Yngwie Johann Malmsteen (born Lars Johann Yngve Lannerback, June 30, 1963) is a Swedish guitarist, composer and bandleader.
Widely recognized for his guitar skills, Malmsteen achieved widespread acclaim in the 1980s for his technical proficiency and his pioneering of the shred guitar technique and neo-classical metal genre.
The youngest child in the family, Malmsteen was born into a musical family in Stockholm. On September 18, 1970, at age seven, he saw a TV special on the death of Jimi Hendrix which caused him to become obsessed with the guitar. To quote his official website, “The day Jimi Hendrix died, the guitar-playing Yngwie was born.”
At the age of ten, he took his mother’s maiden name, Malmsteen, as his surname, and Anglicized his given name, Yngve, to “Yngwie”.
Yngwie (pronounced “ing-vay”) means “young Viking man” in Swedish. Technically it is a variation of Yngvi, who founded the House of Yngling, which is the oldest known Swedish dynasty.
Malmsteen was in his teens when he first encountered the music of the 19th century violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini, whom he cites as his biggest classical influence. Through his emulation of Paganini concerto pieces on guitar, Malmsteen developed a prodigious technical fluency. Malmsteen also cites Jimi Hendrix, Brian May of Queen, Steve Hackett of Genesis, Uli Jon Roth, and Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple as influences.
Malmsteen broke new ground and contributed to the evolution of modern rock guitar, particularly with his embracing of modal progressions and classically-influenced techniques not widely used in rock music. He is often credited, along with Randy Rhoads, with increasing the popularity of the neoclassical heavy metal genre and inspiring a new generation of electric guitarists including Paul Gilbert, Jason Becker, and Tony MacAlpine.
In late 1982 Malmsteen was brought to the USA by Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records, who had heard a demo tape of Malmsteen’s playing. He had brief engagements with Steeler, for their self-titled album of 1983, then Alcatrazz, for their 1983 debut, No Parole From Rock N’ Roll, and the 1984 live album, Live Sentence. Malmsteen released his first solo album, Rising Force, in 1984. His album was really meant to be an instrumental side-project of Alcatrazz, but it contained vocals, and Malmsteen left Alcatrazz soon after the release of Rising Force. It was the winner of Guitar Player Magazine’s Best Rock Album and was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental, achieving Number 60 on the Billboard album chart. This was followed by Marching Out (1985). Jeff Scott Soto filled vocal duties on these initial albums.
His third album, Trilogy, featuring the vocals of Mark Boals, was released in 1986. In 1987, yet another singer, former Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner joined his band. That year, Malmsteen was in a serious car accident, smashing his Jaguar XKE into a tree and putting him in a coma for a week. Nerve damage to his right hand was reported.
In the summer of 1988 he released his fourth album, Odyssey, which would be his biggest hit album, mainly because of its first single “Heaven Tonight”. Shows in Russia during the Odyssey tour were recorded, and released in 1989 as his fifth album, Live in Leningrad: Trial By Fire.
In late 1988, Malmsteen’s signature Fender Stratocaster guitar was released, making him and Eric Clapton the first artists to be honored by Fender.
Malmsteen’s “Neo-classical” style of metal became moderately popular during the mid 1980s, with notable contemporaries such as Paul Gilbert, Marty Friedman, Tony MacAlpine and Vinnie Moore all reaching prominence after Yngwie. However, only Paul Gilbert claimed Yngwie as an influence, with MacAlpine coming to the neoclassical/shred field by applying his classical piano training to his guitar playing and Moore arriving at a similar style because he shared Yngwie’s major influences, Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Al Di Meola, American jazz fusion great of Return to Forever fame.
In the early 1990s Malmsteen released Eclipse (1990), The Yngwie Malmsteen Collection (1991), Fire and Ice (1992) and The Seventh Sign (1994).
Despite his early success, and continuous success in Europe and Asia, by the early 1990s stylings of 1980s heavy metal had become unfashionable in the USA. It was quickly displaced by the Seattle grunge movement, where technical ability was replaced by simpler songs.
In the 1990s, Malmsteen continued to record and release albums under the Japanese record label Pony Canyon, and maintained a devoted following from some fans in Europe and Japan, and to a lesser extent in the USA. In 2000, he once again acquired a contract with a US record label, Spitfire, and released his 1990s catalog into the US market for the first time, including what he regards as his masterpiece, Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra, recorded with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in Prague.
After the release of War to End All Wars in 2000, singer Mark Boals left the band. Yngwie went on tour with former Ark vocalist Jorn Lande. Due to various tensions on tour, Jorn left before the recording of Yngwie’s next album, Attack!!. He was replaced by former Rainbow vocalist Dougie White. White’s vocals were well received by fans, and it seems that he has become a permanent member of the band.
In 2003, Malmsteen joined Joe Satriani and Steve Vai as part of the G3 supergroup. Yngwie made two rare guest appearances on keyboardist Derek Sherinian’s albums, Black Utopia (2003), and Blood of the Snake (2006) where Yngwie is heard on the same tracks as Al Di Meola and Zakk Wylde.
Aside from technical prowess, distinctions of Malmsteen’s guitar style include a wide, violin-like vibrato inspired by classical violinists, and use of such minor scales as the Harmonic minor, and minor modes such as Phrygian, and Aeolian. Malmsteen cites the Fender Stratocaster and the single coil pickups as being instrumental to his unique tone. He uses his custom design by DiMarzio, a vertically-stacked humbucker mounted in a single coil housing. Malmsteen sought to combine the tone of a single coil with the reduced noise of a humbucker. The Malmsteen signature model Stratocaster made by Fender is based accurately upon this combination. Malmsteen prefers vintage Fender Stratocasters from 1968 through 1972. On all his guitars, the tone is completely disconnected along with the middle pickup. Yngwie only uses the bridge (DiMarzio HS-3) and neck pickups (DiMarzio YJM) on his guitars and allows the low output DiMarzio HS-3 on the bridge pickup to be driven by the floor pedals for his unique rich sound. All Malmsteen’s Stratocasters have brass nuts and are all refretted with Dunlop 6000 super jumbo fretwire. According to Fender, Yngwie has one of the most impressive collection of vintage Fender Stratocasters known. He has well over 200 Stratocasters, including one original Fender Stratocaster actually signed by Leo Fender.
The guitars he uses are recognizable by the addition of a custom scalloped fretboard. This is similar to a regular fretboard, but with wood ‘scalloped’ or scooped away to form a concave shape in between the frets. Malmsteen allegedly conceived this design as a teenager while working in a music store in Stockholm, Sweden when he came across a 17th century lute with a scalloped neck using the raised wood as frets. However, this can also be viewed as an influence from Ritchie Blackmore, one of his most readily admitted idols, who also favors scalloped neck Fender Stratocasters. Malmsteen himself has said he learned most from Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar riffs and solos as a beginning guitarist. Also, jazz-fusion guitarist John McLaughlin used scalloped fingerboards long before Malmsteen came on the scene.
Even for the experienced guitar player, the scalloped fingerboard proves very difficult to perform on, as there is no surface contact between finger and wood to aid in the feel of the vibrato motion. The strings of the guitar, when fretted, are easily pushed sharp and out of tune. The highly accurate, yet delicate, controlled touch required to play properly with Malmsteen’s modified Stratocaster is elusive for most, and an integral part of Malmsteen’s technique.
Yngwie briefly used Schecter Guitars in the 1980s, who built him strat-style guitars similar to his Fenders.
Throughout the years, Malmsteen has stayed true to the basic equipment he uses on stage. Malmsteen continues to use strictly vintage 1971 Marshall amplifiers for his live performances. Often wowing his audiences with his vintage Marshall collection, Malmsteen regularly performs with a literal wall of up to 27 vintage Marshall 4x12 Cabinets with G30 Celestion speakers (30 Watt). All of the 24 heads on the cabinets are Vintage 1971 Mark II Marshall 50 Watt heads. All wireless units are Samson. Floor pedals consist of a Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer, Roland DC-10 analog echo pedal, vintage Dunlop Cry-Baby Wah Pedal, Roland PK-5 MIDI pedal, Boss OC-2 Octave, DOD 250 Overdrive Pre-Amp pedal, Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor and a floor switch box for his effects rack by Bob Bradshaw. Yngwie’s guitars onstage are strictly 1968-1972 Fender Stratocasters. Yngwie has claimed in an instructional video when asked why he chooses the Stratocasters from the late 1960s and early 1970s that the “bullet” truss rod in the neck and the large headstock design added a richer, fuller tone to the guitar that set it apart from Stratocasters from other eras. Fender discontinued the large headstock in the late 1970s and has since produced a re-issue of the “70s Series” Stratocaster. For his acoustic sets, Yngwie uses a nylon stringed electro-acoustic black or white Ovation Viper. These guitars are equipped with Piezo pickups run into the Boss CS-3 pedal direct into the mixing desk, out to the PA and stage monitors. Prior to the Ovations, Yngwie used Aria, Alvarez & Gibson classical acoustics on stage. All live microphones are Shure SM57s.
Relentless is the 2010 release and highly anticipated follow-up to the critically acclaimed Perpetual Flame. This marks Yngwie’s first studio album in over two years of entirely newly composed never before heard songs created by the virtuoso himself. Inspired by the spirit of celebrated composer/musician Niccol Paganini, Yngwie reaches new heights on this ground-breaking album. Relentless contains over 60 minutes of incredibly complex arrangements sure to amaze the listeners. Produced by Yngwie, the album features ex-Judas Priest and Iced Earth singer Tim “Ripper” Owens.