That Metal Gear: Zakk Wylde – Find Out His Favorite Guitars, Players + How He Gets His Tone!

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In honor of season 13 of That Metal Show which premieres tonight on VH1 Classic we’re going behind the stacks and finding out what you’re favorite guitarists are playing and what better way to start than with episode 1 guest, legendary Black Label Society guitarist Zakk Wylde. Besides being one of the greats of heavy metal guitar he’s also one of the most down-to-Earth and humble musicians you’ll ever have the pleasure of talking to. Though known for his fearsome looks and manic pinched harmonics he is also a student of bluesy players like Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and the legendary Jimmy Page and adds that to his unparalleled arsenal of guitar technique. Let’s find out what Zakk has to say about his favorite gear, his favorite guitar players and which That Metal Show host he’d most like to marry. No, seriously.

What was your first guitar?

Zakk Wylde: My first good guitar was a Gibson Firebrand SG. I got it at Red Bank Muisc which is no longer there.

Who was the first guitarist that made you want to play guitar and are they as big an influence now as they were back then?

It would have to be Black Sabbath but also my guitar teacher, Leroy Wright. I played football and he was the son of our coach. He was about 10 years older than me. I went over to there to see the coach because I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep playing thorough high school. I played middle linebacker but going into high school everyone was bigger. They were talking about making me play cornerback but I was like “No, if I can’t play linebacker I don’t feel like playing.” Leroy was there and there was a guitar sitting in the room and I was like “Mr. Wright do you play guitar?” and he said “I noodle around and play some country songs but my son Leroy is the one who plays.” Leroy came out, I think it was the first time I ever saw somebody with long hair and he had a Harley (Davidson) hat on and he picked up a Les Paul sunburst and started playing everything on it. Hendrix, then Van Halen, then Ozzy who Randy Rhoads had just started playing and playing Sabbath stuff. For me, just watching his hands was like the coolest thing on the planet and right from there I said “That’s what I want to with my life.”
But after seeing Leroy, obviously Tony Iommi, and Randy Rhoads, I love Randy. All my guitar players that I loved I still love. And Jimmy Page obviously and then Leroy turned me onto a lot of the fusion guys like Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin and then Frank Marino and Robin Trower. I still listen to all those guys becvause they’re all still amazing. I get inspired when I hear them. And I have amazing memories associated with that stuff as well.

What was the first guitar solo you could play all the way through?

I don’t know. AC/DC “Back In Black,” to be able to play that main lick was a huge breakthrough. I’m trying to think, solo-wise, I don’t know. Maybe the solo to the song “Black Sabbath.” If you really listen to Tony Iommi, he’s still totally got chops and he’s playing fast. Listen to Live At Last and that first record, you got to remember, it came out in 1970 and he is shredding all over that thing.

Zakk Wylde on one of his many customized Gibson Les Pauls [Photo: Getty Images]

What gear are you using these days?

My Marshalls, my Gibsons, my Epiphone. I actually use what I endorse (laughter). It’s quite the novelty. I always laugh (when other people don’t). I always say “Why don’t you get them to make something you like?” My Marshall JCM800s. I’ve been using them since I started with Ozzy. That’s the same amp throughout my whole career. It’s simple. It sounds good and I don’t have any issues. Some of my friends are searching for tone all the time. I don’t know. It’s just, like, for AC/DC, “What amp did you use to get the guitar sound on Back In Black?” “I used that amp and that cabinet.” “Good. let’s use that amp and that cabinet.” (laughter) You know what I mean? I don’t understand it. Anybody who gets these amazing tones like Randy (Rhoads) or Eddie (Van Halen), I mean, Eddie used the same Marshall on every records up to 1984. Or like (ZZ Top guitarist) Billy Gibbons. “What did you use on “Tush”?” “I used that Marshall Plexi and the cabinet and I still got it sitting in my garage.” Why don’t you use those? Why are we trying other amps? What everybody’s looking for, you’ve already got.

Zakk Wylde plays ’The Grail’ Les Paul Custom. [Photo: Getty Images]

Do you have one favorite guitar?

Obviously when I first started with the Boss (Ozzy) I had The Grail and The Rebel Les Pauls. I used that on pretty much everything. And the red bullseye Les Paul. And then when I got my signature guitars I’d be breaking them out all the time. On this new album I use mostly a maple vertigo. But they all sound fucking great. The consistency coming out of the Gibson Custom Shop is just great.

What’s your favorite song to play live and why?

With Black Label, “Overlord” is a lot of fun. Even to this day when we play “Stillbron” it’s f**King cool. With Oz, as far as the stuff I had nothing to with, “I Don’t Know,” “Bark At The Moon” is always fun to f**king play. “Flying High Again.” I love playing all of it. For me it’s like being in the coolest cover band in the world and then you get a chance to write your own stuff. It’s win win all the way around because I love playing all those songs.

Zakk Wylde’s Les Paul, ’The Rebel.’ [Photo: Getty Images]

Is there one piece of equipment you wish you could own that you don’t have yet?

I’ve been blessed with my collection of stuff I’ve gathered over the years. For me, starting out being as a little 14 year old kid from Jackson, New Jersey to where it is now is pretty insane. I guess it would have to be some relic gear. I’ve got old stuff and new stuff. You know, the ’59 Les Paul. It’s definietly a major trophy if you got one of those things. But you know, the ’59 reissues they have coming out of that (Gibson) Custom Shop are f**king phenomenal. And you can plug into one of those things and take it on the road and beat up on it and you’re not going to worry about the headstock snapping off of that(laughter). With the ’59, it’s not even a guitar anymore, it’s not even that it’s the best sounding guitar, it’s just because there are so few of them left on the planet.

Who was the last guitar player you heard who blew you away?

Obviously, whenever I listen to Frank Marino stuff or all the guys I love I get blown away. When we took out Children Of Bodom, Alexi’s got great chops and great vibrato. And when we did that Marshall ting and all my buddies were there, Doug Aldrich, Richie Faulkner. Richie’s f**king phenominal. When we did that Judas Priest tour, Richie was great. Then we did a run with Guns N’ Roses and Ron (Thal) and all those guys were killling it every night and then actually we did some shows with Slash and Slash was killing it every night. I still enjoy hearing great guitar players. It’s definitely inspiring. And also my boy (and fellow Ozzy alumnus) Gus G. I can’t forget him.

And the final question, F**k, Marry, or Kill: Don, Jim and Ed?

(laughter) Let me see. I guess, f**k would be Father Florentine. And then Don you’d marry because he’s level headed and we’d just sit around and talk about all the bands we love. And then Ed, I wouldn’t kill Ed. I would protect him from other people who weant to kill him (laughter). I don’t have to try to kill Ed. There’s a line at the deli for that one. My job would be to protect Father Ed.