1960 – Steven “Steve” Siro Vai (born June 6, 1960 in Carle Place, New York) is an American

Steve Vai

1960 – Steven “Steve” Siro Vai (born June 6, 1960 in Carle Place, New York) is an American instrumental rock guitarist, songwriter, vocalist and producer. After starting his professional career as a music transcriptionist for Frank Zappa, Vai would also record and tour in Zappa’s backing band starting in 1980. The guitarist began a solo career starting in 1984 and has released 13 solo albums as of 2008. Apart from his work with Frank Zappa, Vai has also recorded and toured with numerous musical artists including Alcatrazz, David Lee Roth and Whitesnake. Vai has been a regular touring member of the G3 Concert Tour which began in 1996. In 1999 Vai started his own record label Favored Nations with the intent to showcase, as Vai describes: “…artists that have attained the highest performance level on their chosen instruments.”


1970s and 1980s

In 1974, Vai took guitar lessons from guitarist Joe Satriani, and played in numerous local bands such as a band named “The Steve Vais”. He has acknowledged the influence of many guitarists including Jeff Beck and fusion guitarist Allan Holdsworth. Vai then attended the Berklee College of Music.
Steve Vai (right), Frank Zappa and band during a concert at the Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY. Oct 25, 1980

Vai mailed Frank Zappa a transcription of Zappa’s “The Black Page”, an instrumental song written for drums, along with a tape with some of Vai’s guitar playing. Zappa was so impressed with the abilities of the young musician that he hired him in 1979 to do work transcribing several of his guitar solos, including many of those appearing on the Joe’s Garage album and the Shut Up ‘n’ Play Yer Guitar series. These transcriptions were published in 1982 in The Frank Zappa Guitar Book.

Subsequent to being hired as a transcriber, Vai did overdubs on many of the guitar parts for Zappa’s album You Are What You Is. Thereafter he became a full-fledged band member, going on his first tour with Zappa in the Autumn of 1980. One of those early shows with Vai on guitar, recorded in Buffalo was released in 2007. While touring with Zappa’s band, Vai would sometimes ask audience members to bring musical scores and see if he could sight-read them on the spot. Zappa referred to Vai as his “little Italian virtuoso” and was listed in liner notes as performing “stunt guitar” or “impossible guitar parts”. He would later be a featured artist on the 1993 recording, Zappa’s Universe. In 2006 he returned to playing Zappa music as a special guest on Dweezil Zappa’s ‘Zappa Plays Zappa’ tour.

After leaving Zappa in 1982 he moved to California where he recorded his first album Flex-Able and performed in a couple of bands. In 1985 he replaced Yngwie Malmsteen as lead guitarist in Graham Bonnet’s Alcatrazz with whom he recorded the album Disturbing the Peace. Later in 1985 he joined former Van Halen front man David Lee Roth’s group to record the albums Eat ‘Em and Smile and Skyscraper. This significantly increased Vai’s visibility to general rock audiences, since Roth was in a highly public battle with the Van Halen members and Vai was favorably compared by many commentators to Eddie Van Halen.

In 1986 Vai also surprised everyone by playing with ex-Sex Pistols John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd on their album Album (also known as Compact Disc or Cassette). Then, in 1989, Vai joined Whitesnake, replacing Vivian Campbell. But, when Adrian Vandenberg injured his wrist shortly before recording was due to begin for the album Slip of the Tongue, Vai played all the guitar parts on the album. Vai also played on the Alice Cooper album Hey Stoopid along with Joe Satriani on the song Feed my Frankenstein.

1990s and 2000s

Vai continues to tour regularly, both with his own group and with his one-time teacher and fellow guitar instrumentalist friend Joe Satriani on the G3 series of tours. Former David Lee Roth and Mr. Big bassist Billy Sheehan also joined him for a world tour. In 1990 Vai released his critically acclaimed solo album Passion and Warfare. The song For the Love of God was voted #29 in a readers’ poll of the 100 greatest guitar solos of all time for the magazine Guitar World.

In 1994 Vai began writing and recording with Ozzy Osbourne. Only one track from these sessions—”My Little Man”—was released on the Ozzmosis album. Despite Vai penning the track he does not appear on the album. His guitar parts were replaced by Zakk Wylde. Vai’s band members throughout the 1990s included drummer Mike Mangini, guitarist Mike Keneally and bassist Philip Bynoe. In 1994 Vai received a Grammy Award for his performance on the Frank Zappa song Sofa from the album Zappa’s Universe.
Vai playing a twin-necked Ibanez
Vai playing a twin-necked Ibanez

In July 2002, Steve Vai performed with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra at the Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Japan, in the world premiere of composer Ichiro Nodaira’s Fire Strings, a concerto for electric guitar and 100-piece orchestra. In 2004, a number of his compositions for orchestra, as well as orchestra arrangements of previously recorded pieces, were performed in The Netherlands by the Metropole Orchestra in a concert series entitled The Aching Hunger. In 2003, drummer Jeremy Colson joined Vai’s group replacing previous drummer Virgil Donati. Vai’s latest album, Sound Theories, was released in 2007.

Steve Vai released a DVD of his performance at The Astoria in London in December 2001, featuring the lineup of bassist Billy Sheehan, guitarist/pianist Tony MacAlpine, guitarist Dave Weiner and drummer Virgil Donati.

In February 2005, Vai premiered a dual-guitar (electric and classical) piece that he wrote called The Blossom Suite with classical guitarist Sharon Isbin at the Châtelet Theatre in Paris. In 2006, Vai played as a “special guest” guitarist alongside additional guest Zappa band members, drummer Terry Bozzio and saxophonist-singer Napoleon Murphy Brock in the Zappa Plays Zappa tour led by Frank’s son Dweezil Zappa in Europe and the U.S. in the Spring as well as a short U.S. tour in October.

On September 21 2006, Vai made a special appearance at the Video Games Live concert at the Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood, California. He played two songs with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. One song being the Halo Theme, the second was for the world premier trailer for Halo 3.

Steve Vai made an appearance at the London Guitar Show 2007 on the 28th April 2007 at the ExCeL Center by doing a masterclass. In late April 2007, Vai confirmed the release of his next record, called Sound Theories, on June 26. The release will be a 2-CD set consisting mostly of previously released material that Vai rearranged and played in front of a full orchestra. Vai says that the project was a great joy because he considers himself to be a composer more than a guitarist, and he is happy to see music he has composed played by an orchestra that can play it well. A DVD will eventually accompany the record but will be released in August. He makes a guest appearance on the most recent Dream Theater album, Systematic Chaos, on the song “Repentance”. However, this appearance is vocal rather than instrumental, as Vai is one of many musical guests recorded apologizing to important people in their lives for wrongdoings committed in their pasts.

Vai is set to release a DVD of his show dated 19 September 2007 at the Minneapolis State Theater from his 2007 Tour.

Video Games

In 2004, Steve Vai was featured on Xbox’s Halo 2 (a game by Bungie Studios) Volume 1 soundtrack, 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.

In 2008, Steve Vai’s For the Love of God (instrumental) was featured as a downloadable track for the game Guitar Hero 3


Steve Vai’s music has been featured in a number of feature films, including Dudes and Ghosts of Mars. He appeared onscreen in the 1986 Ralph Macchio movie Crossroads, playing the demonically-inspired Jack Butler. At the film’s climax, Vai engages in a guitar duel with Macchio, whose guitar parts were dubbed by Vai and also Ry Cooder, who played the initial slide work in the duel and Macchio’s earlier performances in the film. The fast-paced neo-classical track entitled Eugene’s Trick Bag with which Macchio wins the competition was also composed by Vai. The body of the piece was heavily based on Paganini’s Caprice #5. He later borrowed the opening riff from the track Head Cuttin’ Duel for a song called Bad Horsie from his 1995 EP Alien Love Secrets. Later the Crossroads duel reappeared on the 2002 album The Elusive Light and Sound, volume 1.

In 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey the introductory riff to KISS’ God Gave Rock ‘N Roll To You II, as performed by the Wyld Stallyns in the Battle of the Bands was performed by Vai. He also composed and performed the soundtrack to PCU (1994), and made contributions in 2001 to the score for John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, performing on the tracks Ghosts of Mars and Ghost Poppin. His track Drive the Hell Out Of Here can be heard during 1992’s Encino Man in the scene where Brendan Fraser is taking a driving lesson.

Playing style
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Vai performing in 2001

Vai is widely recognized as a technically highly advanced rock guitarist and has been described as a virtuoso in the world of guitar music .

Vai’s playing style has been characterized as quirky and angular, owing to his technical facility with the instrument and deep knowledge of music theory. He often uses exotic guitars; he plays both double and triple neck guitars, and is regarded as the first to use the 7-string guitar in a rock context. Along with Ibanez, he designed a signature 7-string guitar, the Ibanez Universe.


Vai is an accomplished studio producer (he owns two: “The Mothership” ) and his own recordings combine his signature guitar prowess with novel compositions and considerable use of studio and recording effects, such as the Eventide H3000 ultra harmonizer and Digidesign’s Pro Tools HD recording system and plug-in effects architecture.

Vai also helped design his signature Ibanez JEM series of guitars. They feature a hand grip (fondly referred to as a “monkey grip”) cut into the top of the body of the guitar, a humbucker-single coil-humbucker DiMarzio pickup configuration with several different types of pickup including Evolution, Breed and EVO 2. He also uses an Ibanez Edge double-locking tremolo system (the current production JEMs have the newer Edge Pro), as well as an elaborate and extensive “Tree of Life” inlay down the neck. Vai also equips many of his guitars with an Ibanez Backstop, a tremolo stabilizer that has been discontinued. Lately Vai has also equipped some of his guitars with True Temperament fretboards in order for his chords to sound completly in tune. Vai also has a 7-string model designed by him named Ibanez Universe. The Universe later influenced the 7-string guitars used by Korn and other bands to create nu metal sounds in the late 1990s. He also has a signature Ibanez acoustic, the Euphoria. Before he used Ibanez, he briefly endorsed Jackson guitars, but this relationship would only last for two years.

Steve Vai has also worked with Carvin Guitars and Pro Audio to develop the Carvin Legacy line of guitar amplifiers. Vai wanted to create an amp that was unique and equal in sound, versatility, and affordability to any guitar amp he had previously used. Over his long musical career, Steve Vai has used and designed an array of guitars. He even had his DNA put into the swirl paint job on one of his signature JEM guitars, the JEM2KDNA, in the form of his blood. Only 300 of these were ever made. Nowadays he mainly uses his white “Evo”, a JEM7V, and his “Flo”, which is a customized Floral Jem 777FP painted white. They are both inscribed with their names in two places, mainly in order to allow him to distinguish between the guitars he uses onstage. “Flo” is equipped with a Fernandes sustainer system.

He also has a guitar named “Mojo” in which the dot inlays are blue LED lights. Additionally, he has a custom-made triple-neck guitar that has the same basic features as his JEM7V guitars. The top neck is a 12-string guitar, the middle is a 6-string, and the bottom is a 6-string fretless guitar with a Fernandes Sustainer pickup. This guitar was featured on the G3 2003 tour on the piece I Know You’re Here. Vai’s effects pedals include a modified Boss DS-1, Ibanez Tube Screamer, Morley Bad Horsie, TC Electronics G-System, Morley Little Alligator Volume pedal, Digitech Whammy, and an MXR Phase 90/Phase 100 on the Passion and Warfare album. His flight cases are labeled “Mr. Vai”, or latterly, “Dr. Vai”. He used a number of rack effects units controlled via MIDI, but used a floor-based TC electronics G system instead for the Zappa Plays Zappa tour. Vai also has a signature pedal in the works with Ibanez called the “Jemini” pedal (see external links for a picture). This pedal is expected to be released at Winter NAMM 2008.


In 2005, Vai signed on as an official supporter of Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit organization that provides free musical instruments and free lessons to children in public schools throughout the U.S.A. He sits on its board of directors as an honorary member.

Favored Nations

Vai owns Favored Nations, a recording and publishing company that specializes in internationally procuring and maintaining recording artists. Favored Nations is separated into three sections, ‘Favored Nations’, ‘Favored Nations Acoustic’ and ‘Favored Nations Cool (Jazz style)’

Artists who the Favored Nations label works or has worked with include Eric Johnson, Steve Lukather, Neal Schon, Yngwie Malmsteen, John Petrucci & Jordan Rudess, Mattias IA Eklundh, Tommy Emmanuel, Vernon Reid, The Yardbirds, Larry Coryell, Mimi Fox, Eric Sardinas, Dweezil Zappa, Dave Weiner and Johnny A.

Personal life

Vai is married to Pia Maiocco, former bass player of Vixen, who can be seen in Hardbodies. Vai and Maiocco have two children, Julian Angel and Fire. In his spare time Vai enjoys keeping bees

Band History – not including guest appearances

* Frank Zappa (1980-1982)
* Steve Vai (1982-1984)
* Alcatrazz(1985)
* David Lee Roth (1985-1986)
* Public Image Ltd. (1985-1986)
* Frank Zappa (1986)
* David Lee Roth (1987-1988)
* Whitesnake (1988-1990)
* Solo (1989-present)
* The Brian May Band (1992)
* Ozzy Osbourne (1995)

Current band members

* Steve Vai – vocals, lead guitar
* Dave Weiner -rhythm guitar,electric sitar
* Ann Marie Calhoun – violin,keyboard
* Alex DePue-violin
* Bryan Beller-bass guitar
* Jeremy Colson – drums, percussion


Solo albums

* Flex-Able (1984)
* Flex-Able Leftovers (1984)
* Passion and Warfare (1990)
* Sex & Religion (1993)
* Alien Love Secrets (1995)
* Fire Garden (1996)
* The Ultra Zone (1999)
* The 7th Song (2000)
* Alive in an Ultra World (2001)
* The Elusive Light and Sound, volume 1 (2002)
* The Infinite Steve Vai: An Anthology (2003)
* Real Illusions: Reflections (2005)
* Sound Theories (2007)

Appearances on Zappa albums
Year     Album     Credit
1981     Tinseltown Rebellion     Rhythm guitar, vocals
1981     Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar     Rhythm guitar
1981     You Are What You Is     Guitar
1982     Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch     Guitar parts
1983     The Man from Utopia     Guitar parts
1984     Them or Us     Guitar
1984     Thing-Fish     Guitar, vocals
1985     Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention     Guitar
1987     Jazz from Hell     Guitar
1988     Guitar     Stunt guitar
1988     You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore Sampler     Stunt guitar
1988     You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 1     Stunt guitar
1989     You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 3     Stunt guitar
1991     You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 4     Stunt guitar, vocals
1991     Beat the Boots I: As An Am     Stunt guitar
1992     You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 5     Stunt guitar
1992     You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 6     Stunt guitar
1995     Strictly Commercial     Guitar
1997     Have I Offended Someone?     Guitar
1998     Cheap Thrills     Guitar
1999     Son of Cheep Thrills     Guitar, vocals

With other artists
Year     Artist     Album
1983     Lisa Popeil     Lisa Popeil
1985     Heresy     At The Door
1985     Alcatrazz     Disturbing the Peace
1985     Public Image Ltd.     Album
1986     Bob Harris     The Great Nostalgia
1986     Shankar & Caroline     The Epidemics
1986     David Lee Roth     Eat ‘Em and Smile / Sonrisa Salvaje
1986     Randy Coven     Funk Me Tender
1986     Western Vacation     Western Vacation
1988     David Lee Roth     Skyscraper
1989     Whitesnake     Slip of the Tongue
1990     Rebecca     The Best of Dreams
1991     Alice Cooper     Hey Stoopid
1994     Whitesnake     Whitesnake’s Greatest Hits
1995     Ozzy Osbourne     Ozzmosis (cowriter on one song)
1996     Wild Style     Cryin’
1997     Munetaka Higuchi with Dream Castle     Free World
1997     Joe Satriani / Eric Johnson / Steve Vai     G3: Live in Concert
1997     David Lee Roth     The Best
1998     Gregg Bissonette     Gregg Bissonette
1998     Al Di Meola     The Infinite Desire
1999     Joe Jackson     Symphony No. 1
2000     Whitesnake     The Back to Black Collection
2000     Gregg Bissonette     Submarine
2000     Thana Harris     Thanatopsis
2000     Andrew Dice Clay     Face Down, Ass Up
2001     Robin DiMaggio     Blue Planet
2001     Billy Sheehan     Compression
2002     Tak Matsumoto     Hana
2003     Surinder Sandhu     Saurang Orchestra
2002     Girls Together Outrageously (G.T.O)     Solo in their cover version of “I’ll Be Around”
2003     Eric Sardinas     Black Pearls
2003     Steve Lukather & Friends     SantaMental
2003     Hughes Turner Project     HTP 2
2003     Shankar & Gingger     One in a Million
2003     Yardbirds     Birdland
2004     Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen     G3: Live – Rockin’ In The Free World
2004     Motörhead     Inferno
2004     Bob Carpenter     The Sun, The Moon, The Stars
2004     Mike Keneally     Vai: Piano Reductions, Vol. 1
2005     John 5     Songs for Sanity
2005     Dave Weiner     Live at Astoria DVD
2005     Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, John Petrucci     G3: Live in Tokyo
2006     The Devin Townsend Band     Synchestra
2006     Marty Friedman     Loudspeaker
2006     Meat Loaf     Bat out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose
2007     Dream Theater (spoken voice only)     Systematic Chaos
2007     Eros Ramazzotti     e²

Year     Soundtrack     Type
1986     Crossroads     Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
1987     Dudes     Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
1991     Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey     Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
1992     Encino Man     Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
1994     PCU     Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
1997     Formula 1     Original Video Game Soundtrack
2001     Ghosts of Mars     Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
2004     Halo 2 Soundtrack Volume 1     Original Video Game Soundtrack
2006     Halo 2 Soundtrack Volume 2     Original Video Game Soundtrack
2008     Guitar Hero III: Virtuoso Track Pack     Original Video Game Soundtrack

Year     Artists     Compilation
1989     Various     Guitar’s Practicing Musicians
1993     Various     Zappa’s Universe
1995     Various     In From The Storm
1996     Various     Songs of West Side Story
1997     Various     A Guitar Christmas
1997     Various     Angelica
1999     Various     Radio Disney Kid Jams
2001     Various     Roland Guitar Masters
2002     Various     Guitars For Freedom
2002     Various     Warmth In The Wilderness Vol. II – A Tribute to Jason Becker
2004     Various     Halo 2 Original Soundtrack
2006     Various     Monsters of Rock

Grammy Winner

* 1994 Best Rock Instrumental Performance “Sofa” from Zappa’s Universe

* 2001 Best Pop Instrumental No Substitutions

Grammy Nomination

* 1990 Best Rock Instrumental Album Passion & Warfare

* 1995 Best Rock Instrumental Performance “Tender Surrender” – from Alien Love Secrets

* 1997 Best Rock Instrumental Performance “For the Love of God” – from G3 Live in Concert

* 1999 Best Rock Instrumental Performance “Windows to the Soul” – from The Ultra Zone

* 2001 Best Rock Instrumental Performance “Whispering a Prayer” – from Alive in an Ultra World

* 2006 Best Rock Instrumental Performance “Lotus Feet” — lost to Les Paul & Friends’s “69 Freedom Special”

* 2008 Best Rock Instrumental Performance “The Attitude Song” — lost to Bruce Springsteen’s “Once Upon a Time in the West”

Guitar Player Magazine

1995 Gallery of Greats

1995 Best Rock Guitarist (Tie with Jimmy Page)

1995 Best Overall Guitarist 3rd Place

1995 Best Experimental Guitarist (Tie with Buckethead)

1995 Best Metal Recording 3rd Place

1995 Best Overall Guitar Recording 2nd Place

1995 Best Metal Guitarist 3rd Place

1990 Best Rock Guitarist

1990 Best Overall Guitarist

1990 Best Guitar Album

1990 Best Metal Guitarist

1989 Best Rock Guitarist

1988 Best Rock Guitarist

1987 Best Rock Guitarist

1987 Best Overall Guitarist

1986 Best Rock Guitarist

Guitar World

1990 Most Valued Player (tie with Stevie Ray Vaughan)

1990 Best Album

1990 Best Rock Guitarist

1990 Best Guitar Solo (For the Love of God)

1989 Best Rock Guitarist

International Music Awared Nomination

1990 Best Guitarist

Select Magazine (UK)

1990 Best Album (Passion and Warfare)

1990 Best Musician

1990 Sexiest Male

Guitar for the Practicing Musician

1993 Editor’s Choice Award

1990 Reader’s Choice – Guitar Album of the Year

1990 Best Instrumental Guitarist of the Year

1988 Rock Guitarist of the Year

1987 Hall of Fame

1986 Guitar in the 90’s Award

Kerrang (UK)

1993 Best Hard Rock Performance

1990 Guitarist of the Year

1989 Best Rock Guitarist

Young Guitar (Japan)

1997 Best Rock Guitarist

1991 Best Rock Guitarist

Rock Brigade

1996 Best Guitarist

1997 Best Guitarist


1990 Best Selling Album (No. 10)

1990 Best Selling LP Sleeve (No. 1)

1990 Best Selling Promo Video (No. 5, I Would Love To)

1990 Best Selling Promo Video (No. 7, The Audience is Listening)

1990 Best Sex Object (No. 6)

1990 Best RAW Cover (No. 3)


1995 Best Hard Rock Guitarist – 2nd Place

Making Music

1990 Best Album

1990 Best Guitarist

1990 Best Musician

Metal Hammer

1990 Best Guitarist (Reader’s Poll)

California Music Awards

2001 Outstanding Guitarist (nominee)

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