Zakk Wylde


Guitarist, songwriter and all-around visionary Zakk Wylde broke out of local New Jersey rock clubs and onto the national scene after landing a gig with Ozzy Osbourne in 1987. That collaboration went on to produce eight albums and a decade of world tours, placing Wylde in good company with other legendary guitarists who were known for their work with the former Black Sabbath frontman. Wylde’s career highlights include an album and tour with Pride & Glory and 13 albums with Black Label Society. This year finds Wylde releasing his second solo album, Book of Shadows II, as well as launching his own brand of music gear with Wylde Audio.

Most fans became aware of the then 21-year-old Zakk Wylde as his signature sound propelled Ozzy Osbourne’s No Rest for the Wicked onto the charts. Stepping into such a high-profile gig would be a lot for anyone, but Wylde was in the unique situation where he was called on to perform songs originally done by icons such as Tony Iommi, Randy Rhoads and Jake E. Lee while he was also contributing new material within his own style. “First of all, I’m a huge Black Sabbath freak and then obviously when I started with Saint Rhoads over there with Randy, it was lights out. And I love Jake’s playing as well, and all the guys I played with. They’re just phenomenal players. So to actually … it’s just like being a New York Yankee fan and Thurman Munson’s your hero and then you’re catching for the New York Yankees. When you’re standing in the same spot one of your heroes did. So it was definitely pretty much a mind-blowing dream come true, without a doubt.” He explains, “As far as, in regard to playing, I would just add it was like the most amazing, awesome cover band to ever be in and then you get to play your own stuff as well. So yeah, I’m beyond honored playing Randy’s stuff, Tony’s stuff, and Jake’s stuff. My favorite players … it’s definitely an honor playing this stuff. You just try not to mess it up, you know what I mean? Just stick to what they wrote.”

There are a lot of guitar players in the world, but few get a chance to launch their own line of guitars. “To me, it was basically a natural progression. If you’re a player on a team, then you end up coaching the team. Then you become a general manager and vice president of operations. The next logical step is team owner. So that’s pretty much how it came about.” Wylde says, “Owning my own company now … you just make it good. That’s the reason why over the last year we’ve just been working on different prototypes of necks, neck profiles, fret wiring and stuff like that.”

In production this year with three models, Wylde Audio will offer the Warhammer, Odin and Viking V. “There’s no end to the creative process at all.

I mean, we’re usually sitting there having a cup of coffee and then look at a desk and just see the grain on wood or something, just go, ‘Wonder what kind of wood this is?’ And then we’ll just [think] it’d be a great guitar top.” He explains, “ … and then the ebony fretboard and maple back of the neck. I’ve got the EMGs in there, the TonePros and everything. All the ingredients that are going to give you the best sounding stuff.”
Wylde elaborates on the process involved with his brand. “I create all the guitars. I’ll just be drawing at the house, stuff like that. I’ll talk to my one buddy, John … the thing starts coming to life and then making it more 3-D … but actual guitar designs, the actual shapes, the headstocks, everything like that I design.” His appreciation for a guitar’s playability began from his first years of playing, as he says, “The first guitar I ever had was an imitation Les Paul or something like that … that one I don’t have … some of the first couple of ones I had when I was a teenager I still have … I think the same thing—what you look for in guitars, even as a beginner when you really don’t know anything about guitars or anything like that, it’s just the action on the guitar and how comfortable the guitar plays. I mean if the action’s like 10 feet off the neck and the neck was warped and the neck is bowed, it’s not going to be an enjoyable experience when you finally learn and … you’re trying to learn songs from your favorite players and you’re trying to learn how to play the scales. I think definitely, no matter what level guitar player it is, I think it’s just the comfort of the guitar, how comfortable the guitar is to play.”

The playability of the instruments bearing his name is important to Wylde, as it becomes part of a guitarist’s creation and learning process. “When I started … I think it’s just like everybody else, you just want to learn songs from your favorite bands.

So that’s about it. And then just … to me the guitar is just endless. The combinations, and the scales and everything like that, to me it really is endless. I mean the first thing I remember when I learned how to play ‘Back in Black’ just the lick, it wasn’t so much that I could actually play the lick and I could play along with the record. To me that was a major feat right there in itself, that I could physically do it. I always tell kids it’s no different than playing video games. I say, ‘You know, you keep getting to certain levels and certain levels and that’s the joy of the game … you don’t practice video games, you play then and you enjoy playing.’ The whole thing is to beat the game and you try and get to the next level. Guitar, it’s pretty much the same thing. Look at it that way—it’s not practicing. You’re playing and you’re just physically getting better and better and better and better so you could actually play more stuff by more of your favorite bands.”
The guitars offered by Wylde Audio will be available exclusively at Guitar Center during the 2016 production run. Wylde’s relationship with the company goes back to when he first started playing with Ozzy Osbourne. “I remember doing guitar clinics here back in the day when I first got the gig with the boss. Pretty much how my relationship started with the gang at Guitar Center. I’ve known them ever since then, whether we’ve done things together, clinics or just coming back here to get stuff. So yeah, it’s great actually now that we have Wylde Audio Guitars and Wylde Audio everything, being involved with Guitar Center.” He says, “I’ve been test driving the Wylde Audio Master 100s for the last year or so. That’s definitely next up in line, for sure, the amps. Summer NAMM or something like that they will be coming out.”

The guitars from Wylde Audio can be heard on a new recording and seen on tour very soon. “The last album that we did was a feast of just pure rock. That was (Black Label Society’s) Catacombs of the Black Vatican. Now this—soothing, supple sounds of doom for the new Zakk Wylde Book of Shadows II album. That’s the one that’s coming out right now. Just got finished mixing and mastering that. That’ll be coming out, I think, sometime in April and we’ll be touring around the world for that one as well.” As far as his latest release offering something new for listeners, Wylde explains. “I think that’s the beautiful thing about music. I think any band will tell you that. You don’t know. It’s just like jumping in a ship and you take off and we’ll see where this thing’s going to lead us, you know what I mean? That’s the beauty of it. Once you get done with the heavy stuff for a little while, it’s just let’s take a break from this for a little bit and then you either sit behind the piano or you pick up an acoustic guitar and put in a different mindset right there. That’s how it’s always been for me. As far as the hard stuff goes, for me it always starts with a riff. Sabbath and Zeppelin, I mean the three, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart of riffs, Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Iommi and Jimmy Page. That’s just a fact. That’s not even an argument, as far as the masters of the riff. To me it always starts with the riff, as far as hard rock music goes.”

If the launch of a line of guitars and a new album and tour weren’t enough, Wylde has set aside some time to teach a master class in conjunction with Guitar Center. “The wisdom that you have, the cool thing is sharing it with people. What’s the sense in having a whole bunch of stuff of anything, for that matter, if you can’t share it with people? I think it’s always great. Because, I mean, growing up I always had cool people around me, you know, older guys that were amazing musicians or whatever, that help you along the way, that were really instrumental. I was definitely truly blessed in that regard. Teaching … it’s just guiding somebody. You know, somebody asks you how to play something, you just—it’s always cool showing somebody how to do and then seeing how happy they are after they can accomplish it.”

With a new line of guitars, a new album and tour, there will be a whole lot of Zakk Wylde to be seen in 2016, and he wouldn’t want it any other way. “You’re touring and you’re playing around the world and you’re playing music and you’re doing what you love. So, to me there is no bad, none at all.” Wylde says, “I love it. I thank the good Lord every day for everything I’ve got.”

Written by Troy Richardson / Photography by Ryan Hunter

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