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Warren DeMartini: Dangerous But Worth The Interview
Feature by Scott Kahn
Photos courtesy of (except where noted)


Back in the ‘80s, Los Angeles band Ratt led the glam metal scene with catchy riff-filled songs that showcased some fantastic guitar playing. With over ten million albums sold in the USA and more than twenty million worldwide, it would be hard to find any shred-minded guitar player on any continent who isn’t familiar with guitarist Warren DeMartini.

DeMartini joined Ratt in its early years, replacing original guitarist, and friend, Jake E. Lee. Sharing guitar duties with (late) guitarist Robbin Crosby, DeMartini co-wrote many of Ratt’s classic hits such as “Round and Round,” “Lay It Down,” and “Way Cool Jr.” The two players were widely regarded for their dual lead playing, and that dual guitar responsibility is currently shared with former Quit Riot guitarist Carlos Cavazo. Although DeMartini has been a constant force behind Ratt, and sometimes the sole guitar player, he’s always the democrat, sharing lead and rhythm duties with other players.

DeMartini’s style is one of the things that helped Ratt stand apart from other bands of the genre over the years, infusing pop metal with style that could deftly switch from neoclassical to blues to classic rock. He was one of the ‘80s preeminent shredders, combining great technique with good musical taste — he knew when and where to tear it up, and both he and the other guitar players always played for the songs; not for their egos.

Warren DeMartini
Photo by Matt York

During a few extended periods of time when Ratt members were separated, DeMartini recorded a few solo records, accompanied by some excellent and well known players. He even toured as a guitarist with Whitesnake on their Greatest Hits tour in 1994.

April 2010 sees Ratt together again, lead by vocalist Stephen Pearcy and with original drummer Bobby Blotzer. Bassist Robbie Crane (he came along mid-way through the band’s existence) and Cavazo complete the lineup. Their new CD, Infestation, is classic, invigorating Ratt that takes you back to ‘80s without actually sounding like it came from the ‘80s.

“You’re really playing more for the song
than you are for yourself.”

MPc: Tell us a little bit about the new record, Infestation.

WD: You know, we wanted to do something that sort of had the spirit and energy of Out of the Cellar and Invasion of Your Privacy, or just after Invasion of Your Privacy, and I really think we got it.

MPc: The “classic Ratt” influences are really apparent on Infestation. It’s got your classic songwriting style paired with modern production values.

WD: It is. We’re big fans of those iconic stories about records that were made in mansions, or somebody rents out a big flat somewhere in the south of France, like The Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, and we always wanted to try that, so on this record we decided to do something different for us. We recorded this on the East Coast at a house on the Chesapeake Bay, and it was a neat experience. Really cool. Different.

MPc: You’ve sometimes been the only guitar player in Ratt, but this time you had Carlos Cavazo in the ranks. What was it like playing with another guitar player in the band again?

WD: It’s great. I enjoy both, but Carlos really brings a great energy to the party and I really look forward to every gig we do.

Warren DeMartiniMPc: What are your personal favorite moments, guitar-wise, on the new album?

WD: Well, I really like the solo section in “Last Weekend.” That was one of the songs that the section sort of wrote itself in real-time. We didn’t really have to work on that one very much; it fell together pretty quickly. There’s some really fun double-lead stuff, like in “Take a Big Bite” or “Last Call.”

We wanted to revisit the double-lead style that Robbin Crosby and I developed early on in the band’s career, so it’s a fun thing. You’re really playing more for the song than you are for yourself. I notice with double leads it sort of makes the emphasis on the part as opposed to anything else. There’s stuff in there that’s challenging, but it’s not hard to listen to.

MPc: Songs like “Last Weekend” and “Best of Me” drew me in because of the great lead lines — they really defined the melody of those songs.

WD: Thanks. You know I really loved what Carlos did on the front of [“Last Weekend”] too, and in the outro, and it created kind of a cool balance. That song in particular, we really found the balance that was appropriate for working with Carlos. Him doing the intro lead, me doing the second lead, and him doing the outro.

MPc: So it’s pretty democratic, with you sharing the rhythm and lead responsibilities?

WD: I don’t know how, but it fell into its own pace and rhythm. Everything that’s on there, somebody really heard something for it and kind of reached out and did it. So it feels like it’s a pretty even balance, with respect for the lead guitar and the rhythm between Carlos and me. We found a good balance there.

MPc: For a long time you were associated with Seymour Duncan JB Pickups, but now you’ve got signature [Seymour Duncan] RTM pickups. What inspired the change after all these years?

WD: Well, a few years ago Fender bought Charvel, and Charvel asked me if I wanted to be involved in a signature series, and after we talked a while I got into the idea of doing an endorsed thing. And one of the options was to create a pickup for those guitars, so I took the original crossed-swords Charvel, that I recorded Invasion of Your Privacy with, and took it up the Seymour Duncan factory in Santa Barbara and just spent an afternoon with Seymour Duncan.

We tried about eight or ten pickups and kept going back to the same one, which is similar to the JB in that it has an Alnico magnet in it. It’s just a tiny bit hotter, and there’s a bit of a notch in the upper-mid. So it’s kind of a continuation of the JB but it’s something that we sort of tailored for that guitar and those materials — the maple neck, the alder body. So it was just sort of an opportunity that was created out of the invitation to do a Signature Series, and I always wanted to meet Seymour, so it was a great excuse to do it.

“Chorusing gets a little tricky if you have
two guitars, because two guitars tend
to create that sound just naturally.”

MPc: The new guitars have a pickup in the neck — a Seymour Duncan Quarter Pounder. But of course historically, you’re known for just having the single JB humbucker at the bridge. Is the neck pickup just for the new production line or have you actually started using a neck pickup?

WD: We have a Snake model coming out this year. We spent about a year trying to find a paint job that would stand up to the real thing, and we did. And that guitar’s going to have a pickup in the neck because around 1989 I started using those — Performance Guitars, and those always had two single coils or one in addition to the bridge humbucker, so it’s something I’ve gotten used to using all the time now.

When they did come around again, I missed it, so I sent a couple of the guitars back and had them modified, had them stick a single coil in the neck, which works out great. This next addition to the signature series, the Python snake model, is [going to] have a Quarter Pounder in the neck.

Charvel Warren DeMartini Signature Guitars

Beautiful Charvel Warren DeMartini signature guitars. Read our in-depth review here!

MPc: Tell us about the gear that you recorded with on Infestation and the gear that you’re going to take on the road to support it?

WD: Infestation for me was Charvels and Performance Guitars, and I also had a Gretsch Nashville that I had for some textural stuff, on all the over-dubs. Amp- wise, all of it is a Diezel and a Soldano, together. We really liked that sound. It filled the spectrum out in a nice way — the Diezel kind of emphasized the lows and the highs and the Soldanos filled the mids and upper-mids in a nice way. So that ended up being really inspirational.

MPc: Were you splitting your guitar signal to both of those amps or were you double-tracking?

WD: Splitting the signal.

MPc: What about effects? Are you a pedal guy, are you a rack guy, are you a little of both?

WD: Little of both. Some tours I’ve used a rack system, some pedals, and it’s really just what you put together at the time. I’ve had some moments using both types of systems, when you think it’s just the ultimate and it can’t be better, and then you try something else and you like that. It varies a lot.

In the studio, there was a big trunk full of pedals and stuff and I brought some of my own, so I used the Dunlop Uni-vibe on a couple of things like, the solo on “Destiny.” The verse rhythm guitar on “As Good As It Gets” was done with the Uni-vibe, and there’s two types where you can control the speed with the pedal, and there’s one that actually has knobs. So I used both of those. The rhythm guitar on “As Good As It Gets” is the wah-wah type Rotovibe and the solo in “Best of Me” was the other kind, the silver Uni-vibeone.

“We had one of those smaller rooms, just one Marshall
stacked on top of the other, probably five or six high
and four or five wide, just a wall of them.”

MPc: Are there some pedals that are must-haves in your collection that you rely on all the time?

WD: No I don’t use them all the time. It’s usually “Let’s see what this sounds like” and that will cause you to do something differently than you normally would. Like with the Univibe it really caused me to approach things differently because the Univibe puts so much emphasis on the low end as part of the sound that you have to play differently. So certain runs aren’t gonna work, and certain speeds aren’t gonna work. So it’s stuff like that. It’s really about color isn’t it? Throw some orange over here! (laughs)

MPc: Do you make much use of chorus or delay effects?

WD: Both things are really good. They have their moments of being useful, definitely. Chorusing gets a little tricky if you have two guitars, because two guitars tend to create that sound just naturally, because it’s impossible that two people are going to play exactly the same at the same time. So naturally I think the pitch kind of bends a little bit and that creates a slight chorusing sound. But when you [play] a clean intro or something that, chorusing makes all the difference.

Warren DeMartiniMPc: Do you have a preference for the type of chorus?

WD: No, there’s many different things to choose from, and it really kind of boils down to the idea. Some of the rack mount choruses are really effective on some things, like on the intro to “Body Talk” — that was a studio rack effects unit that you would not use in a guitar rack. But it really worked for that particular song. I remember on a song called “Between the Eyes” on Invasion of Your Privacy we slowed the tape down. We generally recorded at 30 ips and for this one effect we slowed it down to 15 ips for this particular part, [and then] sped the tape back. It created a 12-string effect, where the 15-ips overdub ended up being an octave higher. That was a fun way to get the chorus sound.

MPc: It takes a different technique to do that today in Pro Tools.

WD: It really does. You know, some things definitely can’t be done the same way. That sort of cool things that happens, like back when we did the EP we had to bounce tracks back to sub-mixes because we really had so few tracks. And the process of doing that created its own sound. We could definitely get a similar result [today] but with a different approach.

MPc: We want to clear up some various myths and stories of days gone by. Can tell us the story behind your famous snakeskin Charvel?

WD: Well, I was in New Orleans, and we had a few hours to kill and I was just walking around in the Quarter and I saw a python skin laid out in a twenty-foot glass case, like in one of those shops.

I had had the idea for a few months, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. At one point I was thinking of maybe doing something like pounding the design into a guitar body with a chisel or something, just making a repeated sort of pattern that would end up looking like a snakeskin look. But when I saw that skin, I knew right away that it would work because it was wide enough to cover all the body with one piece.

“It was... probably the furthest
we’ve ever strayed from Ratt’s sound.”

MPc: Continuing our trip down memory lane, we’d like to revisit your classic albums and talk about some great guitar memories from the making of those recordings, starting with your first full-length record, Out of the Cellar.

WD: Well on Out of the Cellar, Robbin Crosby and I had 100-Watt Marshalls and a couple of cabinets. He had Celestions in them and I had EVs. He had Marshall cabinets; I had his old Orange cabinets that I bought from him when he moved to LA a year or two before that point. So I had Orange cabinets, and in one of those cabinets I had 200-Watt EVs. The cabinets probably weighed three tons.

They wouldn’t break up much, so when we got to the lead overdub parts of Out of the Cellar, I said to the engineer “I wish I could get a sound like I get from my practice amp because that sound is really inspiring.” At one point he said, “Well why don’t you bring it in and we can mic that up?” And I remember saying “Can we do that?” He was like, “Yeah you can; it doesn’t matter.” This was the first time we had been in that [big studio] environment so it was really a learning experience.

So I did that. We took the back off the Orange cabinet and it was a Fender Super-Champ and I just took the leads from the Super-Champ and connected them to one EV speaker and that was what I used for the lead guitar on the record. I was using the Orange cabinet with the amp section from the Super Champ.

MPc: Did you make some gear changes by the time you started Invasion of Your Privacy?

WD: By Invasion of Your Privacy Robbin Crosby and I had amassed a collection of Marshal 100-Watt heads so in the smaller room we had, Studio A, there were like two or three rooms that had big glass sliding doors, but it was all part of the same studio. And we had one of those smaller rooms, just one Marshall stacked on top of the other, probably five or six high and four or five wide, just a wall of them. And we went through each one and found two of the best ones that he liked and I liked, and that was what we ended up recording Invasion of Your Privacy with.

MPc: At this point were you still using the Orange cabs?

WD: No at that point I owned some older Marshall cabs with vintage Celestions.

MPc: What guitars were you using for the first few albums?

WD: Out of the Cellar was the Bloody Skull and the Bomber — mostly The Bomber. And Invasion of Your Privacy was all the Crossed Swords guitar, and by Dancing Under Cover it was a combination of the Crossed Swords and the French Graphic.

Warren DeMartiniMPc: Any fun memories related to Dancing Under Cover or Reach or the Sky?

WD: Well I remember Mike Stone was dropping me off at my apartment after a session late one night, and I was getting a tape deck out of the back seat [of his convertible], and he forgot that, so I got out of the car and closed the door, turned around, and tried to reach for the tape deck, and he drove on, so he drove right over my foot! (laughing) He bought me a pair of steel-toed shoes and gave them to me the next day.

MPc: Wow, that’s funny. What about making Detonator?

WD: Well on Detonator I used the same amp that was on Invasion of Your Privacy, and that was a Plexi 100-Watt Marshall, [but] that one was out of commission for a while. [Guitar repair guru] Jose Arrendondo figured out how to save the transformer, because there was some shielding on the inside of one of the transformers that had eroded or whatever, and it was causing an arc. So two out of every three times you turn the amp on it blew up.

MPc: Had he modded any of your Marshalls before then?

WD: I seem to remember him modding some of my amps. He did a very small mod to that Plexi amp but I’m not sure what it was. I think he may have replaced one of the capacitors with a bigger one. But that amp is pretty stock. I mean we just hooked it up, ran some tests on it, and that one, he really couldn’t find anything that wasn’t original about it. But what he ended up doing was injecting some kind of material into the center of the transformer and then it hardened, and it’s worked fine since then, which was great because whenever I’ve had an amp where the transformer gives out, the sound is never the same with the replacement. That one, I keep for special occasions. But we got that amp working again, so I [remember being] very inspired by that.

By that time I had been using my black Performance guitar, which was built to the same specs as the one that they built for Frank Zappa, and that guitar continues to be high on the list. It was a cool thing. I was visiting Frank’s studio one day and the guitar was out on a stand, and I asked him if I could play it, and after I picked it up I was like, “Woah. What’s the story on this? Where did it come from?” And I called Performance Guitar after that and asked them if they still had the specs on it and I asked them if they’d get as close to that one as possible.

MPc: A lot of people might be surprised to know about your relationship with Frank Zappa. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

WD: Well his son Dweezil was a big fan of Out of the Cellar, and when we got back from the Japan tour, which was pretty much wrapping up that year, there was a message from Dweezil saying “Happy birthday” with a phone number, so I called him and we hit it off. And he said, “My dad’s mixing some live stuff. You wanna’ come over and check it out?” and I was just, like, speechless. Anyway, that’s how it got started. I did take him up on the invitation, and that was one of a few very special moments for me.

MPc: Collage was an interesting assortment of music.

WD: The album Collage was a mix of songs that we didn’t use from other records. That came out right after Detonator. We sort of broke up for five or six years, and then when we got back together we had very little time to do anything before the summer touring season. So there wasn’t a whole lot of time to write, so we decided to go through the archive and find some stuff that we had that we had but hadn’t been used yet.

So that was a lucrative combination of songs that we recorded but never released, and songs that were written but never recorded by Ratt throughout its history. So you know it’s eclectic, it’s unique, it doesn’t really have anything in common with any of the more higher production albums in Ratt’s catalogue, but it’s one of my favorites. It’s weird.

MPc: Did you actually record any new tracks on that album?

WD: We did. A song called “Steel River” was cut from scratch, and that was a song that I used to see Mickey Ratt play when I was in high school, and I always remembered that riff. So I did some writing on that. We changed from that late ‘70s version and by the time we recorded it for Collage it changed a bit. But that one was recorded from scratch, and maybe one other track from scratch. The rest of them were songs that were started but weren’t finished, that kind of thing. But it really had this very eclectic, very wide-ranging mix of styles and periods.

MPc: Last, let’s talk about the album Ratt from 1999. It’s fantastic, but it definitely has a very different vibe compared to the rest of your catalog.

Warren DeMartiniWD: The concept of that was kind of John Kalodner applying the same formula that he had applied when Aerosmith was with Columbia, of pairing us up with different writers. That’s what that was — it was (kind of) a different collaborator on every song... probably the furthest we’ve ever strayed from Ratt’s sound.

MPc: What was that like for you as a guitar player, being told “You’re going to have these other writers working with you from outside of the band?”

WD: Well I enjoyed working with other writers, but when I zoomed out to what was actually happening and how differently it was affecting the sound of the band, I really wasn’t real thrilled with the end result. But I like collaborating with other people, though maybe not for that reason. There are things that I like very much on it. It was a good idea when I listened back to it, but I don’t think it really got close to the benchmark.

I remember it took about a couple of weeks [to track guitars]. I had my Performance guitars in there, and I had a Fender Strat I was using at the time — it has a real Bugs Bunny painted on it. A friend of mine was an assistant film editor for Warner Bros. at the time I got the guitar, and he kind of “did” Bugs Bunny for me. I mean they weren’t allowed to do that, but there’s a Bugs Bunny painted like he’s sort of resting on the pick-guard. And I used that guitar quite a bit during that period.


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