STEINBERGER WORLD Q & A

. . .with Vinnie Zummo 

Steinberger World had the chance to catch up with long-time Steinberger player and endorser Vinnie Zummo. Vinnie is most recognized for his ground-breaking work with Joe Jackson both in the studio and on stage.  Since then he continues to keep busy with studio work, TV and film scoring, and producing the popular NY Cutz sample and loop kits.

He's got a new CD out - "Swingin' Guitar Sounds of Young America" - and he took the time to chat with us about how Steinbergers still significantly feature in his work.


SW:  What was your motivation for putting out your own a CD at this point?
VZ:  Well quite frankly, my family had a rough few years. We lost my sister, a few months later, my dad, a few months after that my Mom, then my favorite Uncle. I started writing and recording just to keep working. I am somewhat of a workaholic and find work takes me away from my problems. Work and practicing. I practice a lot everyday 2 or 3 hours, sometimes 4 or 5. The CD also took on a life of it's own once I started. I also wanted to make music fun again. All the situations that arose recording the CD were a blast!  The live 1 take recording with Joe Jackson, the Cream like song with Graham Maby & Shawn Pelton, Recording my drums for the song Ringo......I have never had more fun recording. Even the sadness of recording the song "Without You Here", the one that is a tribute to my Mom. It was quite cathartic. That's also my fave recorded solo.

SW:  The styles of the various songs are quite diverse. Was this intentional?
VZ:  Not at first. After I started, it became obvious that that was the hook of the album. That everything was different. I like my albums to have something different about them. So they stand out from the other CDs out there. Once it became clear that it was going to be all kinds of music I really got excited about it. In my career I always get pigeon holed stylistically with whoever I play with. I wanted once and for all to show what it is I do - which is play many styles. I HAVE to play many styles. I love it and it stimulates me musically. I did not cover many other styles that I love as well. That will come next CD. I really enjoyed "Sanpaku Eyes" as it was the first time my love of Jazz and Rock came out sliced right down the middle. A kind of Beck sensibility with a Scofield harmonic approach. I felt it was personal achievement. It's funny, regarding the variety and amount of material on the CD, everyone around me thought I was nuts!

SW:  How did you keep working is such different styles without them all blending together?

VZ:  That is something I do for a living. I write a lot of TV & movie music and am known for writing diverse styles. I actually crave it and thrive off it. For example I was practicing a lot of bebop for my Blue Note gig in November and when I would finish practicing I could not wait to go in and work on my CD which is not a jazz CD though there is some jazz on it.

Sometimes something will trigger a song. On "Aloo Bobbily", the TranScale inspired the whole thing. I had the rhythm track from another project & was working on an in house demo for Ned Steinberger.  He sent over a bunch of equipment for it. A TC unit, Pod, etc....Things I don't usually use. (I usually prefer the Vox Tone Lab and some other units. The Tone Lab inspired a lot of the solos on this CD .) When I plugged it all in, I loved the sound and started improvising. That is what you hear on the song my first take.  Then I played a few lines up an octave, added some slide and more octaves & it was done. 

To counteract the non-spontaneous way I write, I tried to make all the solos first takes or close to it. I would do strange things like wait for the exact right time to record. For the blues" So Relaxed I'm Nearly Dead" I did the whole track at 3:30 in the morning. I was relaxed enough. I then decided that to make it authentic I would need to play really simple and not do any flash stuff. So I decided to use my Epiphone Emperor because it has thick strings. That did the trick and I played really sparse and it has an authentic blues feel to it in my opinion. Then I sent it via the internet to my buddies Gary Burke & Johnny Caruso to overdub some drums & bass on it. I crack up when I hear it 'cause it does not sound like me. 

SW:  Did you write and record all the songs simultaneously, or more one at a time?
VZ:  I always have 4 or 5 completely different things going at a time.

For the CD, I would basically start a song get it in shape then let it sit for a a few days, then listen to it & get another perspective. I write in a peculiar way. I don't write with an instrument. You put a guitar in my hands and I can't write anything. I just get a song in my head and then I write it down. I generally hear the whole arrangement complete. Unless there are words then I have to work on them for weeks. My wife Janice is a better lyricist and usually steps in for that.  I then go about recording it one track at a time to match the arrangement I hear in my head. For example the song "Ringo", I was taking a shower and heard it in my head, the hook, all the parts.  So I just got out of the shower and wrote it all down then started recording it over the next few weeks. Of course as the song progresses I may change a few things from the original concept. When I produce other artists albums I have a saying, "The song is king."  I do what the song wants. It will always tell you if you pay attention and take ego out of it. I play most of the instruments on the CD so it's no problem.

It gets harder bringing in musicians because I know exactly what I want down to the note. It's not enjoyable for a musician to play on one of my songs usually unless they like a challenge. That is why for the two live cuts I decided to do something outside my comfort zone and just let them play what they wanted within a context I set up.

SW:  You just mentioned a little bit of the gear you used. Could you elaborate, especially about your Steinberger use?
VZ:  Sure. Let me start off saying I did not use all Steinberger because I was going for authenticity of the eras I tried to capture in the song. Besides it was fun to use some of these old axes. I play Steinbergers most of the day. Any serious soloing was saved for the TransTrem anyway as that's my voice.

1.  Fab Gear:  All Yamaha SG 2000 Prototype & my old 60's Kay bass. I was going for a Retro sound. The solo was an Overtron Pedal by Glenn Wyllie. Great box!
2.  Without You Here: Same as above, only I use my Synapse 5 string bass which kicks ass!! great fat sound. 
3.  EWF: My fretless Brownsville guitar. The frets were removed by Andy Rothstein at Rothstein Guitars & my 80's Epiphone Emperor.  It has 3 DiMarzios.  As rule I like DiMarzios on all my guitars. They have much more musical overtone series to them.
4.  Retro Fuso: All TransTrem. My pink GL with the 3 DiMarzios. Solo is the Mega drive pickup.
5.  Sanpaku Eyes: That's my M series Steinberger from the 80's playing the lead, the background guitars are the TransTrem. I use the fretless as well in the intro only. The whole track is just guitars you know. Including the high violin sound in the intro. A trick of mine, can't tell you!
6 .Waffles: All Epiphone Emperor.
7.  Aloo Bobbily: All TranScale. Lots of guitar tracks here.
8.  Quantes Vezes: Takamine Nylon gtr, & I used my Gibson L7 for this one and the Synapse fretless 5 string which has a wonderfuyl , fat sound. I love that axe and play it nearly everyday.  I used my TransTrem for the cascading FX guitars in the background. One of my favorite sounds.
9.  Take The Cream: This is my Gibson SG from the 60's. Had to go for the authentic Cream sound though I would have preferred my TransTrem for facility.  I used the Glenn Wyllie Overtron for the track through a Marshall 1/2 stack.
10. Ringo: That's the Synapse 5 string bass and my Yamha SG-2000. I used the Zen Drive pedal for this. A truly amazing pedal.Chunky and meaty.
11. SPJ: TransTrem, the pink one. I used the Aphex Peanut Butter pedal on this one. It's my favorite overdrive pedal. Smooth as butter.
12. Wilson Beach: TransTrem, the pink one.
13. Pancakes: My Dad's old red sunburst Grestch with no cutaways! Hard to play but a great sound.
14. The Ones You Left Behind: That's the Takamine nylon guitar, Synapse fretless 5 string bass, and the solo is on my original Steinberger, the one with no tremolo bar,  It's the first one he made. ( I never know the model numbers! ) I particularly like this solo. The Steinberger inspired me to play it because it felt so good to pick it up after doing all that nylon acoustic playing. I always prefer playing electric guitars to acoustic so I was happy to pick it up and loved the sound so much it inspired me. That's one of my fave solos. It's really simple and concise for me. I usually go a lot more chopsy. I'm trying to watch that these days. Play more compact solos.  I used the TransTrem for the intro and outro snakey guitars
15. Photograph: Old Gibson jumbo twelve string acoustic, Synapse 5 string bass, TranScale guitar. Lot's of tracks of it. This is where the capo comes in handy and again the guitar inspired the solo whish is a one take thing. I used my SG for the outro lead lines. The TranScale for the solo. That's where the capo came in handy to do the many octave layers. I also used a Demeter Fuzzulator & Tremulator for the solo. the Fuzzulator is a truly groovy box - instant Fuzz insanity.
16. Youíre the One: TranScale, Synapse bass, and for the solo the pink TransTrem. The solo is through a Vox Tone Lab and the sound of it just kicks ass!
17. CP Heart: That's an old Ibanez Strat type guitar, and old Airline lapsteel, and the Synapse bass.
18. So Relaxed Iím Nearly Dead Bluz: The old Gretsch for rhythm and the Epiphone Emperor for the lead.
19. Doing The Best That I Can: Lyon & Healy mandolin, Ovation acoustic, and an old Kay banjo. The banjo is from the 60's and has a Paisley print on the back of it!! It came like that. Pretty funny..
20. Kool Bop: That's the old 'berger. The non trem one. Just the guitar plugged straight into a Joe Meek preamp. I love the sound, nice & punchy.

SW:  You've been a longtime GL player, and I know you were fortunate to work with Ned developing the new Synapses. You mention using both a Synapse guitar and bass extensively. What have these new "tools" enabled you to achieve in your work?
VZ:  Well the Synapse Bass was invaluable. Both of them. The fretted and fretless. On the song "Without You Here" I was confused about what the bass part would be. The chords are very complex and it's a touching song so the bass had to have a light touch yet spell the chords. I was able to dial in such a fat sound with the Synapse bass that the sound dictated the part. I was going for a McCartney modern sound like he uses on his current projects and was able to dial it in very easily. It inspired me to play a part that was perfect for the drum track I had just laid down. It's not easy to find a bass that can rock hard on something like "You're The One" or "Photograph" but then be fat and sparse sounding enough for a killer ballad sound. The fretless as well on "The Ones You Left Behind" and "Quantes Vezes". It set the whole mood for the song. The TranScale was invaluable for the convenience of the capo and the sparkly quality you can get when you dial some piezo pickup into the sound. Ned's use of the piezo is revolutionary in that he was not going for an acoustic clone sound but something fresh & new. It really allows an expanded palette for a guitar player or bassist. It made for a sparkling solo on "Photograph". I can't say enough about it. What can I say? I'm a real Steinberger guy. I used some vintage instruments on this CD but for any serious soloing I have to do it on a Steinberger. It's how I express myself.

SW:  What's it been like to work with Ned on his new creations?
VZ:  Well, he is the one who does all the work! I'm just an occasional sounding board for him. The variety of the work I do gives me a unique perspective to try out equipment in a variety of ways. In the course of a week I might do a few sessions, work on samples for a sample CD, write music for Oprah, MTV, or Guiding Light, practice jazz, play some country, produce an artist ... All completely different arenas. A session for one thing really tests a guitar. You are getting paid to get it done quickly.  So if a guitar is fussy and you have to keep adjusting it or it does not perform as it needs to, you find out right away. Basically he'll send me an axe and I'll take it out on sessions, record with it at my studio and see how it performs under pressure. Then I get back to him with my observations. 

He actually came over a few months ago with a new FANTASTIC new idea.  It was great to sit with him and give him immediate feedback. I'd play something then comment.  He'd adjust it and we'd go from there. He is a wonderful, good natured soul. Very warm, very non-impressed with himself. I am always somewhat in awe of him. He's extremely intelligent and I always enjoy any interchange with him because he's what I call a "true believer". He's into the integrity of a product, has a vision, and does not rest till it's realized. Ned does not appear to make decisions from a place of: "If I do it this way, this item will sell more and I'll make more money." No, for him the paramount thing is seeing his vision through to the end. I'm the same way. I just HAVE to get a musical idea realized. I can't sleep if I have an idea for a song and it's not realized the way I hear it in my head. This new thing he is working on is the first truly AMAZINGLY new development since the first axe in my opinion. I am counting the minutes till I can get my hands on one. 


To purchase Vinnie's new CD "Swingin' Guitar Sounds of Young America", visit CD BABY online or order directly from Vinnie Zummo Music.  Email vazmusic@aol.com or call 212-961-1713