Guitar One - April 2001 - Opening Axe

With his unique moniker and nearly six-octave Sky guitar, neoclassical-rock pioneer Uli Jon Roth evokes a mystique that lives on in the shredders who credit him as an inspiration, namely Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, and Yngwie Malmsteen. Today his riffs soar to the upper register of a violin and plummet to the depths of a cello as he splices the seemingly diametric sounds of Jimi Hendrix and classical guitar on his double disc, Transcendental Sky Guitar.

Why did you start playing guitar?

When I was a kid, I watched my neighborhood friends rehearse in a band, and I wanted to be part of that scene. The first instrument I picked up was the trumpet, then the bass, and then the guitar. As soon as I connected with the guitar, I made such instant and rapid progress that it was obviously for me.

You haven't released an album in America since 1985.

Although I wasn't coming out with albums, I was active writing symphonies. I had lost interest in the guitar, but it has rekindled recently. Something pulled me toward the guitar and said, "Hey, you haven't finished this journey." The first development in this direction was going on the G3 tour with Joe Satriani and Michael Schenker.

Do you have a practice routine?

I don't sit and practice my scales. I've always been more of an intuitive technician, and I find it easy to acquire a new technique. I learned early on how to practice, and I have virtually eliminated all of the barriers inside of me between myself and the instrument.

Where are you headed as a guitar player?

The guitar has been under explored at the symphonic level. It must rise to the level of accomplishment and expression of our finest instruments, such as the violin and piano. Although the guitar is still in its infancy, I want to bring it to such a high level of execution that it can be a viable instrument in an orchestral setting.

Any advice for young guitarists?

Your playing quality reflects your state of mind. If your mind is a garbage dump, you will play like garbage. If you eliminate the obstacles inside yourself, then anything becomes possible.

Axes : Five seven-string, 32-fret Sky Guitars made by luthier Andy Demetriou; White '75 Fender Strat with two added frets
Amps : '72 Marshall Super Lead Tremolo; Vox AC-30; Fender Twin; Sky amp by Allan Cyr
Effects : Jim Dunlop 535 Crybaby Wah; Roland 301 Chorus

Originally published in the April 2001 issue of Guitar One