Myung was born in Chicago, though at a very young age his family moved to Kings Park, New York on Long Island, where he met his childhood friends John Petrucci, Kevin Moore and Chris Collins. At the age of five, Myung was trained in violin, which he played until age 15 when a schoolmate who needed a bassist for his band asked Myung to play, assuming that violin and bass guitar were similar. Similar to John Petrucci, Myung has a strict regimen of practice on his instrument, dedicating most of his life to mastering it. It is reported that Myung may practice for up to six hours a day, and has extensive warmup and cooldown periods of playing before and after playing a concert.
Berklee and role in Dream Theater
Myung, along with John Petrucci attended Berklee college, where the pair met up with Mike Portnoy another Long Island native who shared their taste in music. The three formed a strong friendship almost immediately and founded the band "Majesty", later to be known as Dream Theater.
Myung's role in Dream Theater is significantly subdued compared to the other co-founders Portnoy and Petrucci, with Myung preferring to defer to them in decisions and song-writing, instead focusing on mastering his instrument, though it is said that he rarely voices an opinion, when he does it carries a great deal of weight with the band. Myung is known to be shy in public and rarely gives interviews or do any form of public speaking, leading some fans to believe that he doesn't speak English, though he speaks it perfectly. Myung will occasionally write lyrics for Dream Theater, though before writing the lyrics to "Breaking all Illusions," the eighth track on A Dramatic Turn of Events, he hadn't done so since the song Fatal Tragedy from Scenes From A Memory, a 12-year gap. This is due in part to a new policy Portnoy created that the person who wrote lyrics for a song must structure them to the song, as Myung's lyrics were generally freeform and songs had to be re-written to accommodate them.
Until the addition of drummer Mike Mangini, Myung had the distinction of being the only member of Dream Theater to have never performed vocals.
Relationships with musicians and fans
Myung, though notoriously shy in public, is said to be an animated, fun and likable individual in private company, and shares a strong relationship with his fellow bandmates, as well as a lasting friendship with former Dream Theater member Derek Sherinian. Myung is slow to anger, though he is said to be fearsome when angered, such as an incident with Chris Collins, who made an insulting remark on stage about Myung's Korean heritage. Myung berated and threatened Collins, and the incident never repeated itself.
Myung is said to be reserved around fans, though courteous and willing to talk to them, particularly if they are bassists. His shy demeanor can lead to him simply putting out his hand for a handshake when greeted by a fan. John Myung owned a website that contained a forum dwelt by a cult of people who were for the most part not Dream Theater fans and merely formed a community there, and would insult the band and John Myung directly. When Myung found out about this, he was so upset that he closed the website, and it has remained offline since.
Due to his shy and private nature, very little is known about John Myung's private life or habits, excepting what we already know about his fierce dedication to playing bass. Myung is married to Lisa Myung and the pair have at least two children. Myung's religion is Christianity, which he is quite open about, however he is also said to be a fan of Ayn Rand, an intransigent atheist author. Myung is also known to be a fan of fishing. Myung is said to be a very fun individual in private, someone who will do almost anything on a dare, such as a famous incident where he tackled James LaBrie on stage because crew members dared him to do it.
John Myung has become somewhat known for his appearance, as he is a tall Korean man with very long black hair, who commonly dresses in black, usually wearing leather pants. He is the only member of Dream Theater to never adopt a short hairstyle - though he has cut his hair, it always remains quite long. Myung is the focus of a lot of female attention to Dream Theater, and Portnoy has noted that he looks the same now as he did 20 years ago, while the other members of the band drastically altered their appearance many times.
Myung does have skills other than playing bass. He is also known to play the Chapman Stick, a tapping instrument similar to the bass, which he primarily used on the song New Millenium. He is also known for his lyrics, though he has only written five Dream Theater songs: Learning To Live, Trial Of Tears, Lifting Shadows Off A Dream, Fatal Tragedy and Breaking all Illusions they are all known for their lyrics. Myung's lyrical style can best be described as freeform poetry, causing Portnoy and Petrucci to have to re-write songs to accommodate them, which led to a change in policy for the band. He is also known for his use of subtle metaphors and imagery.
When Dream Theater switches instruments to become Nightmare Cinema, Myung plays keyboards, though his skill level is unknown, as the band generally plays simple songs in this state. Myung is also said to still be proficient at violin, even playing a small violin part on the song The Best of Times.
Myung began playing bass at the age of 15 after having played violin for a number of years. His first bass was a "Memphis" brand Precision bass copy, but he quickly upgraded 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, Myung played a heavily-modified 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 New York City-area live performances in this period (1988-1992). The Ernie Ball/MusicMan Stingray four-string was customized with an added front pickup sending a traditional clean bass sound to a clean amp, while the bridge signal was sent to a full-time "effected" amplifier, much like his influences Chris Squire and Geddy Lee.
Myung used a 4-string Spector for most of the recording of Images and Words in 1992 (although he may have used a 5-string or 6-string bass for songs such as "Take the Time", which features a low-C#). He made the technically challenging switch to 6-string basses for Dream Theater's subsequent tour of America, Europe, and Japan, using several high-end Tobias "Basic" basses. At least two, a red-stained and "cherry sunburst" can be seen and heard on various Dream Theater music videos and 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" tours from 1992 to late 1993.
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 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 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.
After the Tung company ceased production, Myung began endorsing Yamaha instruments, using its six-string fretted and fretless basses live for Dream Theater's The Fix For '96 & An Evening of New Music with Dream Theater 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 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 "Making of 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 John 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, by all accounts an influence from his usage of a Music Man Stingray to record a good portion of Dream Theater's last album as well as the Stingray that was his primary bass on the band's first album. 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 Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence tour (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.
During the recording of Systematic Chaos in 2006, Myung was seen using various MusicMan basses (most notably an Egyptian Smoke Bongo 5 HH as well as a Sterling H/SC, which can be seen a few times during in-studio videos and the EPK for this new album). At the beginning of the 2007 "Chaos in Motion" tour, he was spotted playing a MusicMan Bongo 5 HS in his 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 MusicMan instruments. On July 23, 2007, a posting on the Music Man online forum by the owner of Music Man, 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 wont 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." He also stated that, for the first time since John was endorsed by Yamaha over 10 years ago, "It is not a signature bass it is part of the regular line." However, several years ago, Sterling Ball had stated that there was no chance of a six-string Bongo unless a "high-profile artist asked for one," so John Myung's desire for a six-string Music Man can be seen as the genesis of the six-string Bongo. Myung is currently (as of May 2008) playing the 2 original six-string prototypes on Dream Theater's "Progressive Nation 2008" tour, a Flat Silver model very close the "Inca Silver" color on his signature Yamaha and a Black model both with Humbucker/Single Coil pickup combinations, as well as a single humbucker Flat Silver. On July 26, 2007, both he and John Petrucci visited the Music Man factory to test some new instruments that were being made for them - in this visit Myung can be seen with an Egyptian Smoke six-string with a H/SC pickup configuration.
Myung also 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, as well as strumming them or fingerpicking. To date, Myung has only used the Stick on four Dream Theater songs: "New Millennium" (in which he uses fingerpicking technique along with the Stick's traditional tapping), "Trial Of Tears," and "Take Away My Pain" from Falling Into Infinity, and "Misunderstood" from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (although it has been brought into the studio for every recording session since and was the original instrument that the "Home" bassline was performed on until being switched to bass). He did, however, use the Stick on several tracks on Sean Malone's first Gordian Knot including "Srikara Tal" and "Redemption's Way."
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.
On the Chaos in motion Tour he used a Demter VTDB-2B mono tube direct box a Demeter HXC-1 Compressor and a Demeter HBP-1 Preamp for his direct signal. He also used two Mesa Bigblock 750 ampflifieres and a Mesa Bigblock Titan V12 Amplifierer connected to a Mesa 2x12 cabinet and a Mesa 4x12 cabinet. All this is controlled by a Mesa high gain Amp switcher. Furthermore he used a DBX 166xl compressor as well as some Furman units and a shure wireless system. The only rackmount effect unit he used was a Eventide DSP 4000. In All this can be seen on a picture which is shown on the Mesa homepage. In addition You can see a MXR Phase 90 and a MXR double shot distortion pedal on his Pedalboard. A Framptone AB Box as well as a Korg Racktuner and his Midi Footcontroller which is made by Custom audio Electronics are also mounted on his Pedalboard. Myung used to use a 4x10 mesa Cabinet and 2x12 mesa Cabinet. On some pictures you can see two mesa Roadking heads next right to his Cabinets. These might be also used to create his sound.
Apart from the various preamps that he uses for overdrive and distortion, the only "effect" Myung uses is an Eventide DSP4000 Ultra-Harmonizer for chorus, harmonization, and time-based effects: "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."
With Dream Theater
- 1989 - When Dream and Day Unite
- 1992 - Images and Words
- 1994 - Awake
- 1997 - Falling Into Infinity
- 1999 - Scenes from a Memory
- 2002 - Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence
- 2003 - Train of Thought
- 2005 - Octavarium
- 2007 - Systematic Chaos
- 2009 - Black Clouds & Silver Linings
- 2011 - A Dramatic Turn of Events
- 1993 - Another Day
- 1995 - Lie
- 1995 - The Silent Man
- 1995 - A Change of Seasons
- 1998 - Hollow Years
- 2000 - Through Her Eyes
- 2008 - Forsaken EP
- 1993 - Live at the Marquee
- 1998 - Once in a LIVEtime
- 2001 - Live Scenes from New York
- 2004 - Live at Budokan)
- 2006 - Score
- 2008 - Chaos in Motion
Fan Club CDs
- 1996 - International Fan Club Christmas CD
- 1997 - The Making of Falling Into Infinity
- 1998 - Once in a LIVEtime Outtakes
- 1999 - Cleaning Out the Closet
- 2000 - Scenes from a World Tour
- 2001 - Four Degrees of Radio Edits
- 2002 - Taste the Memories
- 2002 - The ATCO Demos
- 2003 - Graspop Festival 2002
- 2004 - A Sort of Homecoming
- 2007 - Images and Words 15th Anniversary Performance
- 2003 - The Majesty Demos
- 2004 - When Dream and Day Unite Demos
- 2005 - Images and Words Demos
- 2006 - Awake Demos
- 2007 - Falling Into Infinity Demos
- 2003 - Los Angeles, California 5/18/98
- 2004 - Tokyo, Japan 10/28/95
- 2005 - When Dream and Day Reunite
- 2006 - Old Bridge, New Jersey 12/14/96
- 2007 - New York City 3/4/93
- 2004 - Master of Puppets
- 2005 - The Number of the Beast
- 2006 - Dark Side of the Moon
- 2007 - Made in Japan
- 1998 - Age of Impact with Explorer's Club
- 1999 - When Pus Comes to Shove with Platypus
- 2000 - Ice Cycles with Platypus
- 2000 - Gordian Knot with Gordian Knot
- 2002 - The Jelly Jam with The Jelly Jam
- 2002 - Raising the Mammoth with Explorer's Club
- 2004 - The Jelly Jam 2 with The Jelly Jam
- 1993 - Images and Words Live in Tokyo with Dream Theater
- 1995 - Progressive Bass Concepts instructional video
- 1998 - 5 Years in a LIVEtime with Dream Theater
- 2001 - Metropolis 2000 with Dream Theater
- 2004 - Live at Budokan with Dream Theater
- 2006 - Score with Dream Theater
- 2007 - Chaos in Progress the making of Systematic Chaos
- 2008 - Chaos in Motion with Dream Theater