Joe Stump is one of the leading lights of the
Neo-Classical metal movement, through his solo
albums and band project Reign Of Terror, Joe has
built up a reputation as one of the fastest guitarists
in the business. His technique, however, is backed
up by his ability to write great songs and interesting
instrumentals. Joe is a player that proudly wears
his influences yet manages to combine them into
a style that is definitively "Stump". For more
info on Joe, check out his website:
5/6/02 In this interview, Axe and Joe sit down to shoot the shit about several subjects including guitars and guitar players. Enjoy this fast-paced ride through the mind of Joe.
Axe: Joe, this is gonna be a real laid back thing. Just two guys talking guitar.
Axe: Would you be so kind as to tell me which guitars you're using on stage these days, and what the pickup configuration is?
Joe: Sure. I have an ESP endorsement, and I've had it since like 94. Currently I'm using four Custom Shop ESP Strats. Two of them have maple necks, two of them have rosewood necks. They have reverse headstocks, locking tuners, three of them have graphite-bone nuts. One of them has a Floyd Rose. All have jumbo frets.
Axe: Do you scallop the necks?
Joe: Yes. All of the necks are relatively deeply scalloped, and there's kind of a vintage radius on the back of the neck. The necks have a satin finish, and . . .
Axe: Stop. You're making me drool !
Joe: One's a 21 fret neck and the other three are 22 fret necks. All have alder bodies. Three have Fender vintage-style tremolos, and one has the Floyd.
Axe: Are you able to keep the non-locking tremolos in tune?
Joe: Yeah. I'm a traditionalist when it comes to the use of the trem. All of my favorite guys never used a lock, whether it's Jimi, Ritchie Blackmore, Uli, or Gary Moore.
Axe: I don't know how they kept in tune!
Joe: I've seen Jeff Beck use his bar for a whole concert and never tune his guitar.
Axe: I think he has a way of bending into tune like Hendrix did.
Joe: Well, I think if you get the vintage trem working properly-obviously you have to have it floating so you can dive AND pull up on it. It should be floating so you can pull up your low E string to G or G#. I prefer the tone and feel of the vintage bridge, but obviously you can't do on it what you can do on a Floyd.
Axe: You tune down a half step, right?
Joe: Yes, I do. As for the pickup configuration, I use a YJM in the neck position, which is the Malmsteen signature pickup. In the middle I use a ESP Warlock vintage style pickup, and an HS-3 in the bridge position-except in the guitar with the Floyd, which has a Dimarzio Fastrack in the bridge, which is like a double-blade pickup.
Axe: Do you screw your middle pickup down all the way like most Strat guys?
Joe: Yeah. In the Blackmore tradition; Yngwie does that as well.
Axe: I think at Dinosaur Rock Guitar we ALL do it.
Joe: Well, the pick gets in the way of the middle pickup, and just like those guys I'm always working the switch between front and back pickups only, without trying for any of the in-between positions.
Axe: It always amazed me with Ritchie -- the Strat through the Marshall Major was LOUD but clear. I think that's how he got that "ping" sound. That and the little tape recorder he always had on stage with him.
Joe: Yeah. I think his tone had a real Marshally sound but the dark, midrange aspect of his tone had a lot to do with his tape recorder. And he used that thing right up to the end of....
Axe: I haven't seen him lately. I know he's doing his thing with that chick and Blackmore's Night. I had one of those discs but I don't know what happened to it. I think my wife donated it to the Humane Society Thrift Shop. What other guitars do you own?
Joe: I have a bunch of 70s Strats, and a bunch of the Malmsteen models and Blackmore models; stuff like that.
Axe: Are you able to make a living doing what you do?
Joe: Yes. I make money from shows, record sales, and when I tour I go out for two weeks here, thirty days there. I've been to Europe, Japan, Mexico...been many places in the States. I'm also on the faculty of the Berklee College of Music, which is a great gig and it pays well. At Berklee I'm the Hard Rock/Shred/Metal Specialist. I'm also going to be making a series of instructional videos for Berklee Press.
Axe: They've already started saying nice things about you at Dinosaur. I let them know you were lurking a bit over there.
Joe: Oh, cool!
Axe: Before we go any further, I want to tell you that should you prefer NOT to publish certain parts of this interview, for whatever reason, I will honor that. I won't backstab you. So feel free to speak your mind.
Joe: I'm real loose about stuff like that. If I'm gonna call somebody an asshole or something, I'd have no problem with it being out.
Axe: Cool. I like that. Let's shift to second gear: I don't know if you've heard about it; but Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne have deleted the original bass and drum tracks completely from Blizzard Of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman. They had them re-recorded by their current bassist and drummer, thereby eliminating Bob Daisley's and Lee Kerslake's original performances.
Joe: Yes, I did hear about that.
Axe: As an artist, what's your reaction to this?
Joe: Well, I think it's stupid. I don't see the point, those records have been re-mastered and so forth countless times.
Axe: From what I've heard, the motivation to erase the bassist and drummer came from a personal vendetta of some sort, rather than the desire to improve the albums.
Joe: How stupid! Obviously Ozzy is making millions of dollars -- even if he had to pay those guys some sort of royalty, so what? If it's from a personal vendetta, that's just stupid!
Axe: I totally agree. It would be like a painter having his signature removed from one of his paintings years after he finished it. Can you imagine how pissed-off we'd be if someone deleted us off a disc years after the fact, and had different guys record our parts? I've got a bad taste in my mouth about it, and I've lost a lot of respect for Ozzy and his handler.
Let's move on: I find it interesting that one never sees two shredders in the same group. You just don't see a Joe Stump and a Chris Impelitterri in the same band. Ritchie Blackmore once stated he'd rather clean toilets than play with another guitarist.
Joe: I don't know if I'd go as far as Ritchie with the toilets, but I really have NO desire to play with another guitarist. I don't enjoy it, not even for, like, a competition. I'm not gonna get into a pissing contest with anyone. If it's a situation where you have a two-guitar band, like Priest or Maiden or Scorpions, then it's a cool thing to have that back-and-forth guitar interplay.
Axe: Much as I love Priest and Maiden, I think you, Joe, would quickly get bored in a situation like that.
Joe: Yeah. You know, that's something I just would have no interest in.
Axe: I see Neo-Classical shredders as guitar player's guitarists. That is, through no fault of their own, and whether they choose to or not, they always end up with an audience of other guitar players. And often accused by other players and audiences of playing without emotion and all that other shit. That is such bullshit! Play Yngwie's Crying off of Trilogy and tell me there's no emotion there.
Joe: Exactly! Yngwie's a prime example, because of his intonation, his vibrato, and his vibe, he has quite a bit of that old-school vibe in his playing. A lot of people who make those kinds of statements really don't know much about anything. You know, Itzak Pearlman has amazing technique and plays his heart out on the violin, so is someone gonna say he plays with no feeling?
Axe: It's like if you play your guitar with some proficiency and technique, you're automatically disqualified from playing with emotion. Ludicrous!
Joe: You've got a bunch of guys with no fucking chops whining. But there's also guys with maybe some or decent technique but who don't have the vibe, or maybe they don't have the bending or vibrato or note choice, or the old school sensibilities that make all the true masters of rock guitar great, whether it's Hendrix, or Blackmore, you know.
Axe: Some musicians claim that drugs and/or alcohol can enhance their creativity when it comes to writing and playing, and others disagree saying it's a road to hell. Where do you fall in that spectrum? Are you anti-substance use when it comes to playing?
Joe: No. As far as the boozing thing goes, whenever I play a show I always throw a couple back before I start, and then I'll be drinking the course of the whole show. It doesn't really affect me because I'm up there.....
Axe: You're adrenalized.
Joe: Yeah. So you really don't feel it, and sometimes it loosens me up where I'm gonna be a little less inhibited. But I don't get trashed when I'm playing.
Axe: Like Michael Schenker, you mean?
Joe: Well, lots of guys do that, like Schenker and Blackmore like to drink. Everything will be cool one minute, and then some nights you just kind of go in the other direction too much, and it ends up having an effect on your playing.
Axe: How about stimulants like amphetamines and cocaine?
Joe: No. I mean I've done all those things from a purely recreational standpoint, and I've certainly enjoyed my share of drug use and all that stuff. But it doesn't really have anything to do with guitar and my creative vibe. If you're doing blow and crank and that kind of shit, it affects your muscles, it affects your judgement, and you're so adrenalized anyway.
Axe: How old were you when you first started playing? Did you teach yourself to play?
Joe: I started to play a little bit when I was ten, and took some lessons off some old guy out of Mel Bay's Easy Way book. Then I stopped, and started up again when I was thirteen or fourteen. I took lessons from jazz guys at music stores and things like that, but I learned to play rock by myself, just scratched the shit out of my records, listening to my favorite guys and stuff.
Axe: Some guys purposely play along with records while they're learning, others avoid doing that so they don't become clones of their favorite players. I guess most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Did you play along with records quite a bit?
Joe: I was always copping licks from my favorite guys when I was young, like Hendrix, Blackmore off Made In Japan, UFO, and then when I was older, right before I went to Berklee I was really into Al DiMeola. Then at Berklee I started listening to John McLaughlin, Allan Holdsworth, and other jazz and fusion players. But one of my favorite players was Gary Moore. Back in the 80s I would learn like every solo off Victims Of The Future and Corridors Of Power; then the same thing with Rainbow's stuff, and then Yngwie came along and I learned almost every solo off the Alcatrazz record.
Axe: When I first heard Steeler in the early 80s I couldn't believe how good Malmsteen was. Although the band itself is almost comical, I love that record because it shows Yngwie playing more in a three-chord rock context.
Joe: The songs on that record may be lame, but the solos are excellent.
Axe: There's even some tapping from Yngwie on there.
Joe: Much of that was what he was playing as his live solo in those days.
Axe: Yngwie devastated me back then. When I first saw Michael Schenker in the 70s on Don Kirschner's Rock Concert, he had a huge impact on me. Not until Malmsteen came along did a guitarist impact me like that again. Just jaw-dropping stuff. You've certainly done a great job building on that style, and I wanna be careful here because I'm NOT calling you an Yngwie clone. Influences are influences.
Joe: Yeah. I can't complain because usually if somebody's gonna say something bad about my playing, that's about all they're gonna say.
Axe: When I hear your discs and mp3s, I hear a Malmsteen influence, but your tone is totally different.
Joe: Well, I still have a Strat tone but it's considerably more aggressive.
Axe: Your tone is fantastic. What do you use in the studio? Do you play loud?
Joe: Yes, I play loud. I have a bunch of old 50-watt Marshalls. Early 70s Mark IIs with no master volume. And I have some late 70s 50 watters with the big piping like Schenker. And I use a DOD box that I saw Yngwie use in that Live In 85 video. I found it in a junk pile at a music store for like 15 bucks. And I've been using it ever since.
Axe: How do you feel about Eddie Van Halen's playing? I don't listen to any of his post-Roth stuff, but I like his devil-may-care playing approach on those old discs. A lot of the members at Dinosaur Rock Guitar feel that he's careless in his playing.
Joe: In the beginning he just blew everybody away and he was considered a very virtuosic player. And he just continued to play the same way over the years. That's not to take anything away from him, but the techniques and so forth improved and he just stayed where he was at. I mean he's a great player.....
Axe: He's a great player but a lazy player, like Michael Schenker and a lot of others. Why is it that some players never lose their fire with age, but most do? We have a thing at Dinosaur Rock Guitar we call Alex Lifeson's Disease, and unfortunately most of my guitar heroes suffer from it. I don't let them off the hook about it, either. There's no excuse for lack of motivation. If all they can make are shitty records, they should retire or find the proper drugs!
Joe: I agree. I mean, obviously when I hear like Blackmore's last record, there's maybe a couple of solos on there that are really inspired, and the same thing goes for guys like Schenker . It does seem like sometimes they don't....like they have lost a little bit of their fire and aggression. But I guess sometimes guys like that get tired of that type of guitar playing, and they're not having to prove anything anymore. But Jeff Beck, when you see him play live, never seems to get old. But I agree; Most guys do seem to lose some of their intensity. But they're still far from lame.
Axe: You make a valid point. Maybe I shouldn't be so judgemental about it. It's just frustrating to see some great guitarists growing cobwebs.
You opened a show for Yngwie; did he invite you?
Joe: No. I got that gig directly through the club's management. I would have liked to do more shows with him.
Axe: I find it interesting because had he invited you, it would have been out of character. You're obviously in his league as far as mastery of the instrument, not to mention similarities in your musical genre. He normally likes to have artists on the bill with him to come from a different avenue of hard rock. Ted Nugent, Triumph, etc. come to mind. It must have been exciting for you, Joe.
Joe: It was very exciting. It was cool, and it turned out real positive. Like I was doing soundcheck, and everybody had left. I look over and Yngwie's sitting at a table with that chick, Amber. He's watching me soundcheck. I didn't go in with the attitude: I'm gonna show him what's up. He's a hero of mine, and I wanted to play really well and inspired out of respect to him. And that's what ended up happening. He was very complimentary and cool, and we shot the shit and tossed back a few when it was all over.
Axe: This is a loaded question, but do you feel you're still improving as a player?
Joe: That's easy to answer! Yes. I'm considerably better now than I was last year. With each record I get better and better. I mean if you listen to the solo guitar thing on 2001 (2001: A Shred Odyssey --available through www. joestump.com) it's obvious ? I've played some intense shit in the past.
Axe: Do you ever feel you've reached a plateau where you're stuck for a while? Is there a time when you just put the guitar down for a few days, like an athlete who has overtrained?
Joe: I manage to stay real positive. I'm pretty consistent in that I'm always with a guitar in my hands. Either when I'm teaching at Berklee for eight to ten hours or at a rehearsal for four or five hours, playing a show, or working on a record. Even if I'm sitting back drinking a bunch of beers, listening to Frank Marino, or copping a Hendrix lick.
Axe: So you never have to say to yourself "I should pick that thing up". Hell, you probably have a permanent indentation of a Strat on your ribcage, like Yngwie.
Joe: I'm playing all the time. If I'm on vacation with my wife, I'm playing in the hotel room. On my day off, I'm listening to tracks and practicing.
Axe: Let me shoot this at you: Your guitar playing personality, for lack of a better term, would be evident regardless of equipment used. If you picked up an SG with a wound G string plugged into a Pignose you would still sound like Joe Stump. A player's sound is already inside of him or her, and the actual tools used to express it only add slight colorings to the overall sound.
Joe: Well, it's true that your personality, where you're from, just the way you are, and all that kind of stuff filters into the way you play.
Axe: My favorite Joe Stump record is your first one, Guitar Dominance.
Joe: A lot of people really like that record. I have an old-school approach in that the guys that are playing with me on a record were my live performing band at the time.
Axe: I'd love to hear you make a record with Ronnie James Dio.
Joe: Fuck yeah. I'd love to play with Dio. If I could play in any band, other than Deep Purple, it would be my dream to play in Dio.
Axe: Yes. PLEASE go play in Deep Purple so they can get rid of Steve Morse,will ya?
Joe: Steve Morse is a great player, but...
Axe: ....not in that group.
Joe: Yeah. He's a fine player, but it isn't Deep Purple.
Axe: You're so diplomatic, Joe. I should take a lesson from you! My favorite incarnation of Purple was with Hughes and Coverdale.
Joe: Yeah, the Burn, Stormbringer, and Live at California Jam era. Two great live records from that time are Made In Europe and Live In London. (Editors note: The updated and remastered Deep Purple MKIII The Final Concerts is a much better choice than the old Made In Europe release in aspects of both quality and quantity.)
Axe: Obviously you can't beat classic Purple, but I was not a big fan of the reunion that led to the Perfect Strangers album, although I caught that tour.
Joe: You know, a lot of people pin that whole Yngwie thing on me, but I actually have a lot more of Blackmore's influence in my playing than I do Yngwie's.
Axe: I know what you mean. Not all of a player's influences are heard every time he plays. I know you used to have a traditional metal band. In that vein, I like Accept a lot. In fact, we found Wolf Hoffmann living in Nashville.
Joe: Really? He's living in Nashville now? He's a cool player, and he's always had that very heavy Blackmore vibe to his playing.
Axe: Dinosaur David B., the administrator at Dinosaur Rock Guitar bought his old equipment. That big Marshall and Flying Vs and shit. Wolf's retired. He's a photographer now.
Joe: Good for him! You know, a lot of guys really like to play. But after a while, their interests change.
Axe: I'll tell you, I'm envious of you gifted guys that are always motivated to play. I was always a lazy player. I'm talented, but undisciplined.
Joe: Are you retired from music?
Axe: I am in the sense that I'm not trying to make a living at it. I'll always be a musician, but to me it became more enjoyable when it became a hobby. No more band members with fragile egos to deal with, no more hauling Marshalls up the stairs. Now my band members are machines and Macintosh computers. In fact, you're not getting off the phone tonight without my subjecting you to one minute of my taped guitar hysterics!
Axe: Have you ever strayed from Marshalls to explore other amps?
Joe: The only other amp I use besides my old Marshalls is an Engl Ritchie Blackmore Signature Model head. I love it.
Axe: I read something about Engl. That's a German company. Did Ritchie help design that?
Joe: He didn't help design it but it was built to his specs. The tone is Marshall influenced, and it's got that dark midrange Blackmore sound. It's got a ton of gain, but it's not fuzzy. It's got a ton of low end, but it's not bassy at all. It's really dynamic, meaning that it sounds great at any volume. Yet it's a beast. It could drown out two of my best Marshalls if I turn it up.
Axe: Well, Ritchie always did like all things German.
Joe: Yeah. He lived in Germany for a long time. And you'll get a kick out of this: When I was in Japan, people took me to this place that's called Blackmore's Pub. There's one in Germany, too. This place is totally dedicated to Blackmore. Nothing but him on the jukebox, memorabilia, and they even have a Strat so you can plug in and jam along with Rainbow or whatever.
Axe: Sounds like my kind of bar.
Joe: I've been considering going to Germany just to check it out and drink German beers while I'm there. (both laugh)
Axe: Thanks so much for spending this time with me, Joe. If you're ever through this way, you're welcome to stay at my house. I would be honored. Is there anything at all you'd like to add?
Joe: Cool. We've been thinking about maybe doing a tour down towards Texas one summer, so who knows? I'll also keep an eye on your website. Talk to you later!
Picture courtesy of www.joestump.com.
We at Dinosaur Rock Guitar would like to thank Joe Stump for taking the time to answer our questions. Copyright ©2002 All rights reserved.