A metal maestro

By Tom MacIntosh

Progressive rock was the outgrowth of psychedelic rock from the mid to late 60s, it was more of an instrumental and compositional approach to rock music developed in the studio rather than onstage, and toyed with the new technologies to discover or invent a whole new world of sounds. The genre revolves around fusing many styles like folk, jazz, rock, and classical by incorporating longer guitar solos, fantasy lyrics, grandiose stage sets and flamboyant costumes. That is, more or less, a textbook definition of the genre, but our headliner today, the progressive rock guitar legend John Petrucci, has his own take on prog-rock, he says it is defined by its “very lack of stylistic boundaries. 


John Peter Petrucci,
born on July 12, 1967 in New York, became one of the giants of progressive rock by picking up a guitar when he was just 12 years old, after getting addicted to the sounds of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and AC/DC. He says he spent up to 6 hours a day blistering his fingers to get that sound from his guitar, and eventually was lured to the new progressive sounds of Rush, the Dixie Dregs, Metallica and Iron Maiden

He went on to study his instrument with serious dedication at Berklee College of Music in Boston where he met his old childhood mate John Myung
who studied bass guitar and then met drummer Mike Portnoy. They would form a group called Majesty with pianist Kevin Moore (another school mate), and shortly after changed their name to Dream Theater


Dream Theater became a force in prog rock starting in 1988 with their debut album When
Dream and Day Unite, it was the beginning of a spectacular run of 13 more studio records, their latest is Distance Over Time (Feb 22, 2019), as reviewed here in Guitars Exchange. The online music database AllMusic describes their style as, “a blend of progressive rock and post-Halen metal. This concoction led to some very different metal that was unique at the time, with guitar bending distortions and riffing on behalf of Petrucci, yet with more technical astuteness and proficiency than your standard metal, focussing on 3 key components: melody, metal and progressive roots. Their best album so far has been Images and Words (1992), charting on Billboard 200 at #61, then Awake (1994) and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (2002) which also charted very well. Their 2006 effort Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory was listed by Guitar World magazine on their “The Greatest Guitar Albums of All Time”. And Classic Rock Magazine declares it the 15th greatest concept album ever (2003). The 2-time Grammy nominated Dream Theater has sold over 12 million copies worldwide. 


Petrucci was also a brilliant fixture in Portnoy’s supergroup Liquid Tension Experiment
(LTE) in 1997. They released 2 albums, Liquid Tension Experiment (1998) and Liquid Tension Experiment 2 (1999). This formation included keyboardist Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), and prog rock legend Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel) on bass and Chapman stick.

‘Professor’ Petrucci, ever the teacher, released a guitar class video as well, Rock Discipline, teaching warm-up drills, exercises to avoid injury while playing, sweep picking, alternate fingering, alt-chording and other tricks to aid the learner in technique development. Then he penned a book called Guitar World Presents John Petrucci’s Wild Stringdom, a collection of pieces he wrote for the magazine. 
‘You cannot keep a good man down’, as the saying goes, so Petrucci spread his wings into the soundtrack business and recorded 2 instrumentals, Prologue and Epilogue for the Sega Saturn video game named Digital Pinball:Necronomicon.  (When does this man sleep?) 


The guitarist’s style and skill have been lionized by the masses for decades, with his ‘alternate picking’ talent which sets off fire alarms the world over. He claims it requires “a strong sense of synchronisation between the two playing hands
, and also his much-used 7-string electric guitar, a Music Man John Petrucci JPX 1-7 7-string, and other Music Man signature models such as the JP12, JP13, JP15, all of which come in 6-string and 7-string versions. To hear some of his latest wizardry, check out his piercing solos on Paralysed (Distance Over Time), and on the same album, Fall Into the Light and Pale Blue Dot (Carl Sagans description of Earth). He also likes to shred his Ibanez JPM 100 and JPM Universe when required, but his favourite acoustic tool is the Taylor 916ce, the 856ce (12-string), and 712ce. Other signature guitars come from his entire line of Ernie Ball Music Man 6-string, 7-string and baritone guitars like the JP Majesty, the JP BFR, the initial Mesa Boogie JP-2C amp, and TC Electronic signature JP Dreamscape chorus/flanger pedal. The list of his gear is as long as a beach, but you get the idea of the commitment to his search for uncharted sound.   


In 2001 fellow guitar Gods Joe Satriani and Steve Vai welcomed him on their G3 tour to be the 3rd guitarist, (7 times) which included such heavies as Robert Fripp, Steve Lukather, Uli Jim Roth, Brian May, Billy Gibbons, Yngwie Malmsteen, Marco Ciaravolo (Satriani’s teacher), and Eric Sardinas to mention a few. He stayed with the G3 tours through 2005, 2006, and 2007.The immediate adoration by fans led to his solo album Suspended Animation (2005), on his own label Sound Mind Music, which houses such delights as Jaws of Life, Glasgow Kiss, Damage Control, and the gem Animate-Inanimate, which the website All About Jazz called Petrucci’s playing here as, “clear and distinct even during moments of high-speed indulgencewhich puts him in a category of his own.

He was called the 2nd greatest metal guitarist in
Joel McIvers book (100 Greatest Guitarists in Metal), on the best in the metal business in 2009, and also The Top Ten Guitar Shredders of All Time by GuitarOne magazine. His global initiative ToneMission in 2015 is aimed to improve the web of musicians interested in the growth and developement of the guitar, and the many ways to play it. Two years ago he set up a guitar camp in the Glenn Cove Mansion on Long Island which included teachers like Tony MacAlpine (Planet X, Ring of Fire), Andy James (Sacred Mother Tongue), and Tosin Abasi (Generation Axe), needless to say...a smash hit. 

Our iconic headliner today, Mr. John Petrucci is a polymath of creativity put on paper, vinyl, and video. A true master of his craft, a virtuoso guitar metal masher, a pioneer of the genre, and a totally cool dude.