Yngwie Malmsteen’s virtuosity can’t be denied. Widely regarded as the pioneer of shred, his jaw-dropping, lightning-fast technique features high speed picking and sweep-picked arpeggios incorporating harmonic minor, diminished and Phrygian scales throughout his neo-classical and metal compositions. His 1984 album, Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force established him both in the neo-classical and melodic rock style and his career reach new heights in 1998 when his classical work for orchestra and solo electric guitar, Concerto Suite, was released. Malmsteen is a respected musician among both his contemporaries and his fans.
Born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1963, Malmsteen got his first guitar as a five year old but didn’t take a serious interest until he was seven, when he saw a TV special about Jimi Hendrix. He began to immerse himself in the music of bands like Deep Purple and the classically influenced playing of Ritchie Blackmore, which led naturally to discovering Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart and Paganini. He practiced for hours every day, studying classical music and developing his technique. Even at age 15, Malmsteen had decided he preferred scalloped necks on his guitars after discovering the design on a 17th century lute. He began playing in bands around this time and recorded a demo tape which found its way to U.S. label Shrapnel Records, eventually moving to the America and recording with Steeler and Alcatrazz before embarking on a solo career. Rising Force reached number 60 on Billboard’s album chart, won Guitar Player magazine’s best album award for the year and was nominated for a Grammy award. A near-fatal car crash in 1987 resulted in nerve damage to his right hand, but Malmsteen recovered and received worldwide commercial success with the release of 1988’s Odyssey.
Malmsteen has always used Strats – preferring models from ‘68-’72 period – claiming that the bigger headstock generates more sustain. He originally customized his guitars by installing a brass nut, removing the middle string tree and scalloping the fretboard. He also disconnected the tone controls and fitted DiMarzio pickups – notably the HS3 and the HS4.
The Fender Artist Series Yngwie Malmsteen Stratocaster guitar was introduced in 1998 and was based on his favourite Strat, an original ‘72 blond model, known as the ‘Play Loud Strat’ or ‘The Duck’. Aquired in Sweden when he was a teenager, the guitar has been with Malmsteen from the start of his career, and is the instrument he has used most onstage and in the studio. Fender made 100 replica copies of this guitar and marketed it as the ‘Play Loud Guitar’.
His current Signature Stratocaster comes in a Vintage White finish with a maple neck and either a maple or rosewood fretboard with scalloped frets. Since 2010 Seymour Duncan STK-S10 YJM Fury Model pickups have been installed. Other features include an alder body, modern C shape neck and super-jumbo frets on a 9.5” radius fingerboard. The guitar also has a vintage-style trem and aged plastic parts. The controls are wired with a single Master Volume and two No-Load tone controls for the neck pick-up and bridge and middle pick-ups.
During the 1980s, Malmsteen’s live set-up included up to 24 Marshall Mark II vintage 50-watt heads and up to 27 Marshall 412 cabinets with Celestion G12 30-watt speakers. His set-up also included a Bob Bradshaw effects rack including two Korg SDD 2000 digital delays, a Boss Octaver and a Jim Dunlop Cry Baby wah-wah. His current rig is based around his new Marshall YJM100 Yngwie Malmsteen Signature Head. Malmsteen has a big collection of vintage Marshall amps and has always been a Marshall user. His signature YJM100 is based on a 1959 SLP 100-watt head and has several unique features including the output power being continuously variable down to 0.05-watt plus a noise gate.
Yngwie Malmsteen’s sound is all about Marshalls overdriven at the power stage. However, a 100-watt Marshall on 10 is not practical for most people – who will need to use an amp with a gain/master volume to achieve the necessary overdrive at sensible levels – but his rapid-fire arpeggios wouldn’t sound so crisp and articulate if he let the amps over-saturate, so the position of the gain control is crucial. Note the absence of any delay effect – his 16th note runs would mush out completely if treated with any repeats. The mids are boosted and the bass is rolled off, which pushes the sound forward. He also uses an 8-46 gauge string set and crucially, tunes down half a step. This procedure can make a dramatic difference to the sound and is worth experimenting with.
For an affordable way to get the Malmsteen sound it has to be a Strat, overdrive pedal and a Marshall. Try the Fender Classic Series 70s Strat in Olympic White, an Ibanez TS-9 and a Marshall TSL601. If you want emulate Yngwie, getting the sound is probably the easy part – it’s the sheer speed and accuracy of his technique that may prove more of a challenge to replicate.