top of page
  • Writer's pictureBarış Şahin

Steve Morse Interview

Hello. This is actually an interview I did for Sound Magazine back in 2011. However, transcribing the audio recordings was so tedious that I forgot about it after it was published in the magazine. It came to my mind while I was writing a review about the Dimarzio Steve Morse pickups I purchased 1-2 months ago, as he provided a lot of information about how his signature Dimarzios were designed and how he used them. I had never published it in English before. Since most of the things Steve talked about are timeless, I think it will still be a valuable read. After all, it's a recorded memory...

Steve Morse Interview

Hi Steve. Please welcome to Sound Magazine. First of all this is an honour for me to meet you. As you can easily guess i am fan of your music and playing. In which part of the world are you now and which mood are you in?

Right now, we're in France, and it's the end of a seven-week tour like it's all I'm tired, but I'm very happy to be playing music for my job, so I'm in a good mood, but sometimes these long tours just make you tired. That's all.

Lets begin with your latest project is called “Angelfire”. My promo has just arrived and im still listening. My first impression about your album is to think it is radical considering your discography. Actually i like it a lot, too. Was it something you keep inside for long, you know, to create something like Angelfire or was it all done after you meet Sarah?

I started several acoustic albums In fact, the album that was put out called a Split Decision is half acoustic and half Steve Mors Band. Actually, I've tried to do several all acoustic albums but for whatever reason, it got sidetracked, and the record company was never much interested in it. So when I met Sarah and saw how great she sang, I just wanted to write music that I could hear her sing. That was the whole thing.

Steve Morse and Angelfire Project

Can you please tell me about the song writing and recording period?

Well, the main thing was we started with some ideas that we both had that we were working on. But the, I'd say the main thing that really made the project work was when I started imagining music just to fit her singing. And that really gave me some of my favorite stuff, like, I don't know, pleasant surprise. And I don't know, it just, her voice fit so well with acoustic guitar. So we would sit down and I was a player and an idea, and I have it. And sometimes I would give her a CD or something. But usually we'd just sit in the studio and try different things. And sometimes we work on the lyrics together, but mostly she came up with lyrics and melodies of her own. So she's really, you know, good, complete songwriter. Anyway, when we went to record, she just gets every take, it's great. So there's no pitch correction on anything. It's just the way she sings, which is incredible.

Should we assume you to add more vocal lines into your solo projetcs in future?

Not mine. Not mine. Because I still like the instrumental playing and writing. But, you know, I do other projects with other people. So sometimes when that happens, of course, there are going to be vocals.

Steve Morse Interview

Your regular line of your signature Ernie Ball guitars (SM Model and SM Y2D) are always made from poplar body. Are your own guitars made of poplar, too or are they made another body wood like alder? If poplar, why do you prefer poplar while you can choose any of well known woods?

I wanted a light guitar, and I wanted the guitar to resonate and have some pop to it. In other words, when you turn another guitar to the amp, and you can hear the notes really clearly, you know, not to where it's really distorting, but where you can hear the notes, I want them to pop out and have some... Well, a lot of dynamics. And that just seems to be the best, you know, like a rock and roll guitar, that's just going to be playing power chords. You can easily do a great job with that, with, you know, really heavy guitar, with very dense wood. But, you know, I want my guitars to be versatile enough so that I can play the same guitar all night long with lots of styles of music. So I think that's part of it too. It's, you know, it's not just rock and roll with me.

Your signature guitar has very weird type of pickup configuration and switching. Likewise your weird tele/strat guitar. What needs did you have to get a pickup configuration and switching like this?

Well, it started with one thing and led to another, kind of like the way any nation's government laws are, you know. If you look at it at first glance, it looks like impossible to understand. And, you know, it was just one thing after another. Like, oh, now we need this. Now we need to do that.

So I started with the... I had a tele and the lead pickup was feeding back. It was a tele pickup. And the bridge wouldn't tune because it would head to strings on each little adjusting tree. It was a stock tele. I didn't like that, so I tore that out and bought a humbucker. It was a fender humbucker. They'd just come out with it because the Gibson Patent run out. So I was going to try that first. And I worked pretty good. It was an improvement. Not exactly what I wondered, which is where we ended up with Dimarzio, making one. Making two, actually.

Anyway, the next thing was the humbucker. To go to the humbucker, I needed to... Well, all I did was take out a... There was a capacitor on the three-way switch that came with a tele. So it took the capacitor off. And I thought that little lipstick pickup that was in the neck position, I thought that would sound great next to the humbucker, the bridge humbucker. So I hollowed out a little place for it and installed it. And it did sound great. Now I need an extra switch to make combinations. So I just cut up a little area. And once I made a little route for the wire to go and cut a hole in the pickard, then it was just simply a matter of adding on/off switch. I think it was from a toaster or something like that or an electric fan. And that worked fine. Then I was at NAMM Show and I got some extra pickups to try out. And there was still space left on the guitar (smiles). So I needed one more switch. So I put an extra switch between the volume and the tone pots. That was not a great place for it, but it was the only place I could find without having to cut up the guitar too much.

Anyway, when we went to the music man version, they made lots and lots of improvements. We worked together on lots of things. And the end result is a better guitar than my fender was. So I'm definitely very happy with it. And one of the things that I do when I do these guitar clinics, sometimes they have some models of my guitars for sale. And, if anybody buys one, bring it to the gig tonight and I'll play it. In other words, a guitar that I've never seen or touched before, all we have to do is tune it. And I can go up and play and it's going to sound good. So I'm really glad about that.

What kind of pickup configurations do you use for your certain spesific song parts? For instance, for melodic lines of your song, fast alternate picking parts, rhythm guitar parts, clean guitar sections or chicken picking lines etc.

I always switch between the neck position and the bridge position humbucker. Down low, I play the bridge position humbucker for most heavy, like, power chords. For lines that go up, you know, on the thin strings and or higher up on a neck, i use the neck pickup. And so in the middle of a solo, I'll be changing the pickups as I go up the neck. And that, the reason is that, up high, it sounds like the guitar needs more fatness, more body and that the neck position gives me that. And down low, it needs less low and needs more harmonics and high end. That's pleasant, so hence, I change from there. So I'm using those most of the time.

Now, on clean parts like that I would do with the Dregs or Steve Morse Band, we're arpeggiating and it's using the clean channel. That's usually done with both humbucker mix together.

For chicken picking stuff, a lot of times I use the single coil right next to the bridge humbucker. And there's, I also use the single coil pickup by itself for a lot of times when I'm playing live. For instance, if I turn the guitar down from a big power chord and I wanna play a little clean line that's not distorted without changing channel to a, if I wanna play a clean line without changing channel to the clean setting or to a clean channel, I don't know why I can't talk to that. Then what I'll do is just bring down the volume from 10 to about 2 on the guitar and then shift to the single coil pickup by itself. That, what that does is it gives me more high end that I lose when I turn the guitar down. And it's so little gain with the guitar set on, too and that weaker pickup that it gives me a clean sound. And it's very workable. I can slowly add more gain, more distortion if I want to with the volume control.

So those are the five sounds I use all the time. And that's why the Y2D has five positions on the switch. It's a multi-pole switch. So the switches don't line, the positions don't all line up like they would on a strat, five position switch. So we had to have a special switch in order to make it all in one switch, but it is and it works great.

Your Y2D model is awesome, let me say that. And this model has lack of neck side single pickup. And this is why, right? You dont need another single coil anymore?

Yes, the reason it's not there is it's not one of the five sounds that I was always using. I only would use it sometimes in the studio. So it became something that I just didn't use live. But it also takes something away. It's an extra magnet on the strings. It does sort of stop the strings from ringing as much. And so we tried this guitar without the extra pickup and with a little bit harder top, it brings out more high end. And what we get is a better rock and roll guitar. And that's the reason for it is just to try to take away the downside of having an extra pickup, which was the magnetic energy against the strings slowing down the string ringing.

Your pickups made by Steve Blucher from DiMarzio. How was the designing process? How can you describe your signature Dimarzios? What are your needs and expectations from a pickup soundwise, EQ-wise, output-wise?

Steve Blutcher took my Fender humbucker originally. And I said, I kind of like this sound, but it feeds back also. Can you make this more like a rock and roll pickup? And the bobbin was a different size than Dimarzio bobbin. So they put the prototypes on their normal bobbin. So, and I already carved out a big huge hole for the Fender Humbucker, which was a much wider pickup. And so that's another reason in there, there's an extra big hole in my Frankenstein Tele. But basically he just said:

Here, try this, What do you think?

And here, try this. What do you think?

Here, try this.

I would say, well, it just doesn't seem bright enough or something like that. So he would take it and redo it. And he knows whether it's lining their magnets or what needs to be done in order to change the sound. And eventually we came up on one that really sounded good. And I said, well, now, can we get a neck pickup? That compliments us. That'll blend with it perfectly. And there was, there was not a big change there, but it took a few tries to get one that would blend so well.

Well, my expectations from the pickups? The bridge pickup, the humbucker has high end and mid range. But what I really needed to do is to be able to sound good when it's blended with the neck humbucker. And also to be able to get harmonics to jump out. Or like a really fat pickup, like you'd have in a Les Paul that sounds real fat, wouldn't really do that so well. And that's why people, you know, use Les Pauls through amps with lots of presence. It compliments the pickup better because the pickup doesn't have very much of that.

You have an endorsement with ENGL Amps while you used to use many amps before like Jubilees, Peavey 5150s. Now, “Steve Morse Signature 100 E-656” model amps are in stores. What spesific specs does this amp have?

Oh no, I don't have the specs in front of me (laughs), but what it has is three channels and lots and lots of different outputs and control. Sorry, first of all, the clean channel is amazing. There's a boost switch, of course, so you can floor it and put the boost switch on and you can actually have it distort. It's kind of like an old, like an old Gibson amp or something. But what I like to do is keep the clean channel pretty clean.

In fact, with the Steve Morse Band, now I can turn the volume down to about 5 on the input and use my classical guitar straight into there. And it's just so clean that it works great for it. And channel two is what I call the classic ENGL sound. It's the do everything channel. You put everything on six, plug any guitar into it, and it's going to sound great. And channel three is really, that's a lot more room to dial in the mid-range. There's four mid-range controls on it instead of just one. And so you can change the range and you can change the amount that you are cutting or boosting in the low mid-range and high mid-range. And there's different volumes for each mid-range. So it actually acts like two different channels there because you can program any button switches... The buttons are soft buttons. You know what I mean? By soft buttons where you hit them and then they change state from, you know, from on to off or off to on. And the MIDI pedal, which is just, you know, a channel switcher thing on the floor of that, you know, you can have dozens of sounds on it programmed. I get it'll switch to whatever channel you want and it'll give you, you know, the boost or the tone change or you can switch from one master volume to another on any of the channels. So if you have, say, four different sounds you'd like with channel one, channel two, channel three on this mid-range, channel three on the other mid-range. Then you can also have the same ones with less or more volume, you know, on the other master volume control. So that's really handy. Any channel has an output control, which is, again, that's really handy.

And there's two effects loops. They're switchable also with, you know, you can put it to any assignment. There's an amp mute that's switchable. Oh, man. And there's lots of different outputs for speakers and different impedance. And, I don't know, it's just a great amp. I didn't do a very technical explanation, but I do love it.

According to the interviews i’d read, you use many amps while recording. You use a A/B signal splitter and get your signal into another amps (mostly Peavey 5150s). Do you still record like this way?

Yes, I do. And I do it partly because I just enjoy the process of making little changes. Maybe little changes that no one will really hear or notice, but I basically start every song with a different sound, even though they get to be very similar. But I'll just use a different microphone just to do it. And, you know, if it sounds horrible, of course I don't pursue it. But if it seems like it's going to work, and I'll go ahead and go with it. Once I've sort of established the sound for the rhythm of the tune or the basic parts, then I think about what do we need to change in order to accentuate different parts. So I kind of, you know, just like a painter would look at a drawing and say, well, we're going to splash some color on this. That's basically what I do. So if I need a thinner sound, I'll go to maybe some direct stuff, direct it to the board, or through a little tube preamp. If I need it thicker, then I'll use a different microphones. Some large diaphragm condenser mics work great for getting it thicker sound. And the A/B splitter is still, makes it a little bit of a humm to connect from one amp to another amp, or from one amp to direct. But I've also been experimenting with using the amplitude and also the Native Instruments Guitar Rig, as well as the Cubase guitar amps. And for those, you need to record just direct into the signal, into the computer. So that's another thing that the A/B switch does, is go directly in and also to an amp. And I imagine at some point, I'm going to be convinced that works pretty well. In fact, if the latency was zero, I would use those probably more often. And there'll never be a total substitute for an amplifier to me, but they're very useful for just conjuring up another sound to contrast something.

Steve Morse Interview 2011

What are the key tricks to record electric guitar parts? Can you please give us some tricks that you always do?

Well, one thing is, if you're doubling a part, that's usually something that takes a lot of time, is to get the doubles, right? If it's a very complicated part, don't do it all. Just do it one little section. And then immediately, when you feel like you've got a, even if it's 16 bars, you've got the sections, just go back on the other track and do that double. Don't wait to come back to it. The reason is, is you'll remember all the little subtle things that you did in that very recent take you did. And sometimes, if I did a great part, but I want to double it, and end up, you know, phone rang or something, and I had to go get the phone. But that's not my comeback. Instead of trying to learn what I already recorded, all the little subtleties and where I did a mute and a long note and a short note. Instead of doing that, I'll just re-record it, re-record the part, and then immediately go to the second track and do that.

And the other thing is, you know, make sure you check your tune. You'll check your tune a lot. Most people don't. They tune up before the session starts, and then they, I usually have to remind them to tune up. So, just keep a tuner where you can see it all the time, and keep referring to it.

And I would say, you know, try to get some variety in the sounds. Don't use the same sound at all of the... you know, some things should be mono, just a single track, and some things sound really good with stereo, with, you know, it's pan to the left and right. And when those things, when part switch from one to the other, it can be kind of neat. Well, you know, I could go on forever, but recording, I don't know what kind of tricks to talk about there. But those are a couple of my... Well, okay, how about one more? When I record solo, when I feel like I'm warmed up and I'm ready to start playing, I'll clear out about maybe eight tracks and just put them one on top of another. And mute them all, except for one. That's on top track. And I'll do a take, and if there's anything that I feel like that might be good in it, I'll take that track and, you know, with the computer, just drag it down to one of the muted channels. And I have the muted channels. They're like a score from one to eight. Like if I think it was good, I could keep it near the top of the muted channel. And if I think it's not that great, I'll put it near the bottom. But when I do eight takes and it's all filled up, if I still not satisfied, I'll start erasing the ones at the bottom and keep going. And when I feel like I've peaked and I'm not doing as well, I'll stop recording. Go get something to drink or just go outside and just get away from it a little bit. Come back in a few minutes later and listen to the parts. See which one, which take has something special, something magic, something that was in a nice accident, something that I wouldn't ordinarily do. And then I'll just work on that. A lot of times, I'll go ahead and take pretty much the whole thing. But if there's a part where it rushed or a bad note, it's very easy to just drop in and fix those parts. So that's why I still do solos. It's the old school way, like from the tape recorder days. But it's easier now with computers, because you can, like I said, you can drop the takes of the solo down and I sort of keep score with them and do it quickly. Don't spend any time worrying about your solo between takes. Just get some great takes in and you know, when you feel like you peaked, come back and listen. The chances are very good. You'll have something you like.

What do you think of new era of guitar processors/simulators whatever leading by Fractal Audio Systems Axe-Fx? You know, one upon a time there was just Line 6 PODs which were really useful. But many people say that we are now in another level of guitar equipments. What do you say about that?

Well, actually, this goes back to what I was saying. The Line6 Pod was actually a guitar amp emulator software, I think, from Pro Tools. So, you know, I don't know if it was the exact one, the Guitar Rig sounds or not, but it's very similar. Anyway, the stuff works and it's amazing. But what it won't do is give you the ease of control that a real amp will. And I don't know. Again, I still have problems with just even a few milliseconds of latency. So, you know, once there's some created with massive processors that don't have any latency at all, then I think we are sort of into another level of guitar equipment. I think it can be done. Just like, you know, early digital stuff for recording wasn't that great. And people like me were very slow to change to it. But once it got to the point where computing, you know, working with the Cubase on a computer was actually easier than using a tape machine. That really made it happen for me. So, I think I'm one of those people that I'm definitely into it. I definitely am trying it. However, there's one thing that, you know, it'll never replace the live amp for me because of the way that the way the tubes sing and the way they react is different than a modeling thing. Like I've heard some incredible software simulations of symphonic instruments that just sound amazing. But there's always something that's really, really hard to do with artificial recreation. Like, for instance, strings are very, very difficult to get that sound. And just getting that little bit of extra dynamics that a real amp, the real tube amp will give you. Doesn't seem to be quite there yet. But, you know, for just getting a part, or demoing a part quickly, they really are working very well. All these amp and cabinet simulators, whatever you want to call them.

What can you say about mid frequencies and their effective uses in to your playing? With your amp settings and pickup, guitar wood preferencies, i believe that you really like to play with them. Are there any difference with playing with Deep Purple than playing in Steve Morse Band ?

Yeah, good question. Actually, with Purple, because of the organ, it sits in a place that the guitar can get very muddy with the organ very easily. That was the problem I had with the amps I used to use. So the ENGL, it has a clarity that cuts through better. The high mids are sweet sounding too. They're not annoying. That really helps. There's definitely a difference, like when I play with Steve Morse Band, I could get away with a lot more mids. Of course, it's a three-piece band. But I also really like the ENGL Amp with the Steve Morse band, because there are certain things I can get out of. I couldn't get out of any other amp. For one, I'm not very crystalline, clear, high-end. And the clean channel that doesn't break up if you don't want it to. And the channel 3 that I can tune in is a big, big mid-range if I want to for a solo or a line. So it's not just me. It's exactly what kind of mids it.It definitely makes it work.

What was your first guitar? Whats the story to have and willing to learn to play it? What reasons do you have to begin guitar playing?

My first guitar was given to me by my grandmother. She found it on the side of the road. Well, it turns out it was a piece of junk. It was broken and the neck was warped and there was no truss rod on it. It was worth it, though. Maybe $3 when it was new. I took it to a guitar lesson with a whole group of people. The teacher came to everybody's guitar and tried to tune them and hand it back to them. And then we'd all learn a chord together. When he got to mine, he says, you can't play this one. I said, I know, that's why I'm here. He said, no, nobody could play this. You're going to need another guitar. So I rented a Gibson acoustic for the first year. Then the next one that I got was a single pickup Musicmaster. But the pickup wasn't next to the bridge. It was closer to the neck position. And it was just a single coil pickup. And it's just, it's not a terrible. It played great and was cool and would be great if I was a collector and still in it. But it just didn't have a good sound. It didn't sound like anything I ever heard on a record. And I was just a little kid, but I knew it didn't sound right. The next got a few years later, got a stratocaster. The same one that became my main guitar when I changed it. But once again, I could get certain sounds. But I couldn't get any of that humbucking stuff. So that's why I put the tele buddy on that neck and started cutting into it. My Strat neck was too pretty for me to cut up. But the tele, you know, I re-finished it myself and it was a little rough looking. A teeny, you know, a young teenager doing it himself, you can imagine. So, I don't know. That was the story of my guitar.

How did you understand that playing guitar is more of a hobby, a lifetime professional career plan? Was it a difficult desicion for you?

Yes, it was difficult. I remember being at registration and my first semester of college saying, what do I do? I was going to be an electrical engineer or a musician. I didn't know what I was going to do. So I finally just said, well, which one feels like what you'd like to do your whole life? And I was like, well, I really love music. I really wanted to do some things too, but music... I think I can keep you interested in that my whole life. And so I did.

I know you are very skilled pilot :) Do you still fly? How many planes do you have now?

I fly almost every day when I'm home. And I have a few small planes that are... In America, they're not very expensive to have or to keep or to buy. And it's not a... It's vast of a luxury as you'd think. We're, you know, in fact for the price of like a new Volvo, you can have a really nice four-place plane in America. And go across the entire continent with no problem.

You visited Turkiye for several times with Deep Purple. Do you remember your first time? What were your expectations and what have you found? You know, İstanbul, the crowd, show, concert hall, people…

Yes, I do. The crowd was so loud. It was such a loud audience. It was such genuine energy that the whole band remembers that. Yeah, it was outdoor in Istanbul, I think. And we all just couldn't believe how energetic the people were. And friendly and energetic and just full of life. That's what I remember about it.

I’m pretty sure that thousands of your fans would like me to ask you this; what is the way or approach to be a great guitar player as you are? I mean both mentally and pratically?

All right, nothing like a simple question. All right, mentally and practically. Well, mentally, it's... The way you work at a restaurant and your job is to make a sandwich. If you can't make the sandwich, neatly. And do a good job. Or if you can't sweep the floor to the best of your ability, if you don't have any desire to do a good job with that, you're not going to be a good musician. Because, that means that you're always be taking little ways out, little shortcuts. And in life, you can't do everything for everything, of course. And there are comfort-mindeds you have to make. But to practice every day, and while other people are out partying, and other people are out doing this and doing that, then you have to practice every single day. You have to be the kind of person that wants it to be right. And you're really right.

So that's the approach. Mentally and practically the approach is if you're going to do it as a... If you want to be a great guitar player, you know, you've got to put in the time. Talent matters very long for your direction and your improvisation. However hard work alone can get you some amazing chops and the ability to play very difficult things and have an impressive performance ability. But you have to have, I think, you have to have that discipline and hard work mixed with some real love for the music you're playing so that you will be able to reach inside yourself and improvise and come up with things that you've never done before. That's the only way you can hold your interests and keep it from being a routine job.

And another practical thing is to keep your expenses low. You know, if you're going to be a professional musician, don't take on other responsibilities because the break that you'll get that gives you, you know, your lucky break will usually come from something that doesn't seem so obvious. Like the guy down the street that said, hey, you want to jam sometime, you're going to come up with something with that guy. And that's going to amaze people. And they're going to say, hey, why don't you come over and meet this guy. He does concerts. You really got something going on there. I think he wanted to hear you. As opposed to somebody calling up and saying, hey, we're in a band, we have lots of money, and we just can't find a guitar player. You can pretty much never hear that question (smiles) Oh, no, no, no one's ever going to call and say, we can't find a guitar player because they're everywhere. So you have to be able to have a free schedule and freedom to try different things with people constantly. That's how you're going to find the magic fit eventually that does blow people away.

And remember what my mother told me. The harder you work, the luckier you get. Whenever somebody says, oh, you just got lucky, I really try to remind them that everybody has chances to be lucky. The difference is if you're ready for it, sometimes that luck will pan out and your life will change. But everybody has little moments where something amazing could have happened. And if you work hard and you're always ready, then when little moments come to you, you'll be able to take advantage of it. And don't ever think there's only one chance that you're going to have to elevate your career. That this is the chance of a lifetime and it'll never be this way again. Don't ever think that way.

If you take care of the music, the music will take care of you. But don't start a family until your career is well on its way and very secure. Because you do this not bear it to your well, to your family. And you won't be able to put in the time with your career to take the chances you need to make it happen

I’ve come to my end of my questions Steve. What is your message to your fans? Please take care!

Your fans will be tricky. We love you. We'll definitely see you again. Thank you for all the warm greetings and great wishes and support. Definitely thank you. And that's the big one on behalf of the entire band for that. Thank you very much.

Guitar pickup reviews

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page