Here is your chance to ask Mike about his music, tours, gear or anything else you would like to know. To submit your question please fill out our contact form. Please include your name, city and country your are from. Thanks!
Paulo: Hi Metal Mike! Greetings From Portugal! I am just starting learning electric guitar but everyone around me talks about how important good guitar set up is. Being a great admirer of your work, I wonder if I could ask about your guitar's set-up (string height, neck bow, etc)
MM: Hi Paulo. Good hearing from you. Well, I'd definitely agree that a guitar that is set up well is easier to play and sounds cleaner and fuller. In the end, it is a lot more enjoyable to play. To be honest, many players don't even know what they are missing until they play a well set-up guitar. My tech, Travis Doering, really knows how to set-up my Jacksons. As far as specific measurements, I will give you a bit of a broader answer.
I do not have my action (string height) set super low. It might take less effort to play faster on a guitar with super low action, but it works against me when I bend or apply vibrato. This does not mean, that the action is very high either. Just enough, so I can get a good hold of the string and so that there are no buzzes, or strings flapping against a fret. I like a medium action as well, as I can really dig into a string while picking, if I want.
Thruss rod adjustment is important as well - correct set-up will make your guitar play less stiff. One of the easy ways to tell if your thruss rod is too tight is when you have a really hard time with bending notes around the 4th fret. You have to look for any buzzes on your guitar. You do not want anything to buzz.
It is impossible to explain everything in one answer. I recommend that you get your current guitar set-up by someone that knows what they are doing. If you like how it plays after, then you'll know where it plays best. Try to maintain that level of playability by checking out various guitar-set up videos that you can find on You Tube. Hope that helps.
Chuck, Texas, USA
Chuck: Mike, I have a new USA Jackson Soloist with a Seymour Duncan Distortion on the Bridge. My question is what tuning do you mostly use on your Jackson? C#, Dropped C or Dropped D, etc? Also what size strings do you use for your tunnings?
MM: Hey Chuck. Nice choices in gear. As you know I’m a fan of Jackson/ Seymour Duncan combination as well. It depends on the tuning as to what I’m doing at the time. Halford music had all four - C#, Standard E, D and Drop D tunings. At times, I carried as many as 8 guitars with me on tour. My solo stuff is mostly D – meaning every string is tuned a whole step down. The best strings that I ever tried are D’addario, period. They last long, stay in tune great and are very consistent from pack to pack. For Regular (Standard) E tuning I use .009 to 0.046. For D (All Strings Down a Step) I use 0.10 to 0.52. For Drop D I use 0.009 to 0.046 and for C# (meaning whole guitar is a step and a half down) I use 0.10 to 0.52 set, but I change the 6th string out to something heavier like 0.56. If you play in dropped C, I would also use 0.10 set and exchange the last string to 0.56. I have come up with this system through trial and error, but it works.
Tim, New York, USA
Tim : Hey Mike. I just wanted to ask you what were your influences to pick up the guitar? People say that you have to know your influences to know yourself as a player.
MM: Thanks for the e-mail Tim. I grew up as a guitar player when nimb fingered raging guitar heros were on the covers of Guitar World and magazines such like it. We are talking about the 80’s. So, I must say that the guitarists that made the biggest difference in me developing as a musician are Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Marty Friedman, Paul Gilbert and Tony MacAlpine. Those are the guitar heros. Additionally I also got into Gary Moore and Stevie Ray Vaughan. But with that said, I was a big fan of bands as well. I really liked, and still do like music from the late 80’/90’s speed metal/ thrash scene and several albums from that time helped shape my style. These included “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?” by Megadeth, “The New Order” by Testament, “Taking Over” by Overkill, “Ride The Lightning” by Metallica, “Symbolic” by Death, “Heartwork” by Carcass and many more.
So, I suppose that I like the combination of the guitar hero stuff mixed with fast, riff based aggressive music. Liking bands, outside just guitar players helped me see things on a bigger scale. So, do you need to know your influences to know yourself as a player? The sentence sounds good .... I think it could help, definitely. I think it is very important to start developing your own style and individuality as soon as you think you are ready.
John: As an artist, what attracts you specifically to the metal genre? What do you feel this genre gives you the power to express as a guitarist that other genres do not?
MM: Hi John. Thanks for writing. For me becoming a metal guitar player was the simplest choice I ever had to make. It was metal or nothing at all and I still feel the same way today as I did the day I decided to learn how to play the instrument. I just love Heavy Metal. The power, strength and unity among its fans are unmatched by other styles of music. The surge of energy you experince when playing or listening to metal exceeds anything out there. At least for me personally.
If it was not for metal I would probably not even be a guitar player, that's how much I like it. Metal shows are extremely exciting and even the smell of smoke machines or pyro strikes such a chord with me that I can not wait to go out there and kick ass live. Partly this is why I feel that I am succesful at being a musician as my goals and my passion were always very clear to me. This genre gives me the power to fully express what is inside my heart and my mind. Hope that helps.
Christopher Jones, Tacoma, Washington, USA
Christopher: I was wondering how much you think a band should practice. We practice 3 to 4 times a week. I would like to practice more, but it is hard when your drummer is in the army.
MM: Hey Christopher. The amount of practice depends on what you are trying to achieve. Are you guys writing new songs? Maybe it is wise to write songs on your own if you don't have much luck writing them as a band, and then get together 3 or 4 times a week to put them together in band rehearsal. Are you guys preparing for a show? I would say practice as much as possible and go over your individual parts at night or at a day off. If that's your goal, then practice the songs your are to perform foremost. If there are new song ideas work on them after your show preparation rehearsal is done, or save them on a CD to work on later after your shows are done.
One thing that I see very often that kills many bands is that they just simply get together for "practice". There is no goal that every one is going for. Bands get together play through the songs they know, maybe work on a new riff. Then everyone drinks a few beers and the session is done. They meet and they go through the same exact process next time. Weeks go by and they are still in the same place in 3 months. This leads to frustration and member changes. Before you know, you ask yourself what the hell was I doing for the last 3 years. It is also important to surround yourself with like minded people for best results. Just as an example, if you wish for your band to become a professional full time occupation, spending time with hobbyists can be a waste of everyone's time.
Bart Brudzinski, British Columbia, Canada
Bart: Hi there Metal Mike. I heard your music from PainmuseuM and I have nothing to say about it ... the reason is I was blown away by your raw Metal sound. You are the best Metal band of today's age along with Children Of Bodom. You inspire me in so many ways like your riffs and killer solo melodies. How do you develop your style and make it sound something that you will love? My last question is how did you approach playing guitar? Did you play tabs as well to your fav tunes? Did you learn a lot of theory and how long have you been playing guitar?
MM: Thank you Bart. I can see that your Metal heart is in the right place, thanks for the sincere comments. To your questions. Developing your own style takes time, patience and the ability to not only to really listen to yourself play the guitar, but also to the things that you like doing on the guitar. Any guitarist that will go down in history has a unique thing to his or her style. Zakk has those squeal harmonics on the bottom two strings, Steve Vai uses certain modes such the Lydian one to get that un-mistaken Vai sound, Eddie Van Halen has his awesome phrasing and tapping technique. In my case, I realized that I was naturally good at delivering fluid leads that were both agressive and contained a good amount of melody.
I also realized that I liked using the whammy bar to bring harmonics on the guitar to new screaming hights. One day, I realized that I do the above two things so often, that with little work and determination I could really make these thinsg work for me to develop my uniqe voice on the guitar. Having that my sound would be different from other guitar players, and that prompted me to go ahead and achieve that. Listen to your playing and your favorite guitarists and you will also find things you enjoy doing and hearing on the guitar. Developing your own voice takes time and maturity on the axe, but you will get there, just pay attention and stick with it.
To your other question, I have been playing guitar for close to 20 years and I have definitely have been using tabs to learn my favorie songs. I have spent many Summer days locked away in my room practicing songs that I liked, while all my friends were having fun. But that did not stop me. I have also studied music theory as much as I could, but I have never allowed that to decide what I ultimately will play on my guitar. In reality, I learned what I could theory wise, but when I play guitar now, I hardly think of it.
Chris Jones, Chicago, IL, USA
Chris: Hey Mike, my name is Chris and I was wondering how important you think theory is in constructing solos. I know some, but I usualy just use my ear. What do you do?
MM : Hey Chris. That's a good question and I'm sure many guitarists have similar ones. Well, foremost let me say that using your ear is the most important. I'd take a good ear over knowing every theory, and every scale and its application any day. Einstein said "Imagination is more important than knowledge?." I have put in some decent time into learning music theory and how everything is supposed to work together, so I use both. When I see the chord changes that I'm going to solo over, I quickly analyze them and see what scales, etc I can use over them, and I go for it. But, that is just a blueprint. Very often, I play things that are not correct by theory, but sound good to my ears. Ultimately, in life there are no rules - except the ones that feel right to you.
In ending, I would say learn as much theory as you can, because it will give you more choices and options of where you could go with your solos and never forget to use your ears. I wrote a guitar book called "Ridiculous Riffs For The Terrifying Guitarist" where insane guitar licks are discussed with theory behind them and it shows a lot of light, in detail on how I approach this stuff.
John McGraw, PA, USA
John: I just wanna say that Halford's Crucible has been one of my favorite albums lately, along with the album Resurrection! The guitars are super heavy on Crucible! I was wondering how you got your guitar tone on that album? Any advice for a Heavy Metal guitarist who's aspiring for success?
MM: Thanks! On that album you have a mix of several heads mixed together into this one wall of sound that you hear. There were few known brands like Mesa/Boogie and a couple of others. When we were done, on my rhythm track, I added another take with just an old 50 Watt Marshall that was modified by one of the local LA guys. I think it was from 1971. I have not been able to make an album yet without a Marshall. Advice? Well, if you ask me you really have to love and respect the music that you play. And, give it everything that you've got, because if you don't - somebody else is.
Nick McGrath, Newfoundland, Canada
Nick: How did you approach playing Alex Skolnick's solos when you did the Testament tour? Alex has always been one of my heroes and I think it would be a daunting task to learn all these leads not for note, so did you do your own thing or stick to Alex's solos?
MM: I feel that Alex's solos in Testament are very important to the mood and success of many songs in the band's catalogue. So, yes, I did stay extremely close to what Alex has played on each song. This is something that Chuck and Eric felt strongly about, and I was more than happy to finally learn the solos that I have been listening for years to. I think it is important to do what's needed to preserve something that the fans love. I also watched several Testament bootlegs to see how closely Alex played his own solos live, and as I suspected, he stayed very close to the original versions. I'm glad that I put in the work, as I believe the results were appreciated by many Testament fans.
Tato, Porto Alegre, Brasil
Tato: Hi Mike ... I saw your show with Sebastian Bach. You guys kick ass live .... I never went to a show like that ... that was awesome. You're a great person and the best metal guitarist I ever saw!! My question is: are you guys coming back to Porto Alegre - Brasil next year on a tour or something? Tace care, Tato.
MM: Hi Tato. Thank you for your very kind words. Brasilian audiences are incredible. I loved touring Brasil and even though this was my second time in your beautiful country, it felt like the first. I sure do hope to come back to Brasil, because you guys rock your assess off! Thanks again for making us feel so welcome. Metal For Life.
James Burroto, Geneva, NY, USA
James: I saw you at the Steel Music Hall Shred Fest and you were killing it! Your sound was to die for. Other then the Marshall stereo power amp I couldn't make out what you were using on the floor as a pre amp. Can you tell me what you were using? Sounded unreal!
MM: Hi James. Thanks for the kind words. My live set-up is a Marshall JMP-1 Pre-Amp into a Marshall EL34/100 Power Amp. That's pretty much it. On the floor I just use a Wah and a tuner. I like my set up pretty straight forward. One thing that I did that was new for the Steel Music Halll show, is that I had cabinets at the Left and Right side of the stage. I liked the way that sounded and it allowed me to get a full sound wherever I stood on stage, and from watching me you can tell that I like to move around. I will try this again in the future.
Gernot Elmer, Austria
Gernot: Hello Metal Mike!! I saw you on the Nova Rock festival in Austria with Sebastian Bach a month ago and I was really blown away from your guitar playing!! I play guitar too, and I admire tricky guitar heroes, who still have elements of the classic styles from the 70's/80's. Now I got a new one in line!!!!! I got some questions for you, so here it comes. What was your first guitar and which bands/ guitarists mainly influenced you in playing guitar? What is your favorite guitar amplifier? And, my problem with playing sometimes is, that I don't stay in time correctly ... do you have any advice for me? Rock on, stay heavy and keep real music alive!!!!
MM: Hey Gernot. Thanks for writing and I appreciate your kind words. I am glad that you saw Nova Rock as it was a really killer festival and supporting Guns N' Roses was awesome. To your questions. My first guitar was a cheap B.C. Rich "Bitch" copy. It had some really good vintage pick-ups and I still had that guitar until a few year ago, until it was stolen. I must say it was a great guitar to learn on. I have been influenced by many musicians. Some of them include Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Randy Rhoads, Marty Friedman, Paul Gilbert, Gary Moore. I have been really influenced by several 80's/90's Thrash bands such as Megadeth, Testament, Overkill, Metallica, Death, Fight, Carcass but I also have been majorly into other artists such Ozzy, Loudness, Scorpions, EZO, David Lee Roth and a whole bunch of other stuff. I am even reluctant many times to give out lists such as above as it is almost impossible to narrow it down.
My favorite amplifier is a Marshall. Regarding improving your timing I would suggest jammig with the best drummer that you possibly can find. Additionally get an inexpensive drum machine and practice playing rhythms with it. Record yourself doing this and listen back. Listening back to your playing is similar to looking into the mirror before you leave your house - you will hear things you like and do not like about your playing. It is very true that it is hard to master playing guitar unless you master recording yourself. Listen where you are speeding up or down. Try again and improve. You'll see that very often your timing will improve when playing with a steady beat. Good luck and thanks for writing Gernot.
Tory Olson, Minneapolis, USA
Tory: The two Halford releases you were part of are by far and away two of my favorite metal releases. Live Insurrection is a favorite on my iPod, and now recently I picked up Metal For Life by PM, it too is a constant over my speakers. Metal music may not get the airtime it once did, but it is far and away the music that will be the least influenced by modern rock or "nu metal". Keep doing what you do guys, loving it!
MM: Thanks for taking the time to write in Tory. It is obvious why I enjoy reading your e-mail, but I am also very happy that there are so many metal maniacs still really digging into metal albums and living the metal over and over on their speakers. Reading letters like yours makes me psyched to continue doing the best that I can.
Rob Hill, Ohio, USA
Rob: Your guitar playing is staggering, unbelievable, shredding, badass, totally metal !!!!!! (Can you tell that I am a fan?) I have every release that you have contributed to or put out as a solo artist. In an odd sense of irony, I have realized that you are European, yet you wrote “American Metalhead”! What was the inspiration behind the song?
MM: Hey – thanks for the kind words Rob! I appreciate it. Yes, I was born in Europe - to be exact Poland. However, United States is my home now. My inspiration behind American Metalhead is an interesting one. I kept hearing from fans how great other parts of the world are for metal and how crappy the US scene is compared to many other countries. I kept hearing complaints from fans that we did not have enough metal festivals here and things like that. So, I wrote “American Metalhead”. This song is filled with a message that we, I mean Americans, should be proud to be metalheads, that we should unite to strenghten the scene and just plainly look within us, because United States was always producing fantastic metal bands and has some of the most amazing fans. So we are talking 2004 here. But now, in 2011 look at us now! We have several metal festivals and metal bands are touring non-stop - American and from a far.