You could say Dweezil Zappa is some kind
of Kung Fu guitarist. Like an apprentice in a
martial arts movie, he was already capable
of kicking serious ass but then he decided
to dedicate a few years studying in the ways
of the master. You know how that movie
goes—the devout student reaches some
kind of mental and dexterous Zen and then
soars out of the temple with fists of fury
that allow him to kick even more ass, all
while honoring the name of his father.
You already know that Frank Zappa was an
otherworldly musician, a genius who, among
his many other accomplishments, made us
rethink what we could do with a guitar. Oh,
and he also had one helluva sense of humor.
In an effort to expand his father’s fan base and
give it something new to chew on, Dweezil
decided to go after his father’s music. This
celebration of 60 albums of extremely challenging music, ranging from jazz to rock to
classical, would be no small feat. It required
two years of study and a retooling of his
own approach to guitar (which was heavily
influenced by virtuoso shredders like Eddie
Van Halen and Steve Vai). Eventually, Dweezil
emerged as a new musician. He had a better
understanding of the nuances of Frank’s music,
and set about to find a band that could help
him share this music with the world.
That first “Zappa Plays Zappa” tour in 2006
was met with critical acclaim, and Dweezil
has steadily continued the trek ever since. As
if that weren’t enough, his band’s version of
“Peaches En Regalia” won a Grammy for best
Rock Instrumental, beating out songs by David
Gilmour, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails and Rush.
Frank had recorded that song on an album
dedicated to Dweezil when he was born, so it
was fitting that Dweezil dedicated the award
back to his father.
Like Frank, Dweezil loves a challenge—for his
audience and for himself. He loves to explore
new sounds and he loves gear. He isn’t stuck
to particular brands or kinds of technology and
he doesn’t mind doing whatever it takes to get
the tone. Dweezil has a monster analog rig that
helps him play his father’s music—easily the
most elaborate rig any staffer from this magazine has ever seen—but he also has a smaller,
digitally-driven version that is easier to tote
overseas and, as he puts it, is capable of even
more tones. We caught up with Dweezil to ask
him about his latest projects, the players who
are blowing his mind and, of course, his gear.
You’re known for playing a lot of different
guitars—Strats, SGs, Les Pauls, Hagstroms…
we even got to watch you pick wood for a
new PRS recently. Talk about your decision to
not be a one-brand guy.
I’ve always been a player who takes cues from
the different instruments that I play. I like the
fact that different guitars have different personalities. The character of each guitar inspires
me to play differently and keep things interesting. That is why I’ve never had a specific
endorsement with one brand of guitar. I’ve
been fortunate to develop some good relationships with companies like Gibson and Fender.
They’ve made it possible for me to play guitars
I couldn’t afford otherwise, and they’ve also
understood that the different guitars they make
are part of the collective musical and tonal
palette that we as guitar players all use. There
has never been any pressure to do anything
exclusive. It would feel a little limiting for me if
I could only use one style or brand of guitar. I
was talking to a friend of mine about it recently
and we were in agreement that it was like saying to a painter, “You can only use green and
red. No blue for you!”
You’ve been using SGs for a while now. Like
father like son…
I always associate my dad’s music and his
playing with the SG. I had never really played
one much until I started doing the Zappa
plays Zappa thing. And to be honest, getting used to it in the beginning was a bit of
a challenge because I had been more of a
Strat-type of player. But once I got used to
it, it became the easiest guitar in the world
for me to play. I’ve played everything from
an [Ibanez] Iceman, to customized Strats and
guitars flipped upside down—all kinds of
different things. It’s nice to be able to have
a handful of guitars that really have a personality and a specific kind of sound and tone
that stand out. I do have a lot of guitars, but
I only have a handful of guitars that have a
very standout kind of sound. Those are the
ones that are most often in play now.
What’s on that list?
Most of my go-to guitars are Gibsons. I have
a few SGs. I have a Les Paul, but I haven’t
really been playing that on the road. I have
a [ES] 336, which is a small version of a 335.
That has a really good sound. They all have
a classic sound. They sound good acoustically, not even plugged in. They have a
natural resonance, and most of the time
when I do my practicing I play electric guitars
unplugged; because the harder it is to hear
every note while you’re practicing, the better it is to play while you’re amplified. I have
some Strats that I really like. I’ve been playing Eric Johnson model Strats on the road.
I think they’re the most well-balanced, nice-sounding Strats.
I saw you perform with your digital rig recent-
ly—two Fractal Axe Effects Ultras, a few ped-
als, no amps. That’s interesting.
PREMIER GUITAR DECEMBER 2009 79