“Some people might see my Hydra guitar and think, ‘Vai, what a joke!'”
Total Guitar|February 2022
Steve Vai reveals all about his three-necked Hydra, how he invented a new technique he calls “joint-shifting”, and how he made a track from his new album using only one hand...
By Amit Sharma. Photographs by Michael Mesker and Larry DiMarzio

There has always been an otherworldly quality to Steve Vai’s guitar playing. Although he caught his big break in the Frank Zappa band before stints with Alcatrazz, David Lee Roth and Whitesnake, it’s his solo albums that well and truly cemented his crown as the grand master of shred – a virtuosic player with an unrivalled imagination for the deeply unconventional.

His new album, Inviolate, showcases yet more breathtaking musicianship and wild reinvention, with Vai using instruments he’s never been seen with before, playing one song completely onehanded, and even inventing a new technique he refers to as ‘joint-shifting’. And that’s not all. He’s also been with collaborating with Ibanez owners Hoshino on a new instrument featuring three necks (a seven-string, a 12-string and a semi-fretless bass), floating and hardtail tremolo systems, sympathetic harp strings and more, as heard on the album’s opening track Teeth Of The Hydra. While there are plenty of surprises on this album, it’s also to be expected – breaking personal boundaries has been his calling card for quite some time...

“For me that’s the most enjoyable thing to do,” he says, speaking via Zoom from his Harmony Hut home studio, with all kinds of electric and acoustic instruments hung up around the mixing console. “Frankly, breaking your own boundaries the only thing you’re going to do - you’re not breaking anybody else’s! And that’s the thrill of being an artist. Most players will understand what I’m saying here – life is about being creative. Everybody’s life is about that, although they may not see it. But specifically for those in the arts, from painting to music, all that matters is creativity.”

As it turns out, Inviolate was not the album the guitarist had planned to release. “My original idea,” he explains, “was to do three instrumental records in a trio style. The first record would be all clean, the second would be the normal Vai distorted stuffand the last one would be extraordinarily heavy. But then things changed...”

He ended up having a major rethink after undergoing surgery for shoulder and trigger finger issues. And a direct result of this surgery was this album’s first single Knappsack - written, performed and recorded with one hand in a sling.

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