Batman addressing Catwoman, "Batman Returns"
AN INTERVIEW WITH BERND STEIDL
by Richard Karsmakers
American record label Shrapnel records, often referred to as a
guitarist stable, has already been at the base of success for
many promising young guitarists. Yngwie Malmsteen started in
Steeler, which was a Shrapnel recording band. But famous names
like Jason Becker, Vinnie Moorse, Marty Friedman (now in
Megadeth), Tony MacAlpine, Joey Tafolla, Richie Kotzen and
Michael Lee Firkins also started out there. As a matter of fact
the only current-day guitar heroes springing to mind who have not
come from Mike Varney's Shrapnel records seem to be Joe Satriani,
Steve Vai, Cyril Whistler, Mads Eriksen and Tamas Szekeres.
Anyway, last year saw the release of a totally different kind of
guitar CD on Shrapnel. Whereas normally you have high-tech guitar
heroes that play the electric guitar like their lives depend on
it, they now did a more relaxed but nonetheless totally freaky
acoustic guitar CD. The artist was previously unknown Bernd
Steidl, acoustic guitar prodigy extraordinaire from Germany. The
CD was called "Psycho Acoustic Overture".
The CD wasn't merely an innovative project. It was a thoroughly
enjoyable experience that didn't just portray Bernd's phenomenal
control over the six-stringed instrument but that also clearly
showed his gift at composing - a quality sadly lacking from many
guitarists who just try to cram as many notes into as track as
possible. "Psycho Acoustic Overture" offers classics spin-offs,
awesomely fast solo guitar etudes and moody gothic-ish background
orchestras. I hated his bio stating that he sounded like a cross
between Mike Oldfield and Al DiMeola, for that was exactly what I
had wanted to come up with myself (and, as a matter of fact, I
had come up with the Oldfield bit).
Impressed thusly, I just had to get in contact with Mr. Steidl
and ask him whether he wouldn't mind being interviewed for ST
NEWS, even though we aren't a music magazine. I explained our
setup and the way we try to tell people what sort of music to
dig, and he immediately consented.
Needless to say I grasped the opportunity with both hands, the
result of which you can read below.
What's your date and place of birth?
I was born on July 9th 1966 in Landshut, a small town not too
far from Munich in Bavaria, Germany.
Can you give us a short account of your life (education, work,
when you started playing guitar, that sort of thing)?
I didn't have any special education at first. My grandparents
and parents were all deeply into all kinds of different musical
instruments so a lot of that brushed off on me. When I was five I
started playing the zither, but when I was nine I decided the
regular guitar would have to do. I also started playing electric
guitar. I didn't want to go to a European High School because,
musically, you had to learn to play old notes of dead people.
With respect, I wanted to play new notes and compose myself. I
went to the USA to study in 1985, and joined the Guitar Institute
of Technology (G.I.T. - where people like Paul Gilbert (Racer X
and Mr. Big) and Jennifer Batten also studied, ED.). In 1990 I
signed a deal with Mike Varney, and in August 1992 I sent Mike
the DAT master of the album.
What's a zither?
A zither is an old Bavarian music instrument with 48 strings.
You can regard it as a cross between a guitar and a harp.
What was your first guitar? Which guitars do you play now?
My first string instrument was the zither, my first actual
guitar was a Cosmotone which my uncle gave to me when I was a
kid. The custom-made guitar I play now is from a French guitar
maker by the name of Hervé Chouard. He's an incredible crafstman.
Actually, I am thinking of selling the flamenco model visible on
the front of the CD inlay and get a classical model instead.
Why did you decide to concentrate on playing the acoustic
When I was at G.I.T. my electric guitar got stolen. I considered
that to be a twist of fate that told me to concentrate on
acoustic. So I did.
Do you play any other instruments?
I played keyboards on the album, but I like playing the piano,
too, when I have the time.
Who have been your greatest influences?
My main influences have been Sabicas, Paco DeLucia and Al
DiMeola, but I also got inspired by Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd,
Vangelis, Mike Oldfield, Alan Parsons and Jean Michel Jarre, as
well as some classical composers.
What did you have to do to get discovered? Did you send out
demos or something?
When I graduated at G.I.T. in 1988 I was already in close
contact with Mike Varney. Indeed, I sent demos. Even when I went
back to Germany after G.I.T. I stayed in touch and kept sending
Have you played in other bands previous to your going solo?
No, I haven't.
How would you describe your music yourself?
I have no idea, really.
Your album was delayed quite a bit. What caused this?
Financial problems - unfortunately we went overbudget, which
caused the delay.
What was it like to work with Atma Anur, who normally plays the
drums quite freakily and heavily with other Shrapnel recording
artists such as Cacophony and Jason Becker?
Atma is an incredible drummer and very much dedicated to his
work. I'd have to say it was very inspiring.
Do you use special tunings, custom fretboards, special
techniques to achieve high speed, etc.?
I hold the pick the usual way, between thumb and index finger,
and use alternate picking (an up-down picking motion when hitting
strings, as opposed to just hitting the string when the pick
moves down, ED.). To get more dynamical texture I sometimes use
muting, done by putting the palm of my right hand on the strings
which gives sortof what is called a pizzicato sound. I use a
staccato technique on my left hand, just like the hammers in a
piano. I use legato only very little (legato is sliding with your
finger from one note to another without actually picking the
second and further notes, ED.). I use nylon strings, but they
have to be the stiffest you can get to enable me to have high
action which, in turn, makes the staccato sound easier. Also, low
action simply doesn't allow very fast right hand picking. I use
very hard, sharpened and thick guitar picks. I use no
amplification - the entire album was just recorded stereo with
two AKG C 414 mikes.
Have you done instructional videos, or will you do one soon?
I haven't done any, and there are no plans for them as yet.
Has Shrapnel already mentioned the possibility of recording a
As a matter of fact, I have to do four albums for Shrapnel.
Can you give us some of your favourites, like favourite book,
My favourite artists are Vladimir Horowitz (pianist), Gidon
Kremer (violinist), Thomas Mann (writer, I really like his
"Doktor Faustus"), Werner Herzog and Lucino Visconti (both film
directors), Dali and Picasso (both painters), Maria Callas
(soprano) and Leonard Bernstein (orchestra conductor). My
favourite theatre play is "Faust" by Goethe, and my favourite
movies are "Ludwig II" (by Visconti), "Mephisto" (by Szabo) and
"Fitzcaraldo" (by Herzog).
Which CDs are in your CD player most at the moment?
They vary a bit. At the moment they'd have to be Mozart's
"Requiem", Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" and "Horowitz in Moscow".
Who is your favourite Shrapnel guitarist? What's your favourite
All Shrapnel guitarists deserve full respect. I don't have a
favourite one. Right now I like Sabricas a lot, although my time
spent listening to other people is limited.
What is your favourite track on "Psycho Acoustic Overture"?
I find it hard to believe you played "Irrlichter" (the
fast unaccompanied guitar etude that starts off the album, ED.)
without dubbing. Did you or didn't you? Would someone be able to
give you a guitar at any moment of the day and would you be able
to play it just like that? "Irrlichter" is just too fast to be
I think there was one punch so I had to play the whole thing
twice (these different versions can be found on the "Ominous
Guitarists from the Unknown" sampler and Bernd's debut, ED.). In
order to play it on any guitar I would have to warm up about 10
or 15 minutes on that particular guitar, but I could do it. My
worst playing times, by the way, are at daytime. I'm best in the
What was the worst day in your life?
I never really had a bad day (so I can't think of a worst one)
and I had a lot of best days. I couldn't be specific.
Is music a full-time professional thing for you? If not, what
other things do you do?
Music is a full-time profession. I don't want to do anything
Will you be touring the United States or Europe within the
near future? If so, when and where?
Maybe I'll be touring, but the way I want to perform would need
an immense budget. I would need a 80-piece orchestra with
choires. But I might go on tour playing half live and the other
half playback. Everything in-between I wouldn't do.
Some words to react to now.
Mike Varney is getting a 100 tapes a week and is doing a great
job at discovering new talents and giving them a chance.
Helmut Kohl and the German Unification.
I'm a very non-political person, but I think the German
unification (although it's creating huge problems) will pay off
in the longer run.
Geigenhausen is a tiny village in Bavaria. I live pretty
isolated in order to facilitate full concentration.
I know he's a great player but I don't have one of his CDs or
The same as Joe Satriani, I'm afraid.
What's your ultimate ambition in life?
To be internally happy.
As we're a computer magazine I simply have to ask you if you
have a computer or not.
I don't have one, but I would like to have one that can print
out sheet music.
I'd like to thank Bernd for sacrificing a part of his time to
get this interview done. I'd also like to thank him for signing
my "Psycho Acoustic Overture" CD liner!
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.