Adirondack Guitar Profiles: John Petrucci

May 05, 2021 6 min read

Blog Post Image of John Petrucci Purple Guitar

Guitar hero, world renown shredder and the talent that inspired one of the world’s most iconic lines of signature instruments -- John Petrucci is routinely mentioned in the same breath as Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani and Paul Gilbert as one of the most esteemed and influential progressive metal guitarists on the planet. With his band Dream Theater and in a series of notable guest and solo performances, Petrucci has set a high standard for performance and creativity in a career that has spanned over 30 years.

Formative Years

Born on July 12, 1967 in suburban Long Island, NY, Petrucci became interested in guitar largely out of a sense of sibling rivalry. His older sister was able to stay up later than he was on school nights for her organ lessons, so 8 year old John took up guitar lessons thinking he would get to stay up later, too. However, as Petrucci tells the story, the plan backfired because his guitar lessons ended up being on Saturday afternoons and he soon gave up on guitar.

It wasn’t until he was 12 years old and heard Progressive Rock bands like Rush, Iron Maiden and Yes, that he became serious about playing the guitar, practicing a minimum of 6 hours a day. As a teen, inspired by guitarists like Holsdsworth, Malmsteen, and especially Steve Morse, Petrucci added more technical lead playing to his already impressive Prog Rock chops. As he graduated High School, bands like Metallica and Queensryche came onto the scene, adding the special sauce of influences that would soon express themselves in Petrucci’s legendary musical efforts. 

Dream Theater

After graduating highschool, Petrucci enrolled in Berklee College of Music in Boston, befriending classmates such as bassist John Myung (actually, Myung was a lifelong friend and Berklee classmate) and drummer Mike Portnoy. Petrucci, Myung and Portnoy would serve as the core members of the band that would become Dream Theater. Adding keyboardist Kevin Moore and singer Chris Collins, the five started playing and recording under the moniker Majesty. However, they soon realized another group owned the rights to the name, so they changed their name to Dream Theater, and played gigs all over the tri-state area, becoming widely known locally. Around 1989, vocalist Collins was replaced by Charlie Dominici who recorded 1989's When Dream and Day Unite, before his exit from the band in the early 90's. 

The question most people wonder about Dream Theater is, how did this progressive metal band, whose music contains such intricate and amazing shredding, become so widely known right around the time that Alternative, Grunge and Emo was reshaping the music landscape? The short answer is -- enter vocalist James LaBrie, who joined the band for 1992‘s sophomore album Images and Words. The video for the breakthrough hit single ‘Pull me Under’ from Images and Words was a huge success on MTV, combining the energy of a live Dream Theater performance with the large scale dramatic imagery that the band has become known for, LaBrie’s powerful vocals and some of Petrucci’s best guitar work to date. Most Dream Theater and Petrucci fans say that this was the song that hooked them.

Pull Me Under Official Video

Rock Discipline, Clinics and Guitar Universe 

By the mid-1990‘s Petrucci had become widely revered as one of the premier instrumentalists of his era. It wasn’t just that Petrucci had massive chops and incredible speed, but his melodic invention, tone, and phrasing set him apart from the majority of shredders who simply seemed to be playing fast for speed’s sake. In 1996 Petrucci was invited to produce an instructional book, CD and video titledRock Discipline. The systematic and disciplined approach to developing shred chops that John Petrucci offered in this video made learning shred techniques more accessible to an entire generation of guitarists and has been cited by some of today’s most impressive shred guitar players, including Jason Richardson.   

Rock Discipline Excerpt

Petrucci is also known for his inspiring clinics for Ernie Ball Music Man and Mesa Boogie as well as his Guitar UniverseShred Intensives which he puts on every summer (scheduling may vary this year due to COVID). Petrucci’s Guitar Universe Shred Intensives allow players to attend clinics, meet many of their favorite players and actually learn from and jam with today’s leading shredders. Petrucci’s influence and notoriety attracts an array of famous players to these intensives including Kiko Louriero, Tosin Abasi, Jason Richardson, Tony MacAlpine and a long list of others!

John Petrucci Signature Models

All throughout the 1990‘s, like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, Petrucci played Ibanez guitars and had his own Ibanez signature model guitar that you can see in the ‘Pull Me Under’ video. In 1999, in a move that would launch an iconic line of signature instruments that would end up ranking second only to the Les Paul in terms of signature guitar sales, Petrucci went with Ernie Ball Music Man to develop the first in a long line of John Petrucci (JP) Signature Models that would change our expectations of what a signature model guitar could be.

In the past, a signature model was usually designed for an artist by the guitar company and sent to them for an endorsement. When Petrucci developed the first JP 6 with Music Man, he worked closely with their luthiers to design a new body shape that would best suit his playing style, as well as neck specs, pickup and hardware specs that Petrucci was looking for in his dream guitar. When the JP 6 hit the market in 2001 it changed the way Artist Signature models were viewed, and gave Ernie Ball Music Man a winning formula that they would repeat with other noteworthy artists including St. Vincent, Albert Lee, Steve Morse and Omar Rodriguez Lopez among many others. 

John Petrucci JP150 Demo

An important factor in the success of the John Petrucci signature series has been the Sterling by Music Man line of affordable versions of these high performance instruments. Ernie Ball Music Man’s relationship to Sterling is similar to that of Gibson with Epiphone, with the Sterling versions of the John Petrucci and other artist models coming in at around $700-$900, and as little as $500 on the used market. This puts the incredible JP series feature set into a very accessible price range, and once players get a taste of a Sterling Petrucci model, many upgrade to the Ernie Ball Music Man version, which has been an extremely successful way to market signature model guitars. 

John Petrucci - Majesty Demo

The John Petrucci Signature models, through all of its iterations, have had one objective in mind since its inception: giving the public a guitar with the highest level of performance and functionality at its price point. Sporting an unrivalled set of features, like piezo pickups, neck through body construction, incredibly player-friendly body shape with a mahogany tone block and a built-in power boost, all of which have made the John Petrucci series a true artist signature series. Over the years, more features and models have been added, including the incredible Majesty with its revolutionary body shape and digital pickup switching, which have literally set a new, higher standard in guitar performance in the industry. 


G3, Solo Albums and Guest Appearances

Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and John Petrucci in G3

Petrucci is definitely one of the most prolific guitarists in the business. After more than 30 years with Dream Theater, the band is still going strong, releasing a legendary series of groundbreaking progressive metal records throughout the 90‘s, the 2000‘s and 2010‘s, includingFalling into Infinity (1997), Metropolis Pt 2(1999), Train of Thought (2003), Octavarium (2005), Systematic Chaos (2007)and The Astonishing (2016). In addition to his work with Dream Theater, Petrucci has also been involved in a variety of legendary collaborations, solo albums and has made a number guest appearances on recordings by other artists including Jordan Rudess and Marty Friedman.

The Astonishing Cover Art 

In the late 90‘s Petrucci teamed up with keyboardist Jordan Rudess (who would become a member of Dream Theater), bassist extraordinaire Tony Levin and Portnoy to create the instrumental fusion project Liquid Tension Experiment who released two highly influential albums. In 2001, Petrucci joined Joe Satriani and Steve Vai for the first time on a G3 tour. Over the next two decades, Petrucci would appear on tour with G3 several times, giving him the opportunity to tour with many of his idols including Steve Morse. There are literally hundreds of bootleg videos of these concerts online, so happy surfing!

Petrucci released his first instrumental solo album,Suspended Animation in 2005, with tracks like ‘Jaws of Life’ and ‘Glasgow Kiss’ becoming instant progressive metal classics. Now, 15 years later, Petrucci’s latest is his new solo instrumental effortTerminal Velocity which is packed full of Petrucci’s lightning fast shred licks, as well as inventive progressive metal songwriting, and that killer Mesa Boogie shred tone. The release of Petrucci’s new solo album in 2020 is certainly one of the highlights of what has otherwise been a challenging year for guitarists and musicians everywhere.

Official Video for Terminal Velocity

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