He is heavily influenced by blues-rock guitar icons such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore and Jeff Beck, possessing, however, his own easily recognizable style. Since 1988, Satriani has been using his own signature guitar, the Ibanez JS Series, which is widely sold in stores. He has a signature series amplifier, the Peavey JSX, and signature Vox pedals The "Satchurator" distortion pedal, The "Time Machine" delay pedal, The "Big Bad Wah" wah pedal and The "Ice 9" overdrive pedal to be released in June 2010.
Satriani was inspired to play guitar at age fourteen soon after learning of the death of Jimi Hendrix.He has been said to have heard the news during a football training session, where he confronted his coach and announced that he was quitting to become a guitarist. In 1974, Satriani studied music with jazz guitarist Billy Bauer and with reclusive jazz pianist Lennie Tristano. The technically demanding Tristano greatly influenced Satriani's playing. Satriani began teaching guitar, with his most notable student at the time being fellow Long Island native Steve Vai. While he was teaching Vai, he was attending Five Towns College for studies in music.
In 1978 Satriani moved to Berkeley, California to pursue a music career, and Vai moved on to study at the Berklee School of Music, soon after graduating becoming a high profile guitarist first with Frank Zappa, and after, with other bands, and a solo career of his own.
Not long after Satriani arrived in California, he resumed teaching. His students included Vai, Kirk Hammett of Metallica, David Bryson of Counting Crows, Kevin Cadogan from Third Eye Blind, Larry LaLonde of Primus / Possessed, Alex Skolnick of Testament, Rick Hunolt (ex-Exodus), Phil Kettner of Lääz Rockit, Geoff Tyson of T-Ride, and Charlie Hunter.
When his friend and former student Steve Vai gained fame playing with David Lee Roth in 1986, Vai raved about Satriani in several interviews with guitar magazines, including Guitar World magazine. In 1987, Satriani's second album Surfing with the Alien produced popular radio hits and was the first all-instrumental release to chart so highly in many years. In 1988 Satriani helped produce the EP The Eyes of Horror for the death metal band Possessed.
In 1989, Satriani released the album Flying in a Blue Dream. "One Big Rush" was featured on the soundtrack to the Cameron Crowe movie Say Anything.... "The Forgotten Part II" was featured on a Labatt Blue commercial in Canada in 1993. "Can't Slow Down" featured in a car-chase sequence in the Don Johnson starring show Nash Bridges.
In 1992, Satriani released The Extremist, his most critically acclaimed and commercially successful album to date. Radio stations across the country were quick to pick up on "Summer Song" which also got a major boost from being used by Sony at the time in a major commercial campaign for their Discman portable CD players . "Cryin'", "Friends" and the title track were also regional hits on radio.
In late 1993, Satriani joined Deep Purple as a temporary replacement for departed guitarist Ritchie Blackmore during the band's Japanese tour. The concerts were a success, and Satriani was asked to join the band permanently but he declined, having just signed a multi-album solo deal with Sony, so Steve Morse took the guitarist slot in Deep Purple.
In 1996, Satriani founded the G3, a concert tour intended to feature a power trio consisting of three instrumental rock guitarists. The original lineup featured Satriani, Vai, and Eric Johnson. The G3 (tour) has continued periodically since its inaugural version, where Satriani is the only permanent member, featuring differing second and third members. Other guitarists who have performed in such a G3 configuration include among others: Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, Yngwie Malmsteen, John Petrucci, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Robert Fripp, Andy Timmons, Uli Jon Roth, Michael Schenker, Adrian Legg and Paul Gilbert.
In 1998 Satriani recorded and released Crystal Planet, which went back to a sound more reminiscent of his late '80s work. Planet was followed up with Engines of Creation, one of his more experimental works featuring the 'Electronica' genre of music. During the subsequent tour, a pair of shows at the Fillmore in San Francisco were recorded in December 2000 and released as Live in San Francisco, a two-disc live album and DVD.
Over the next several years, Satriani regularly recorded and released evolving music, including Strange Beautiful Music in 2002 and Is There Love in Space? in 2004.
In 2006 Satriani recorded and released Super Colossal and Satriani Live!, another two-disc live album and DVD recorded May 3, 2006 at the Grove in Anaheim, CA.
On August 7, 2007 Epic/Legacy Recordings re-released Surfing with the Alien to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its release. This was a two-disc set that includes a remastered album and a DVD of a previously never-before-seen live show filmed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1988.
Satriani's newest album, titled Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock, was released on April 1, 2008.
Satriani will be releasing a Live DVD recording of a concert in Paris titled "Live In Paris: I Just Wanna Rock" and a companion 2 CD set on February 2, 2010.
In March 2010 Satriani will be participating with other guitarists in Experience Hendrix Tribute Tour performing music written and inspired by Jimi Hendrix.
On December 4, 2008 Satriani filed a copyright infringement suit against Coldplay in the United States District Court for the Central District of California.
Satriani's suit asserts that the Coldplay song "Viva la Vida" includes "substantial original portions" of the Satriani song "If I Could Fly" from his 2004 album, Is There Love in Space?. The Coldplay song in question received two Grammy Awards for "Song of the Year." Coldplay denied the allegation. They have since reached an agreement and the case has been settled.
Satriani is also credited on many other albums, including guitar duties on Alice Cooper's 1991 album Hey Stoopid, Spinal Tap's 1992 album Break Like the Wind, Blue Öyster Cult's 1988 album Imaginos, band members Stu Hamm and Gregg Bissonette's solo albums. Interestingly, he was credited with singing background vocals on the 1986 debut album by Crowded House. In 2003, he played lead guitar on The Yardbirds's CD release Birdland. In 2006 he made appearances on tracks for Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan's solo CD/DVD dual disc Gillan's Inn. On Dream Theater's 2007 album, Systematic Chaos, Satriani contributed spoken lyrics to the song "Repentance". Satriani contributed a guitar solo to Jordan Rudess' 2004 solo release Rhythm of Time.
He is featured in the Christopher Guest film, For Your Consideration, as the guitarist in the band that played for the late-night show.
It was revealed on May 29, 2008 that Satriani is involved in a new hard rock band called Chickenfoot with former Van Halen members Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony, and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. The band features Hagar on vocals, Satriani on guitar, Anthony on bass and Smith on drums,. Their debut album was released on June 5, 2009. The first single and video released from this album is the track "Oh Yeah", which was also played on the Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien on June 5, 2009. Satriani received a writing credit on each of the songs featured on the band's self-titled debut album. When Broken Records magazine asked Joe in volume 1 issue 3, about his new band, he enthusiastically mentioned that "it was great fun" and it gives him a "kick in the music bone" to be playing with such great talent. He said it felt quite natural to step back and play more rhythm guitar than solo guitar.
Satriani is recognized as a technically advanced rock guitarist, and has been described as a virtuoso by some publications. He has mastered many performance techniques on the instrument, including legato, two-handed tapping and arpeggio tapping, volume swells, harmonics, and extreme whammy bar effects. One of his trademark compositional traits is the use of pitch axis theory, which he applies with a variety of modes. During fast passages, Joe favors a legato technique (achieved primarily through hammer-ons and pull-offs) which yields smooth and flowing runs. He is also adept at other speed-related techniques such as rapid alternate picking and sweep picking, but does not often use them.
Satriani has received 14 Grammy nominations and has sold more than 10 million albums worldwide. Many of his fans and friends call him "Satch," short for "Satriani".
An influential guitarist himself, Satriani has many influences, including jazz guitarists Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Allan Holdsworth and Charlie Christian, and rock guitarists Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Ritchie Blackmore.