From jamming with schoolmates in Adelaide, to touring the U.S alongside some of the industry’s best, Australian shredder Orianthi has certainly notched up an impressive rock resume.
The 30 year-old Greek-Australian is best known as the blonde bombshell hamming it up alongside Michael Jackson in preparation for his ill-fated This Is It world tour, and following his shock death back in 2009, Orianthi’s career took off.
She’s a decent singer-songwriter in her own right too, but it’s Orianthi’s talents and theatrics as a lead guitarist that has propelled her to such dizzying heights.
Born Orianthi Panagaris in Adelaide, South Australia, Orianthi began playing the acoustic guitar at the tender age of 6. She transitioned to electric soon after, and by 15, she had begun writing her own material.
She played in bands throughout her mid-teens, and nabbed a performed slot opening for Steve Vai. She met and jammed with Carlos Santana in 2003, and was invited to play with him at his soundcheck and join him on stage at his Adelaide concert – a mentoring session and subsequent friendship that proven crucial to breaking the U.S later on in Orianthi’s career.
Santana brought Orianthi to Paul Reed Smith‘s attention which led to her endorsement, and in late 2006, she relocated to Los Angeles, signed with Geffen Records and struck a management deal. Since then, Orianthi has played with the likes of Santana and Vai, Jackson, Eric Clapton, Carrie Underwood, John Mayer, Adam Lambert, toured in Alice Cooper’s band, and collaborates regularly with fellow guitarist and boyfriend, Richie Sambora (of Bon Jovi).
An aesthetic chameleon, Orianthi plays many different axes depending on the artist she is playing with, but she always comes back to her trust Paul Reed Smith custom model.
She’s been playing PRS guitars since she was 11 years old, and now has her own sparkle-finish red signature design (modelled after her Custom 24). Her guitars range slightly in style and colour, but her most distinctive looks are red, gold, purple, orange, blue and white.
Orianthi plugs into an EVH (Eddie Van Halen) 150 Mark III amp with Crybaby Wah pedals and TC Electronics, and uses Dean Markley Helix strings. She describes her vicious style of shredding as “abuse”, but the above combination has so far proven to withstand rigorous rehearsal sessions and gigs.
Orianthi’s sound is a strident modern rock tone, with blues and heavy rock flavours. Her songs are layered uniquely – country pattern, heavy rock riff and piercing punk leads.
She uses a harmoniser, flanger, phaser, chorus, delay and reverb intermittently, alternating between clear, sustained notes and walls of experimental sound (thanks to her guitar tech Dan “Borga” O’Neil). She’s a big fan of the 80’s and how the guitar tones stood out, so her own solos and melodies are often directly influenced by that era of dramatic, edgy tones.
A versatile artist, Orianthi can be bust out a pop-rock solo one minute, play out a lengthy classic rock cover the next, and cruise through a soft original.
Although some of Orianthi’s best songs are covers, she packs an impressive punch into her own radio-friendly pop originals too.
The menacing monster instrumental ‘Dr. Acula’s Theme’, the hammer vibrato of ‘Frozen’, the fuzzy bar chords of ‘Heaven In This Hell’, the melodic lead solos of ‘According To You’, the twin guitar tones of ‘Shut Up & Kiss Me’, the screaming and soaring interludes of ‘Suffocated’, the fast-paced duelling lead battle of ‘Highly Strung’, the metal pedal of ‘What’s It Gonna Be’, (and cover wise) the faithful ferocity of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It, and the electricity of Jimi Hendrix’s monster mash, ‘Voodoo Child’.
Orianthi can be seen jamming and hamming it up alongside Michael Jackson on the 2009 music documentary DVD This Is It, directed by Kenny Ortega.
Orianthi’s extensive tour with Alice Cooper is in fragmented pieces online, and you can watch her in full glam-rock glory, smeared in fake blood and acting out the required shock-rock theatrics. Orianthi has appeared as a guitarist for Michael Bolton, Dave Stewart and James Durbin.
She also appeared on the Top 7 week season 12 of American Idol on April 3, 2013 to play guitar for each of the performers. One month later Orianthi performed ‘Fine China’ with Chris Brown at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards, and in December she paid tribute to Carlos Santana, performing in the Kennedy Center Honors Gala.
Orianthi features regularly at The NAMM Show – the world’s largest trade-only event for the music products industry – which is held every January in Anaheim, California. Orianthi also makes a brief appearance in the rock doco Rock Prophecies, and in the game Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock.
Below, check out Orianthi’s interview with EVH discussing her career and gear: