Playing guitar walks the line between the physical demands of playing the drums and the subtle nuance and digital dexterity of playing piano. In the case of guitarists like Pete Townsend, Steve Vai and David Granati, the physical aspect goes beyond playing the instrument and literally becomes acrobatics.
Even without the martial arts moves-- the high kicks, windmills and guitar tossing tricks-- the physical demands of performing 2-3 hour shows are very much akin to the rigors of athletic competition in that muscles, tendons, joints, breathing, all must all be accounted for when warming up. Even what we eat can make a difference before a show, as guitarist Mike Moscato points out.
"Although, I have no rituals," said Mike, "I have been practicing martial arts for almost 30 years, and learned many great meditation and stress relief exercises, so that helps. I also make sure I eat decent food, so I feel great on stage."
Like most of the guitarists we talked to, mental state was a factor. "So many factors" Matt said with a laugh. "Peace of mind helps. Feeling good physically. Emotions help... anger can get some powerful things happening on a guitar. I also prefer to play hungry."
Megadeth guitarist Dave Mustaine talked about anger and the effects of success when explaining a ten year gap in album releases. "Heavy Metal is based on being angry" said Mustaine, adding with a laugh, "You can only eat so much lobster before you're just not that pissed off anymore."
So anger is certainly an element in Metal, but Matt excels at music that is heartfelt and uplifting, good time blues and rock, whereas Skell guitarist Mike Palone-- a vicious metal guitarist-- who one might think would play angry, keeps it all pretty straight-forward for his warm up.
"For me warming up just involves picking up the guitar and running through some scales and checking my tuning about 500 times" Mike said with a laugh. "Some shows are rushed and I don't feel like I get enough time for proper warm-up. I prefer a good solid 10 minutes if I can get it. I also stretch out my body too. I also do some general cardio due to the physicality of our shows. It really helps if you're not sucking air too hard."
Danny Gochnour, guitarist with Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers, has played thousands of shows, and he talked about how he approaches those less than ideal situations with limited time for a warm up.
"Unfortunately more often than not, I don't get to warm up" said Danny. "Either time restrictions or space restrictions... no dressing room, whatever. When I do have time, I like to run through intervals like 3rds or 6ths or Arpeggios to limber up. My favorite is playing Eric Johnson's Cliffs of Dover. Kinda covers it all. Ideally I only need about 15 minutes to feel really comfortable."
Scotti Hill of Skid Row is a proponent of the chords approach; "I can sort of map out all the strings within a larger context musically speaking."
The same is true of Aerosmith's Brad Whitford, who says, "Sometimes guitarists focus too much on scales. Chord progressions help to stretch as well, and in different ways than scales."
Pittsburgh's own guitar wizard, David Granati, has fun in pretty much everything he does, including warming up. He also practices all the aspects of warming up mentioned by his fellow guitarists..David"Fingertip pushups, prayer and never holding my (bleep) in my left hand. I don't usually play a whole lot before a show unless the guitar and/or hands are cold. If I do, I don't play fast. I prefer playing a slow chord/melody type composition such as Moonlight Sonata or Chopin-Etude no. 3, which warms up all fingers and wrist evenly, plus it encompasses all 6 stings. Of course in a pinch any of the Beverly Hillbillies themes will suffice, i.e: Ellie May down by the ce-ment pond (laughs)."
David"Yes - a little Tai Chi and extended breathing. I smile a lot when I'm playing and it really helps to relax everything-- including the lungs and diaphragm. I've watched many a good country player -- especially steel guitar-- do this."
Of all the players we spoke to, Billy "The Kid" Evanochko, who is currently touring with a Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute band, takes the simplest approach in his warm up ritual: "I just smoke a joint. (laughs)"