John Petrucci



Before the groundbreaking albums, critical acclaim and world tours, John Petrucci was a kid who felt the power of music, much like countless others who pick up the guitar for the first time. “Where I grew up on Long Island, there were a lot of players. All you had to do was literally walk down the street and you can see guys playing guitar outside. Actual garage bands—garages open with the band cranking Sabbath. In high school, there were kids that I looked up to when I was younger … the seniors … they would do these battle of the bands. I’d watch them play and go to their rehearsals. I remember seeing these guys and they could play everything from ‘Eruption’ to ‘Heartbreaker’ and all this stuff. I was so impressed and really drawn to the guitar. I think it was growing up in that environment that really helped to spark it for me.” Petrucci continues, explaining his deeper connection to music, “To me, it’s always been sort of an emotional extension. I’ve always been into art. When I was younger, I used to draw and paint and write. Anytime I was doing something like that, I always felt like it was a way for me to express emotions in a very clear and very deep and profound way. When I found music, it was along that same path of doing things of expression … When I play, I get that same kind of feeling. It’s like a connection between what I’m thinking or feeling inside and how it comes out on the instrument. In this case, it happens to be guitar. Why it was guitar and not something else? I’m not really sure. But to me … it feels like an extension of my emotions and senses.”

Looking to get more into music than even his very active local scene would allow, Petrucci headed off to Berklee College of Music in Boston. “I was 18 when I went to Berklee, so I had six years of playing … I’d get turned on to all these guitar players that were doing shred and fusion and stuff.” He says, “But there was so much to learn, still. Going to Berklee, it’s one thing to play on an instrument and be proficient technically, but it’s another thing to really know about music, music theory and complex harmony and composition and stuff like that. And, of course, that’s what Berklee really has to offer … I wanted to learn more. I wanted to know more. I wanted music to be my life. I wanted to have a career in music and I looked at the people who I look up to, and saw the path they went on. People like Steve Vai went to Berklee. That’s the way to go. Again, I was very, very focused. Very tunnel-visioned at an early age.”

Finding like-minded musicians at school, Petrucci started the band that would become Dream Theater, his group to this day. “That was the biggest thing that came out of Berklee—John Myung and I went there, we met Mike [Portnoy] and that started Dream Theater. That started my career. That was the biggest, best thing about going to Berklee … that connection.” Speaking further on his college days, “An important thing I learned there was that there are so many resources out there. You just need to apply yourself and look and work hard to learn. Even Berklee, with the curriculum that they offered, there was so much more you can do just by going into their library and finding things, finding articles and lessons and things. And taking private lessons and jamming with roommates … doing the ensembles, doing the recitals and things like that—all that experience is there for you. You’ve just got to take it. You’ve got to take advantage of it … It was a big lesson for me to learn, because even after I went, I continued that kind of spirit of learning. Whether it’s flipping through a magazine and seeing some lesson in there, or picking up a video, whatever. And I still do it. I still do it to this day.”

Petrucci’s drive to learn and continually improve found its way into his instruments about 15 years ago. “Our manager, Frank Solomon, manages Steve Morse and Steve had a relationship already with Ernie Ball Music Man. And I was always a huge Steve Morse fan—my favorite guitar player. I had already used Ernie Ball volume pedals and had a little bit of a communication. But Frank introduced me to Sterling [Ball, CEO of Ernie Ball Music Man] and we had a conversation and really hit it off from there.” Petrucci explains, “I was a big fan of Music Man guitars before then. I would go into music stores and pick up a Music Man and always be really impressed by not only the playability and comfort, but just how beautiful the guitars were. They always that—each one was a work of art, just gorgeous.”

As with many virtuosic players, Petrucci has some very specific elements he looks for in an instrument. “Going back with what I was saying before about guitar playing and music being an extension of myself, I look for the instrument to be something that’s going to sort of get out of my way so that I can best do what I hear in my head, the best way that that’s going to sort of come out of my limbs, you know, my fingers. I want the guitar to ergonomically be super-comfortable, super-easy to play and, of course, to sound amazing and to be able to do a number of things sonically. Not just one thing, but a number of things which really is integral to the kind of music that we play, and all the different kind of styles and moods we go through.”

As Sterling Ball has said, “We don’t tell the artist what the musicians want. We try and create and interpret what the artist has in his head and we try and get it in their hands.” Somewhat unique in the guitar industry, every John Petrucci signature model that has been released is still in current production. Petrucci explains the evolution, “We had developed my original model 15 years ago and, little by little, sort of made slight changes to it—some changes bigger than others. Some in the body shape, but a lot of the changes were small. Once we kind of decide on something, we would stick to it once we felt like we nailed it.” He continues, “But the Majesty was a whole different animal. The Majesty was me sort of wanting to rethink everything and come up with something new, something different, and something unique … sort of break the mold. Originally, I had this crazy idea … Here’s the great thing about Sterling—he’s so open to my ideas. I’d call him and remember drawing out this picture. I called it the Stallion, and it was a guitar based on my whole concept, because it was going to be about the grace and beauty and strength of a running stallion. That was my whole thing. He was, like, ‘Yeah. That sounds great,’ and goes for it. Eventually it turned into something that was more modeled off of automobiles and we went in that direction. But still that same kind of concept of power and great beauty, and it turned into the Majesty. Because of that, and that sort of shift in design philosophy it took a while to get the design down, a lot of drawings, a lot of computer renderings. We have a lot that’s in this guitar, as far as the Game Changer, as far as the preamp, as far as the first neck-through guitar, angled head stock, things like that. Things that are very different and very new and major changes from what we did before. All those little things took a lot of time.”

Petrucci takes a moment to discuss his very first model as well, the Music Man JP6. “The biggest innovation with that guitar, I would say, is the scoop for the right forearm. In most electric guitars, where you rest your right arm, the guitar kind of curves out to sort of make it smooth … I wanted to do something where it would be like a pocket for your forearm, because I was really, and still am, really focused on my right-hand technique, and I want that arm to really be locked in there to get the best sort of fulcrum that I could pick from. So this idea of scooping out the wood there, instead of beveling it the other way, was a very unique innovation for that guitar.”

In addition to his guitars, the Petrucci sound also includes his signature pedal from TC Electronic, the Dreamscape. “That was a really cool thing to do, because I’ve always used TC effects … I remember being young and hearing a 2290 for the first time. It just keeps blowing my mind and, of course, I used the Chorus/Flanger pedal by TC forever, on so many albums. When we talked about the idea of doing a signature pedal, it was their first signature pedal, and my first signature pedal. Who better to do it with than them? The concept came sort of starting with the classic Chorus/Flanger and how we would sort of bring that into the modern era and make it more like a boutique kind of pedal and keep what we loved about it, but make some improvements.”

With his spirit of innovation turning to the recording of a new album at the moment, Petrucci is reluctant to give any details. “It’s been Dream Theater tradition to not really talk about our new albums. We sort of keep it cloaked in mystery until it’s time to start revealing.” He says, “We like that. We’re romantic about the mystery of the way that rock bands create music. It’s kind of old school, but it’s something that, in time, all will be revealed.”

Written by Troy Richardson / Photography by Marc Lemoine

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