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  • Joe Satriani


Watch Joe Satriani in Action at the bottom of this page!

Famous / Infamous For

Being the most successful rock guitar instrumentalist since Jeff Beck. Being a guitar teacher of players such as Steve Vai, Kirk Hammett and Alex Skolnick, among others. Embracing total baldness (with sunglasses) as "a look" unto itself rather than waging a losing war with his receding hairline.


Obvious: Joe's chosen genre — instrumental guitar albums — owes a lot to Jeff Beck. Joe also studied with jazz masters Billy Bauer and pianist/composer Lennie Tristano who gave him his foundation in theory.

Not-so-obvious: Joe once commented: "I've always got Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Wes Montgomery and Miles Davis sitting on my shoulder, whispering to me." Perhaps they are as inspiration, but I don't hear these players as direct, discernable influences on Joe's actual guitar style. Occasionally I'll hear a Beck-like approach to some of his songs and melodies but that's about it.


Joe is probably the most "schooled" rock player you'll ever hear. His knowledge of musical theory is staggering. It is a strength Joe draws upon when creating his highly-evolved instrumental music. Joe's knowledge lets him create both rhythms and solos that go well beyond the most commonly-used rock scales and chord voicings.

Melody. A great sense of melody is really what makes or breaks instrumental music. And again, Joe taps his scallular knowledge to create melodies of so many different flavors that his music is unusual, unique, interesting, and yet musically pleasing, all at the same time.

Diversity. Joe's albums all feature songs of varying moods — agressive, dark-sounding pieces, uptempo rockers, supercharged blues boogies, and quiet ballads. Joe's latest CD, Engines of Creation, finds him experimenting with techno-rhythms and futuristic sounding compositions.

Chops. You bet! Joe's fret hand in particular flys around the fretboard employing scales and chord voicings that leave even accomplished players wondering what the hell was that?!!


I find that many schooled players have a hard time making an emotional impact with their playing. They are often so concerned with trying to impress, that they miss the mark on the gut level. Satriani does FAR better than most at avoiding this pitfall. But as wonderful a player as Satch is, I still find that he impresses my brain more than he puts a tent in my shorts. I like music that aims for the crotch rather than the brain, and there's just not enough sex in Joe's playing for me. While most of Joe's instrumentals are based on extremely cool ideas and melodies, when it comes time for the solo, he's often a little too self-indulgent for my taste. He'll often wank away for long periods of time and I'll find myself wanting it to end. And maybe it's just me, but all legato licks gets on my nerves after a while. These are obviously personal biases. I know plenty of players love these aspects of Joes' playing.

One last thing. As a singer, Joe's better than Uli Jon Roth, but then so is my neighbor's cat. Fortunately, Joe doesn't insist on regailing us with his voice too often.


Joe's tone — particularly his live tone — is very processed and modern-sounding. It's pretty gainy and has lots of sustain and compression so it seems to flow effortlessly and evenly from the guitar. This makes it a sound that is well-suited to Joe's legato playing style. Live, he runs a pair of Marshall 6100, 100 watt heads (6550s) in stereo, amazingly he runs a Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal into the 6100's clean channel for his dirty tone! His effects rack contains some echos and a harmonizer among other things. In the studio, he uses different amplifiers, including a Hafler Triple Giant, some custom amps built by Matt Wells, and some vintage Gibson and Fender amps.

These days, Joe's seen most frequently with his signature Ibanez JS "Chrome Boy" — a super strat variant with an Ibanez Edge tremolo and two humbuckers with coil taps (all the literature says DiMarzio, but the live videos I've seen clearly show a Duncan in the bridge). If you poke around at, you'll find his guitar's setup scheme.

Joe uses several pedal effects too, including wah, a Fulltone Ultimate Octave, and a Digitech Whammy pedal. Joe uses these devices to give his melodies a more vocal quality.

Guitar Style

Satch's theory background lets him approach the fretboard in a way most players do not. Most guitarists are content to base a song on a cool riff or progression born of instinct. While Joe does this too, some of his compositions have more going on than that. Some of Joe's songs are based on modal chord progressions in the same key. This is known as the pitch axis method. For example, Not of This Earth moves from E Lydian to E Aeolian to E Lydian to E Mixolydian.

Joe's thinking is not limited by the common "box patterns" that most rock players are content to stick with. For example, Satriani probably uses the Blues scale as much as any rock guitarist, but he'll modernizes his blues licks by using a three-note-per-string method. So even though he's playing the same familiar notes, the licks and the feel are different. And of course, Joe also uses plenty of exotic scales too.

The key thing to note about Satch's lead style it that it is 99.9% legato. That's unusual among players of his stature. Joe doesn't really alternate pick anything. In fact, he only seems to pick when absolutely necessary! This makes Joe's playing sound very fluid. Satch trademarks include fast, repeating legato patterns, and fast legato runs.

On his songs melodies, Joe often incorporates rakes, small bends, forward and return slides, and reverse dips with the whammy bar into the note. These subtle techniques add a lot of character, and make Joe's phrasing quite unique and flavorful. Over the years, Joe has experimented with two-handed tapping, and has composed several songs based on two-handed ideas. He'll also do a bit of conventional lead guitar style tapping. He often taps with the pick rather than his finger.


Satch doesn't use a ton of finger vibrato. When he does it's a quick, small-to-medium width vibrato. Joe does use plenty of whammy bar.

Joe Satriani in Action

Video file

Recommended Listening

Joe Satriani


Profile by Dinosaur David B. Copyright ©2002 All rights reserved.