The quest for violin-like attack and endless sustain seems to have found its apotheosis in the Fernandes Sustainer. Generating a magnetic field, this clever pickup device causes a guitar’s strings to vibrate, resulting in infinite, controllable sustain.
But while predecessors like the Gizmotron and EBow were devised as a means to mimic orchestral strings, the Sustainer’s powerful tone has helped it find an audience with shredders, like Steve Vai, who described the pickup’s effect on his playing as giving it “a whole new dimension. As a matter of fact, it’s sort of a dimension of slow motion. I actually can play long slow notes now.”
Vai equipped several of his signature guitars with Sustainers, including FLO (a 77FP JEM transformed to 7VWH spec), FLO III (a basswood Ibanez Los Angeles Custom Shop JEM 7VWH), and BO (a JEM77BRMR prototype), but he has since moved on to the Sustainiac brand, with whom he’s developing a new sustainer pickup.
“I’ve used Fernandes Sustainers, but I can’t put them on my signature guitars because I can’t get enough of them and they’re not consistent,” he told Guitar Player in late 2020.
“And there was always something about the Sustainiac that I like. It was a different feel and a different voice. So I decided to work with them to create something that really suits my needs in a sustainer.”
Vai continues to push the envelope of electric guitar design, as demonstrated by his infamous Hydra instrument. This triple-necked beast comprises seven- and 12-string guitars, a four-string, 3/4 scale length bass guitar and 13 harp strings. Not to mention single-coil, humbucking, piezo, MIDI and sustainer pickups.
Speaking of the innovative instrument, Vai recently told Guitarist magazine, “The [vision] was a guitar with seven strings, a bass neck and these harp strings, and also that I was going to create a piece of music on this instrument that was a much evolved version of things that I’ve done with other triple-neck guitars.
“I was really going to integrate into the piece of music all the necks, and I haven’t done that. I also knew that this piece of music had to stand alone as a piece of music and it can’t sound gimmicky, and I knew that the melody had to be uninterrupted, it had to sound like a melody while I was juggling all these other things.”
Today, Vai revealed an utterly astounding performance video accompanying the piece “Teeth of the Hydra.”
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Christopher Scapelliti is editor-in-chief of Guitar Player magazine, the world’s longest-running guitar magazine, founded in 1967. In his extensive career, he has authored in-depth interviews with such guitarists as Pete Townshend, Slash, Billy Corgan, Jack White, Elvis Costello and Todd Rundgren, and audio professionals including Beatles engineers Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott. He is the co-author of Guitar Aficionado: The Collections: The Most Famous, Rare, and Valuable Guitars in the World, a founding editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine, and a former editor with Guitar World, Guitar for the Practicing Musician and Maximum Guitar. Apart from guitars, he maintains a collection of more than 30 vintage analog synthesizers.
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