Over the next few days I aim to get the vast bulk of content at the old site available here, feel free to post your comments to any interviews/player profiles that go online.
Todays update is a double whammy of Chris Impellitteri goodies, first off an interview conducted on New Years Eve on 2005 and also my profile of Chris. Enjoy!
Please note you can access older interview by using the options on the right hand side.
Chris Impellitteri Interview
Chris Impellitteri has been shredding away on the metal scene since the mid 1980's. Over the last decade he has had a prolific output of recorded work and gained a reputation in the genre as one of the finest technicians out there. We here at Baroque & Roll also believe that Chris is a great songwriter and rhythm guitarist so we thought it would be great to track down Chris and fire a number of questions at him about his playing style, his albums and much more! Be sure to also check out our profile of Chris (below) and buy some of his music!
Interview conducted December 31st 2005
What inspired you to begin playing guitar? Who were your initial influences and have they changed over time?
I started playing guitar after my mom and dad died when I was 9 years old. My grandmother thought I needed an escape from my tragic past so she bought me an electric guitar to replace my parents. I was definitely influenced by Van Halen and Randy Rhoads as well as jazz guitarists like Al Dimeola and later Yngwie.
My influences always change over time. Truthfully I listen to everything and everyone (musically speaking). However, my dominant guitar influences are early Van Halen, Rhoads, Dimeola, Yngwie, and then all other guitar players in the world.
How would you describe your style and tone?
I can tell you that I enjoy classical music in regard to composition and phrasing; therefore I tend to use a lot of your typical minor, harmonic minor, and diminished scales blended into heavy rock music. I obviously tend to play very FAST !!! ( sometimes great and sometimes senseless masturbation); both instances definitely describe my technique. I really enjoy playing for the song, which means either playing with perfection or playing in a crude manner. I guess I let the music direct me. I am definitely a guitarist with a very highly debated style. Some people think I am a great amazing guitarist and others think I suck. I guess it depends on my mood and drugs. If I am focused, I will play great like my first Impellitteri EP or my recent recordings which are controlled and well practiced; on the other hand if I am chemically influenced you end up with the earlier stand in line or that stupid reh video product (yuk). Ultimately, my style is definitely characterized as speed demon with classical influence and love for aggressive, melodic music. I definitely love to shred !
As for tone, I can honestly say that my tone has not changed much, but the engineering on the recent recordings have finally captured my tone instead of destroying it. I like to make my guitar sound like a chain saw but yet clean enough to hear each note when I shred.
You have a unique style, how many hours a day practice do you devote to the instrument?
I practice usually about 6 hours per day depending on my schedule. If I am making a record than I will play up to 14 hours per day, which is insane but it really has made me a better player.
You used a Fender Stratocaster for the bulk of your career, what is it about that guitar that you like?
I love the Fender Stratocaster. I first bought a Stratocaster after seeing Van Halen with a Charvel. Since I could not find a charvel I bought a Fender Stratocaster because it looked like Van Halen's guitar. Then I really found this connection with the instrument. It has the perfect body shape and the double cut away allows comfortable access beyond the fifteenth fret. The neck shape is also perfect for my hand, I can really play extremely fast on Stratocasters. I also love the sound of Stratocasters. If your record them correctly they sound amazing. I can burn up the fretboard with great clarity thanks to the single coil pickups.
How many guitars do you own and do you have favourite instruments that you always find yourself going back to for studio and live work?
I actually own only about 5 specific guitars. I have my main Stratocaster which is a 1971 Stratocaster that I bought in 1996. I have used it live and in the studio ever since I bought it. It really has allowed me to play great live. I guess you could say it gave me a tremendous confidence. Next I have a 1958 Gibson Les Paul that is amazing. I use it in the studio and actually took it out on the latest tour in Japan. It screams and the fingerboard allows me to play really fast without having to fight the instrument. My third guitar that I use is my Fender Stratocaster that was built in the Fender Custom shop. I do most of our recording with that Stratocaster. It is definitely modified, with jumbo frets and a combination of Duncan and fender pickups. The rest is my secret! My fourth guitar is the Chris Impellitteri signature Stratocaster that was released in Japan. It is the prototype model which is designed to replicate my 1971 Stratocaster. It is an excellent playing guitar.
You are pictured with scalloped guitars c. Stand In Line, yet more recently you have used non scalloped guitars, why go back?
I went through a stupid phase of using scalloped guitars thinking it was cool because of the other people using them. But in the end I realized I could only play great by using traditional vintage style fret boards. Basically, I need a neck that has low action and a smooth fingerboard fitted with jumbo frets. With that combination I can play technically very well and extremely fast. In fact, on my first recording which was the Impellitteri EP, I used a standard early 1970s stock Stratocaster. Additionally, since the recording Screaming Symphony I have returned to using stock Stratocasters and I have gotten my technique back.
The tones you have got on Impellitteri albums since 'Grin and Bear It' have all been GREAT, a really raw Marshall crunch, what's your basic amp set-up and do you boost the input with any overdrive pedals?
Thanks ! My amps are all modified. Live I usually use my 1973 Marshall 100 watt head with 25 watt celestion speaker cabinets. The 1973 marshall was modified by Bob Bradshaw. Basically it has extra preamp stages that increase the gain structure of the original amp. The head is amazing; in fact I got it around 1996 when we did Screaming Symphony.
I also have a 1969 Marshall 100 watt head that is completely stock and it screams. (Total Van Halen tone from the eruption solo!)
My third amp that I use often in the studio is a VHT ultra lead amplifier. It sounds very fat in the studio and blends well with other amps. Oddly, it also allows me to play really fast and capture all the notes with clarity like my 1973 Marshall head. Also, I must admit that I have been using a mesa boogie triple rectifier for the fat tones that go on the modern medal songs we record. So for the lead solos I use Vinatge Marshalls and VHT's, and for the rhythms I use VHT's and Boogies.
[Impellitteri c.Eye Of The Hurricane]
Has your basic guitar/amp set-up changed much since the Impellitteri ep?
No. I still mainly use Vintage Fender Stratocasters with Marshall's in combination with other amps. As I said earlier the engineering has finally captured the sound of my guitar only recently. I have always used Old Marshall's but the earlier versions were completely stock so you really had to work hard to make the amp sound right. I can also say that since I bought a major recording studio I have learned how to get that great guitar hero sound I wanted. In fact, since Screaming Symphony I have gotten a lot of compliments on my tone and technique.
How do you like to record your guitars and what sort of mic'ing techniques do you use? Any tips for getting a good sound when recording?
I use my Neve 1081 mic preamps and eq's for the recording of my guitar. The signal then goes directly to my Studer 827 tape machine. I play without using effects which allows me to make certain the tone that goes to tape will be the tone that is mixed in the final stage of the recordings. I also tend to eq in the mix with API equalizers. The API eq definitely shapes the guitar tone so that the guitar has great clarity in the mix. As for miking the amps, I use Sure SM57 microphones pointed directly in the centre of the cone of the speaker. That in a nut shell is the secret of my recording technique. The rest is in my hands.
Have you used any of the modern "modelling" amps, and whats your view on these gadgets?
No, I don't use the modelling amps yet. The ones I have tried do not move air. In the studio I like to feel that the speakers are actually pushing air and with my experience I have been able to do that only with real amplifiers. However, I have tried some of the amps like the pod and I will say it is really easy to play fast and do all of the technical wizardry, but the tone just seems fake in the studio. So therefore I am still using real crude technology for my amplification.
Which of your albums that you have recorded are you most pleased with (a) your guitar tone and (b) overall sound?
My favourite disc is definitely System X. The sound of the guitar is really amazing. The solo tones are top notch and it was definitely the record I should have made with Bonnet instead of the stand in line disc. Finally, for System X both myself and Graham were free of our demons and we were playing in great form. That disc will go down as one of the great cult classic discs if history is honest. The solos are shredding, well orchestrated, and the songs are a fine mix of vintage rock and modern metal. I also like the fact that the record is fairly raw sounding. In fact there are very few effects on the disc. I mixed the record with Mudrock who produced Godsmack and Avenge Seven Fold. I think I was his first virgin shred metal band, but he did a great job with System X.
My other favourite is my first Impellitteri EP that I recorded with Rock. The Impellitteri EP known as the black EP was definitely legendary in the shred circles. It was the first Impellitteri recording. The solos were ridiculously fast and the voice was insanely high. The songs were also great. The only problem was the actual recording of the music. Since we were poor we had no money to compete with all those bands who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their records. Instead we went in with about five hundred dollars and banged out the recording in the middle of the night with some friendly engineers in LA. So the music was definitely great because it was basically live with a couple of mikes and the band in a room!
Something we mentioned in your Baroque & Roll profile was that Stand In Line had a very wet production, was this a conscious decision or a sign of the times?
No, I must admit I hate that recording. With the exception of the song Stand in Line the recording in no way represents Impellitteri. We were all so messed up with chemicals and secret addictions that the recording was doomed from the moment we went into the studio.
I can say that I cried to the engineer to change the sound of the guitar because I believed he was ruining the original tone that was recorded. But in the end he would not listen to me because the label paid him to mix the disc without my consent. To me I think the guitar was buried in to much reverb. But it was a good lesson for me to learn how to record and mix my guitar from that moment on. In fact the reason I made the great records like Screaming Symphony, Crunch, System X and so on was because of my anger towards the stand in line recording.
Your latest record 'Pedal To The Metal' pays tribute to the metal genre as a whole. What led to you doing an album like this and what was the reaction to it like?
Pedal to the Metal is absolutely a fun recording filled with lots of parody and tribute. In fact many people who hear the disc love it because we take you on an adventure by mimicking every band and style known to man. I wanted to have the record mimic bands that historically have been copied by other bands. So as you listen to the record you'll hear the Ozzy and Yngwie era that many people cloned in the eighties and then you hear the In Flames rip for the influence of the 90s, followed then by the modern metal scene with a Disturbed style tune. We also do a funny metal rap version which pokes fun at the whole M&M rap scene. In effect, the record sounds like Impellitteri is a cover band. It was really fun to do. Of course a lot of the tunes are also typical Impellitteri songs that just get you off your feet and make you want to grab your guitar and play.
Curtis Skelton was a great singer, will you work with him again?
Curtis Skelton is a great singer and I do not know if I will work with him again. I am currently writing and recording with my new band in LA and I am waiting to see the outcome.
One that thing that annoys me is that when people mention you they just focus in on the 'shredding' aspect of your work, missing the great song writing and riffs, what do you feel you can do to change this perception?
I think that people are finally beginning to hear what you are talking about. It is true that I brought on the shred label to myself. I am totally guilty of self indulgent soloing. After I did the Impellitteri EP alot of people told me how great I was and how amazing my speed was, but I got lost with that label and then with chemicals and depression I really lost focus. I call that my senseless guitar masturbation period.
However, since making the records I previously mentioned like Screaming Symphony, Crunch, and System X alot of people now hear a very well balanced version of Impellitteri, which I hope is filled with great songs, riffs, and inspiring solos with just the right mix of each to please all. Additionally, thanks to Japan and imports Impellitteri has now sold about 1 million records. So we are definitely making an impression in the music scene I think.
Do you care about this perception from certain people?
Impellitteri are huge in Japan yet never reached those levels of success in the US and Europe, does this annoy you and what can be done to change it?
Yes! I do want Impellitteri to be huge every where but all I can do is keep evolving musically. I have know control over what country or land we are popular in. I just love making music, so I just keep making music for the love of creating music. If anyone wants to enter the Impellitteri world their always welcome.
What do you feel in the internet has done for your career over the past few years?
I dont know? Impellitteri have a good friend named Brian who runs our fan club. The web page is www.rapture.net/impellitteri . Brian usually lets our fans know what we are doing and asks us to update him on our current activity. In all honesty I really don't have anything to do with the site other than what he asks of me and my band. So if you love us or hate us you can write in and contribute your thoughts. As for the rest of the internet I think it is good and bad. I like it when the great Impellitteri music and performance is exposed, but I hate it when the crap we dont want released is heard. I guess that's part of the fun of the internet.
Ultimately, I think the internet has really led a lot of people to connect with Impellitteri. We definitely have been gaining a lot of new fans thanks to the internet!
Getting back to your guitar style, when did you start realising you had your own identifiable style?
Just now when you said I have an identifiable style !! Honestly, I think when I released my first Impellitteri EP the reaction from that disc made people recognize that my style was a mix of shred and metal. In fact, I was probably one of the first artists to mix metal like Iron maiden and Priest with technicall guitar playing. That was what the Impellitteri EP was all about. Also when I won best guitarist in the Burrn readers poll in Japan for Screaming Symphony I began to feel I was accepted as a decent player with his own technique.
Your rhythm work is amongst the best in the metal genre, what other players do you admire for their rhythm work?
Wow, I think someone paid you to say that ! thanks again ! Dime from Pantera was a great rhythm player, I love all the Norwegian metal bands for their heavy and melodic rhythm playing, definitely top notch.
Any tips for aspiring guitarists to build up their lead chops?
Practice ! It is what has led me back to being a real player. Just dedicate yourself to the instrument and the rest will follow.
You did the aforementioned REH instructional video back in the late 80's and some cover DVD's for Young Guitar magazine. Will we ever see any new instructional material (e.g. new DVD) from you?
I really hope so. I know people have begged me to show my true identity as a player. Unfortunately the reh video I did in the eightys sucked because I was so high. Sorry about that! I really owe the guitar community a video that truly shows the technical side of my guitar playing; so maybe with a bit of good luck I will do one in the future. Until then you can hear my playing on the discs.
What are your plans for 2006?
Record and make new music and hopefully tour !!
Anything else you would like to tell the readers of Baroque & Roll?
Thanks for your time and keep shredding the strings. The guitar is an amazing instrument and a great tool for self _expression. I hope to see all of you live with Impellitteri in the future !!
Thanks for your time Andy I truly appreciate it !!
Super speed shredder Chris Impellitteri has had many tags associated with him: Yngwie rip-off, soul-less, lives only for speed soloing etc, but there is much more to this artist than cheap accusations. Impellitteri has possibly the best right hand picking technique in metal today. He also knows how to pen a catchy, melodic hook filled tracks which are a combination of power and melody - many of his albums are essentials to readers of Baroque & Roll.
Chris first came to prominence in the mid 1980's thanks to his 4 track Impellitteri e.p. This led to a major label deal which saw the release of 1988's Stand In Line featuring Graham Bonnet (Rainbow/Alcatrazz) on vocals and Pat Torpey (Mr Big) on drums. This album combined Chris's super speed soloing with tight punchy metal riffs and commercial hooks. The album contains what have become Impellitteri classics with tracks such as Stand In Line, Secret Lover, Tonight I Fly, and an instrumental working of Somewhere Over The Rainbow. The album created quite a buzz on the metal scene at the time and musically, it still stands up well today though it does come across a little dated due to a wet production.
The band Impellitteri's next release was Grin & Bear It. This album saw a complete overhaul in personnel and featured a change in sound. The heavily neo-classical tracks were replaced by a more riff-based, song-oriented direction that was more in line with Van Halen and early Extreme. These heavy and catchy riffs were the backdrop for vocalists Rob Rock's powerful metal scream. The duo proved themselves to be a very strong song writing partnership and one that would blossom over subsequent releases.
Answer To The Master and Victim of the System followed in quick succession, and both are superb metal romps powered along by Impellitteri's metal finesse, Rock's classy vocals and drummer Ken Mary's (Fifth Angel/James Byrd's Atantis Rising) explosive drumming.
But it was Screaming Symphony which really saw the band hit its stride. This album is home to one of Chris's finest instrumentals in 17th Century Chicken Picking. Screaming Symphony led to a fanatical following in Japan and further underground praise around the world.
Eye Of The Hurricane is perhaps the bands highlight with Rob Rock in the band. Containing 11 tracks of pure metal delight, this album is a fast, break-neck ride that only lets up briefly for the acoustic track, On and On. But its the metallic majesty of tracks like Eye of the Hurricane, Shed Your Blood, Master Of Disguise and the neo-classical instrumental work out Race Into the Light that catch the attention.
With the release, Crunch, the band got even heavier but its still a pleasing metal album with rip-roaring tracks like Beware of the Devil and Speed Demon, the energy displayed is impressive with neo-classically tinted solos.
2002 saw the band reform with Graham Bonnet for the re-energised System X. This is one delightfully metallic affair and not a thousand miles away from the sound displayed on Stand In Line (sonically its infinitely better). It also features Bonnets best vocal performance since Alcatrazz's No Parole For Rock & Roll. The album is available worldwide.
2005 saw Impellitteri work with another new vocalist - Curtis Skelton - to produce the blistering Pedal To The Metal. This album saw a nice mix of the styles on offer from the bands back catalogue as well as some modern metal outings which work well with Chris's speed soloing.
Chris's guitar sound is based on the classic Stratocaster and vintage Marshall setup. However, the rhythm tones often suggest a more hi-gain amplifier for the biting metal tone and tighter bass. Chris's website reveals the use of Soldano SLO-100's, Boogie Rectifiers and a Peavey 5150 as well.
Chris's lead tone is however very pure with a lot of definition and clarity and this would be the likely area where the vintage Marshall's are used.Chris's REH instructional video Speed Soloing saw Chris using a Fender Stratocaster as he blazes his way though trademark licks and motifs.! Chris' then started to use Schecters for a brief time. These days he is back to Fenders and uses custom shop instruments. He normally prefers rosewood boards, large headstocks and single coils (see top picture).
Chris lead work is firmly rooted in the neo-classical mold e.g. lots of 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 string arpeggios, sweep picking passages, diminished, harmonic minor and Phrygian runs. Chris's speed was best shown on the Stand In Line album. Since then his solos have matured nicely and he has learnt the art of when to use his terrifying speed to provide more impact.
Chris's technique is super clean, with flawless timing between left and right hands. His vibrato has improved over the years and continues to get better with each release. To see Chris's work close up I highly recommend tracking down copies of Young Guitar magazine where Chris is featured on the cover DVD.Chris' rhythm work is often based around fast speedy power chord voicings on top of rampaging open notes, yet the choruses often see nice chord inversions to make the melodic choruses more memorable.If you are looking for a band and player that combine heavy riffs, melodic vocals and impressive classically tinted soloing Impellitteri is just the ticket.
Marshall 1959 plexi
Mesa Boogie Rectifier
Kasha Rock Mod