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2010–present

2010 marked the twentieth anniversary of the production of the Ibanez Universe guitar, which was commemorated with a twentieth anniversary Universe model. A reissue of the early 1990s Universe 77 MC (multi-color swirl), the model included a new five-piece maple/bubinga Universe neck and original swirl-paint job by Darren Johansen (the painter of the original Universe 77 MC guitars).

In February 2010, Vai announced the introduction of "VaiTunes", a platform used to release digital-only singles via iTunes and other digital media outlets. In April, Vai performed with Mary J. BligeOrianthiRandy Jackson, and Travis Barker for a rendition of the Led Zeppelin classic "Stairway to Heaven", on the hit television show American Idol.

October 2010 saw more movement from Vai as a composer, with the premiere of two original symphonies at the Steve Vai Festival in Groningen, the Netherlands, and performed by the North Netherlands Orchestra. Shortly after the festival, Vai embarked on the Experience Hendrix tour (along with Eric Johnson, Kenny Wayne ShepherdSusan TedeschiBilly CoxVernon Reid, Robert RandolphJonny LangBrad Whitford, and others) for a nationwide tour of the United States.

In March 2011, Vai (in conjunction with the online education division of Berklee College of Music) set a Guinness World Record for the world's largest online guitar lesson. The lesson was held as a promotion for Berklee's online "Steve Vai Guitar Techniques" course, which Vai helped to construct. In April 2011, Vai (along with music and technology entrepreneur Andy Alt) announced the launch of GuitarTV, an online streaming website dedicated to bringing free guitar-related content to the community of guitar players around the world.

Vai's eighth studio album, The Story of Light, was released in August 2012 as the second installment in the Real Illusions concept album trilogy. The Story of Light tour, which began on the month of the album's release, spanned 254 engagements in 52 different countries, ending in September 2014. This tour yielded the 2015 release of Vai's fourth live DVD project Stillness in Motion, filmed in October 2012 during his Story of Light tour at the Club Nokia in Los Angeles. Released on April 7, the double-disc set contained a copy of the Stillness in Motion concert footage and a special bonus feature disc called The Space Between the Notes. The latter is a complete chronological timeline of the Story of Light tour, with a video or picture representation of each show of all of the 254 engagements attended.

2014 saw the announcement of a new, intensive guitar camp called the "Vai Academy", which was an evolution of the Alien Guitar Secrets masterclass. Each year the camp is held, Vai creates a syllabus with a particular theme and invites special guests to help him teach it. During the day, Vai and the special guests (of whom have included Guthrie GovanJeff Baxter, Vernon Reid, Eric Johnson, Sonny Landreth, and others) hold classes in which they add their insight and perspective to the theme. Each evening, Vai and the special guests jam with the campers. The themes have included 2014's Vai Academy- Song Evolution Camp, and 2015's Vai Academy: All About the Guitar.

Vai has announced an upcoming 2016 release commemorating the 25th anniversary of Passion and Warfare. This release will contain remastered songs from the album, as well as the inclusion of a new album of material written from the time between the recording of Passion and Warfare and his first solo album Flex-Able. After the release, Vai will hold a world tour in which he will play the entire Passion and Warfare album, along with material from the new release.

In 2016, Vai played an uncredited guitar solo on the track "Go!," from the album "Junk" by French electronic band M83. In April an May of the same year, Vai took part in the Generation Axe tour, alongside Tosin AbasiNuno BettencourtYngwie Malmsteen, and Zakk Wylde. Starting in June, Vai embarked on the Passion and Warfare 25th Anniversary World Tour, where he played the album in its entirety for the first time.

Media appearances

Video games

"Juice", from Alien Love Secrets, was featured on the 1996 video game Formula One for the PlayStation. Vai's guitar work also appeared in the 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. David Lee Roth's "Yankee Rose" was featured on Vice City's soundtrack, as well as "God Blessed Video" by Alcatrazz, as part of the Lazlow-led, 1980s rock/metal radio station "V-Rock." In 2004, Vai was featured on the soundtrack to the Xbox video game Halo 2, performing a heavy rock guitar rendition of the "Halo theme", known as "Halo Theme (MJOLNIR Mix)". He also performed on the track "Never Surrender". He later featured in the second volume of the soundtrack, where he performed on the track "Reclaimer". Vai returned to re-record his Halo work for the Halo 2 Anniversary Original Soundtrack, which was released in 2014 and included as part of the anniversary edition of Halo 2.

In 2008, Vai's song "For the Love of God" and "Halo Theme (MJOLNIR Mix)" were featured as downloadable tracks for the game Guitar Hero 3. A live version of "For the Love of God" was also available on the Rock Band Network  service, as well as the song "Get the Hell Out of Here" from his 2002 compilation album The Elusive Light and Sound, Vol. 1 on March 4, 2010. "The Attitude Song" and a live version of "The Crying Machine" were both also added to the Rock Band Network. A re-recording of "Speeding" is featured in the 2010 video game Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock for Xbox 360, Wii  and PlayStation 3.

Films

In 1986, Vai was cast in the blockbuster film Crossroads as the Devil's guitar player "Jack Butler". In the famous "duel scene" between Vai and Ralph Macchio's characters, Vai wrote and performed all guitar parts with the exception of the slide guitar (which was performed by Ry Cooder). The main body of the final piece performed in the duel scene (the fast-paced neoclassical track "Eugene's Trick Bag") was based heavily on Niccolò Paganini's Capriccio number 5. The Crossroads duel appeared on the 2002 album The Elusive Light and Sound, Vol. 1.

In 1987, Vai performed "Amazing Grace" in the film Dudes. In the 1991, Vai performed on the film Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, as well as on 1992's Encino Man, PCU (1994), and John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars (where he played on the tracks "Ghosts of Mars" and "Ghost Poppin'").

In 2010, Vai's record label Favored Nations produced and released the award-winning original motion picture Crazy. An independent film, Crazy was inspired by the life and music of the guitarist Hank Garland.

Television

Vai voiced Roy Cornickelson's son, Damien Cornickelson, in Adult Swim's only adult-oriented rock show Metalocalypse.

He was also a guest in a 2016 episode of FOX's Hell's Kitchen.

Style and influence

At the age of thirteen, after having purchased his first guitar and begun taking his first lessons with fellow New York native Joe Satriani, Vai became obsessed with the discipline of practice. Vai's practice routine, consisting of a rigid and structured regiment of ten-to-fifteen hour-a-day practice schedules, became the basis of his work ethic for the rest of his career. During his employment by Frank Zappa, Vai transcribed and played very rhythmically complex music, believing that if started slow and perfected, any piece of music could be played.

Vai's first solo album, Flex-able, began his career as a solo artist in 1984. During the period of time that the album was recorded, Vai was heavily influenced by his previous tenure in Frank Zappa's band. Originally not intended for release, Flex-able expressed a certain creative "quirky" and "angular" freedom in the eclectic nature of Vai's writing style. Passion and Warfare, Vai's second solo album, expressed a more mature and evolved "signature" style but retained a certain freedom of unmolested inspiration that would continue to influence Vai's future releases. In speaking of his inspiration, Vai has said that it comes to him in many forms (even from the flowers pushed up against a fence outside of his studio, which he transcribed and used in the ninth track "Weeping China Doll", from The Story of Light). While expressing that he is not continuously inspired, Vai uses a concept he calls "musical meditation" to enter a state of consciousness that he calls "The Ultra Zone". When inside this un-critical frame of mind, Vai is able to achieve inspiration in the form of musical ideas (often in forms of melody or rhythm). For these moments of inspiration, Vai created what he calls the "Infinity Shelf", a drive of thousands of snippets of song ideas that he has collected over his entire career. These esoteric principles are taught by Vai during his Alien Guitar Secrets masterclasses, among a host of other information.

Steve Vai's playing style utilizes specialized guitar techniques (such as two-handed tappingalternate pickinglegatohybrid pickingsweep picking, whammy bar acrobatics, and circular vibrato) in his music, as well as a wide range of recording techniques.

Notable contributions

Work with Frank Zappa

As a transcriptionist for Frank Zappa, Vai transcribed some of Zappa's most rhythmically complex music, using a range of conceptualizations for the notation of rhythmic music. Vai says "While transcribing the material, I was often confronted with situations that led me to reach into the intuitional areas of my imagination to come up with various notational devices and constructions that I had never seen before. I soon discovered that many contemporary composers were then (and are still) using these notations". These concepts can be seen throughout the "Frank Zappa Guitar Book", which were composed of Vai's guitar and drum transcriptions from various Zappa albums. Vai toured with Zappa from 1980 to 1983, performing selections of this technically demanding music with Zappa's band at the time.

JEM and Universe guitars

Vai designed the Ibanez JEM guitar, a unique instrument that incorporated a series of groundbreaking designs that have since become staples in feature throughout the guitar industry, in 1985. In speaking of the development of the guitar, Vai says, "Stratocasters had whammy bars—which were fantastic—but they were very limited, were always going out of tune, and had single-coil pickups. Les Pauls had humbuckers—which gave you that real scream in the bridge position—but no whammy bar, and I didn't like the way they sat. Neither guitar had twenty-four frets. So I went to a guitar shop in Hollywood, where I had these elements implemented into a guitar (what would have been considered a Superstrat at the time). The guitar was designed with a sharper body shape, a large cutaway around the neck, twenty-four frets, a fully floating tremolo system, a specially wired five-way pickup selector switch, and an input jack angled on the side of the body (so that when you step on the cable, it doesn't pull out of your guitar). I knew of course that these features would eventually be taken and used in other guitars, so I did something completely preposterous: I said, 'Put a handle in it!' That way, during videos and photoshoots I could swing the guitar around."

Vai had several custom prototypes of these guitars built (which were used on the Eat 'Em and Smile tour) by Joe "Jem" Despagni, a custom guitar luthier and friend of Vai's. Due to Vai's highly coveted position in Roth's band, many guitar companies were eager to propose endorsement opportunities. In response to these offers, Vai sent out the specifications of the JEM guitar, detailing that the company that returned the best guitar would be given the endorsement. Dissatisfied with the guitars returned and unwilling to compromise, Vai held out on a guitar endorsement until Ibanez approached him, sending him an instrument superior to that of the other companies and willing to follow his instructions. After the pre-production prototypes were perfected, the first production Ibanez JEM 777 guitars were unveiled at the NAMM Show in 1987. Since its original 1987 release, the JEM has become one of the longest-running and most successful signature series guitars in history, with its sister guitar, the Ibanez RG, being the second highest-selling guitar (behind the Fender Stratocaster) on the market.

Another design by Vai was the Ibanez Universe, the first production seven-string guitar, which was released in 1989. The Universe incorporated many of the aspects that made the JEM a unique instrument (24 frets, full floating tremolo, special pickup configuration, angled input jack, and deeper body cutaway), with an added low 'B' string, allowing for new low-range sonic possibilities. Used by Vai on much of Passion and Warfare and all of Whitesnake's Slip of the Tongue, the Universe was a large stepping stone for the burgeoning Nu-metal genre (with bands such as Korn having adopted the instrument and incorporating it into their signature sound).

Alien Guitar Secrets masterclasses

Having always enjoyed the aspect of teaching and sharing his experiences in life and in the music business, Vai began a series of "Alien Guitar Secrets" masterclasses in 2006- a touring masterclass in which Vai holds open forum discussion about his own experiences in the music industry, explains the key principles to understanding success, plays to backing tracks (often inviting class attendees to jam with him), answers questions, articulates key points of guitar technique, and more importantly goes beyond the technique and into the more profound esoteric principles at play. Vai details certain concepts he has discovered that have helped him in all areas of his life and career, both in playing guitar/ musically as well as spiritually. Vai accessibly shares these concepts with masterclass participants using examples from his own experiences, delving into the ongoing process of identifying the self-critical nature of one’s own thoughts. Vai explains the techniques and exercises he uses to circumnavigate one’s own insecurities and thoughts of self-doubt, and encourages masterclass participants to use these tools in their own lives. Often embarking on masterclass tours through Europe, South America, and Russia, Vai considers this ongoing series of classes as one of his most important contributions.

Eventide H3000 Ultra-Harmonizer

Guitar effects manufacturer Eventide approached Vai in the mid-1980s to contribute unique ideas for their H3000 effects unit. Vai suggested many specific concepts, such as diatonic pitch change and multi-voice harmony, that were used in the unit and have since become standard algorithms in guitar effects processors.

DiMarzio pickups

In 1993, Vai's signature series high-output "Evolution" humbucker pickup set was released by DiMarzio. The Evolution pickups use DiMarzio's patented "Dual-Resonance" design. The "EVO 2" humbucker, a lower output model, was released in 2004.

Carvin Legacy amplifier

In 1997, Vai had begun working with the Carvin Corporation to design a signature series of Legacy amplifiers, which were used on his 1999 Epic Records release The Ultra Zone. The original Legacy I model was released in 1999, with the most recent Legacy III being released in 2012.

Touring

In the 1990s, Vai began touring in European and Asian countries (such as Russia and China) as well as South America, often having been the first American rock act in history to have performed in these areas. In 2014, Vai performed on the Chinese television station BTV's Spring Festival Global Gala, a program broadcast to over two billion viewers. With the broadcasting of this event on January 26, 2014, Vai became the first rock artist ever broadcast on a Chinese television program.

Equipment

Vai's personal studio, The Harmony Hut, is a large edifice located in his backyard equipped with a full control room and performance room. The studio, built in 2011, is where Vai currently produces, records, and mixes his new material.

Vai has two main signature series Ibanez JEM six-string guitars (dubbed "EVO" and "FLO III") that he uses for a majority of his live and studio work. "EVO", a prototype Ibanez JEM 7VWH, was received in 1993 while developing Vai's signature DiMarzio Evolution pickups (hence the name of the guitar), and "FLO III" is a basswood Ibanez Los Angeles Custom Shop JEM 7VWH equipped with a Fernandes Sustainer system and a DiMarzio PAF Pro pickup in bridge position. His other favourite guitars include "BO", a JEM77BRMR prototype, also equipped with Fernandes Sustainer system and blue LED dot inlays, which was stolen in 2015, but recovered after; the original "FLO" guitar, a transformed original 77FP JEM to 7VWH specifications, also equipped with Fernandes Sustainer System and EVO 2 bridge pickup; and "Bruno" aka "For the Love of God" Ibanez Universe UV77MC seven-string guitar with burnt finish and mirror pickguard (this guitar was used in the For the Love of God music video). Vai uses his signature Carvin Legacy amplifier, as well as Morley Pedals, with whom he has his signature Bad Horsie and Bad Horsie II wah pedals, and Little Alligator volume pedal. Vai uses the Ibanez Jemini distortion pedal, a signature twin distortion pedal with separate overdrive and distortion sections.

Guitar rig and signal flow

Vai's 2016 live guitar rig utilizes his signature Carvin Legacy amplifier (now on its third version), the Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II XL, and an MFC-101 foot controller.

Depending on the location and venue, Vai will use either his Legacy I or Legacy III heads, and Carvin Legacy 4x12 speaker cabinets loaded with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers. Vai uses EL-34 tubes by Groove Tubes in his Legacy amps.

Vai uses the Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II XL as the only modulation effects unit in his guitar rig. Generally for live use he utilizes the unit for stereo effects such as delaychorus, and phase, with a separate preset for the parameters of each different song in his setlist. The Axe-Fx MFC-101 foot controller is set up in conjunction with the unit, allowing Vai to switch effects on and off in a fashion reminiscent to that of standard stompboxes.

Vai's pedalboard consists of a wah-wah pedal (either his Morley Bad Horsie signature pedal, or a Dunlop Cry Baby 95q), an Ibanez Jemini twin distortion pedal, and DigiTech Whammy DT pitch shifting pedal. The centerpiece of the pedalboard is the Axe-Fx MFC-101 foot controller for the Axe-Fx II XL, which, as previously mentioned, controls the effects in a manner similar to switching on and off stompboxes. There are two expression pedals used for the Axe-Fx, one to act as a volume pedal, and the other to control the harmonizer built into the Axe-Fx unit.

The signal from the guitar (usually one of the main guitars "EVO" or "FLO III") goes into either the Morley Bad Horsie or Dunlop 95q wah pedal. From there, it goes directly into the Ibanez Jemini twin distortion pedal, and then to the Digitech Whammy DT. From the output of the Whammy, the signal heads into the input of the Carvin Legacy amplifier head. Out of the effects loop of the Legacy, the signal heads directly into the Axe-Fx II XL, where it is split into stereo and the effects are applied (and controlled via the MFC-101 foot controller). Out of the output of the Axe-Fx, one signal is sent back to the original Legacy head return, and a second is sent to a second Carvin Legacy head return, bypassing the preamp stage completely and acting as a slave power amp. Vai utilizes his stereo setup on effects like delay, where he sets up two separate delay times (one slower and one faster) and allows them to alternate back and forth. The signal is then sent from the amp to the 4x12 Carvin Legacy speaker cabinets loaded with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers. Vai uses AKG microphones to mic his amps, and uses a separate Carvin power amp to power a direct guitar monitor cabinet instead of relying on the PA.

In 1997, Vai began working with the Carvin Corporation to design a signature series of Legacy amplifiers, which were used on his 1999 album The Ultra Zone. The original Legacy I model was released in 1999, with the most recent Legacy III model being released in 2012.

Detailed gear diagrams of both Vai's 1999 and 2007 guitar rigs are well-documented.

Personal life

Since the late 1990s, Vai has resided in Encino, Los Angeles with his family. Vai is married to Pia Maiocco, former bassist of the band Vixen (who can be seen in the 1984 film Hardbodies), with whom he has two children, Julian and Fire Vai. Vai is also a vegetarian and a beekeeper, regularly tending to the beehives kept on his Encino property.

An avid reader of spiritual and religious literature, Vai is also a practitioner of meditation, at times in his life meditating up to two-and-a-half hours per day. Inspired by the teachings of Abraham Hicks, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Marianne Williamson's A Course in Miracles, the teachings of Christ, Siddhartha Gautama, and Madame Blavatsky, Vai cites the teachings of Eckhart Tolle as "the most powerful pointers that have ever been written regarding the one true spiritual dimension of consciousness and infinite potentiality that is within us all"

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Live at the Astoria London 2001   Play all   

01 Intro / Shy boy   

02 Giants balls of gold   

03 Erotic nightmares   

04 Blood and glory   

05 Dave´s party piece   

06 The crying machine   

07 Bangkok   

08 Tony´s solo   

09 Bad horsie   

10 Chameleon   

11 Down deep into the pain   

12 Fire   

13 Little wing   

14 Whispering a prayer   

15 Incantation   

16 Jibboom   

17 Liberty   

18 The attitude song / End credits