Joe Stump

Joe Stump, Shredder extraordinaire, recently released The Essential Shred Guitar Collection and is working in a new band called HolyHell. Joe joined Metal Express Radio to answer a few questions…

Metal Express Radio: Berklee College of Music is well known for its teaching curriculum and is one of the best when it comes to learning how to play a musical instrument. As a graduate, you know first-hand what it’s like to enroll and make it through their guitar program. Not only did you become one of the best guitarists out there today, Berklee has asked you to teach at its facilities. Could you elaborate and go into detail as to what can be expected at Berklee as a typical student enrolled in their guitar program? Is there a certain amount of musical sense or know how one must possess before entering the program?

JOE STUMP: I didn’t actually graduate from Berklee, but I was a student there many years ago, back when the program was completely Jazz-oriented. Of course now things are quite different as the guitar department is extremely diverse, offering lessons/classes/labs in just about any guitar style you could think of. For new students it can be a bit overwhelming and intimidating as the program at Berklee is quite demanding. If you’re not willing to live/eat/sleep/breathe guitar, then save your money and stay home in your bedroom. While many guitar students continuously apply, the amount of students actually getting in is decreasing as they’re only accepting higher level players. Obviously the further along you are on your instrument, the more you’ll get out of attending someplace like Berklee.

MER: Why do you use the specific pedals that you have in your arsenal and why did you select those over something else perhaps?

JOE: My setup, whether it’s my guitars/amps/effects are very inspired by my heroes/influences and favorite guitar tones. Those players are the early Gary Moore solo stuff when it was all Strats and Marshalls for him, as well as all the Blackmore Rainbow and Purple shit, Uli Jon Roth on the early Scorpions records, Hendrix, and of course Yngwie (especially his groundbreaking early recordings — just jaw dropping playing and killer tone). So for me it was easy: Strats, old Marshalls (although I do use an Engl Blackmore model at times), and my effects are fairly standard. I’ve always liked the Boss/Roland stuff and have been a boss user for over 2 decades now (flanger, chorus, delay, octave box, phase shifter), plus a Dunlop Cry baby wah-wah and a Dunlop rotovibe, for the Hendrix/Trower/Frank Marino types of things I do. I also use a few overdrive boxes: the Yngwie YJM 308 DOD pedal and the older grey DOD overdrive it was modeled after, as well as a BSM Fireball and RPA major (both of those Blackmore-inspired overdrives that sound killer — I absolutely love them). The gear section of my website has quite a bit of my stuff with pictures and text … cool to check out.

MER: How have your practice sessions changed over the years, beginning with your days as a young guitarist just starting out, your student years, your band years including your solo work, and lastly any free time you might have had when not involved in any type of project/album?

JOE: Cool question. I’ve always loved to play and enjoy practicing. On the road everybody’s got their laptop out looking for a wireless connection and I’m over in the corner of the dressing room playing away. In my younger days, I played continuously 6-8 hours a day at least and that continued on when I was gearing up for my early solo recordings. I still practice all the time — at least 3 to 5 hours a day when I’ve got a day off. And at Berklee, I’m there 3 full days a week (when I’m not touring) with a guitar in my hands playing and teaching high tech shred/speed metal anywhere from 6-10 hours/day. I feel very blessed that I spend everyday doing what I love and I’m always trying to improve as a player and overall musician.

MER: Can you read sheet music as quickly as you can play?

JOE: I can read. I really only read when helping my Berklee guitar students trying to develop their reading skills and I also play various classical things on my own: Bach violin sonatas, partitas, inventions, Paganini caprices, etc. I have used sections of classical pieces in my recordings and sometimes I’ll just work on a classical bit because it’s a different kind of discipline than Hard Rock/Metal/Shred stuff and always quite humbling. But I’m not a monster sight reader by any means as what I do doesn’t require it, but it’s a nice skill to have.

MER: You, along with so many other fine musicians attribute some of their style or play to certain influences, mostly other musicians. In most cases these influences turn out to be Hendrix, Malmsteen, Vai, Blackmore, Bach, and Paganini. What do you think it is about these individuals specifically that everyone seems to turn to in terms of their influences?

JOE: Well on my end you can include everyone you mentioned except for Vai as I think he’s an amazing player and world class musician but not someone I’ve ever listened to. But all the musicians mentioned above are all and were all amazing, groundbreaking artists in their respective styles/time periods. Bach influenced many of the other masterful classical composers that came after him and Paganini brought an amazing level of virtuosity never seen on any instrument prior to his arrival, he had a massive impact on people like Litz and many other post romantic composers/musicians. Hendrix and Blackmore wrote the book when it comes to Hard Rock guitar and Yngwie more or less single handedly invented shred.

MER: If you didn’t have the career that you have had so far, what else do you think you would have done or chosen as a profession? What profession do you admire the most? What profession do you admire the least?

I really don’t know as I would be a completely different person if I didn’t play guitar, it’s been such a huge part of me for as long as I can remember it’s hard to think about what it was like when I wasn’t obsessed with it. It would be cool to be one of those high tech thieves/heist men like George Clooney in Ocean’s Eleven, although some jail time does eventually come with that line of work, so like anything there’s a downside.

MER: Of all the music out there to choose from, what are your top five bands or musicians? Which bands or musicians that you admire do you feel are underrated?

JOE: My favorite musicians are my heroes Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple, Rainbow, Blackmore’s Night), Yngwie Malmsteen (all of his work past and present he plays his ass off on his last record Perpetual Flame), Gary Moore (early solo Metal records as well as his more recent Hard Rock/Blues stuff), Uli Jon Roth (early Scorps and solo stuff), and Michael Schenker (MSG, UFO, etc.).
As far as bands /musicians that are underrated… not really sure about that but as far as other artists/bands I enjoy would be Frank Marino, he’s a motherfucker of a player and as close as you’d come to seeing Jimi in this day and age, not that Frank’s a Hendrix clone by any means but Jimi’s spirit comes out when he does his thing. I love Walter Giardino’s playing from Rata Blanca, he, like me, is a massive Blackmore disciple and writes great melodic Hard Rock/Metal stuff. I like Axel Rudi Pell’s records. He writes some great Power Metal stuff with strong hooks and riffs. I also like King Diamond and Mercyful Fate. All the guitar players in those 2 are great; Andy La Roque, Hank Sherman, Mike Wead, and Michael Denner. I also like Arch Enemy, At Vance, Impellitteri, Double Dealer, Concerto Moon, Accept; I really like Wolf Hoffman’s playing. So all kinds of stuff, the list goes on.
MER: How do you go about selecting the strings you like to use? Do you prefer a guitar having 1, 2, or 3 pickups; active or passive electronics; single coil, double coil, or piezo’s? Can you elaborate on these as it pertains to your playing and perhaps include some pros and cons where applicable?

JOE: I always noticed that both Yngwie and Blackmore used a hybrid set with a light top and heavy bottom, so I tried similar gauges and loved them. I was with Ernie Ball for many years and now I’ve been with Dean Markley for a couple years now and I’m using the Yngwie signature strings 8, 11, 14, 22, 32, 48 and they sound great, stretch quickly and stay in tune quite well so I’m happy. Pickup-wise I’m a Strat guy. All my main solo guitars are ESP custom shop Strat’s with DiMarzio pickups ( I’ve been an ESP and Dimarzio endorsee for many years now), YJM in the neck, virtual vintage solo in the middle, and I’ll use various pickups in the bridge; all Dimarzio HS-3, Fast track bridge, virtual vintage solo. For what I do from the fast single note playing to the more expressive, emotionally drenched stuff, Strat style pickups have quite a bit more character and tone, for me anyway.

MER: Of all the bands that ever existed but aren’t together anymore for whatever reason, who or which band would you love to see perform live if you had the chance to see them just once and why?

JOE: Dio era Rainbow, hands down. It would be a great treat to see Ritchie and Ronnie together again, sadly Cozy’s gone so it would have to be someone else on drums but I’d kill to see that reunion.

MER: A Fender Strat is known for having three, single coil pickups. Two of these are vertical and perpendicular to the strings while the third one closest to the bridge is slanted and on an angle? Why is this and what does it accomplish by being positioned in this fashion?

JOE: I’m not sure how to answer that on a technical level, but obviously the positioning of the pickups on a Strat has everything to do with the pickup pole pieces lining up with the strings and that’s what gives a Strat its sound and character.

MER: How much different is it for you to be in a band such as HolyHell where lyrics play an integral role as opposed to your solo career that has been more Instrumental in nature? Is there a different approach you take as far writing, playing, or recording music when lyrics are involved?

JOE: Well, in addition to the HolyHell stuff, I’ve also released 4 vocal records with my own band, Joe Stump’s Reign of Terror, so I do have quite a bit of experience composing band/vocal material. With my thing whether it’s solo or the Reign of Terror stuff, I compose all the music. But HolyHell has several people involved in writing for the band. On the debut record some of the tracks are mine while a good portion of the stuff is written by Francisco Palomo. He’s the keyboard player for HolyHell and he’s a tremendous all around musician and a monster player, just stupidly fucking good. His stuff is more melodic and epic while mine’s heavier and more evil sounding so it’s a great balance material-wise. Maria Breon (HolyHell vocalist) writes all the lyrics and Joey DeMaio (Manowar bassist, Power Metal pioneer/kingpin) produced the Holyhell record and he’s heavily involved in developing the tunes, from contributing writing ideas, arrangement ideas, sounds, everything.

MER: How did you come up with HolyHell and what made you become part of it considering your solo career was doing so well and you still had a teaching gig at Berklee?

JOE: I was working on former Virgin Steele guitar player Jack Starr’s record for Magic Circle Music. Joey DeMaio was producing that record. After working on that project he mentioned to me he had this other band HolyHell he was developing and would I be interested in playing guitar and getting involved, so the choice was easy. For me it’s a great situation. I still have my solo career and continue to release records and tour with that. My teaching gig at Berklee remains unaffected as I get time off from work to tour and go right back to work when I come off the road; and I’m in this killer more mainstream Power Metal band with great players that play arena tours and huge open air festivals on the bill opening for Manowar in front on thousands of metal fans. So for me everything couldn’t be better.

MER: HolyHell was formed back in 2005 but to this day has yet to release its debut album. What is the holdup?

JOE: The EP came out in 2007 and sold quite well and the HolyHell debut record was just released in parts of Europe last month and will be out worldwide in the upcoming months, so you must be misinformed. It’s a killer debut and is already getting rave reviews in the press and doing some nice biz sales-wise.

MER: Who are some of your favorite bassists, guitarists, drummers and keyboard players you have ever worked with whether it is in the studio or while on tour?

JOE: I enjoy all the players I work with… the HolyHell guys are all killer players; Francisco (keys), ex-Manowar drummer Rhino, and Jay Rigney who plays in both HolyHell and my solo thing is a monster bass player. Former Malmsteen keyboardist Mats Olausson played on several of my recordings and he’s another great musician.

MER: Regarding Metal instrumentalists today, is there anyone (individual or band) out there in your opinion that is innovative enough and has the talent to make it big but just hasn’t been noticed or recognized yet for their work?

JOE: I really don’t know. I’m busy doing my own thing so when it comes time to listen to music it’s usually one of the previous artists/bands I mentioned in addition to classical music.

MER: Do you like to play electric or acoustic guitar better? Which one is more difficult to learn and play? Same 2 questions but this time substitute 6-string vs 7-string guitar. Have you ever tried playing an 8-string?

JOE: I primarily play electric obviously but I do play acoustic and nylon string stuff on my records at times. The 2 are completely different animals. It’s not like one’s more difficult than the other. As far as 7 or 8 string guitars go, I’m old school and have no interest in those, 6 strings and 21 or 22 frets is plenty for me.


  • George Fustos

    George was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio. He has engineering degrees in Chemical and Electrical Engineering. He favors Metal, Rock, Hard Rock, Classic Rock, Blues, and even some Jazz and Motown (depending on the tune). He used to dabble with the bass quite some time ago. His most influential bassists are Jaco, Billy Sheehan, Stu Hamm, Geddy Lee, and John Entwistle (RIP Ox). Band-wise he's really into Rush, Tool, early Metallica, Pink Floyd (including Waters and Gilmour as solo artists), The Who, Iced Earth, Iron Maiden, Halford, Joe Satriani, certain Judas Priest, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins (Blues guitarist), Motörhead, and a German band called Skew Siskin that Lemmy says in an interview as being "the best band out there today."

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