I had a great teacher when I started out on guitar who just taught me songs. That was such a great way to start out. He taught me “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath at my first lesson and this was back when I had the Westone but it was before I had an amp. I was plugging into the family stereo ion the auxiliary input and I must have played that f’n riff non-stop for the first week I played guitar. I was so excited. I was over the moon it was the coolest thing. As far as solos I’m not going to remember exactly the first one but at some point I had a teacher show me the “Crazy Train” solo (by Randy Rhoads with Ozzy Osbourne). And I was still young, like 13 or 14, and I was super excited about that. It’s still a great solo. Learning all the rhythms and how to play were like AC/DC and Black Sabbath and then as far as solos it was Van Halen and Randy Rhoads and then Yngwie Malmsteen came out and forget it, everything changed.
What gear are you using now? I know you’ve got a couple different gigs and rigs.
With Night Ranger I’m just using my Goldtop Les Paul. Part of the classic legacy of the band is having Brad (Gillis) with his red Strat with the whammy and having a Goldtop Les Paul on the other side of the stage and I love keeping that tradition going. I just run that into an EVH III amp. If we fly into a show and are using rented amps I just use a Marshall TSL 100. With Rock Of Ages I’m using a guitar made for me from a smaller company called Atomic Guitar Works with the (fictional band) Arsenal logo on it direct into the Fractal Axe-FX Ultra (modeling amp). With that gig it’s more important to have something reliable and stable and durable than something for premium tone if that makes sense. I know that might come off wrong but essentially you’re looking for something that’s going to give you the same sound every night and not break down. Originally we were using the EVH amps on that gig but when you have a theater show and start having tube problems and after years of doing this show you start to realize no one is going to say “Your tone was a little thin.” We made the switch over to the Fractal and I don’t regret it all. It’s freed me up, the lack of noise, to do more showman stuff. And Trans-Siberian Orchestra is really the same way. They like to have stuff go direct to save the singers voice since we do 8 shows a week. And again, I don’t regret it. Once you’re cranking that through a killer board with great EQ through a great PA in an arena, it sounds huge.
Do you have one favorite guitar?
That would be my Goldtop I think. I’m definitely a Les Paul guy which is funny because I don’t think I owned a Les Paul until I was 30. I played (Fender) Telecasters and Stratocasters. I grew up in the Chicago area where a lot of the playing is blues style where a lot of guys where emulating Stevie Ray Vaughan. That was kind of the thing and using Fender amps so I’ve gone through a lot phases. But now I’m playing so much hard rock and I just love the way a Les Paul sounds on everything. Even when I’m in the studio we go “Maybe we should double this with a Tele or a Strat” and I always end up going “Let’s just go with the Les Paul.” My Goldtop has been on so many gigs with me, around the world with me, so many big moments that I always tend to gravitate towards it and it never lets me down. I even love the clean tones on it.