Metal fans rejoiced last week at the return of That Metal Show, the only show on television about all things hard rock and heavy metal. This season as an added bonus we’re going behind the stacks with some of your favorite musicians and TMS guests and finding out how they got started playing their instruments, who their favorite players are and what equipment they’re using. We caught up with this week’s musical guest Joel Hoekstra who’s known for his work with Night Ranger and Trans-Siberian Orchestra as well as being the house guitarist for the hair metal musical Rock Of Ages to find out about his multiple rigs and his love of Gibson guitars. Check back each week to find out more of your favorite shredder’s live rigs and don’t forget to tune in to VH1 Classic every Saturday night at 11/10C for new episodes of That Metal Show!
What was your first guitar?
I actually was forced briefly to start on my stepmother’s acoustic guitar much to my disappointment. I really wanted an electric. I wanted to be (AC/DC guitarist) Angus Young. Eventually I persuaded my Mom into buying me a red Electra Westone guitar, which I guess in my mind resembled the body shape of a (Gibson) SG but it had many more curves than an SG (laughter). It was very ‘80s, we’ll just leave it at that.
Who was the first guitarist that made you want to play guitar?
That’s definitely Angus Young. My parents are classical musicians so they had me playing cello when I was three and piano from the time I was seven and I was never really that thrilled with either of them. I couldn’t wait to quit. I always felt like it was torture. And then I heard AC/DC and I basically just wanted to be Angus Young. And that just changed everything and music then really clicked for me.
Are you still as influenced by him now as you were back then?
I am in different ways. I look up to him as probably the best showman to ever play in rock n’ roll. AC/DC goes on world tours and plays around 200 shows a year and I’ve never seen even a 5-second clip of him taking it easy on stage. I think that’s unbelievable given all the flights and all the travel. So I look up to him in a different way these days, not as much the rock star vibe but the unbelievable legacy he’s left in terms of endurance, as a terrific rock showman and as a songwriter. Back In Black is still the best hard rock album ever.
What was your first good piece of equipment?
I guess good is relative. At some point I upgraded from the Westone to a Kramer Baretta which was probably only slightly better (laughter). I think as far as my first amp I owned one of those Gallien Krueger 250MLs that everybody was playing back in the day. It had two tiny 6” speakers and a chorus and a reverb button. It was horrible (laughter). I was plugging that into a Fender 4×12 and then for distortion I had a Roland GP-8 processor. That actually might have been the first good thing I owned but it probably sounded horrendous. It probably sounded like a bee. (laughter). I went all the wrong route with tone in the early days but it was an era when all that stuff was popular. But thank God, I eventually graduated.What was the first guitar solo or song that you mastered?
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.
What’s your favorite song to play live and why?
With Night Ranger, it’s so cliché, but “Sister Christian.” I don’t even get to rip or play a solo on it. It’s Brad Gillis’ solo, but you know, there’s something about playing a hit song live where everybody’s singing along. When you have 15 or 20 thousand people singing that song you get goose bumps. It makes you realize having a really great rock moment doesn’t always have to be about being flash or playing something amazing. It can just be playing a simple song but when you’re connecting with that many people, it’s just something special.
What is the one guitar, or piece of equipment you wish you owned?
It is possible to say one piece of everything from Gibson? (laughter) I like everything Gibson makes in all honesty. And I don’t own a ES-335, I have a Howard Roberts and I have 5 Les Pauls now but I would love to own one of everything. I don’t own a Gibson Explorer. And I’d love a Firebird. I’m just a huge fan of what Gibson does. Their guitars sound like rock n’ roll. You plug them in and there’s the sound. And I think that’s something a lot of people don’t know. They think it’s all about the amps and how easy the guitar plays. A lot of Gibsons you have to fight. My Goldtop has a neck like a baseball bat but it has the sound.
Who was the last guitar player that blew you away?
Oh man, there’s so many. I started out strictly with the metal dudes and eventually branched into the guys who were hard rockers but melodic. Neil Schon (from Journey) was a big influence and Trevor Rabin from Yes and Tom Scholz from Boston. Guys that weren’t about just ripping and chops but great hooks. As far as rippers I love all the classic shredders. I love Yngwie. I love Steve Vai. I love Joe Satriani. It takes all types in the guitar world. I think it’s awesome some guys can play a million miles an hour and I also love simple song based players. I love (U2’s)The Edge. Tommy Emmanuel blows my mind. Every time I hear him he makes me want to spend 5 years not playing gigs. I’m very envious of thrash guys with those serious right hands. I was privileged to have dinner with (Megadeth’s) Dave Mustaine recently and I was like “Hey man, you have no idea how bad I wish I could do chugga-chugga-chug.” I never had that. I’m a left handed dude but I play right handed. I’ve never been able to get that James Hetfiled / Dave Mustaine killer rhythm thing.
Finally, we’d like you to play the game F**k-Marry-Kill with us with Don, Jim and Ed.
Oh for f**k’s sake(laughter). OK, I’ll f**k Don because he’s one sexy beast. I’ll marry Jim because he seems like he’d be a tidy little housewife and I’ll kill Eddie because as Dio sang “Kill The King.”