Warren DeMartini: Strings, Picks, Solos, Snakeskin

January 6, 2010 | By | Reply More
Warren and his python friend.

Warren and his python friend.

Here’s part 2 of the post on Warren DeMartini’s gear – plus intel on how to make your own snakeskin-covered guitar and how he looks at guitar solos. All of this info is from the 1987 Guitar Player interview and the warrendemartini.net site referenced in part 1.

All quotes are Warren’s unless otherwise noted.

Picks and Strings

It didn’t look like it, but it sounds like Warren hit the strings very hard. Bear in mind that Edward Van Halen has two of the strongest hands in the business, and used 8s or 9s and a Fender medium pick.

“My strings are Ernie Balls, 10 to 46. I actually like 11s, but I can’t keep getting calluses on my fingers. The metal [stainless steel] pick wears out strings pretty fast, especially the D. Last year I liked using the same guitar so much that during one song, I would switch guitars so that my technician could change my D, A and low E strings, stretch them out, and give me the guitar back.

“I would probably use 9s if they would last longer, but they’re gone in two or three songs, especially if I happen to be a little bit uptight. If I used a plastic pick, I would wear the pick away, but the steel pick doesn’t wear away at all.”

Picking Technique

“I keep my hands stiff, yet there is still a slight movement in my thumb and finger. I started keeping my wrist stiff when we began playing live more. Being tense in the beginning, I just kept playing that way to try to make sure I was doing everything correctly.

“I play a little bit in front of the pickup and the pick is angled down toward the bridge or the edge of the pickup ring. In other words, if the pointed part of the pick was staring straight down at the floor, you would twist it a little bit to the right – about a third of a turn – so that the left edge of the pick is almost going exactly like where your thumb is. I use the edge – the side of the pick – a lot [as does George Lynch]. That way, there’s more pick touching the string and it’s warmer.
“If I’m going down the neck, I tend to pick less. For some reason, I don’t need to hit as many notes as I do when I’m going up. But it’s always that 2 to 3 ratio: it’s two picks, and then you hammer the last note. You can get incredible speed on that kind of thing. As I’m getting towards the end of the figure, I occasionally pick all three.”

Constructing Solos

“Nothing disappoints me more than going to see a show or listening to a record by a skillful player who is just giving a barrage of information. It’s like laying down a large bet on a full house right off. There’s no working up to it or setting the mood.

“I’ve always swayed more to people who don’t present everything to you at once. The main theme of their style isn’t always real present and upfront, like it is with people who just try to play fast. Holding back requires a little more thought, really.

“Take Stevie Ray Vaughan: he’s got a real find technique, and he can play really fast and accurate, but he just gets into whatever song he’s playing. He works his notes around the groove, and his guitar statements come and go in climaxes inside the song. I really like that. Johnny Winter and Eddie [Van Halen] are like that too.”

Building Snakeskin Guitars

“I’ve learned quite a few things about trying to apply something over a guitar…. My first mistake was trying to do it to a primed body. That, along with the skin, gave it a very bassy, mushy sound. It wasn’t until I started putting the skins just straight to the unfinished wood that I could get any kind of sound out of them. There’s no finish over the skins because I want them to look like they were played on.”

Warrendemartini.net reports that “the snakeskin was stuck on to the under-coated body using water-based glue. It was applied wet. It shrinks when it dries, and it gave a characteristic sound. It’s the same technique used to apply skin to the Japanese traditional Taiko drum. Somehow this made the guitar sound really good….”

Category: Ernie Ball/Music Man, Warren DeMartini

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