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Guitar Related
Questions From Mark
Hi James,
I have a couple questions and I'd like your opinion if possible. I have always wondered why the bridge pickup on a Strat (and on your Super Avianti) is slanted the way it is. With my Strat I have always had a complaint with the bass strings sounding a little muddy and the treble strings sounding a little shrill. On most gutiars the tone seems to mellow out as the pickup is moved away from the bridge. Therefore, it seems the best way to mount a bridge single coil would be to have the bass side slanted toward the bridge and the treble side slanted away (like your white Strat style ESP). What is your thoughts on this subject and what has your experience been? Next, please tell me what the Virual Vintage 54 gives you that the HS-3 did not (i.e. what did you gain and what did you lose by switching). Thanks for your time.

P.S. I think it would be really cool if you made an instructional DVD. It would not have to be anything elaborate. You could set up a digital camera and film yourself playing some of your favorite exercises and/or scales. You could give some tips. You could talk about your equipment and your influences and your growth as a musician. (Do you still remeber the day you first picked up a guitar and someone showed you an E chord?) You could play some excerpts from some of your songs as demonstrations at beginning and the end. It could be a relatively informal instructional video as if you were hanging out with a friend showing him/her some stuff to help them advance their playing. Then you could transfer the digital camera file to a DVD, burn copies and sell them here on your website. I would gladly pay $20.00 for one and I'm sure others would too. You could also sell them on ebay. I know many people (myself included) have heard your music but never seen you play but would like to.

BYRD: Hi Mark,
I wondered about that too. That's why during my years as a Fender endorser and also ESP later on, I experimented with having the angle reversed.

Fender's original theory, was that it would give a greater range between the bass response of the instrument on it's lower strings, and increase the treble of the higher strings. To a slight degree, this is true.

Now whether one wants a slightly more even response, or a slightly wider range, is really only a matter of personal taste, and what you're doing with your amp also has an effect.

Personally, I've not found the muddiness problem you allude to, but there are so many factors which play into this, that it's impossible to account for all the differences between two different set-ups and the various interactions that take place. But one thing for me, is that I don't have the bass turned up very high on my amp. Usually it's at about 3 or 4.
I also only use particular picks at particular points on the guitar as I play. I play my rhythm's almost exclusively on the bridge pickup. I tend to use the neck pickup for the majority of my soloing, but the exceptions to that are when I really want the sound to have bite, and that is seldom above the 12th fret. I am constantly switching between the neck and bridge pickups WHILE I play, and as I go higher, I use the neck pickup, and I use the bridge pickup further down on the neck for improved bite and clarity. I never use my middle pick up. So really, I am evening out and acentuating the sound actively, rather than trying to rely on a single pickup to even things out.

I once had a request by REH videos in the 1980's to do an instructional video for them and I turned it down. There are so many out there, and some of them are really very good. The only real reason on my end to have done one at the time, would have been the money to be honest about it.

What I'd actually LIKE to be able to do in the future on the other hand, is to produce a DVD with user editable versions of the songs with different guitar solos. As it stands, being self-produced and not having large bugets to work with, it's financially out of reach at the moment. I do however have some video I may do something with at some point. It's not an instruction video, it's a 4 minute live guitar solo I composed and filmed. But for now, I really have enough to do to finish my new album, and also a couple of other things I'm slated to produce and play on.

Thanks for your support Mark, ~Byrd

Question from Lori Linstruth
I'm playing a Kahler-equipped super strat now, but would like to get my old guitar (70s Strat with standard trem) working again. Does James have any tried-and-true tips for keeping a floating trem in tune?
I've tried graphite nuts, using different lubricants, different spring configurations - but nothing seems to really work!
BYRD: Here's a couple of tips:
Yes, do use a graphite nut. Now if you're still having problems, there are some other things which are critical to look at:

First, what kind of tuners are you using? Split-shaft vintage type tuners work very well indeed (I have found them to be better than anything else really) , but you have to wrap the correct amount of string in the right manner:

First, HOW you wrap the strings onto the string post is important. There should be approximately 2 full wraps, not more, not less. That works out to about 2 1/2 to 3 inches of string beyond the post before you wrap it. It must also not cross over itself, but be wound evenly.

Secondly, string trees. They are always a problem. That's why I designed my guitar's head stock not to need them. Even the "good" ones cause problems. If you have a Strat, use ONLY one tree (the one for the 'E' and 'B' strings) and lubricate it's underside with lithium grease. Make certain it's not depressing the string any further than needed to keep the strings in the nut.

The last area to check, is the trem itself. Make certain that the mounting holes are not enlarged, thereby allowing the screws to move. IF they are, the cure is to drill them out to 3/8th inch and install hard maple dowls, and then redrill the bridge screw holes.

Lastly, examine both the bridge plate, and the screws for damage. Sometimes you'll get a soft screw or base-plate that deforms at the contact point, and if this has happened, it will certainly cause a tuning problem when using the trem.

Hope one of these tips helps you.

Question from Walt Scott
I'm a big fan of Yngwie and after hearing 'Flying Beyond The 9' I've become a fan of yours also. I like the big, open sound that the HS-3/YJM pickups offer, but I'm concerned about the Floyd Rose in the bridge.
BYRD: On my album 'Crimes Of Virtuosity', I used a strat with a floyd rose and HS3's. I think the tone was actually very good, but obviously I thought it could be improved or I would not have gotten rid of the floyd rose units and changed my pickup choices. The floyd rose does indeed change the sound of the guitar. A 'universal' type pickup routing eliminates most of the problems but not all of them. Fender instituted this routing on their floyd equipped guitars for just this reason. Floyd's tremelo's have a lot of mass, and this reduces the bass response of the guitar, and generally decreases body resonance across the entire sound spectrum.

Questions from Mike
Hi, I have a couple of guitars with scalloped fretboards. One is a 75 Strat with a Maple neck and the other is a late 80's Strat also with a Maple neck. I scalloped both of these guitars using a Dremel roto tool and sand paper and got really good results! Anyway, my question is what about scalloping a rosewood fretboard? I've never done this and was wondering how it differs from working with Maple?
BYRD: Rosewood tends to be a "greasy" wood, therefor it tends to clog sandpaper fairly quickly. A way around this problem is to use wet or dry type sand paper, and to use an oil instead of water with it. You can also use emory cloth like this. Start out with 60 or 80 grit, and work up to 400. You can also try dray sanding with some of the new non-clogging sand papers (they're yellow in color) which are available at autobody supply shops. If you're going to have any gluing or repairs to make to the fingerboard -such as replacing an inlay-, use the non-clogging paper and sand dry.

I have an old Ibanez Roadstar II and I want to scallop it but the fretboard isn't very thick. I was wondering if it is possible to use just sand paper alone to scallop the neck because in addition the inlay isn't that deep and the side dots are even with the top of the fretboard! When they pop out or come through the fretboard what is a quick fix for this?
BYRD: Yes, you can just use sand paper. I recommend using a series of different sized rubber tubing to wrap the sand paper around, and double mask the frets. You should also know EXACTLY how deep you plan to go, and mark a line on the sides of the fingerboard. Use 1/2 inch masking tape, and a straight edge, and carefully draw a line representing the finished depth of the scallops. If you think you're going to go through the side position markers, well, you're going to have to fix such an occurance, and it'll never look perfect upon close examination. But here's how to do that: SAVE the shavings from the fingerboard while you're scalloping it. If you go through a side position marker, you'll need to take it the rest of the way out, and fill the damage. You can mix up some fiberglass resin and add the rosewood filings to make a thick putty which will harden with the catalysed resin. Work the filler into the voids, and build it higher than it needs to be so that you can sand it flush. I do not know exactly how thick the fingerboard on your guitar is, but realise that you probably will not be able to scallop it very deep if it's not thick.

Also, I see a lot of people talking about using Linseed oil to protect the neck! What do you find works the best? I used a spray made by Birchwood Casey called Tru-Oil Gun Stock Finish which was recommended by a local Guitar Tech and it worked great on the Maple fretboards!
BYRD: I like lemon oil, but there are other oils that work fine.

P.S. Obviously any tips or help you give I will use with my own judgment and I do not hold you liable for any screw ups that could happen on my part.
BYRD: I'm taking you up on that one! Good luck and be careful. Like I said I've done this before and got great results but the rosewood is a new thing for me. Thanks again!

Questions from Walt Scott
James, I know that you use DiMarzio pickups but I was wondering if you have ever used Duncans or anyother pickup made by some of the other manufacturers out there?
BYRD: I have been using DiMarzio pickups since the company began in the 1970's. I have been an endorser for them since 1982. Every one of my guitars has DiMarzio pickups in it under the theory that if I was unhappy, I'd use something else. Sure I've played guitars (other peoples!) that have different pickups in them. DiMarzio is
light years ahead of any other company in pickup technology. They were the first company to make a replacement pickup, the first company to make the vertical single coil, and the ONLY company with the technology to acheive true single-coil sound without 60 cycle hum -the Virtual series-. Why would I use anything else? Some of these companies -I'm not naming names here- products are designed by guys who have no more background in engineering than the ordinary musician, they just throw windings on pickups in a hit or miss strategy and hope for something marketable. I'm not saying that other companies pickups are bad, hey if you like the sound, use them. But DiMarzio pickups are designed and developed by engineers who work with musicians with very specific goals in mind from the outset, and these guys really are the leasers in pickup technology, and they have the widest product range of any manufacturer I know of.

I noticed on some of your earlier guitars you had Floyd Rose Bridges on them. I have a Strat with a Floyd and I want to put in a set of YJMs.
BYRD: You say "A set of YJM's", implying at least two. While the YJM sounds very good in the neck position, and also works fine in the middle, I personally don't find it a good canidate for a bridge pickup. It has a very pronounced upper midrange peak. This sounds very good in the neck position, cleaning up the sound a lot for neck pickup soloing. But in the bridge position, in my opinion, they are too thin and screachy. DiMarzio makes a wide array of Virtual Vintage and Virtual series single-coil sized noiseless pickups with different attributes you should check into for a bridge pickup choice. I've tried many of them -being a product endorser-. You can find a pickup frequency response chart at the DiMarzio website and look at the general characeristics of the pickups. I -personally- found that the Virtual Vintage 54B is a very good match in the bridge position, for the YJM in the neck position. Remember that the closer a pickup is placed
to the bridge, the less electrical energy is generated into the pickup, and the the harmonic content also moves higher. You want to strive for a balance of output volume during actual playing, and this dictates that the bridge pickup have noticably more output than the neck pickup.

How do the Virtual 54s compare to the HS-3/YJM pickups?
BYRD: The Virtual Vintage 54 is designed specifically for the bridge position, and has a higher output, and a fatter sound. The YJM is the same pickup as the HS3, but has a 1973 Fender magnet stagger. Dimarzio claims it's purely cosmetic. My experience is that it is not, but has a quite noticable effect on the sound, being wholly glassier sounding. "glassy" can be very nice in the neck position, but as I said, in the bridge location, it's harsh and screachy to my ear. The 54B was engineered and wound to duplicate the sound of Eric Johnson's favorite 54 strat. It's the closest thing to a violin I've ever heard in a pickup, but this assumes that you have the right amp and have it dialed in -a very big assumption-.

Question from Philip Elrod
Hello, I had the misfortune of having the pickups stolen from my 1979 silver anniversary edition fender stratocaster while it was being set up. I need to replace them but I am really confused about what pickups to buy. I just want pickups that are a little bit fuller sounding than the originals with less noise, and able to keep that strat vintage sound...thanks for your help.
BYRD: That's a strange thing to have happen! If you get your self a set of DiMarzio Virtual series replacements and install them, you might end up feeling sorry for the guy who swiped your old pickups. They're that good. There are a number of different winds available.
Check out their on-line catalog at the DiMarzio website.

Question from Byng Bell
Dude! I read your comments about Dimarzio, and felt I just HAD to respond. I don't wanna crap on your opinion...you like what you like, and that's all there is to it. But it seems to me that if you like the open, squishy sound of a true single-coil, and you really hate the hum...then why are you using Dimarzio? The Kinman series of Strat replacement pickups are mind-blowing! They're quieter than ANYTHING ELSE on the market (side-by-side humbucker included), and have the open, airy, squishy feel of true single coils...as well they have the crystal-clear presence of the single-coil. I've tried the Dimarzio Virtuals....and they're not bad. But dig...."not bad"...is that really good enough for ya? Not me dude. I love the sound of a humbucker, but I'll ALWAYS take a single-coil sound if given the choice. But that G%**^%&%ed hum ruins it...pollutes it. I've been playing for 40 years, and have never felt or heard anything as quiet, or as authentic as the Kinmans. Even the second
best is NOWHERE NEAR Kinman. Do yourself a favour and try them out. Hey, trying them won't mean you'll be breaching your Dimarzio endorsement contract. All you have to decide then is what's more important to you: your sound, or your endorsement.
Your reply is more than welcome dude!
Byng Bell

BYRD: I'm glad you're happy with your pickups. What is "good" is highly personal and subjective. I've tried many pickups and found two specific models in the Virtual series from DiMarzio which I like the sound of very much. Until you've tried every model, I'm taking your claim with a grain of salt. When I tried the first, original Virtual Vintage pickups, I didn't like them either. I tried many differernt versions as the model line developed. It took me a lot of experimenting and installing of different models to find exactly what I wanted. If I couldn't find the exact tonality I wanted in a production model, DiMarzio would have custom wound them for me until I did. I didn't have to ask. Eric Johnson spent a lot of time time with DiMarzio evaluating and developing the model 54B pickup I use already and it's wonderful.
When I was a kid, my Dad taught me the value of "If it's not broken, don't fix it". That includes my pickups AND a 20 plus year working relationship with the people who consult with me to develop and improve them.
Peace Byrd

Question from David Titus
Hey..How Ya doing man..I would like to know.. Ihave a Twin Set of Marshall's 8X10 Cab's 50w.Marshall Head..All 72..I would like to play these out in local clubs but I always get told to turn it down. As you know from haveing them they don't sound good till they are on about 8, myself i like 10!! but most drummers don't!! Iwould like to know what you know about Power soaks...Thanks.
BYRD: They're cool! You've got a killer rig btw.
I recommend a THD HOT-PLATE. You don't want to crank too much out of the amp or as you've said, the tone will suffer. I take off about 8 db with mine. You can always just use one cab too, or even disconnect 4 of the speakers in both and run them as 2 4X10's.

Is there anywere I can find what these are worth, they are untouched??
Byrd: Not too many people are hip to them. It's changed a bit in recent years, and I wonder sometimes if my mentioning them in numerous interviews has made it harder for me to find one at a good price. Guitar Oasis in L.A. had two of them that were actually brand-new a couple of years ago, still in factory plastic wrap!!! They were asking about $900 each for them. A steal if you think about it: The original alnico speakers are worth $250-300 EACH if purchased seperately used. Do the maths. Good luck with the power soak.

Question from John Sawtelle, Cleveland
I am currently using a 70's reissue Strat through a Marshall JCM 900 head/ 4x12 cabinets. Wondering if James had any opinion on this guitar or amp? P.S.Been saving for that Avianti!"
BYRD: Hi John.
The only person who needs to be happy with your guitar and amp, is you! But I personally favor vintage Marshall amps, non-master volume models. As you might know, I played Strats for many years, and was also an artist endorser with Fender in the 1990's. I prefer the Fender type sound, and don't care for humbucking pickups except in the rare case of a certain stray rhythm guitar track. I still haven't put a humbucking equipped guitar to tape since 1984 though, as one can easily get a chunky rhythm sound, or any sound for that matter, out of the single coils. The same can't be said of humbucking pickups which tend to have excessive colouration IMO. Thanks for your interest btw in the Super Avianti guitars. I'll be more than happy to build you your instrument when you're ready.

Question from Todd
On your Tone Tips page you recommend #8 guage speaker cables. I can't find these anywhere. Any suggestions on where I can get these?
BYRD:Hi Todd, Find a professional live sound reinforcement store, or music store which sells large professional public address systems. The cables used are what you want. Failing to find this for some reason.... Go to your local electrical (not "electronic") supply and buy 2-strand 8 gauge electrical cable in the length that you need the speaker cable to be. It's sold by the foot. Remember, the smaller the gauge number, the BIGGER the cable is. Purchase a pair of 1/4 inch heavy duty mono phone plugs if you don't already have them. Solder them on. I don't know about the U.K., but here we have electronic supply stores like "Radio Shack" that will have the phone plugs. Just DON'T buy sheilded cable (guitar cord) as it's the fastest way to burn-down your amp. You may even already have the cable you want attached to an old trouble light that isn't worth anything to you any more. In that case, you can just take the cable from it and solder on the phone plugs.
The heavier speaker cable actually becomes a requirement if you want to seperate your amplifier head from your speaker cabinet by a longer than standard distance for some reason (such as having your amp in a studio control room and your cabinet in another room) for recording purposes. The longer this speaker cable is, the more impedance (resistance) the cable will have, and the thicker this cable is, the LESS resistance it will have. You really can't choose a cable that's too heavy, the only limitation of size being the ability to actually solder the plugs to it. You will need to par back the insulation to get the cable to fit the 1/4 inch phone plugs at the connections. Make sure you replace it with multiple layers of electrical tape to offer strain relief and support at the phone plug after the connections are made. With heavier speaker cable your amp will be less stressed and will retain better speaker damping characteristics, so even if you don't intend to have your cabinet a long way away, it's the right thing to do for the best performance, and also for the life of your amp and tubes.

Question from Jim Bandola
Have you ever tried amp emulators such as the J station or Pod? What is your opinion of these products? Yngwie apparently speaks highly of the J station since he doesn't seem to endorse every product that crosses his path unlike other "Rock Stars". Thanks for your time, JIM
BYRD: Hi Jim, I don't really keep up with new products, there are just too many and I'm very happy with my equipment, so I can't really say that there are no good amp simulators. My experience with them has been that although they can be great for practice, I've yet to hear one that gives me what I get from my vintage Marshall and vintage cabinet. I myself, have a Zoom Professional, Model 9002 that I love, and I use it for practice because it saves wear and tear on my amp. Of all the "little boxes" I've tried, it's the best, and closest to my Marshall I've found, when it's adjusted properly. But there really is no substitute for a real tube power amp, connected to a real speaker cabinet, knocking real air molocules together, in a real room. These things get better and better over the years, but asking them to do anything other than loosely approximate a great amp, is like expecting cheap wine to taste like 50 year old wine. It's pretty doubtful, if one is picky about their sound.

Question from Eduardo Abel García (Argentina)
I'm is a guitar player from Argentina. I write to you because I love your album 'Son of Man'!!! That album is awesome, your guitar playing is great. (I'm a big fan of Yngwie Malmsteen too). So, I want your great tone of that beautiful album and the tone of Yngwie too..... James, how I can get these 2 tones? I have a Fender Stratocaster USA, but I don´t have any pedal right now. I´m thinking in the Ibanez Overdrive pedal, the TS-9. What do you think? All the best for you!!!

BYRD: Hi Eduardo Thanks for your kind words. There are so many variables which create a particular tone, that I can only give you general answers here. Use a non-master volume tube amp at a high volume, single coil sized pickups, and yes, some kind of over-drive box between the guitar and the amp to give the guitar enough output to sustain properly. You want a combination of slight distortions to combine and generate a sound which has clarity and sustain as opposed to sounding distorted. The Ibanez TS-9 is good, but there are several others that work well also. The DOD 250 is what I've used for the last 6 years now and although rather noisy, it sounds great. Try to adjust the controls of your amp for treble and mid-range and turn the bass down. My tone setting are: bass at 3 to 4, mids at 6 or 7, treble at 6 or 7, and presence at zero. If you have a presence control, turn it down. It adds "edge" but it is not a smooth "glassy" sound -which is what you're after-. As for Yngwie, you'll
have to write to him as well I suppose. We have a similar basic approach to sound but use different equipment. You should be able to approximate the tone on my albums with a Strat, and over-drive pedel, and a good tube amp adjusted properly. The rest is all in the hands!

Question from Walt
Whats your opinion/therory on "unity gain" using stomp boxes?
BYRD: I don't use multiple stomp-boxes, and I never use stomp-boxes for time-based effects, only for gain altering. I always place my overdrive unit in FRONT of my cry-baby wah pedal. Why? Well, first, "Unity gain" means that there is no differential between the input side of the chain and the output side of the chain. This is not "the real world" of your guitar and amp. Unity gain is only desireable when using time based "effects" (such as reverb or echo or chorusing) where distortion is to be minimised, not maximised. These effects devices have absolutely no business being placed between the guitar and amplifier -unless of course you want a bunch of indecipherable sonic mud.

The key question here then, is what are you trying to do with the pedals?

If one uses an overdrive or distortion unit set for unity gain, they are not increasing the input to the amplifier over what the guitar itself puts out in voltage. If your goal is to use the box to push the amplifier into distortion, it won't happen this way. Now lets say one has a series of boxes such as a distortion box, a digital delay, and a digital reverb, and that they insist upon chaining them together between the guitar and amp; what would be the correct order? Any gain altering device such as a distortion box, even if set for unity gain between the input and output, is NOT "Unity gain" internally. It has massive quantities of internal gain to acheive it purpose -distortion-. It is there for a gigantic amplifier of noise, even though it's input and output are set for unity. So nothing other than the guitar should go into the input of this box. Putting a distortion box AFTER a chorus or echo, will distort the echo AND the original guitar note TOGETHER, and it will not sound good at all. This is why I say that effects have no business between a guitar and a guitar amplifier that's being overdriven. So if one uses a series of boxes, beginning with distortion, and ending with effects between the guitar and the amplifier, the amplifier must NOT be allowed to distort at all. This pretty much eliminates the entire reason for having a nice tube amp if you think about it. You may as well plug your boxes together at unity, and set the final output at +4db over unity (most pro audio gear runs at +4) and run into a mixing desk and a nice set of monitors if you want to do this. Better still, just buy an "all-in-one" rack mounted multi-effects processor. "Unity-gain" is a term which really only applies to high-fidelity, and a good tube amplifier run into saturation is anything but high fidelity. Knowing how to use an amp is at least as important as having the right one, and if you're not going for the sound of an overdriven amp in the first place, leave it aside altogether if you're intent is a bunch of effects boxes.

Question from Miguel Oscar.
I'd Like to know what is James' opinion about multi-effect procesors and a set of single effect boxes and how they affect the quality of the sound?
BYRD: It's a potentially complex issue and the answer depends on several things: First, how do you define "Effect"? I define it as any sort of processing which alters pitch, or time. So (for example), a reverb, an echo, or a harmoniser or chorus would be an "effect", but an overdrive or wah-wah pedal would not. The latter alter gain and EQ, but do not "Process" information into "NEW" information, merely altered information. That said, multi-effects devices almost always run at +4 unity gain and have what in layman's terms is called "Low impedance" operating voltages. This means that when taken by them-self, and within them-selves, they are quieter, and have better fidelity. Now, if you are using an ordinary guitar amplifier, the use of a multi-processor can become problematical for a number of reasons: Firstly, the input stage of the standard guitar amplifier is high impedance, not low impedance.
Attempting to use a multi-effects processor in front of the amp, will require an increase in gain beyond unity -as within the device-, which will increase the noise. Secondly, if you use such a device with an "effect" -as defined earlier- in front of the amplifier, and the amplifier is used in such a way as to create distortion, the distorted tubes or mosfets circuits of the amplifier will collapse, or attempt to "sine" the -now- more complex content being fed into the amp. The result will be -pardon my crudeness- shit.

So, on practical terms, here is my advice: Gain altering devices may be placed between the guitar and amp. If you want effects like reverb, chorus, echo, harmonisers, these must be amplified by a second separate source, set-up for high fidelity sound -IE not a guitar amp on overdrive-. If the intended use of multi-effects is to eliminate the guitar amp altogether, some of these units are very very good. The Marshall JMP-1, and the Zoom 9002 -for example-, enable you to eliminate the guitar amp altogether and either plug into a P.A., or a recording console. They give you 90 percent of what a good amp can give. But they -in my opinion- will never equal the sound of a good tube amplifier. Single, battery operated effects devices don't sound very good in my opinion. If you want good reverb, stick with rack mounted studio grade gear, and get a 2nd amplification system to run it. Stereo ROCKS btw.

Strings & Picks
Question from Colin Larson
I've been a fan of yours since I heard you on the first Fifth Angel album. I also have just about every one of your solo discs too. I'd like to find out what types of guitar pick or picks you used on previous recordings, as well as which picks you are using currently. I think picks have a lot to do with tone and attack. Also, do you still use the Ernie Ball Hybrid Slinky 9-46 strings in the orange pack? Those are great strings. Take Care, Colin.
BYRD: Hi Colin, thanks for your kind words. I don't use Ernie Ball strings and I don't believe I ever did as a matter of regular practice actually. For years now, I have endorsed GHS strings. I use GHS Boomers, and the gauges are custom sets, put together for me by them.
The gauges are: 050, 038, 028, 016, 011, 009. I arrived at these gauges because I need a tight rhythm sound, and using heavy strings on the bottom enables me to play aggressively and fast without having the strings flopping around under a very heavy pick.

My picks are Dunlop Sharps, 1.5 mm. I used to just use regular Dunlop Tortex picks, and I would sharpen them to a point myself. The Dunlop Sharps save me the trouble. I only use thinner picks for playing acoustic rhythm guitar in the studio. I sometimes do this because the "give" of the pick, limits the volume, and this allows me to use less compression while recording. It's not really possible to pick extremely fast with a thin floppy pick. Sort of fast, yes, but not at some of the speeds I play at. I find also that the Tortex material being very brittle, gives me a tone that is very similar to a bone or shell pick, and I like that. They're also impossible to break. A regular plastic pick would disintegrate in about 30 seconds for me while playing rhythm. I pick pretty lightly for single note playing though.

Recording Techniques
Question from Mike Spitzer
May I ask you a quick (and probably easy for you) question since you do so much recording ?
I have done some home recording as a hobby for awhile now and the reverb units I had always were simple units with presets like "small room", "medium room", etc... No programming ability just a mix (dry to wet) knob. These presets seemed to work well, but that unit died on me.

Now that I am no longer working with Yngwie Malmsteen and have some time and am working with Rhino on guitar amp designs and soundtesting them and such, I started doing some recording again.

I just got a Lexicon reverb and you have to program it yourself. TWO VARIABLES I am not certain about:
ROOM SIZE (longest dimension)
REVERB DECAY TIME What would be an approriate setting for a good rock reverb on electric guitar for example....like a reverb you use on your own solo material, or even standard "Yngwie-ish" songs for example ?ROOM SIZE can be from 8 meters to 100 meters
DECAY TIME can be 0.3 seconds to 6.5 seconds

Listening to your albums and Yngwie's and even Paul Gilberts the guitars are not "in your face" dry .. but neither are they "totally drenched and 2 miles away" either. I can hear nice reverb tails that seem smooth and long but at the same time the guitars seem to be a medium distance away from the listener. When I set the reverbs that long they sound like guitar is 3 football fields away. When I shorten the reverb wth smaller rooms, it seems to dry like in a small bedroom.
All of you guys seem to have a nice reverb which make the guitar sound like it is a medium distance away. Any recommended starting point for setting the reverb would be helpful (room size, pre-delay, reverb decay time, etc..) ?
Thanks Mike Spitzer

BYRD: Hi Mike
You only have two parameters on the Lexicon reverb you bought and they are room size and decay? Man, that is a shame. If you don't have adjustments for pre-delay and density, you are missing the two most important elements required to create reverbs which actually work in a mix.
Pre-delay is the adjustment that determines the amount of time input is allowed to sustain before the reverb kicks in. It can be accomplished the hard way; IE using a DDL and runing the "wet" side into your reverb. Generally pre-delay times run between 20 and 100 milliseconds. What this does is allow your dry guitar to speak in front of the reverb without "smearing".

The other adjustment is "density". This is the number of discrete reflections which make up the reverb. High density creates a very smooth, lush sound, and low density -when set at it's extreme- can sound like a tiled bathroom, bordering on multiple echos. Now while it may seem intuitive to use the denser settings, and they will sound sweeter when you're playing by yourself, they don't always work the best in a mix. The same density that creates lushness when the instrument is unaccompanied, can eclipse an entire spectrum of a mix and result in total mud.

My settings have changed greatly over the years, and it's taken me a long time to get them where I finally think they're "right". I don't know if you have my latest release 'Anthem'. But on my last two albums, I used small rooms of about 12X12 feet for the reverb, and about 79 milliseconds of pre-delay. Another thing you may not be aware of are some production tricks which allow one to place a delay on individual notes of a part. I will use this occasionally for a note here and there that is sustained and that I want to blend, but never when playing quickly. There's is a lot to learn about production and the best way is to record record record.
I've used Lexicon reverbs, and have to say that apart from the 480L -about 13 grand-, I don't care for them. Yes, they're clean. But I found them prone to being nearly inaudible in mixes for some reason. When I turn a knob, I want to hear something happen. They do make a couple that are pretty good - an older one comes to mind, MX 250 I believe. "Concert Hall" settings are useful on this. They have pre-delay built in to them.

I have a cheap old Alesis Quadraverb that I absolutely love. It gives you adjustments for pre-delay, density, decay, high frequency decay, low frequency decay, and mid-band shelving. You can find them on ebay for next to nothing and they work well if you know how to use them. Well, that's the limit of my wisdom here, but it took a long time to learn. Hope it helps.

Question from Miguel Oscar
Hi James, I'm writing this beacuse I read a recent interview in wich you said you no longer put album recordings to tape but to hard disk, my question is what you think would be the pros and cons of this practice, and I wanted to know what software or equipment have you tried that you can recommend, cause I've only recorded with my pc sound card (specially acoustic guitar) wich has some decent reverb and effects, I plug the microphone directly to the sound card and record the guitar dry then add reverb later on (i.e. Concet hall or auditorium). What techniques you'd choose for this. Thank you, P.S. Anthem smoking rocks!
BYRD: Hi. I was a real hold-out to recording on hard disk, especially after having Uli Roth tell me about a crash in which he lost months of work with many people. But over the course of time, with plenty of well-reasoned arguments from people who knew a lot more than I did, I have become a real convert to recording on hard disk. As long as one remembers to back-up their work onto CDR frequently, the worst that can happen is to lose a couple of hours of work. And even this is very unlikely if you remembered to hit "save" afer each new performance. But -knock wood- in all the time I've now used a hard drive to record to, I've never actually lost anything, despite a couple of system crashes along the way.
There is no escaping this technology if one wants to make records in the 21st century. Even if one records on tape, they're going to end up transfering the tracks to computer for editing and mixing anyway, if they want to create the best modern production. The days of razor-blades and splicing tape are no more, and the incredible flexibility of recording onto computer is worth it for the lack of waiting for tape to rewind alone. If it sounds like I've been happy with the technology, I really am.
You should use a good pre-amp and then a compressor, between acoustic guitar and the sound card, to keep the signal more consistant in level, for the best results. Glad you like the new album so much!

Playing Tips
Question from Pete
Hi James,
Great tips in the 'Ask Byrd' section, however one thing I see hasn't been asked is about picking technique. What is your technique? Are you a hard picker or a soft picker or does it depend on what you're playing? any examples of what requires what? Also tips for building speed and accuracy would be good. Hope to hear new music soon.
BYRD: I guess I'll answer this in a couple of parts:

Hard or soft: Both, depending on what I'm playing, and what kind of tone I'm using. If I'm using a clean sound, and I don't want to hear a pick attack, I'll move forward towards the neck, and I'll use a technique similar to Eric Johnson where I sort of "stroke" the string, letting the edge of the pick slide along it by using more of "bounce" in my wrist. If I'm playing with distortion and I want a very aggressive tone, I'll move back toward the bridge, and the wrist motion is strictly side to side with the pick kept vertical. But I would not say I'm picking "harder", just with a different motion. I use Dunlop "Sharps" 1.5mm, and they contribute to a very clear definition when playing fast.

As far as over-all technique goes, I have a "system" of sorts. I "set-up" my picking, so that if I'm moving from the low strings to the hight strings, alternate picking changes strings with a down stroke. And if I'm moving from high strings to low strings, the change of string begins with an up-stroke. Anf of course I use sweep picking if I'm crossing three or more strings.

The other technique I use if I want to play a long excursion, is a four note per-string technique; you can play all the way up or down the neck on a single string extremely quickly when you get it down, and you can connect to other strings at any point.

For "speed" improvement, get a metronome, and practice tremolo picking one note on a single string. Then start bringing in the left hand. Pedal tones on open strings are good at first to develop left and right hand time coordination (very, VERY important), but then bring in triplets. There is also a time NOT to pick every note. Many of my scales are played picking two out of three notes. My fastest playing though, is strictly alternate picking every note.

You can see virtually ALL of these techniques used in my youtube live video of "Avianti Etude":

Hope that helps.

Question from Ara
Hey, I had a question about youre style ...Its EXACTLY like no-one in particular, but you can hear the influences. So, my question is, how'd you develop youre style, did you learn other peoples stuff note-for-note and then incorporate that into what you heard playing in your head or what?? Thanks man, (Still lovin my Super Avianti!)
BYRD: Hi Ara, Great to hear from you and that you’re getting so much from your Super Avianti.

I learned solos note for note, by the hundreds, from many, many players. In many cases, entire albums. I would play along with records, and I was obsessed with duplicating every note, phrasing, and vibrato of the players I copied. I played between 8 and 14 hours a day during those 11 years prior to beginning to write and play original music in bands. Here’s a list (mostly in order) of solos I learned between 1970, and 1981:

The first solo I learned note for note, was “Alright Now” by Free. Paul Kossof had the vibrato I wanted. I worked at it until my fingers bled.
Jimi Hendrix –Rainbow Bridge: “Hear my train a comin’, Earth blues
Jeff Beck –Truth: “Goin’ Down”
Deep Purple: Machine Head: Entire album.
Robin Trower –Bridge of Sighs: Entire album
Johnny Winter –Captured live: Most of the non-slide solos, all of Floyd Radford’s (Winter’s second guitarist) solos
Steely Dan – Ricky don’t lose that number (Jeff Baxter)
Lynard Skynard – Live: Free Bird
Peter Framptom – Come Alive: Entire Album
Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush – Live: Entire album
AC/DC Highway to Hell: Entire album
Montrose –Montrose: Entire album
Jeff Beck –Blow By Blow: Entire album
The Jeff Beck Group featuring Jan Hammer: Probably half the album
Focus – Hocus Pocus
Van Halen – Van Halen: Ice cream man, Eruption, The Atomic Punk
Rainbow –Rainbow Rising: Star Gazer
Rainbow –Long Live Rock and Roll: Gates of Babylon, Rainbow Eyes
Al DiMiola -The Elegant Gypsy: Race with the devil on a Spanish highway
UFO: Obsession: Entire album
UFO: Strangers in the night: Entire album
Scorpions: Virgin Killer: Entire album
Scorpions – Tokyo Tapes: Entire album

Those are the ones which come to mind, but there’s a bunch of others I’ve forgotten about.

There was a lot of stuff around that everyone else seemed to listen to, that I didn’t. I never owned a Led Zepplin album. Never owned a Kiss album.

I have no idea what my “style” is apart from an amalgamation of what I liked, learned, and combined, and the classical music I began listening to on the local classical FM station in about 1980. A lot of phrases from pianists, violinists, and flautists just sort of stuck in my head and I’d find myself playing solo sections of concertos and combining them with my rock chops. I listened to Paganini’s 24 caprices by Pearlman, and took a lot of phrases and lines from those. When I go back and listen to my various albums (seldom really) I think I sound different during different periods, and my style for lack of a better term, seems to keep evolving. It’s not something I ever thought about beyond just liking what I like, and having strong opinions, and what comes from it all, well, there it is.

Best to You Ara -Byrd

Question from Brent
Concerning virtuoso playing, a word often mentioned, especially in styles other than rock, is "effortlessness." I know that is part of playing at that level - my question is about getting there. And yes, I'm talking about playing fast. It may not be the most exciting thing for you to talk about, but, in trying to develop as a musician, I've found that rock guitar is hardly standardized (so to speak)compared to other instruments, making determining the soundness of advice difficult. So I figured I'd ask someone who should know. I have come across two different methods for building speed on an instrument. One side says that it is okay to use a bit of muscle to reach the tempo, and after that, one can then focus on relaxing the tension. On the other hand, I've also read that one should ONLY play effortlessly, and allow speed to come in its own time. What approach did you find worked for you? Is it possible to really play everything effortlessly, or is there always a bit of strain at top speeds?
BYRD: I can only speak for myself here, but I'll tell you how it is for me.

I find that between slow, medium, medium fast, and very fast, my "tension level" is highest at medium speeds, and lowest at the highest speeds.
Now I don't know whether you are referring to the fingering hand, or the picking hand. But there should never be any tension in the fingering hand beyond that required to sound the notes and control the string.
The right hand ideally should also stay relaxed, but in reality, at least for me, I find that I always need to make an effort to relax it when playing at medium tempos. At the very fast tempos, the angle of my attack changes considerably, and my wrist actually gets a lot looser. I don't know how it is for others, but that's how it is for me.
Actual endurance in the left hand is a factor. One can only play at the their highest speeds for so long before the left hand gets fatigued. Fortunately, my ability to maintain that level of speed far exceeds my personal taste, and I've never run into a problem "running out of gas" but I suppose it's always possible.
The fastest speeds will always be attained with the greatest efficiency. That DOES translate into less tension rather than more.
I think it's a serious mistake to "try" to be fast. You have to walk before you can run, and although running is different than walking, one moves from one to the other naturally or they will fall. Being able to play WELL very quickly is a natural outcome of being able to play well more slowly. I think It's far more important to play well. Take the carefully considered path and you'll eventually get where you want to be.

Question from John Kindred
I have recorded myself playing. When I play something fast then listen back it sounds rushed, it doesn't sound smooth or fluid. Do you have any suggestions on what I could practice to correct this?
BYRD: Hi John,
Do you practice with a metronome? If not, start doing it. You need to get the tempo solidly into your head while you're playing, even without a metronome -eventually-. A number of different factors can lead to the problem you're having. Certain questions need to be asked and anwered. In the example you've cited, do you know what the actual note values you intended to play were? Are you certain you're actually going faster than you should? If you do determine that you're rushing a part, realize that this problem can sometimes be psycological. I've known drummers who had this problem with fills and it came down to issues of confidence much of the time. If you can play a part faster, you should be able to play it slower, so something is getting in the way of this. Adrenaline perhaps? Are you nervous about being able to play the part before it comes up? Whatever the cause, practicing with a metronome is invaluable and when you're seriously practicing -as oppossed to having fun-, you should be playing with one until this is no longer a problem for you. Never set it faster than you can play without making a mistake. It's important to avoid mistakes in practice -believe it or not- because if you make lots of them, you are practicing mistakes, not success. I hope some part of this advice is useful to you.

Question from Jim Bandola
Hi James, Just wondering what your rule for harmonizing a riff/lead is, and if there is, is it always a set pattern?
BYRD: No rules -other than the correct harmony! just play tight.

Question from Omar, Queens - New York - USA.
How can I improve my sweep picking and make it clean?
BYRD: Firstly, raise the action on your guitar if it's super low. Secondly, make certain that you do NOT press the string down to the fret until it's time for that note to sound, and that you release that note before you play the next note. You do not want the notes overlapping at all or it will sound like a mess. If the sweep involves the use of a flattened single finger -as in a second position bar chord- then you need to learn to 'Roll' your finger onto and off of each string in sequence. Practice sweeping the appegios slowly and with a metronome. Gradually increase the tempo over a period of weeks, but begin each practice session at a slower tempo and then work up to where you last left off before increasing the tempo.

Questions from Jimi Fan
How do you do those cool Hendrix esque bends like on 'Dolly Dagger' where one strings goes up then the adjacent comes down, what intervals do you use? I have also heard guys like Eric Johnson and Frank Marino do them but I cannot get them to sound good.
BYRD: I've been doing it so long I probably don't appreciate the difficulty of it anymore.
What you have to do is to bend the 'B' string a 4th WITHOUT sounding it. When you get to a predetermined distance and string tension -not the full bend yet- you allow the 'G' string to catch under the same finger, keeping a little space between the two strings. You continue to bend, now with both strings under your finger -remember you still haven't sounded the notes-. This upward bend in the two strings is instantanious. In other words, it has to be fast enough that there is no perceived note value or space of silence. When you get to the right point in the bend -a whole step and a half -, you pick the 'B' string and begin dropping the pitch. If you've left the right amount of "space" between the two strings, you can then pick the 'G' string after the 'B' string is about 3/4's of the way down it's descent. The 'G' will then drop a whole-step. All of this must be done blindly by feel for string tension and position alone. Trial and error are the only way to find the distance and tension. You have to be able to arrive at the exact pitch based only on knowing how tight the string is in the bends. The technique is called "ghost bending". All these steps must take place in about a quarter of a second if you're playing eighth notes. There is no substitute for long frustrating hours of practice until it's perfected or it'll sound like ally cats. It works best between the 'B' and 'G' strings, but the 'E' and 'B' can be mastered as well.

Is this technique possible if you have a floating bridge like a Floyd or is it something primarily meant for hardtail and standard bridges?
BYRD: Sure it is. When you bend strings with a floating trem, it pulls the bridge forward and loosens the other strings slightly. It also means you have to pull the note you're bending slightly further to arrive at true pitch. You just have to compensate for this by the distance you bend. Obviously Hendrix -the guy most associated with the lick- was playing a Strat with a floating trem, so it's not a problem.

Question from Covenant
Its quite obvious that your playing has evolved ten-fold since the Fifth Angel days, your lead style is radically different in many respects. Why do you think this is? And is there any aspect of your playing that you have concentrated the most on to get to the level where you are today? Basically, whats your advice for an aspiring guitarist to become the best on the instrument THEY can? Also I love the rhythm part slightly buried by the mix on 'Going Home', its nuts how did you play that?
BYRD: Thank you! I think my playing has continued to develop and evolve because I've worked really hard on it. It's not really so much a matter of practicing one "technique" once one gets to a certain point in their playing, but a matter of the self-dicipline to learn, and convey the musical ideas that come into mind. This discipline I'm talking about means that as a musician, you don't let your fingers determine what you play, but rather, your mind. It means you keep growing if you pursue being able to execute new ideas all the time.

My advice to any guitarist who wants to improve is easier said than done, but if followed, I will get results.
1. Use your ears when you play. This means being self-aware of your sound, touch, pitch, everything. There is a time to lose this self-awareness, but during learning is not that time.
2. Record yourself frequently and listen very critically. Be a critic. Make adjustments as the need becomes apparent.
3. Don't expend energy on what you've already mastered. Put your effort to what actually needs working on.
4. Don't get discouraged. Anyone trying to do better will face obstacles and frustration, it is a part of this.

All of this of course is a lot like work, but there's no short cut my friend. If you put in the work, and if you work smart, you'll get better, I have no doubt about this.
Ahh so you noticed that rhythm part in "going home". I assume here you're talking about the choruses. Unless you saw me play it, it'd be nearly impossible to figure out how I actually play it. But the first part of the figure involves what's called "Travis Picking". I used this technique to play the double-stops (two notes at once). Travis picking means that you hold the pick in the usual manner, and use it to play some of the notes, but you ALSO use your middle and ring fingers to pluck notes. This first figure uses the 'A', 'D', and 'G' strings. The 'A' string is handled with the flat pick, and the ring and middle fingers pluck the 'D' and 'G' string double stops in rapid syncopation between the pick and fingers. Think "heavy metal rag time" for playing this part.

The Travis picked figure is Am -implied, no third played-, the arppegios which follow are C maj, G maj, and F maj, played on the D, A, and low E strings.
The second half of the figure, are a series of arppegios with a 2nd added in, and is single note alternate picking using the pick only.

Question from Anonymous visitor.
What are the opening arpeggios to visigoth? Not to rush you but when can we expect the next Byrd album?
BYRD: If I remember -it's been 7 years and I don't really listen to my stuff once it's done-, the opening arpeggio is Em, played on the B and E strings at the 12th fret with a half-step pedal tone. I'm in some negotiations about the next Byrd album right now. As soon as I know something, it'll be posted on the news page.

Question from Anonymous.
Hello I have been in a "RUT" for sometime. What should I do? Also how do I break free from playing in the "BOX" postions when soloing?
BYRD: To break out of a rut, go and find some music which contains solos performed on intruments other than guitar. Classical music is great for this. Horns, flute, piano, anything but guitar. Learn phrases and solos note for note. You'll learn a lot doing this.

To break out of a "box", get rid of the walls! The "walls" exist because you don't know where all the notes are. You can start with one scale: Take the A minor scale and find each of it's notes on EVERY STRING. The geography of the guitar is both horizontal AND vertical. You can choose any number of ways to move from one note to the next, but you have to really know where they are. There are seven main modes, plus synthetic modes. There are 12 possible key signatures. That is far too many possibilities that anyone should ever find themself in a "box". Do you have a piano or key board? Learn the modes from it; start on C to C. That is the Lydian mode. Find the notes on your guitar. Then D to D. That is Dorian.

The most important factor in your getting out of this rut you are in, is effort.

Questions from Omar
Any advice for writing such compelling compositions?
BYRD: I concentrate first on the vocal melody (If it's vocal track), then develop the fundementum to support that, deliberately leaving space for a counter melody -often-. But "Compelling" is a very subjective thing. I just try to please myself.

Are you going to put out a video or some sort of instructional material?
BYRD: I have no immediate plans to do so.

Question from Covenant
Hi James, How do you go about creating the symphonic embellishments for FBT9 and Anthem? Do you start with these or add them after the inital tracks are done (Bass, drums, guitars). Also what software do you use for them? Do you use a guitar synth at all? Thanks Covenant
BYRD: Hi The compositions begin on piano, followed by a vocal melody. I lay down a temporary track which represents the vocal melody -I usually use a horn for this-. Bass and drums parts are written and then are then recorded. Next all the orchestrations are created. Then Michael comes in and we record all the vocal tracks. My guitars are actually recorded last. I do this because I think it makes me create guitar parts which are more interesting and which support the music from within (as opposed to "being" the music). This makes me think as a guitar player and keeps me from getting bored or coming up with the same kind of approach to guitar parts song after song.

Other Queries
Questions from Jimi Fan
Are the Shrapnel albums ever gonna get re-released anywhere? Do you have any plans to cover anymore Hendrix as 'Dolly Dagger' rocked!!
BYRD: Hi, Glad you liked 'Dolly Dagger'. I always loved the song and thought it should have been more well known. 'Rainbow Bridge' is still my favorite Hendrix album. I hope I will cover Hendrix again some day, because it's really a lot of fun to play and interpert his music. It's just going to take the right context and deal to do it again. As for re-releasing the Shrapnel albums, I doubt it would be Shrapnel because of the history of unresolved business disputes between us. I think they'd rather deprive fans than have to pay me.

Question from Leon
James you shred. I am from Washington State and dug the first Fifth Angel album right after it came out. I stumbled on your solo work by mistake last year and it's great playing. I diidn't even know you were still playing.Honestly you need to promote yourself better and get better distribution for you music. There are still tons of shredders our age out there buying and playing music. If they knew about you they would be buying your music.
BYRD: Thanks Leon
My distribution certainly could always be better, but when one is talking about this kind of music, that's really a universal truth.

My last two distribution deals have been only with a European company -Lion Music-, but apart from the United States, the albums have been available in many countries, and also here, online, through numerous online retailers such as CDNOW and CD Universe to name just two. My Shrapnel catalog is out of print which is unfortunate for fans, but since they were not paying me what they owed, it's hard for me personally to desire otherwise. I am at work on a new album and hopefully the distribution will be good. Thanks for your support, ~Byrd

Question from Ron:
I am wanting to know if "Crimes of Virtuosity" is still in print--if so, where can I buy it? Thanks, Ron
ANDY (WEBMASTER): Yes COV is still readily available through Mascot Records in Europe, all Amazon etc carry it. It is also available to buy and play at Byrd's mp3.com website. The mp3 version contains 2 bonus tracks but omits the great cover of 'Heaven On Their Minds' that the official release has. Either way you should really get both ;)

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