Q&A With Alex Skolnick
Recently we were lucky enough to snag some time with Alex Skolnick (while he took a break in a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf) to talk about Testament, Alex Skolnick Trio, tone, technique, gear and just general life stuff. Alex fielded questions on Facebook from our fans, and here’s an edited transcript of the questions and responses for your reading pleasure. Make sure you keep an eye on our Facebook Page for future Q&As!
Alex Skolnick Hi guys. Just out of a rehearsal… in a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Music here SUCKS!!! Anyway, thanks for showing up… it’s great to be here, and I’ll try to get to everyones questions…
Utku Özteke Who is his guitar god ?
Alex Skolnick My Guitar god? There are several. But if I have to point to one- EVH from ’78’84. Also Jeff Beck & Pat Metheny These guys never burned out, and seem to only get better with time.
Oli Coulson Guilty pleasures?
Alex Skolnick Guilty pleasures? Good cigars and scotch. And fine wine.
Bill Louhoff What type of things do you suggest practicing to make you a better player? I have played for 30 years and am in somewhat of a rut right now!
Alex Skolnick Bill- there are always new things to practice. The important thing is that you’re practicing MUSIC. It’s very easy to get bogged down in technique, theory etc…etc…I always find a lick or part I like and learn it, it points the way towards what to work on. One example I used to work on: Al DiMeola had these great fast licks on the album Elegant Gypsy. I would slow them down, focus on one at a time and it inspired a lot of new ideas and variations. You can do this with any music depending on your level.
Deven Philbrick Hey, Alex! Have you ever considered putting out an instrumental rock or metal album? I bet it would be extraordinarily popular. You are an incredibly talented musician!
Alex Skolnick– Filet Of Soul from the CD- The Guitars That Rule The World…I do not own any rights to this song, no infringement intended…for entertainment only:)
Paul Guerra Alex are you still endorsed by Ibanez ?
Alex Skolnick Paul- I’ve been using Heritage guitars for the last few years, they’re made in the old Gibson factory. They’re hard to find and it’s not a strict endorsement – I play a other brands as well, such as Godin – but I really dig their instruments.
Diego Meneses Bolaños Hi Alex, what guitar picks you use? GREETINGS FROM MEXICO!
Alex Skolnick Diego- I use Jim Dunlop Tortex picks. They’re very small- not for everyone, but I like ’em. Jazz III size.
Paul Guerra What amps are you using?
Alex Skolnick As far as amps- a signature amp that I’ve been designing for years with Budda is coming out soon, debuting at NAMM. Very psyched about it and that’ll be my main amp. Previously I’ve used Marshall Mode IV’s, JCM 900’s and 2000’s. But this has what all those have and more.
Mykel Dodson Alex ill be seeing you in Philly this time around at the meet and greet. I’ll bring you a few of my band’s shirts. What sizes should I bring?
Alex Skolnick Mykel- I wear a medium. Everyone else in my band (Testament) is XL.
Sagi Sinai Hey Alex! What was your first guitar and when did you buy it?
Alex Skolnick Sagi, my first guitar was a cheap nylon classical found at a garage sale. It was awful. Eventually I saved up and bought my first ‘real’ guitar, a late 70’s sunburst Les Paul Standard. I sold it, wish I hadn’t, but I’ve since gotten one like it.
Steven Enos What happened? No Tucson? Pheonix sucks!
Alex Skolnick Steve- I have no control over the booking. Sometimes it baffles me as well.
Ted Moy How was your experience playing with the Les Paul Trio awhile back ago?
Alex Skolnick Ted- playing with the Les Paul trio was a dream come true. I’m such a fan, not just of the instruments but of his music and I’ve long listened to a box set I have. The group is amazing, wonderful folks to play with, and when I read Keith Richards’ book, he mentioned being a fan of Lou Pallo from the Les Paul band, which was cool.
Yami Frank C What is your favorite thing to play?
Alex Skolnick Yami- I think you mean favorite genre, not sure. I guess my favorite thing to play is a good open jam, uncertain where it goes… whether its acoustic jazz or screaming metal, I just love the spontaneity of a jam.
Chris Hyde Did/do you do any specific exercises to be able to play as fast/accurately as you are so renowned for doing?
Alex Skolnick Chris- I mentioned studying the work of Al Di Meola earlier (and later, Strunz and Farah and others). I think the world music guys like that really influenced my speed on electric as well as acoustic. It was more fun to take a lick that had an ethnic flavor and work on that than to take mechanical patterns out of a book or method CD.
David Fuller Alex, any advice for syncing your hands?
Alex Skolnick David- as far as syncing my hands, I think it’s a matter of dividing up your practice minutes- some should be concentrated more on the left hand, others on the right and others both.
Igor Medeiros Alex, you don’t like Stratocasters ?
Alex Skolnick Igor- I do like Stratocasters but have never been a ‘Strat Guy’ I do own one, a reissue 57 (purchased in the ‘90s). I’ve used it on a couple gigs, but it’s usually for much lesser known stuff- local NYC musicians or recording sessions that require that sound. I like how they feel, but as far as tone, I prefer the rich resonance of a Les Paul.
John Ford Alex… was the late Shawn Lane any influence on you? If so, how? Thanks… love your playing.
Alex Skolnick John I liked Shawn Lane a lot, saw him live, even did a big group jam with him at a NAMM. But his speed is so overwhelming I never attempted to learn any of it.
Rich Walter What equipment did you use to record with on the “The New Order”? The tone (especially leads) is SICK!
Alex Skolnick Rich, that was an old Marshall, I think JCM 800, with a tube screamer. Also, I’d just gotten an ADA MP1 pre-amp and may have used that, but I don’t remember.
Howell Selburn Which is more fun to play, Jazz or Rock?
Alex Skolnick Howell- both jazz and rock are fun, there are moments of each I like better than the other.
Ali Mert Akçer What he thinks about Ghost?
Alex Skolnick Ali I don’t know Ghost’s music, but they seem to be controversial – people love em or hate em….curious.
Daniel Sheehan Most of the thrash guys use EMGs. Why don’t you?
Alex Skolnick Daniel- I don’t want to knock another company, and those familiar with me and my blogs (alexskolnick.com and http://skolnotes.blogspot.com/) know I’m brutally honest.. I just don’t like the sound of EMG’s. For ME, that is. Others can make them work, but to me they sound very similar and with Duncans there is more room for dynamics and individual expression. When I played my one gig with Ozzy, they made me use EMGs and I didn’t like ’em.
Nilesh Ujawe Hey Alex, thanks for doing this.. How was your experience playing in India?
Alex Skolnick Nilesh- I loved playing India and stayed back a couple days to explore. Amazing country. Just this year, they’ve had many groups for the first time, as you know and hopefully India will become a permanent part of the tour circuit.
Cass Gregg What are some of you favorite Canadian metal bands?
Alex Skolnick Cass- I know there are a lot of metal bands in Canada that I’m not familiar with, but of course I’ve always respected Annihilator. And I’m late discovering Anvil, via the film, but they’ve been great live. And Rush is an honorary metal band, one of my all time faves.
Devonte Sudduth Hey Alex, what do you think is Testament’s best album?
Alex Skolnick Its a trendy answer, but I honestly think the current album Dark Roots Of Earth is the best in terms of sound quality, diversity and songs.
Gabriel Martins What’s going on with Testament’s drum throne after all?
Alex Skolnick Gabriel- I honestly don’t know. It’s strange and for us, the Spinal Tap thing seems to have come true.
Nick Brown If you had to play one guitar for the rest of your life what would it be?
Alex Skolnick Nick- if I could only play one guitar it would be my Les Paul Gold Top 1960 re-issue. I played it with Ozzy, recorded some of my favorite stuff with it and had Les Paul sign it. Also used it to play with the Les Paul Trio last year.
Juho Salminen Hi Alex, How hard is for you to write a great riff or make an epic solo? Btw, I use same pickups than you and I love them.
Alex Skolnick Juho- it is difficult to write anything well, riff, solo, song. The key is writing many, throwing many away and keeping the best parts and tweaking them
Marc A. Rodriguez Hey Alex! Just a quick question. What inspired your switch from using Ibanez Guitars to using Les Pauls & Heritage Brand guitars? The reason I’m asking is because I’m a die-hard Les Paul man. And it’s good to see you playing that Heritage & Gold Top!!!
Alex Skolnick Marc- as far as switching from Ibanez, it was a realization that quality is most important. Ibanez was going through a period which is true of companies, bands, sports teams etc… and I wasn’t digging the quality. I’ve also never been a big ‘gimmick’ guy (whammies, wah, handles, etc…etc….etc…). The Les Paul- and it doesn’t have to be made by Gibson (indeed they’ve put out some crap instruments themselves)- when its done right is all you need. And I realized guys like Gary Moore, Warren Haynes, etc… have no gimmicks- just tone. In the early 90’s I realized that’s the type of player I wanted to be.
Petar Gilmour How much did you learn music theory ? Did you read and apply, or just got the basics and found out more about it ?
Alex Skolnick Petar- I try to practice everyday and it depends on what work is coming up as far as gigs, rehearsals, recordings. Originally I didn’t know music theory and learned to play without it. But I found that once I buckled down and learned it, it made me a much better player, not there aren’t terrific players who don’t know it…however, Van Halen, Wes Montgomery and guys like that are the exception, not the rule.
Matt Stewart Hey Alex! Who would win in a guitar battle between Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen?
Alex Skolnick Matt- if RR and EVH were in a battle, it would depend on the time period. In the early 80’s EVH was untouchable and no one’s come close. On the other hand, he nearly burned out several times in the years since. RR had planned to go on and study music and become more serious, so if it was later, I think he would’ve won.
Bastian Reinholdt Madsen What scales would you recommend a fellow thrasher? Which ones make the biggest part of your playing style?
Alex Skolnick Bastian- good thrash scales are Phrygian, Lociran and Harmonic Minor. I also like diminished.
Chadwick Van Oostendorp Alex, what did the guys in Testament think about your jazz expenditure and your time in TSO, since it wasn’t thrash.
Alex Skolnick Chadwick- the other guys probably didn’t know what to think when I went and started hanging with jazz circles. But it was a strange period of the band. You can read more about it next month when my book comes out http://geektoguitarhero.blogspot.com/
Mitchan Hiranuma How’s India? What it’s like? Ravi Shanker everywhere or they don’t use the kind of scale anymore? Was it hot? How’s food over there?
Alex Skolnick Mitchan! Great to hear from you. Everyone, this is one the best sushi chefs in NYC!! India was great. Ate a lot of really hot stuff. Will tell you all about it. Planning to visit soon, I swear!
Emilio Angel How does it feel to be a guitar legend and god?
Alex Skolnick Emilio- I’m not sure and don’t feel that way. I never had what is called the ‘I made it’ moment, it’s been very slow. However, I’m grateful for all the support!
Gary Cellucci Hey Alex just stopping by to say hi! What type/model Duncans are you using?
Max Barber This is a question I’ve wanted to ask you forever. What were some of the things that got you started playing lead guitar? I happen to really enjoy your execution as a lead guitarist and I’m just curious as to what got you to start playing Lead guitar. I’ve recently begun really tapping into my lead playing and trying to make it better and improve on it. What are your suggestions?
Alex Skolnick Max- as far as getting into and developing lead guitar…start simple! There are so many great solos out there that really aren’t hard, especially ones from the 70’s. Learn BB King, Joe Walsh etc… before tackling Van Halen, Ozzy, Yngwie etc…
Domingo Vial Illanes Alex, what gear did you use in “dark roots of earth” Thanks!
Alex Skolnick Domingo and a couple others have asked about my Dark Roots rig. I actually used an Engl in the studio and a Soldano for the covers. But that had more to do with logistics. For the future, all recordings will be done with my upcoming signature Budda amp.
Fabian Dammers Good evening, I would like to know in which way did Joe Satriani influenced you? I read you took lessons from him, what makes him so special as a teacher? Thanks.
Alex Skolnick Fabian- I got a lot from Satriani more in terms of developing as a musician than stylistically although I was influenced a bit early on. In my book, I have a whole chapter on studying with him. You can sign up to get an alert as soon as the book is out in January http://www.amazon.com/Geek-Guitar-Hero-Alex-Skolnick/dp/0988541904
Francesco Villa Any suggestion for jazz guitar? Like musical ideas, tips for improvising, “must have” licks, often overlooked topics, etc. Well, you got the idea. I like progressive jazz, but people complain I don’t play “old school” enough!
Alex Skolnick Francesco- I’d recommend listening to and learning from the late Joe Pass. His music is very classy, elegant and has great guitar parts. He has some terrific instruction videos
Matthew Daly Congratulations Alex. Hey I sat behind you at Rush in Brooklyn…next to the dude who spilled a beer on you!
Alex Skolnick Hey Mathew- good to hear from you. What a great concert that was. Yeah, that’s right, the guy spilled the beer on me! At least he was cool and bought me one, ha ha. One of the best shows I’ve seen in a while
Dan Prado Alex – just wanted to say your band has gotten me hooked on metal, as a country, bluegrass and classic rock fan I was skeptical i’d have a good time at a metal show but seriously had an amazing time and super impressed seeing you play up close. come back to CT soon and we’ll see testament in Worcester in feb. that is all. Rock on.
Alex Skolnick Hi Dan- nice to hear that! I like a bit of country myself (not new country) but the earlier stuff and modern classic ie Junior Brown, Union Station, Emmylou Harris.
Dan L Davis Hey Alex!-We’re starting to see more 7, 8, 9 and10 string guitars. What do you think of all the interest that’s building in the direction of extended range guitar??! :~)>
Alex Skolnick Dan- I respect those who want to play 7,8 strings etc… But listening to Scofield, Metheny, Jim Hall and others makes me realize there is a heck of a lot more to learn on 6.
Sudarshan Ps Hey Alex, as a guitar player what is one indispensable tool you need to have?
Alex Skolnick Timing.
Matthew Jamison McGhee By the way this is awesome as a kid i would have shit myself knowing Skolnick could actually see something i wrote.
Alex Skolnick Glad that didn’t happen.
Brad Lake Hey I wanna know if it’s bad to not use your pinky.
Alex Skolnick Not at all! Many great players don’t. Django didn’t have one and he smokes everyone!
Renato Sandrini Alex. When did you decide that you were going to play guitar to make a living?
Alex Skolnick Once I’d been playing a year, I realized I finally had something I was good at. There was no turning back.
Alex Skolnick Thanks everyone! Must wrap now… This was a blast. Hope you had fun too. Sorry I couldn’t get to all. We should do this again soon- I’m game if you guys are. Happy holidays and thanks again!