Dave Mustaine of Megadeth
by Lisa Sharken
As the fearless leader and founding member of Megadeth, Dave Mustaine developed a distinct musical style as both a player and songwriter, drawing his influences from a variety of rock styles. What sets Megadeth apart from other metal bands is Mustaine’s strong sense of melody, great hooks and intelligent lyrics.
The group’s new album, The World Needs A Hero [Sanctuary], marks a rejuvenation for Megadeth with a return to the raw style that ignited the band’s early days. Additionally, the album serves as the initiation of guitarist Al Pitrelli into the troop (replacing Marty Friedman) and the move to a new record label.
Mustaine recently spoke to GroundWire about developing the music for The World Needs A Hero and offered some insight on the gear he uses to create his tone. He also gave us the scoop on which musicians influenced him as a player and songwriter, and what he kinds of music he enjoys most as a listener.
GroundWire: Tell us about your experience in writing and recording the music for The World Needs A Hero. In what ways were things different this time?
Dave Mustaine: What made things different this time is that I didn’t have any outside influence from anybody in writing the material. But as far as the way the songs came together, it was really just like any other record. A song will usually develop from a riff and that sometimes starts with messing around with the notes in a chord shape. I’m totally a self-taught player, so I’ll just grab the guitar in a certain spot, goof around with some of the notes and let what’s inside me come out in developing the riff. There are a lot of different circumstances that affect songwriting and for me, a lot of it is the result of having all this pent up energy. I don’t practice and I’m not set up to record every time I pick up the guitar, so when I do, I feel that I’m able to be more creative. If I was working on it more often, I know I would turn into a very a monotonous and mundane guitar player and writer.
In terms of working in the studio, there was no pressure this time because I worked when I wanted to work and I worked at my own pace. I wanted to really simplify things and have the music sound like my Megadeth again, not a record label’s or manager’s interpretation of how the music should sound. I wanted this record to be something I would be proud of. I didn’t want it to be all glassy and over-produced. I wanted it to be raw and in your face. For most of the songs, I’d record two tracks of my rhythm guitar parts panned left and right, then one track of Al Pitrelli doing some layering and texturing, which was panned in the middle. We used a variety of guitars and amps to create all the sounds. I think the texturing really helps to bring out certain parts, like a lead or a vocal part. The tracking was done in pretty much the same way I’ve always done things.
GW: Do you prefer to record your guitar parts in the control room or while standing next to your amp?
DM: I always track in the control room so I can hear the guitar in the context of the mix along with the other parts.
GW: How would you describe your guitar tone?
DM: I like it to be very chunky and the tone of Marshall amps are an important part of my sound, as are Jackson guitars. I think they’ve helped me to carve my signature tone. I’ve been playing Jackson guitars for about 15 years now and my main guitar now is a Jackson Y2KV, which is a little bit different from the King Vs I have. My first Vs were all custom ordered because they didn’t make a 24-fret V, except as a special order and my original guitars all had Kahler bridges. One of the modifications I’ve made on the Y2KV is that I got rid of the Kahler and put a stop tailpiece on the new model. Another change is in the construction and body design. The King V has sharp points, but the Y2KV has rounded ends and the wood used is a little bit softer, so it has a smoother sound and it resonates better. I don’t dig the harder woods because I think the tone is too brittle. I think the wood is mahogany and the fingerboard is rosewood or ebony. I have a couple of korina ones. I believe my doubleneck is made of korina. We’ve also made some changes to the pitch of the headstock, so that there’s less tension at the nut. All of my guitars are loaded with Seymour Duncan pickups. I have a JB Trembucker in the bridge position and a JB humbucker in the neck position. I string up my guitars with a D’Addario .010-.052 set and I use .88 mm Jim Dunlop Tortex picks.
GW: What are you using in your live rig?
DM: In my live rig, I’m using Marshall EL34/100 power amps, a Rocktron Prophesy preamp/effects processor and Marshall 1960 Vintage 4×12 cabinets loaded with 25-watt Celestion speakers. The cabinets are miked with a Shure SM57 and a Sennheiser 421 which are placed just off the center of the speakers. For smaller venues, I also use a Marshall Power Brake so I can keep the volume down and maintain the same tone.
GW: How many guitars do you typically bring out on tour?
DM: Around five or six. I take two black Y2KVs, a white one and a red one, my Jackson doubleneck, and my Bourgeois acoustic. I think that’s it.
GW: How do you warm up for a live performance?
DM: I don’t really have any sort of set routine that I do. I’ll usually loosen up my fingers and wrists a bit, then sometimes I’ll warm up a bit in the dressing room, if there are some parts I need to go over. One thing I always do is check the controls on my guitar. I make sure that the volume knob is turned all the way down and that all my tone controls are turned to 10.
GW: What kind of music do you listen to for enjoyment?
DM: I don’t really listen to music new music from new bands. I still enjoy listening to a lot of the music I grew up with, like Led Zeppelin, Crowded House, AC/DC, the Sex Pistols, and I still think the Beatles are great. If you would have opened up my CD player last week, you would have seen Split Enz, Alice Cooper’s Welcome To My Nightmare, AC/DC’s Bonfire, Never Mind The Bollocks by the Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti and Presence, and two Crowded House records. Those albums are all from periods of my life that I look back on with great fondness and listening to that music always gets me in a great mood.
GW: What advice can you offer to other guitarists on developing a unique sound and style?
DM: Choose your influences carefully. My playing influences were guys like Angus Young, Jimmy Page, Ace Frehley and Michael Schenker. I also really liked Diamondhead, but I had already developed my style when I started listening to them. Listening to the new wave of British heavy metal really helped me craft my style as a songwriter. Your early musical influences are really important in helping you to develop your ear and your songwriting style.
Lisa Sharken is Seymour Duncan’s New York-based artist relations consultant.