Submitted by HeadDino on Wed, 05/28/2008 - 20:39
Watch Warren DeMartini in Action at the bottom of this page!
Famous / Infamous for
Arguably the tastiest of the 80s LA glam metal guitar heroes, Warren was part of the first wave of Van Halen inspired LA guitarists. He is known for using Charvel strats with Japanese and snakeskin graphics, slapback echo abuse, and for appearing in videos with Milton Berle (and looking more like a chick than Uncle Milty did in-drag). But despite his considerable talent as a guitarist, Warren has never really overcome the limitations of his environment in Ratt.
Obvious: The biggest influence on Warren's style is clearly Eddie Van Halen. His choice of guitars, his tone, and his approach to the instrument are all very much in the Van Halen mold. George Lynch (picking technique) and Michael Schenker (vibrato) are also prominent in Warren's playing.
Not so obvious: Warren claims Robin Trower, Leslie West, and Pete Townshend as big influences, but I'll be damned if I can hear any of these guys in Warren's recorded output.
Attitude and Feel. From his early days with Ratt, Warren has played with an aggressive, ballsy tone and an in-your-face attitude. He always sounds confident, never tentative, and plays every note like he means it. His feel is very similar to Van Halen's style — a lot of swinging eighth notes and bluesy swagger crossed with the occasional flashy bit — but he's more for the song than Eddie is.
Restraint. In the 80s, the big thing was speed, especially after Van Halen and Malmsteen opened Pandora's box and showed everyone that there was life after Lynyrd Skynyrd. Warren was a little different than a lot of his 80s contemporaries in that he managed to avoid falling into the look-at-how-fast-I-can-play trap. In the April 1987 edition of Guitar World, Warren says: "It's so easy to do that, play fast, play a lot, over everything — it's too easy, and certainly not challenging." What he is known for is being a very tasty player, emphasizing quality over quantity. He is more than capable of hopping on the 32nd note autobahn, but he picks his spots. Again, from the same interview: "I always felt like I didn't want to play everything I know."
Tone. Again, straight out of the Van Halen school, very similar to the infamous Brown Sound of early Van Halen. The biggest difference seems to be in the ambient micing. Where Van Halen relied on a lot of room ambiance on the early stuff, Warren's sound relies less on the room and more on processing to add ambiance. We'll discuss this in more detail in the Tone section below.
Vibrato. I love Warren's vibrato. Subconsciously, I'm sure I stole a thing or two from him over the years. This is where you start to hear the Schenker influence in his playing.
When you talk about Warren DeMartini, inevitably you have to look at how his recorded output with Ratt has stood the test of time. Frankly, it hasn't held up well as a complete musical package. There are many reasons for this, and to be fair, Warren was incredibly limited by working with Ratt singer, Stephen Pearcy. Pearcy's half-octave (on a good day) range and consequently rhythmic vocal approach had far more in common with today's rap metal singers than the melodic vocalists who were his contemporaries. Imagine Fred Durst in eyeliner and spandex, going toe-to-toe with Ronnie Dio, Bruce Dickinson, Klaus Meine, or even Don Dokken. We could rag on Pearcy all day, but the bottom line from a musical standpoint is this: Steven Pearcy is completely incapable of adding any melody or emotion to a song. And DeMartini's music certainly paid the price for that.
Songwriting. Virtually all Ratt songs songs have the same energy level and feel. There's almost no compositional dynamics. There are no quiet parts contrasted with power and glory. No mood changes. No fast songs, no slow songs — almost everything falls between 80-90 beats per minute. Hope you like vanilla, 'cause they don't do chocolate, or anything else for that matter.
And yes, a lot of this was tied to vocal limitations. You just weren't gonna get power ballads or the kinds of slow airy songs that typically let a singer (or a guitarist) stretch out with Pearcy at the mic. But Warren has to take some share of the blame for the lack of songwriting diversity. Here's why:
Ratt featured a great rhythm section in Bobby Blotzer (drums) and Juan Crocier (bass). Both were killer players who knew how to groove — a real differentiator in 80s rock. Listen to the groove on the verse of Back For More. That cooks! Given that strength, the band would have done well to let the rhythm section establish some grooves and then add the guitar parts over them (an approach you can hear in Aerosmith). So despite Pearcy's weakness, the band didn't lean enough on an obvious strength. Warren should have been able to come up with more interesting stuff working with that rhythm section. But most Ratt songs sound like they originated from guitar riffs — and that formula often dictates a straighter rhythmic approach.
Immaturity early. Warren had not been playing very long when he joined with Ratt, and although he had great chops, he lacked depth. As a lead player, on Out of the Cellar, Warren's solos aren't very lyrical and don't really foreshadow the melodic direction he ultimately went as a lead player. His technique, ability, and energy is all there, but he rushed through things a lot and didn't seem to know how to please the ear. But by the time of Invasion of Your Privacy, Warren's lead work got much more melodic, sexier, and purposeful.
Warren played Floyd-equipped super strats and you can certainly hear that sound on his recordings. His tone was pretty thin on Out of the Cellar, but got fatter and a lot warmer on Invasion of your Privacy. Compared to his contemporaries who used super strats, Warren's tone was less processed than George Lynch's and Ozzy-era Jake E. Lee's tone. It was warmer than Viv Campbell's tone, but not nearly as warm or middy as any of the guys who were using Gibsons at the time. Warren's tone is most similar to the Roth-era Van Halen tone, but a little more ragged and looser sounding, with more bottom. Compare the tone on Take Your Whiskey Home or Unchained to Warren's tone on Lay it Down, You're in Love, or Way Cool Junior — you find it's pretty close! The biggest difference is in the application of ambient micing. Van Halen relied on a lot of room sound to get his tone — usually in the opposite speaker to the main guitar. The basic tone is just a close mic SM57 on a Marshall 4x12. Warren does the same thing with his basic tone, an SM57 on a Marshall 4x12, but instead of using room ambiance, he used digital delay and reverb to artificially create the acoustic space. The result has more presence in the mix than Van Halen, and it's a little fuller, but still very much a Eddie inspired brown tone.
There's no secret to producing Warren's tone: take a single pickup super strat with a humbucker, and run it straight into an old 100W Marshall. Cabs were Marshall 4x12s with 30W Celestions. Warren used Seymour Duncan JB and custom Charvel pickups in his Charvel super strats, and they were all fitted with Floyd Rose tremolos. Although he was a Laney endorsee in the 80s, he doesn't seem to have actually used them much, if at all. His amps were modified by amp techs Jose Arredondo or Frank Levi to give them a little more gain.
One of Warren's trademarks is the use of heavy slapback echo on his guitar — not just on leads, but on the rhythms as well. You can't truly nail Ratt's guitar sound without it. This was added at mixdown or at the soundboard, never at the amp. Set your delay to eighth notes in tempo with the song and one or two repeats; tune to dropped D, and rip the opening to You're in Love and voila — it's 1984 and you're on stage at the Whiskey!
DeMartini has always been a strong rhythm guitarist. Warren and co-guitarist Robin Crosby were very good at coming up with complementary rhythm guitar parts. Sometimes they double each other (Wanted Man, Back for More, You're in Love), other times they play totally different parts (Lay it Down, Round and Round), and sometimes it's a combination of both. Slip of the Lip is an interesting example where both play the same rhythm, but play different chords. I've always dug this approach, as it fills out the sound and makes Ratt's simple songs a lot more interesting.
Warren's rhythmic sense is more LA-influenced than European-influenced. Instead of the straight, perfect, lockstep eighth notes that typify the European approach, Warren's leads swing more like a jazz player's. For example, if he's playing a pair of eighth notes, he might play them in more of shuffle rhythm rather than in straight time. He might hold the first note a little longer than he should, and make the second a little shorter. This influence in Warren comes directly from Eddie Van Halen. Compare the feel of Way Cool Junior to Van Halen's Take Your Whiskey Home, Bottoms Up, or The Full Bug and you'll see where Warren's style comes from. This approach adds to the groove and vibe and spices up simple lines. When the rhythm section locks up to this feel, things start to get interesting. Lay It Down is a great example of what these guys could do as a team
In an era that featured a guitarist-as-gunslinger mentality, DeMartini separated himself with a less-is-more approach to soloing. Rather than consisting of a barrage of 16th and 32nd notes, a typical DeMartini solo intersperses longer, sustained notes with short, speedy passages, ala George Lynch. But what makes him different is that he's much more structured than Lynch, and more traditional in his approach and note choices. I'd call him a very safe player — he's not going to take any chances that are going to kill the song, but he's also not going to really push the envelope in terms of technique, speed, or harmonic content either. Take Lay It Down for example: starting off slow, Warren gradually builds the speed and intensity, ending up with a couple of 32nd note runs at the very end before hitting the chorus. The solo sounds composed, but not particularly adventurous or innovative. In context, it works pretty well. Most Ratt songs follow a similar formula — You're in Love, Round and Round, Slip of the Lip, etc. These lead breaks sound composed or at least somewhat thought out, but they're almost always blues based pentatonic and more cool than melodic. His outro solos tend to be more off-the-cuff and sound improvised, but again, very safe. Nothing wrong, but nothing new either.
George Lynch really influenced DeMartini's picking style, from the way he fans his right hand fingers out to the way he holds his pick. He alternates between striking the string in the traditional way with the tip of the pick, and pointing the tip back toward the bridge and striking the string with the side of the pick. He is typically a legato player unless he's ripping through a short run, in which case he primarily alternate picks.
Warren never delved too far into the tricks and trappings of 80s metal. He doesn't use many harmonics and squeals. He wasn't a big tapper or whammy abuser.
Warren has a really cool vibrato. Once he stopped rushing through his solos, Warren found plenty of time to work the sustained notes. A favorite technique is to land on a note, hold it, and gradually bring in the vibrato before moving on. His vibrato tends to be wide, mostly medium speed, and tastefully applied. Kirk Hammett, take note: this is how you apply finger vibrato.
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