Dear Guitar Hero

I love your new album, Under a Dark Sky. In my opinion, it has a real ominous vibe to it. Are you pessimistic about the state of the world and the direction in which we're heading?
— C. Arthur Lodenkranz

At the moment, I'm neither optimistic nor pessimistic; I'm kind of both. I think I'm on the knife's edge, and the album reflects that. To me, the album doesn't seem ominous. It does feel uplifting but in a different way compared to my other albums, which were more euphoric. This one has light and shade, but it also has a lot of unanswered questions.

I love your style not only in music but also clothing. Are your clothes an extension of your personality? And is there a special store where you go to buy them?
— Sally Oars

[laughs] Funny question! There's no special store. Certainly, in the late Sixties and early Seventies, I adopted a style that seemed to go with my personality and guitar playing. I like soft, flowing clothes, and I don't like uniforms, particularly for myself. It's just something that came to me. The everyday world isn't interesting to me, and my clothes reflect that.

What would you say is your best guitar work with the Scorpions?
— Blitzen Yamaguchi

The best guitar work is probably on Virgin Killer, but there's some great stuff on In Trance, Taken By Force and Tokyo Tapes as well.

How did you come up with the Sky guitar? [Roth's custom-built Sky guitars have as many as 42 frets and seven strings.]
— Phyllis Morgenfliegen

The original idea came to me at the end of 1982. I always had the urge to play higher than I could on a traditional guitar, and so I had the idea of putting two extra frets on my Strat. That went really well and got me thinking: what would be the ultimate guitar for me? That's how I came up with that concept, and that's how the first guitar came to have a vastly extended upper range. A few years later, I added the seventh string for the bass end, and it ended up with a six-octave range. I tend to use all of that when I play all of the virtuoso material. We are talking with a major manufacturer about producing it for the guitar market, and I think it could be available as early as this year.

You've written symphonies and concertos. What do those mediums allow you to explore that you cannot within the boundaries of the traditional rock band structure?
— Balibad Omnispherd

I've never been content with traditional forms. A lot of people are very good at writing within forms, and a lot of classical masters have written within structured form. I've always felt an urge to find new forms for each piece of music, so you'll hardly find a song by me that's a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus kind of thing. The forms that I come up with allow me complete freedom. There's shape and structure, but maybe the structure isn't so discernible when you first look at it.

The word "sky" comes up a lot in your music and philosophy. What is the significance?
— Luka Dillidan

I always use it in a symbolic way. I hardly ever use it in reference to the sky above. I connect "sky" with "God", "creativity" - the source of it all. Although I live on Earth, I never felt connected to it. Maybe my playing reflects that in some way. But the main reason I use "sky" a lot is because it's always funny to use a word so frequently. It's like a primary color to me, and it doesn't always mean the same thing.

I've always felt a real spiritual presence in your playing. Do you consciously try to act like a vessel while you're playing, and do you explore any formal spiritual practices outside of music?
— Nokimurd Akbar Pilaster

I don't try to be a vessel - I am a vessel. We all are. When I'm playing, I go into a totally different mindset where I'm utilizing alpha waves, as opposed to playing from everyday consciousness. I've done that for a very, very long time. I'm completely disconnected from the everyday world, and the music does flow through me, so it's very easy for me to get a constant flow of ideas. I don't do any special practices. I used to meditate a lot, and that really helped me to focus my mind. Nowadays, I don't have much time to meditate, but I can switch on that state of mind within seconds.

I just found out about your Sky Academy guitar courses, and I can't wait to attend one. What inspired you to teach?
— Suba Mackenwerd

I love to teach, and I taught classical guitar before I joined the Scorpions at the age of 17. Recently, I felt an urge to make a contribution in that field and share what I felt was important about guitar playing. What I teach is almost like "musical awareness." I find that a lot of players and musicians, even advanced ones, are disconnected from their instruments and often from the music itself. There's a lot of unwanted stuff in between them and what they want to express, and that's what keeps them from getting better. Breaking through that stuff seems to be my specialty. We do master classes with concentration exercises and all sorts of things. It's not so much technique-oriented, although we do speak about technical aspects. It certain works, because the students that have been there for three years in a row have gotten a bit better within that time, and that's all the proof you need.

Originally published in the May 2009 issue of Guitar World.