The guitarists of TSO
by Cullen James
All right. When I think about guitars and Christmas, I think playing elf baseball with a Fender Stratocaster and a bunch of those annoying little elf fucks. You know how fun it would be to bash their happy little skulls in with a little maple and alder? Stangle ‘em with guitar strings? Spike them on arrow-head pegboard guitar necks? It can’t just be me. Can it?
Anyway, the next thing I think about is the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I am not fond of Christmas music. I wasn’t always this way, but all those damn Christmas shows we had to do in elementary school left a lasting negative imprint on my psyche. I don’t hate Christmas, I rather like it, actually, but the music tends to piss me off. However, there has been some pretty good stuff out there and TSO has and is putting out listenable Christmas tunes.
Helping to put an edge to the Christmas orchestra are guitarists Alex Skolnick and Al Pitrelli.
Alex Skolnick has long been a favorite guitarist of mine. I picked up on Testament when the released their “Legacy” album. Sure, musically they were very derivative of Metallica (pre-sell out Black album), but there was one thing that set them apart – Skolnick. Alex has always been a hell of a guitarist playing just enough to match the music, choosing his notes carefully and using cutting, clear tone.
Starting his career with Testament, Skolnick grew bored with the metal scene and began to look for ways to branch out. He left Testament and played with progressive metal band Savatage which led to him playing for the Savatage side-project TSO. Skolnick later succumbed to his love of jazz, went back to music school to learn more about jazz theory and formed the Alex Skolnick Trio. AST plays jazzy, bebop remakes of classic rock and metal songs.
While Testament was never as popular as heavy hitters Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax, Skolnick is regularly cited as an influence by modern metal guitarists.
Al Pitrelli is perhaps best known for his three-year stint with Megadeth. Filling the tremendous void left in the band by Marty Friedman’s departure, Pitrelli was present on the “return to classic Megadeth sound” albums until Dave Mustaine sustained nerve damage to his arm.
Pitrelli got his start in the business playing with Alice Cooper and progressive metal band Asia. Eventually winding up with Savatage, he found his way into TSO. Both he and Skolnick perform with the orchestra, with TSO having east and west coast touring groups.
Recognizable for his scorching, clear leads, Pitrelli has similar chops to Friedman. Classically based with the occasional exotic scale, his playing is interesting and complex.
Crank up some TSO the next time you want to smack an elf. It’s therapeutic. Or you could watch that damn Christmas light video again.
Cullen has been issued a stay-away order from the Society For the Preservation of Elves.