Wednesday, February 2, 2011

John Myung

John Ro Myung (pronounced My-ung) is a bassist and a founding member of the progressive metal group Dream Theater.

Born on January 24, 1967 in Chicago, Illinois, to Korean parents, John Myung grew up in Long Island, New York. He played the violin from the age of five until he was asked to play electric bass in a local band when he was fifteen. He stuck with bass from then on, and after graduating from high school he enrolled at the Berklee College of Music, where he and high school friend John Petrucci (guitar) met future band mate Mike Portnoy (drums). The three of them formed the band Majesty with another friend from high school, keyboardist Kevin Moore, and vocalist Chris Collins. They would later be known as Dream Theater.

Though Dream Theater is his primary focus musically, he has appeared in a number of other projects through his career. His first non-Dream Theater venture was in the pop-prog band Platypus with Rod Morgenstein, Ty Tabor and ex-Dream Theater bandmate Derek Sherinian. He is also a member of Jelly Jam, which consists of the same line-up as Platypus, but without Sherinian. John's main influences include Chris Squire, Steve Harris, Geddy Lee and Cliff Burton, and their respective bands Yes, Iron Maiden, Rush, and Metallica.

Apart from his membership in these bands, he has appeared as a guest on numerous records.

Myung has somewhat become the mystery member of Dream Theater, as he rarely ever seems to speak or draw attention to himself in videos or concerts, a fact that made many fans wonder if anyone has ever seen him speak. (He does speak in DVD commentaries and obviously on his instructional video, as well as to fans he meets at live shows. If given the right topic such as bass playing techniques, he will converse for long periods of time) His mysterious persona was emphasized when at a show in Germany, he went over to James LaBrie and tackled him American football-style, much to the confusion and amazement of both the audience and the rest of the band; this move later became known as the "Myung-tackle". Jordan Rudess has suggested in his tour diary that Myung was probably dared in a bet to perform the move.

Myung is famous for his practicing principles; both Kevin Shirley on the Metropolis 2000: Scenes From New York DVD as well as former keyboardist Derek Sherinian on his website state that John Myung is the only musician they know who warms down after a show. In a forum post, John Petrucci said that back at Berklee, he and Myung had a pact of practicing at least six hours every day.

John began playing bass at the relatively late age of 16, but because of his classically trained background on the violin he was able to move quickly from his beginner-level "Memphis" brand Precision bass copy to a salmon-colored four-string Fender Jazz bass. He also began to develop a unique playing style high on the neck, adding counterpoint lines and melodies to the band's material which are not typically heard in traditional "rock" music. He was also a heavy user of effects not typically heard on the bass guitar to better bring out his distinctive style.

For Dream Theater's debut album When Dream and Day Unite, John played a heavily-modified (with added front pickup sending a signal to a full-time "effected" amplifier while the stock rear pickup supplied a more traditional "bass" sound to a "clean" amp, much like influences Chris Squire and Geddy Lee) Ernie Ball/MusicMan Stingray four-string bass as well as his four-string Fender Jazz Bass, with the Stingray seeing the vast majority of local NYC-area live performances in this period (1988-1992).

John used a 4-string Spector bass for the recording of Images and Words in 1992, but made the technically challenging switch to six-string basses for their subsequent tour of America, Europe, and Japan, using several high-end Tobias "Basic" line of basses - at least two, a red-stained and "cherry sunburst" that can be seen and heard on various Dream Theater home videos and on the "Live At The Marquee" EP released in 1993. John continued to use Tobias throughout the "Images And Tour" and "Music In Progress" tours from 1992 to late 1993.

For Dream Theater's Awake album, John became the primary endorser of "Tung Basses", a small company formed by ex-Tobias luthier Nicholas Tung. John owned at least three of the only 100 instruments constructed, two "Wingbass II Bolt-on" six-strings (one natural and one sunburst, both with maple tops, ash bodies and maple necks with rosewood fretboards) and one "Wingbass II Hybrid (a "half neck-through" with spalted maple top, ash body, and maple neck and fretboard.) The natural-finish Wingbass II bolt-on became his main live instrument for the "Waking Up The World" and "A Change of Seasons" tours, although you can see the other two used in his "Progressive Bass Concepts" instructional video. During this period he also used a Hamer acoustic bass guitar for "unplugged" radio shows and live performances. For amplification, John was using Mesa Boogie Strategy 400 power amps, a Mesa Boogie Bass 400+, and a modified Mesa Boogie Triaxis guitar preamp.

After the Tung company ceased production, John began endorsing Yamaha instruments, using their TRB six-string fretted and fretless basses and working with their Artist Custom Shop on what would become his signature instrument based on their RBX body style while recording 1997's Falling Into Infinity. A bolt-on bass with alder body with flame-maple top available in either "Ruby Red" or "Turquoise Blue" with a maple neck, ebony fretboard, and "Infinity" inlay on the fretboard, The "RBX-6JM" was his main studio and live instrument (along with his TRB fretless) from 1997, 1998's Once In A LIVEtime double-disc live CD and 5 Years In A LIVEtime video, and 1999's Metropolis, Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory, 2001's Live Scenes From New York three CD live set, and 2002's Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence double album.

In 2002 John Myung and Yamaha unveiled the RBX-JM2, an updated version of his signature bass that echoed the redesign of their entire RBX-series of basses. Changes included a modified body shape with more "modern" lines and carvings, solid finishes in either "Inca Silver" or "Plum Purple" in flat as opposed to glossy paint, slightly tighter string-spacing, a maple neck/rosewood fretboard with "Yin-Yang" inlay at the 12th fret, and a single Seymour Duncan MusicMan-type Humbucking pickup. This is John's current signature bass.

A few "oddities" that have only been used in the studio or rarely live include a MusicMan Stingray five-string (most likely where the idea for a single pickup on the JM2 came from) and Hamer 8-string bass (strung with the bass string followed by a string tuned an octave up, much like a 12-string guitar) used in parts of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, as well as a 12 string 'Grand Chapman Stick', an instrument that is played wholly by "tapping" the strings much as a pianist plays a keyboard as opposed to strumming them with a pick or fingerpicking. To date, however, John has only used The Stick on a small number of Dream Theater songs: "New Millennium", "Take Away My Pain" and some songs off Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, including "Misunderstood". He has, however, contributed several Stick tracks to Sean Malone's first "Gordian Knot" recording on the songs "Srikara Tal" and "Redemption's Way".

In terms of onstage amplification and effects Myung uses all rackmount effects for his sounds. As of August 2005 he uses two Demeter HBP-1 preamps, a Demeter VTDB-2B mono tube direct box, Demeter HXC-1 optical compressor, Ashdown ABM RPM-1 EVO II preamp and ABM APM 1000 Evo II power amp, a Pearce BC-1 preamp, Framptone 3-Banger (for switching between preamps and their different settings) and Mesa Big Block 750 amplifier. Note the lack of any traditional speaker cabinets - all members of the band except guitarist John Petrucci (who needs onstage speakers for feedback effects) use direct boxes that feed their signal into the front-of-house mixing board and enable them to use "in-ear" monitors as opposed to older wedge-shaped speakers facing them at the front of the stage. This allows them to receive a much more accurate mix of the live sound and the ability for each band member to customize their own settings.

Apart from the various preamps that John uses for overdrive and distortion, the only "effect" used is an Eventide DSP4000 Ultra-Harmonizer for chorus, harmonization, and time-based effects. He says, "I dig the Hyper Quad setting on the Eventide. It makes for a great wide, spatial effect that really brings my bass sound to life, especially live."

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