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John Petrucci Talks New Dream Theater Album, Perfect Tone, His Own Guitar Heroes + More

Dream Theater John Petrucci
Robert Cianfione, Getty Images

We recently had the pleasure of attending a Dream Theater listening party in New York City for the band’s upcoming self-titled release. The members of Dream Theater and those in attendance all hung out with some lovely food and drink while the album blasted through massive speakers, so we took the opportunity to chat with legendary Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci.

We spoke to Petrucci about the album, how the guitarist attains his unmistakable tone, his own personal guitar heroes + much more. Enjoy our exclusive interview with John Petrucci below:

On guitar, is there anything that you have done specifically for the new album which hasn’t been present in past releases?

This record, right from the beginning, when we first set up in the studio to write, we made it a point of just speaking about the guitars. We did this to get the guitar sound that you are hearing right now [referring to the music playing at the listening party]. Basically, what you just heard — that is what it sounded like just a few days into writing. We mic-ed it and EQ-ed it and got it to where we could really tell what the album was going to sound like.

How much prep did it take to get that perfect tone you have in there?

You know, if you think about it, its something that has taken my career — years. Even the guitar I’m using — it’s a Music Man guitar, it’s my signature model. I have been using it for 13 going on 14 years. That model is called the JP 13 because I have been with them for 13 years. It’s the first guitar that has a preamp in it. So really, it starts with the guitar, the amplifier is Mesa Boogie, always, from the beginning. As long as we have that combination: great guitar, great amplifier, DiMarzio pickups — great pickups. Then what is coming out of the speakers is what I want to hear and it is just a matter of capturing that. That is left up to Rich, our engineer. We spend a ton of time; we re-amp stuff, we try mic combinations and preamps. It’s fun. It’s kind of the fun of recording guitar.

One of my favorite bands is Between the Buried and Me, and when I listen to them I hear a lot of your influence. On this album, too, I can hear the connection. Along with a lot of bands like them taking a lot of inspiration from you, are there any young bands you have taken inspiration from?

That’s a really good question. I think that without naming a specific band, there is a whole wave of younger bands that are in the prog vein. There is Periphery, Between the Buried and Me, Animals As Leaders — bands like that are doing stuff where you hear it and you are like, ‘Wow, that’s amazing! That was intense!’ You can’t help but have that seep into your subconscious, you know? In that sense, anything you hear that you like the sound of becomes an influence and shapes who you are as a musician writing music.

In terms of heaviness, it sounds like the self-titled album harbors some of the heaviest tones I’ve have ever heard from you guys. Was that something that you wanted to accomplish?

I just wanted the guitar to sound like … you know in the movies like ‘Jurassic Park’ when the T-Rex is just screaming and the hair blows back? That is what I wanted the guitar to sound like. That, and chocolate cake. But yeah, I think the nature of the guitar with the preamp in it has more of an open sound, a lot more overtones and highs. Having Rich [Chycki] engineer it, the stuff that he does always has guts and balls and punch. When were were writing we were like, ‘This f—ing is so heavy! It’s awesome!’ It was conscious, absolutely.

People are constantly saying that you are one of the best guitarists ever. But I think as a musician, there are always going to be some people that you put on a pedestal and think, ‘I could never be as good as those guys.’ Who are some of those people to you?

There are so many. Guys that I have had the pleasure of playing with like Steve Morse, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Steve Lukather. I listen to somebody like Shawn Lane, and unfortunately he is no longer with us, but I hear him playing and I am like, ‘That is just absolutely ridiculous.’ I have seen Tommy Emanuel play; my wife and I went to see him and he just melted my face off. How do you play guitar like that? There are so many people that play at a ridiculous level and I sit there watching them and I’m like, ‘Wow, wish I could do that.’

Get excited for Dream Theater’s upcoming self-titled album, which will see a Sept. 24 release. Pre-orders are available at the band’s official site.

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