Since he started recording and touring with Frank Zappa in the early '80s, Steve Vai has shown that he’s one of the world’s great guitarists. But he also really enjoys is teaching, giving master classes around the globe. And last year, Vai launched the Vai Academy in Vail, which drew more than 150 guitarists of all levels and ages.
While the primary focus of the Vai Academy is the guitar —- the nights are filled with jams, and every student gets to play with Vai — the camp is about a lot more than learning how to play. Last year’s theme was "Song Evolution," and students learned the process of writing a piece of music, ways of finding inspiration, working with others and then how to copyright the song, start their own publishing company, record the song, upload it to a digital aggregator and then build a marketing plan.
This year’s Vai Academy, which runs from Sunday, August 2, through Thursday, August 6, at the Arrabelle at Vail Square (there are still spots available), will focus on the guitar itself, and celebrated players Eric Johnson and Sonny Landreth will share their knowledge as well.
“One of the things I’ve never been really good at, frankly, is understanding what makes up a guitar,” Vai says. “So the name of this year’s camp is 'All About the Guitar,' because so many guitar players love the instrument but they don’t really know goes into it. So that kind of could obscure their ability to choose an instrument that most resonates with the kind of thing that they think they would like to hear. For instance, a guitar – we’re just talking electric guitars, basically – at this camp. the kind of wood used in the body has a lot to do with the tonality of the instrument. So I have experts coming in and talking about that — the different woods that are used and what you can expect from their tones.
“I just think that there’s so much about the instrument that when you understand it, it will help you to know more of what you want when you go look for a guitar. And also it just helps you understand the instrument deeper for your own performance satisfaction and your ability to deal with your instruments. So that’s what I thought would make a good theme.”
Larry DiMarzio, inventor of the first after-market replacement guitar pickup in 1972, will give a class on guitar electronics and pick-ups, and Sterling Ball (son of Ernie Ball, guitar-string innovator whose company is named after him) will talk about his career and guitar strings.
“I taught for many years about technique, vibrato, how to stretch notes, how to approach scales and chords and the theory behind them and all that,” Vai says. “And that’s important on one level, but I don’t really talk about that because it’s academic information you can get anywhere.
“But at some point you need to go deeper than the technique, and that’s what I focus on. That’s what I like to talk about. I have a tendency to take a very esoteric approach to most things like this because, really, I try to get to the root of the structure that’s in place that helps facilitate the creation of the things in your life. And really, the quality of your inspirations is based on the quality of your consciousness, which is the quality of thoughts you choose to think. So what I do in my classes is I take a look at that, and there’s no lack of feelings of non-worthiness when it comes to guitar players. So I try to expose those more subtle but vital, powerful thought structures that actually are necessary to find who you are on the instrument and to enjoy the process.”
A few days after wrapping up the Vai Academy, Vai will headline Guitar Town in Copper Mountain on Sunday, August 9. This year’s Guitar Town, a free three-day festival that runs from August 7 to 9, features performances by Vai Academy players Johnson and Landreth as well as Andy McKee, John Jorgenson, Sean McGowan, Robben Ford and more, along with workshops, custom luthiers and the ArtGuitar silent auction.
Vai says his Guitar Town gig (a full Vai show is usually three hours) will include some material from his most recent studio album, 2012’s Story of Light. Vai’s tour for the album, which included 253 shows in 52 countries, is documented on Story of Light Tour: The Space Between the Notes (Tour Mischief), the second disc of the two-DVD set, Stillness in Motion: Vai Live in L.A.
“I can just say that this last tour was a rich experience in expanding my performance depths on the instrument, " he notes, "and that will be on display at this show.”
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