Zakk Wylde

Groupology

  • Ozzy Osbourne
  • Pride & Glory
  • Black Label Society

Jurassic

Watch Zakk Wylde in Action at the bottom of this page!

Famous / Infamous for

Famous for: What his website calls: uncompromising, unfiltered, no-bullshit rock n' roll. Being a very mature player at a very early age. Bullseye painted Les Pauls.

Infamous for: Zakk's a bad-ass. There have been some stories of pretty crude behavior — even by rock standards — though nothing illegal or harmful comes to mind. Beyond that, Zakk is an outspoken guy. He likes what he likes, and brutally slags what he doesn't like. He pulls no punches. In Zakk's mind, there's not a whole lot of middle ground: Either you can play guitar (well) or you suck. This rant in a recent Guitar World interview, is characteristic: "If I ever run into Dave Grohl I'm gonna kick his f*ckin' ass," Zakk fumes. "Because I think he sucks, and he wrote this cheese-dick song for Ozzy that I have to f*ckin' play on, and I'll never forgive him for that. Foo Fighters is a f*ckin' candy-ass girl band but you've got that mother-f*cker submitting songs [for the Ozzy album], and those douche bags from the Offspring submitting songs to. I mean, none of those guys could play a Randy Rhoads solo if they tried. Dave Grohl? F*ck Dave Grohl! Let him get up and play 'Mr. Crowley'; he can't f*ckin do it! And it's like, you're getting this guy to write songs for Ozzy? Just because he played Drums for Shitvana?"

Come on, Zakk, don't sugar coat it. Tell us how you really feel! Gee. Ya think this guy might be a Dinosaur?

Influences

Obvious: Zeppelin/Jimmy Page, Sabbath/Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne — the person and the performer.

Not-so-obvious: Southern rock, particularly Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman brothers, which comes out in Zakk's playing and songwriting on Pride & Glory. Zakk's site biography also mentions Frank Marino, Robin Trower and Al DiMeola.

Strengths

BALLS. Great big, giant coconut balls and a bad-ass attitude. Though he is a very versatile player when he wants to be, 99% of the time, when Zakk puts on a guitar, he is out to tear you a new one. Despite some imposed constraints of working within Ozzy's band, when left to his own devices, Zakk damn-well does whatever he wants. He makes no concessions toward commerciality. Zakk is the last guy in the world who'll ever get A.L.D. I think he'd sooner gnaw off his own hands before he'd go soft on us.

Versatility. Zakk's got a few things he does, and they're all a bit different. In Ozzy, you get a traditional melodic metal approach; usually in standard tuning. You get a bunch of great heavy, and melodic riffs like Desire, Hellraiser, Zombie Stomp balanced with the excellent metal ballads like Mama, I'm Coming Home, Road to Nowhere and See You on the Other Side.

With Black Label Society, Zakk is usually tuned down and goes for much heavier, rawer, balls-out, no "take no prisoners" metal. It's more rhythmic, but still melodic and full of dynamics — really some of the heaviest and coolest stuff you'll ever hear.

Then you have Pride & Glory which showcased Zakk at his most diverse. He tackled just about every rock genre and turned in a Jimmy Page-like performance by playing all the electric and acoustic guitars, plus piano, mandolin, banjo, and harmonica.

Songwriting and riffs. Whether it's for Ozzy or for himself, Zakk comes up with hot, catchy riffs and plays them with command, flair, and bravado. Even at a age 22, it was clear Zakk had great songwriting instincts, ballsy ideas and attitude. It was also clear from that early age that Zakk Wylde "got it." You play for the song, not to show off your chops or to impress other guitar players. And as with other aspects of Zakk's style, there's a lot of Jimmy Page-like compositional devices that Zakk likes to employ. Zakk can also write a ballad on piano when he wants to, and did so on Pride & Glory, and there's a few nice acoustic ballads in the back catalog too.

Guitar solos. Zakk plays extremely tasty, melodic, composed, and flashy guitar solos and has done so from a very early age.

Weaknesses

Zakk has a Southern Rock-inspired voice: a raw drawl that features more character than range. Some people love that style, but I'm not one of them. He gets it done, but I wouldn't call it a strength of his music.

Maybe consistency? Not a real big problem with Zakk, but I personally thought his acoustic solo album Book of Shadows was lousy, and that the second Black Label album, Stronger than Death, sounded like material that wasn't good enough to make it on Sonic Brew. I know a lot of people loved these albums, but I wasn't one of them. I can't really hold Zakk responsible for Ozzy's comparatively weak Down to Earth, as he was forced to work with other people's material.

Tone

Zakk's a very loyal Les Paul player, and there are several Les Paul's he's associated with, including a Les Paul signature model. Most of his guitars contain EMG humbucking pickups. Zakk's amps are usually the old JCM 800 2203 100 watts, modded with 6550s tubes. Recently Marshall has introduced a limited edition Zakk Wylde signature JCM 800 amp designed by Zakk and for Zakk. Unlike a lot of signature model endorsees, Zakk actually seems to be using his new signature Marshalls. His preferred live rig seems to be four stacks. As Ozzy commented on a recent episode of his TV show, The Osbournes, "Zakk plays louder than Satan."

Essentially, Zakk's tone is a Les Paul - Marshall "Metal" tone. Because he uses 6550s, it's a cleaner tone than most of the guys using Les Pauls and the browner-sounding EL-34 Marshalls. It also lacks the buzziness of some JCM 800s, which is a good thing. Compared to other guys playing metal with EMG pickups in other types of guitars, it's always abundantly clear that Zakk's tone is coming from a big, honking Les Paul — with all the associated crunch and sustain. Zakk's tone is cleaner and less processed than John Sykes' or Randy Rhoads' Les Paul - Marshall tone. It not as warm, smooth, or fat as Gary Moore's Les Paul rock/metal tone, but it's a lot fatter than Jimmy Page's live Les Paul - Marshall tone.

Zakk uses a Boss CE-5 to run his rig in stereo, but there is no reverb or delay in the live rig (you will hear some on the albums). He likes the BOSS SD-1 Super Overdrive for extra gain and sustain. Zakk uses a LOT of wah — particularly in his solos, and prefers the Jimi Hendrix wah-wah from Dunlop. He also uses a Dunlop JD-4S Rotovibe Expression Pedal at times. For more info, there are some excellent gear pages and technical explanations over at zakkwylde.com.

Guitar Style

Unlike a lot of guys his age who thought guitar began with Van Halen, Zakk has the depth and diversity of a guy who quite clearly grew up listening to classic 70s British rock metal and southern American blues rock. And though his influences are easy to spot, and the flavors are recognizable, Zakk manages to blend them all together and to put his own ballsy stamp on them. As a guy with some piano in his background, Zakk probably knows more music than what he typically uses. He certainly doesn't come across as a "schooled" player. With Zakk, it's more about attitude and feel. There's plenty of sex in Zakk's playing.

On electric guitar, Zakk really sticks with the Dinosaur Rock Guitar basics: chordally, it's mostly the root 6s and root 5s and the power chords, the standard major and minor folk chords — sometimes arpeggiated. He tunes down a lot — especially in B.L.S., and when he does, he's using very simple power chords. There's a strong Iommi influence in Zakk's heavier rhythms — and I say that as a good thing. Zakk's great at dispensing those big old sledgehammer metal riffs.

Scalewise, despite being able to play Randy's more exotic solos, Zakk's own style is almost entirely minor and major Pentatonic. He sounds bluesy a good deal of the time. As in other areas of his style, I hear a lot of Jimmy Page licks and sensibilities in Zakk's leads, though Zakk's a much cleaner and faster player. Zakk doesn't have quite the pure chops of a Shrapnel shredder or even his Ozzy predecessor, Jake E. Lee, but he can blaze away quite fast. More importantly, he's much tastier player than most guitarists his age (or older). Most of Zakk's solos sound compositional and worked out. He can play his ass off, but he rarely overplays and doesn't just wank away for the sake of it. Zakk knows it's more important to play for the song. For example some of his best moments are the simple but brilliant solos in No More Tears or Mama I'm Coming Home. Generally speaking, Zakk's solos are full of ballsy attitude, flash, and melody. They have beginnings, middles, and usually end with a crescendo. He really does a great job. Zakk is a big proponent of using wah in his leads.

Zakk Wylde stylistic trademarks include a lot of the flash metal techniques: loads of squeals, pinched harmonics, pick scrapes, heavy palm muting and muted flurries. He doesn't use a trem bar, and stays away from tapping. Occasionally you'll hear some flipping of the pickup selector switch on the Paul or a quick rake of the strings behind the nut.

To me, Zakk sounds about half-and-half with his alternate picking and legato. You get the alternate on the metalish and the palm muted stuff. You get the legato on the supercharged Jimmy Page licks and on the more bluesy stuff.

Vibrato:

An almost exclusive Les Paul player, Zakk has developed a nice wide finger vibrato. It's pretty intense. Sometimes he'll slow it down a bit, but it's usually frantic and ragged (rather than smooth), though never out of pitch.

Zakk Wylde in Action

Recommended listening

Ozzy Osbourne

Pride & Glory

Black Label Society

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