Happy Birthday to John Ro Myung – born January 24, 1967

John Ro Myung (/ˈmaɪ.əŋ/) is a Korean-American bassist and a founding member of the progressive metal group Dream Theater. He is one of the two longest-serving members of Dream Theater along with John Petrucci.

Background

Born in Chicago, Illinois, to Korean parents, Myung grew up in Kings Park, 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, which he accepted. After graduating from high school he and his high school friend John Petrucci enrolled at the Berklee College of Music, where they met future band mate Mike Portnoy. The three formed the band Majesty, later adding keyboardist Kevin Moore and vocalist Chris Collins. The band would change its name to Dream Theater shortly before the release of their first album.

Though Dream Theater is his primary focus musically, he has appeared in a number of other projects through his career. His first was the progressive rock super group Platypus, with Rod Morgenstein, Ty Tabor and ex-Dream Theater band mate Derek Sherinian. After Platypus disbanded in 2000, Myung, Tabor, and Morgenstein recorded four albums as the Jelly Jam. Apart from his membership in these bands, he has appeared as a guest on numerous records. On Dream Theater’s Falling Into Infinity tour, Myung served as the keyboardist for Nightmare Cinema, a fictional band featuring the members of Dream Theater playing instruments other than their primary one.

Myung’s favorite bands include the Beatles, Black Sabbath, the Who, Iron Maiden, Rush, Yes, Jethro Tull and Genesis. He cites bassists Geezer Butler, John Entwistle, Chris Squire, Steve Harris, Geddy Lee and Jaco Pastorius as the main influences on his playing style.

Myung is married to Lisa Martens Pace, the bass player in the defunct all-female heavy metal band Meanstreak. Two other members of the band, Rena Sands and Marlene Apuzzo, are married to Petrucci and Portnoy, respectively.

Personality

Myung has a reputation as the “mysterious” member of Dream Theater, as he is very quiet and seldom draws attention to himself in videos or concerts. This has led some fans to joke that no one has ever heard him speak. There is a running internet joke that Myung writes the lyrics for all of Dream Theater’s instrumental songs. However, he does speak in DVD commentaries and on his instructional video, as well as to fans he meets at live shows. Another common in-joke is that he can do a bass solo within a bass solo. This comes from an instructional DVD known as “Progressive Bass Concepts”, where, beginning an instruction on his bass solo in the Dream Theater song “Metropolis Pt.1: The Miracle and The Sleeper” of the Images and Words album, where he says “There’s a bass solo, in a song called “Metropolis”, where I do a bass solo”. Fans have poked fun at the repetition of this statement. His mysterious personality was emphasized when, at a show in Germany, he tackled Dream Theater singer James LaBrie, 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”. It would later be revealed in the band’s biography Lifting Shadows that he was dared to do it with “a couple hundred dollars and nobody thought that he would do it.”

Myung is also 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) have said that Myung is the only musician they know who “warms down” after a show. He also has been seen to practice just minutes before the band goes on stage. In a forum post, John Petrucci said that, when he and Myung were at Berklee, the two had an agreement to practice at least six hours every day.

Songwriting

Dream Theater has long been known for its group writing process, so it is sometimes difficult to identify which member of the band authored a particular song or song section (although, on some DVD commentaries, the band members have identified certain parts as, e.g., “a John Myung riff”). With respect to lyrics, Myung wrote the lyrics to one song per album from Images and Words to Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory; after this Myung did not contribute any lyrics until A Dramatic Turn of Events. Mike Portnoy once commented in a chat session that this is probably because Myung’s lyrics usually needed some work by the rest of the band to fit to the song. As a result, the band eventually imposed an unwritten lyric rule that required lyrics to be “properly formed, phrased, constructed, etc. to go with the melodies,” and, “since then, John has kind of backed off.”

Myung at Mitsubishi Electric Hall Düsseldorf in 2014.

Instruments

Myung’s first bass was a “Memphis” brand copy of a Fender Precision Bass, but he quickly upgraded to a salmon-colored four-string Fender Jazz Bass. He began to develop a style of playing high on the neck, adding counterpoint lines and melodies to the band’s material, a rarity in rock music. He was also a heavy user of effects not typically heard on the bass guitar to better bring out his distinctive style.

Early Dream Theater gear

For Dream Theater’s debut album When Dream and Day Unite, Myung played a heavily modified Music Man StingRay four-string bass, as well as his Jazz Bass, with the former being his primary instrument in live shows. The StingRay was customized with an added front pickup sending a traditional clean bass sound to an amplifier, while the bridge signal was sent to a full-time effected amplifier.

Myung used a four-string Spector NS-2 to record most of Images and Words in 1992.

Switch to six-string basses

Myung began using six-string basses for Dream Theater’s subsequent tours of America, Europe, and Japan, using several high-end Tobias “Basic” models. These can be seen in Dream Theater’s music videos from Images and Words, and heard on the Live at the Marquee EP released in 1993. Myung continued to use Tobias basses throughout the “Images and Tour” and “Music in Progress Tour” from 1992 to late 1993. He has primarily used six-string basses ever since.

Tung endorsement

For Dream Theater’s Awake album, Myung became the primary endorser of Tung basses, which were produced by a small company formed by ex-Tobias luthier Nicholas Tung. Myung owned at least three of the only 100 instruments constructed, two “Wingbass II Bolt-on” six-strings (one Natural and one Sunburst, both with Figured 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 with Birdseye Maple fretboard. The natural-finish Wingbass II bolt-on became his main live instrument for the “Waking Up the World Tour” and “A Change of Seasons Tour”, although he used the other two in his “Progressive Bass Concepts” instructional video. During this period, Myung also used a Hamer acoustic bass for “unplugged” radio shows and live performances. For amplification, he was using Mesa Boogie Strategy 400 power amps, a Mesa Boogie Bass 400+, and a modified Mesa Boogie Triaxis guitar preamp with several transistors swapped out for ones that would support the lower range of a bass guitar.

Switch to Yamaha

After Tung ceased production, Myung began endorsing Yamaha instruments, using its TRB and John Patitucci six-string fretted and fretless basses live for Dream Theater’s The Fix for ’96 and An Evening of New Music while working with Yamaha’s Artist Custom Shop on what would become his signature instrument. Based on the more “rock”-oriented RBX body style, prototypes of the RBX6JM along with his TRB basses were used for the recording of 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, gold hardware, 35″ scale, and “Infinity” dot inlay on the fretboard, various Red and Blue RBX6JM models were his main studio and live instruments along with his TRB fretless from 1997–1998’s Touring into Infinity, 1998’s Once in a LIVEtime double-disc live CD and 5 Years in a LIVEtime video, 1999’s Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory, following tour and 2001’s Metropolis 2000: Scenes From New York DVD and Live Scenes From New York three CD live set. Myung’s amplification and speaker endorsement changed at this time to SWR Sound Corporation, as can be seen on the Metropolis 2000 DVD. However, Internet-released “Webisodes” of the making of 2002’s Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence double album showed an expansion of Myung’s studio gear with the use of a Hamer 8-string bass, as well as a Music Man StingRay 5 five-string bass. The usage of this bass on the entirety of disc 2 of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence would lead to changes to his Yamaha signature bass.

In 2002, Myung and Yamaha unveiled the RBX-JM2, an updated version of his signature bass that echoed the redesign of Yamaha’s entire RBX-series of basses. Changes included a modified body shape with more “modern” lines and carvings, 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, 34″ scale as opposed to the 35″ scale that the RBX6JM had, and most importantly a single Seymour Duncan Music Man-type humbucking pickup, influenced by Myung’s use of the StingRay on Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. This was used on Dream Theater’s Train of Thought and Octavarium albums, the tours supporting them, as well as the vast majority of the World Tourbulence (the prototypes for the second version arrived for him to test early in the tour), the Summer 2002 tour co-headlining with Joe Satriani, the Summer 2003 tour co-headlined with Queensrÿche, and the Gigantour heavy metal festival Dream Theater co-headlined with Megadeth. Myung’s main RBX-JM2 differed from the production model, having a second pickup and additional controls.

Switch to Music Man

John Myung in 2012.

During the recording of Systematic Chaos in 2006, Myung was seen using various Music Man basses. Early on the 2007 “Chaos in Motion Tour”, he was seen playing a MusicMan Bongo 5 HS in an signature “Inca Silver” (flat gray) finish on stage as opposed to his signature Yamaha instrument. This was the first time since before Images and Words that Myung had toured with Music Man instruments. On July 23, 2007, a posting on the Music Man online forum by company owner Sterling Ball stated with certainty that “I am speaking for both myself and the entire Music Man family in welcoming a wonderfully talented bassist and good guy, John Myung of Dream Theater. John has fallen in love with the prototypes that we made of the Bongo 6 and is now playing them exclusively. He is so in love with them that he won’t let me tweak them. He is playing the first proto and has two others from the same batch. This is historic for us to have hit the nail on the head for an artist without any input, visit, or promise.” Ball also stated that the Bongo 6 “is not a signature bass”, but “part of the regular line.” In an interview with MusicRadar in 2010, Myung stated that he was working with Music Man on a modified Bongo. The finished product was a bass with a 6-string body but with the 6 strings accommodating a 5-string neck, resulting in a tighter string spacing. In a later interview, he said that this will not be considered a signature model, per Music Man’s company policy.

Other instruments

Myung has used a 12 string Grand Chapman Stick, an instrument primarily intended to be played by “tapping” the strings much as a pianist plays a keyboard instead of strumming them or fingerpicking. To date, Myung has only used the Stick on four Dream Theater songs in the studio and live: “New Millennium”, “Trial Of Tears”, “Take Away My Pain” from Falling Into Infinity, and “Misunderstood” from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. However, it has been brought into the studio for every recording session since, and the song “Home” from Scenes from a Memory originally featured it (the version of the song that appears on the album features a bass guitar). He did, however, use the Stick on several tracks on Sean Malone’s second album Gordian Knot including “Srikara Tal” and “Redemption’s Way.” Myung used a fretless bass on the Dream Theater songs “Through Her Eyes”, “Far From Heaven”, “Hollow Years”, “Peruvian Skies”, “Hell’s Kitchen” and “The Silent Man”. He has also become a user of Moog Taurus 3 Bass Pedals, acquiring a set of the limited edition foot-operated synthesizers in 2011.

Amplification

Currently (as of May 2008) onstage, Myung uses all rackmount units for his sounds. As of the August 2005 issue of Bass Player magazine detailing his on-stage equipment, he used 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. Myung does not use speaker cabinets onstage. Instead, he uses direct boxes that feed the signal from his instruments into the front-of-house mixing board. Many fans and viewers of their live DVDs complain that his signal is distinctly quieter than the rest of the band’s when playing live compared to studio recordings, sometimes causing his solo sections to be almost inaudible.

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