There are two types of guitar players in this world: fans of the legendary Joe Satriani, and everyone else. While critics and haters simply write him off as a virtuosic “noodler,” stalwart fans and music theory scholars claim his technical prowess has earned him a spot in the hallowed halls of rock ‘n roll Valhalla.
For the ladder, and the curious, this article is for you. Capturing the sound of Professor Satchafunkilus through hardware alone requires just as much attention to detail as wrapping your head around one of Satch-Squatch’s legendary legatos. While this guide won’t turn you into the Sultan of Shred overnight, it will hopefully open your eyes and ears to a path that will take you just one small step toward that signature Satriani sound.
So, without further ado, ice your fingers, get out your credit cards, and strap up, because it’s time to learn how to master one of rock’s most legendary sounds.
Joe Satriani’s sound comes from over 20 years of microtuning everything in his arsenal. Luckily, Satch has made it easy for his followers by releasing his own line of guitars. However, when it comes to everything else, things can get tricky. On a budget? Don’t sweat it. We’ve included economical alternatives for anyone, at any price point, to get started on acquiring the pieces needed to master the Joe Satriani sound.
This low barrier to entry Joe Satriani gear bundle was designed with two iconic and signature tracks in mind: “Surfing With The Alien,” off of the album of the same name and “Friends” off of the album “Extremist.” I felt that these two tracks alone encompass many of the core elements that comprise the legendary Satriani sound. While both bundles you’ll see below won’t cover every single detail of Satch’s discography, they should be more than enough to get you started.
For around $600 this Joe Satriani signature guitar is a perfect starter piece. Built as a hybrid of the Ibanez Js100 and Ibanez JS2400, this 24 fret white Ibanez guitar features a basswood body piece accompanied with a maple neck and board for seamless surfing.
But the most important features are found within. The Ibanez JS140 is packed with and Edge-Zero II tremolo that’s designed to eliminate the hassle of tuning, as well as a coil-tap on the tone pot for splitting pickups. The real value lies in the Quantum bridge and Infinity RD for the neck — perfect for syncing into the cosmic tones of Joe’s signature licks.
Every fan of Sir Shreds-A-Lot himself knows that Satch is a Marshall man. With two modes for reverb and gain, as well as a dedicated resonance control, this 40-watt versatile Marshall combo amp should be more than enough to give your riffs that full Satriani treatment.
- MXR M234 Analog Chorus
- Jim Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby
- MXR M169 Carbon Copy
- Boss CE-3 Compressor/Sustainer
- Boss GE-7 Equaliser
Did you know, the bulk of Satch’s tone comes from his pedal board, not his Marshall amps? Don’t be alarmed of the complexity of this 5-pedal setup. Each one serves its own unique purpose. To start, set up your pedal’s signal chain as follows:
From left to right:
Analog chorus → Carbon Copy → Cry baby → Compression Sustainer → Equalizer
Harnessing the power of the MXR Analog Chorus will shift your sound into the spacy and synthy realms of Satriani’s sound. Combined with the Compression sustainer and GE-7 equaliser, you’ll be able to pull quite a lot of definition out the lower strings and increase your sustain by tenfold. Adding the MXR Carbon Copy to the mix will give you twists of lush repeats and syrupy regeneration, as well as a serious analog edge on your solos. And of course, the essential Dunlop Cry Baby is there to fully round out your sound. If you’ve got some extra cash, a Digitech Whammy Pedal would be a nice addition, but is not absolutely necessary for a beginner’s bundle as your JS140s built-in whammy bar should be a good jumping off point for dive-bombs and pitch shifts. Got it? Good
Top of the line Bundle.
Now, If you’ve got cash to blow, and are ready to take your quest for the signature Satriani tone seriously, look no further. The following pieces of gear are the cream of the crop, for the cream of the crop. So, if you’re not already well versed in some of Satriani’s basics — or at the very least 100% committed to learning it — then I advise you to start with the gear listed above. But if your upgraded chops need some upgraded hardware, then this is the gear for you.
The legendary JS24PCA is one of the best Joe Satriani guitars you can buy. Crafted with smooth, quality basswood and lined with the finest DiMarzio Joe Satriani humbucking pickups, just holding it alone will feel like you’re in control of a force of nature.
While you’ll experience a revelation in tonal versatility with the dual Dimarzio pickups, the high pass filter built within enhances highs when you roll your volume down, allowing you to work the knob and keep your high-frequencies without breaking a sweat. Careful with this Joe Satriani signature guitar, you might never want to pick up another guitar again.
Joe’s long standing relationship with Marshall amps proves his absolute trust in the company with his tone. The Marshall JVM 210H is said to be the apex of guitar amps, the holy grail of grain––the sound everybody is striving to get with other tube amplifiers. Each channel features three footswitchable modes for different voicings and levels of overdrive, ranging from pristine clean to harmonic-drenched sustain that will last for days — all easily dialed in at the touch of a footswitch. This particular model has been used by Satriani for both studio and live performances.
The 1960AV Marshall 4 x 12 Cabinet is an iconic workhorse in rock ‘n roll sound. Though often imitated, nothing compares to this original. Its 280-watts of power is more than enough to send your Satriani tone into the deepest reaches of space, and is the perfect pair for the Marshall 210H.
For this tonal expedition, you’ll notice we took a quality vs quantity approach for this signal chain. While we can’t cover every single detail of Joe’s pedal board, (simply because many of his pedals you absolutely cannot get anywhere) these three options will give you plenty of flexibility.
Optimal signal chain (from left to right):
Arion Stereo Chorus → Clyde McCoy Wah → EarthQuaker Dispatch → Digitech Whammy
This lineup unleashes nothing but high gain leads and bright tones, while packing all the distortion you need from the Marshall amplifier rig. The EarthQuaker dispatch delivers both luscious reverbs and psychedelic soundscapes, while its analog delay signal eliminates digital artifacts and tonal degradation. The Clyde McCoy Wah is truly the crown jewel of wahs. Its patented Dunlop HI0 Halo inductor packs a punch within its smooth vocal delivery. And finally, The Arion Stereo Chorus’ rich and super wide overdrive effect will serve as your secret tonal weapon when it comes to covering the shimmering slides of Satriani solos.
Spacey, funky, and esthetically pleasing — the spaceman strap is by far the coolest piece of woven fabric you can wrap around your body while you shred upon those bright and synthy licks.
Sure, they won’t necessarily improve your sound, but damn are these picks cool? Each pick is decorated with the JS logo and autographed with 10 different Joe Satriani drawings. The picks are available in black or white with three material thickness options (Thin, Medium and Large) and are sold in 10-packs or single units.
Can of Barbasol shaving cream, Bic Razors, & wrap around sunglasses.
Okay, maybe this going a bit too far. But for those who really want to commit to the cult of Satch, why not go the full distance and sport his iconic, chrome-dome meets Mr. Smith look?
We’ve covered the gear, now it’s time to deliver the goods. A full, all encompassing masterclass on Joe Satriani’s technique could fill an entire multi-volume textbook, so again, we’ll do our best to give broad strokes.
It was Satriani’s early lessons under the reclusive jazz pianist Lennie Tristano that perhaps instilled some of his early technical prowess. Though not a requirement to play Satch’s bigger hits, it wouldn’t hurt to explore or brush up on the basic foundations of jazz guitar to truly understand the rationale behind some of Satch’s more exploratory licks.
A solid jazz foundation can allow you to wrap your head around unique chord shapes, arpeggios, and complicated scales that will add more tools to your musical tool kit. The free lessons found below are a great place to start.
Joe’s legendary legato’s are what cemented him as a legend among his peers. In its most basic form, legatos simply use a variety of hammer-ons, pull-ofs, and slides to create a smooth and fluid sound over re-energized common blues-rock licks.
Satriani often deploys short, erratic spurts of legato with long held notes over the beat. A masterclass example of this technique can be found in his 2008 jam “Flying in a blue Dream.”
Fretting-hand position is vital for mastering the legato guitar technique. By placing your thumb a bit lower on the back of the neck, as opposed to the edge of the board, you will increase stamina and your hand won’t become tired as quickly.
To get started on your legato journey, I’d suggest some of the free, introductory tutorials on YouTube.
Pitch Axis Theory
Coined by the Sultan of Shred himself, The Pitch Axis theory is a musical technique used in constructing unique, otherworldly chord progressions.
Simply put, with a specific use of diatonic rotations, a guitar player can reach each of the seven modern modes. For example, throughout these rotations, the following sequence can take place: C Ionian (CDEFGAB) turns into a D Dorian (DEFGABC), which then becomes an E Phrygian (EFGABCD). This process continues until the first C Ionian mode is obtained again. In turn, you make each of the seven modes within the twelve major keys its own unique mode of the remaining six in that key!
Pitch axis theory suggests that for each mode, there is a chord that accompanies it. When that chord occurs, the corresponding mode should be used for the melody or for soloing.
I know, I know. You’re most likely completely lost and overwhelmed. Again, our goal here is to simply provide a top-level explanation of Joe Satriani’s guitar technique. Check out below for some fantastic guitar guides that explain Legato and Pitch Axis theory.
GUITAR LEGATO SCALE PLAYING: Check Lessons Here>>
CREATIVE GUITAR PITCH AXIS: Check Lessons Here>>
FOREVER JOE PITCH AXIS THEORY: Check Lessons Here>>
Other Quick ‘n Dirty Tips
While the above gear and techniques can get you on the right path to that classic Joe Satriani sound, there’s quite a bit of general techniques you’ll need to be prepared to master as well. What’s great about these is that they flex into multiple styles and ranges, and are necessary staples for any great guitar player.
No matter the pedal, the art of the pitch shift is something that comes with a bit of a learning curve to it. I recommend the video below from the man himself for beginners or even pros who just need a refresher.
As a Hendrix disciple, Joe Satriani leans heavily (both physically and creatively) on the use of his guitar wah pedal. However, mastering it takes more than just rocking it back and forth on every note you play. Sometimes it’s best to use the Wah as a filter — i.e. simply leaving in a certain position as you play to add color depth to both rhythm and lead sections. Below is a fantastic guide to all things wah.
The art of the dive bomb requires both precision and timing. Satch frequently, and very casually, is known to drop them smack into tracks to accentuate transitions between song parts. His contribution to the dive bomb technique can be considered as the reinvention of the technique itself. Check out the guide below for some quick tips for explosive dive bombs.
Dedicating countless hours into mastering the Satriani Sound is going to require your fingers to twist, stretch, and grip like never before. I’d recommend investing in a VariGrip Hand exerciser if you haven’t already, and to keep in mind the tips below to sustain the strength in your digits.
So, you’ve got the gear, brushed up a bit on your whammy, wah, and dive bombs, and perhaps started exploring legato and pitch axis theory. Now, before you dive in too deep in attempting some of Joe Satriani’s classic cuts, I’ve put together some starter tracks to ease you into your quest to capture his sound. I’ve included songs that range in difficulty, but are also quite satisfying to wail out to as well.
“Ten Words” will have you working slowly and soulfully up and down the neck in a pentatonic groove. It’s verses and chorus are easy enough to master after a few attempts. However, the solo might require some extra diligence.
Satriani’s short and sweet “Tears in the Rain” relies heavily on a crescendoing riff that dips its toes into flamenco stylings. Although the song is technically played on an acoustic, it rings out with much more impact when played on electric.
This 5/4 masterpiece off of Satriani’s most famous album is widely known as the “easiest of the hardest riffs” in Joe’s collection. While it begins with some no sweat sustains, the song quickly takes a turn at the 2:29 mark, forcing you to pick with precision. However, if you can make it out alive on the other side of this lick, there should be no stopping you when it comes to tackling the rest of his discography. See “Echo” as a necessary rite of passage.
Well my fellow shredders, there you have it. This guide should cover everything you need to set a course toward that famous Joe Satriani sound. It’s no easy feat master, but there isn’t a more rewarding sound to emulate and improve your skills upon than that of Joe Satriani’s. Be prepared to fail. Be Humbled. Don’t give up. I think Joe put it best when he said: “No artist wants to stumble, certainly not in front of their audience, but sometimes that’s what it takes.”
And remember, nobody needs lyrics when your guitar can say everything!