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Ernie Ball String Theory is a web series that explores the sonic origins of some of music’s most innovative guitar players. In this episode, Daron Malakian of System of A Down dives into his beginnings as a guitarist, his songwriting mentality, and how his cultural background has helped to shape his unique style. Find out the top six things we learned –


1) Daron’s musical journey began with an interest in drums. (1:50)

“I grew up in Hollywood, in a pretty small one-bedroom apartment. Until I was 11 years old, I always wanted to play the drums. That was something, you know, since I was a kid I always wanted a drum set. But in that small apartment that I lived in, we couldn’t fit a drum set. So we finally moved in a house when I was like 12 years old… we went to the music store on my 12th birthday to go get my drum set.. my parents kind of had a discussion amongst themselves, and said, you know, you can’t turn off the drums… they decided to get me a little amplifier… and they bought me a guitar.”

2) Heavy metal sparked a love for learning riffs. (2:55)

“The influences when I was a kid were more heavy metal… Sabbath, Ozzy, Slayer was a big deal for me, but a lot of metal stuff, you know, made we want to learn how to play those riffs. But as I grew, my taste changed as well. So that’s why I say as a kid it was more of the metal stuff. And as I grew up, it went into the Beatles and all.. But at that time it was just a lot of heavy metal and I was always just trying to find the heaviest metal..”

3) Daron’s never practiced a day in his life. (4:43)

“I’ve never practiced guitar a day in my life, actually. That’s what I always tell people. They’re like – do you ever practice, do you practice a lot? And I never felt like I was practicing, I was just playing. And I only played when I felt the itch to play, and it was calling me. And it’s still that way now.”

4) Style is constantly evolving. (7:00)

“I feel like I have a certain style. I don’t know how that happens, but I always try to add to that style. I don’t just try to stick with it. I always try to add a certain color that maybe I didn’t use before. If you want to talk about the System albums, they evolve in that way as time goes on. In the first album, it was more heavy metal and anger… because we were playing the clubs, at that time on the first album, when I was just trying to write songs that are going to get the club going… and then we started playing bigger places, and it wasn’t as intimate; I started going into a songwriting direction and started getting influenced by songwriters, instead of riffs. People like Bowie or Neil Young, The Beatles, The Kinks and that type of stuff started bleeding into my writing..”

5) Daron is an unapologetic songwriter. (11:32)

“I get a joy out of doing what I do. It’s kind of selfish. I write the songs, I want to write. I play the style I want to play. I’ve never tried to cater to anything… like that’s popular now, let’s go into that… you know there’s never been a label head telling me what to play or write in a certain direction. The music I was writing when we got signed, was at that time, for especially people in the metal genre… people didn’t know what to make of, you know, four Armenian guys.. playing this thing that I felt like was totally our own. Nobody ever made us do anything different. That’s something I appreciate a lot, that I’ve been able to express myself and write songs that I want to write.”

6) Cultural roots bleed into Malakian’s music. (14:44)

“The Armenian and Arabic kind of stuff, is just, it’s where my family’s from.. and it’s what I’ve grown up around. That kind of music isn’t even what I would put on in my room, but when I went to a wedding, that’s what would be playing. If I went to you know family gatherings, that’s what would be playing. So, it was my world. It was in my culture. It was in my life. So it kind of bleeds out to me, without me trying.”


Daron plays Ernie Ball’s Skinny Top Heavy Bottom strings to produce his legendary sounds.

String Theory

Check out other similar guitarist String Theory films from Ernie Ball including, Steve VaiJohn Petrucci of Dream TheaterKirk Hammett of MetallicaRobin Finck of Nine Inch Nails, and many other amazing Ernie Ball artists. Watch additional episodes of Ernie Ball: String Theory.

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