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TOOLS OF THE TRADE: '68 Fender Strat, Marshall amps, DOD YJM Overdrive, Delay
KEY ALBUMS: Rising Force, Marching Out, Trilogy
SIGNATURE SONGS: "Black Star," "Far Beyond the Sun," "I'll See the Light Tonight," "Trilogy Suite Op: 5"
HIDDEN GEM: "Deja Vu," "Arpeggios From Hell"
HALLMARK: Effortless neoclassical shred
As a young Swede, Yngwie J. Malmsteen felt a need—the need for speed. And faster than the speed of light, Malmsteen redefined what was humanly possible on the electric guitar. Now, there had been fast players before—fusion's Al Di Meola, bebop's Tal Farlow, and country's Joe Maphis come immediately to mind—but Malmsteen's Bach-rock left them all in the dust.
Building on the foundations laid down by Ritchie Blackmore and Uli Jon Roth, Malmsteen combined the power of a Marshall stack on "10" with the elegant melodic contours and harmonic sophistication of classical composers like Bach and Paganini to create an entirely new music form: neoclassical shred. And the icing on the cake is that he made it all look so easy, at the age of 19! Malmsteen made incendiary alternate-picking phrases sound like a casual stroll through the harmonic minor scale. Diminished arpeggios never flowed so smoothly from human hands. And keeping an eye to rock tradition—and this is unlike almost every shredder alive—Malmsteen has a preternatural feel for the blues, even if he does tend to play more notes in one solo than B.B. King does in an entire show!
Like so many other guitarists on this list, Malmsteen possesses a monster guitar tone achieved through the simplest of setups: Fender Strat through vintage Marshall amps. And as with other guitarists using similar rigs, it's the patience and drive that Malmsteen exhibited while learning the instrument that has paid off not only in terms of his supernatural chops but also in his clear, precise tone—even at the speed of light.