go in and relearn what I did, and punch in. It’s hard to get it with the same feel.
But your tracks have always had those little embellishments.
What I try to do in writing and preproduction is to get all those things down so well that I know what I’m doing when I go into the studio. I build those little nuances into the songs so everything’s tight and confident, not off the cuff anymore.
Your solo in “January” is pretty mellow. Why all the restraint?
A lot of times the way I play is dictated by the gear I use. I’ve fallen in love with a lot of vintage gear; on that song I played this ’59 Fender Esquire that’s just a desert island guitar—it’s unbelievable. It does whatever you want it to. It’ll be Eddie on “Eruption” if you want it to, it’ll do Brad Paisley country— you name it. That guitar sort of led me into this restrained direction. Playing something that’s a little different from what I normally do is great. It’s an adventure.
Of the parts of your style that get the most attention—your bends, vibrato, and note choices— which do you feel is most representative of who you are as a player?
I think it’s my unorthodox note selection. That comes from me being a very unschooled player, which may sound strange seeing as how I have my own school, the Dojo Online Guitar Academy—quick plug [laughs]. I don’t know a lot of the rules so I don’t know when I’m breaking them. I have a different way of looking at the fretboard than someone who went to GIT or learned out of books. I don’t use the right fingers to play scales and I don’t really know what scales are. I have my own way of visualizing patterns, and I put it all together in a fairly unique way. That comes from making a lot of mistakes when I was younger. I was always asking, “What happens if I go here? What if I string all this together and repeat it?” And something very cool would sometimes happen and that’s basically all it is. When I’m playing a solo and feeling good and in the zone, an underlying current of thought is always, “Get away from it. Don’t get comfortable.” I like to leave the listener uncomfortable, like a high-wire act that might fall off at any moment. That creates a lot of tension. So, even though I don’t really think about this, it’s there. Going somewhere unexpected is sort of ingrained in the way I play.
What was the L.A. scene of the late ’70s like?
It was a great, great scene. I was exposed to so many amazing guitar players who were all very different from one another. In addition to Eddie and Randy, bands like A La Carte and Stormer had great guitarists. Another guy who was really good was Rusty Anderson, who plays with Paul McCartney now. He was in a band called Eulogy, and we did a bunch of shows with them when I was in Boyz. The difference between then and now is that back then, nobody was hearing anyone else and copying them. That didn’t start until Eddie came along. Then everybody wanted to be Eddie, just like later everybody wanted to be Yngwie. Before that, every player had his own unique approach and style.
When Van Halen blew up, were the other guitarists jealous or did you think it would translate into a bunch of other bands getting signed?
Both. We were jealous and we were all trying to play catch up. We thought, “Oh boy, we better get on board. This guy’s going to change the world.” I remember my reaction when I first heard Eddie. I had been hearing about this guy with the weird European name. He’s got a torpedo onstage, the bass player wears clogs, they have bombs onstage, and the guy’s unbelievable. I saw him and it blew my mind. They were still doing covers at the time—Rainbow, Montrose—and their original stuff was as good or better than their cover stuff, which was pretty exceptional. After their show, I went back to our band room and played my guitar until the sun came up. I thought, “Man! How can I get that tone?”
Did you try to copy him?
What I really did was sort of bounce off his stuff rather than emulate it. I’ve done that with a lot of players. Instead of copying them, I react to them. I’ll think, “Well, Di Meola does this thing. I can do some alternate picking, so I won’t copy it but I’ll embed that a little bit into my tool box and do it my own way.” I’ve tried to do that with any player who has influenced me: Clapton, Hendrix, Schenker, Eddie, Holdsworth. I couldn’t play any of their stuff note-for-note to save my life, but I can capture the gist of what they’re doing by being exposed to it. I can get the essence. The guys who do the notefor- note thing do themselves a disservice because they erase their own voice. It makes it much more difficult to do their own thing. That’s definitely something I try to teach: If you can’t play other people’s stuff note-for-note, you need to take pride in that.