Jeff Beck is heading back to Australia to play the Byron Bay Bluesfest (along with Al Di Meola, Joe Bonamassa and Buddy Guy), making up for lost time after not visiting Australia for over 20 years until his tour here in January this year (my review here). His style has evolved and mutated rapidly over the years making it hard to pin down a general Jeff Beck sound, so let’s check it out as it stands today.
I’m sure we’ve all heard the old ‘tone is in the hands’ argument. There are some who might reply, “Yeah, the hands that sign for the credit card to pay for expensive gear,” but in Beck’s case it’s quite literally true. He jettisoned his pick years ago and is pretty much exclusively a fingers-against-steel man today. The tone that results from this is quite unique and very much unattainable if you use a pick. The attack is softer and the note seems to swell up then mellow out over its duration, instead of beginning with a percussive kerthunk then fading out.
Beck can play pretty freaking fast when he wants to, which is no easy task without a pick. The secret is to pick with your thumb for downstrokes and your index finger for upstrokes. An added benefit of this is that the hand angle required to pull it off cleanly is ideal for manipulating the guitar’s volume control with the pinkie finger as you play, allowing an even greater range of dynamic movement. Unlike picking from the wrist or elbow with a plectrum, picking with the fingers requires almost no hand movement, so it’s easier to make control adjustments far more detailed than otherwise possible.
Another clever benefit of picking this way is that the hand is ideally placed to achieve vibrato or even pitch bending by pushing the bridge of the guitar. Beck has his Stratocaster bridges set to float, so he can raise the pitch a few semitones as well as lower it. This is hard to achieve with a vintage-style 6-screw trem, but much easier with a more modern two-point fulcrum system as found on his signature model and any number of Strats since the 80s. Either way, you’ll want to reduce the spring tension enough to have the bridge sit forward a bit. When done right you’ll get better tuning stability, although as with any floating system the trade-off is a little sustain …although Beck deals with it and EVH seems to do okay…
The last trick we’re going to look at also involves a floating bridge; playing melodies with the whammy bar. Steve Vai really seems to have taken this technique and run with it, but Beck was the pioneer. Try this: hit a harmonic at the 12th fret of the G string then use the bar to raise it the equivalent of two frets. Then without stopping the note, bring it back down to the original pitch, then dump it down a half step. After a little practice your ears will catch up to your hands and you’ll be able to zero in accurately on pitches. Soon you’ll be able to play expressive melodies that almost sound like a slide guitar, but using harmonics as you please.
Hey! Head over to Jason Shadrick’s blog to see my guest post, a lesson on the crafty art of syncopation. Hope you dig it. Make sure you check out the rest of Jason’s site, including his excellent Twitter directory and the ’7 Questions’ series including Greg Koch, Steve Vai, Alex Skolnick (I especially dig Alex’s Hunter S Thompson quote), Stu Hamm, Paul Gilbert and many more.
Ok, go easy on me cos I’m new to this whole ‘talking to camera’ thing (I used to do radio and it’s so much easier when nobody can see you!), but here’s my first attempt at a video lesson, on how to do Satch-style pinch harmonic whammy bar squeals. I hope it makes sense in the video – I’m kinda learning as I go along here, in terms of not having a student in the room to get feedback from.
I’ve already shot a follow-up lesson but I haven’t edited it yet. I’ll put it online next week.
Recently packing out enormodomes for the Police reunion shows, Andy Summers has done it all, from 60s psychedelia to 70s punk, to fusion and jazz. Those who caught Summers on his 2000 jazz trio tour like I did (with Toss Panos from Mike Keneally’s Beer For Dolphins on drums, woo!) would have seen him playing dizzyingly complex lines on a Gibson ES-335, but as great as his jazz skills may be, he’s held in the most high esteem for his classic work with The Police.
There was some controversy over Summers’ tone when The Police first surfaced. At the time, Eddie Van Halen was revolutionising the guitar by cranking a Marshall and playing guitars fitting with just a single humbucker and a volume pot, with the occasional effect thrown in, usually just to emphasise a few notes in a passage (like the flanger sweeps in ‘Unchained.’ Summers, in comparison, was criticised by some corners of the guitar community, including Van Halen himself, for just playing “Flangy chords” (a criticism EVH would later retract in admitting he was influenced by Summers on the Van Halen III track, “Dirty Water Dog”).
Throughout his time in The Police, Andy Summers’ most visible guitar was a 1961 Fender Telecaster with an alder body and maple neck, although he also played a Fender Stratocaster and a variety of Hamers. The guitar was heavily modified when Summers bought it in the early 70s. Modifications included a high output humbucker in the neck; a brass bridge plat and bridge saddles; an inbuilt preamp and overdrive; a phase switch; and Schaller tuners. The bridge pickup was mounted directly into the body instead of to the bridge plate, a modification which some believe adds more fullness, resonance and sustain to the tone.
Summers used Marshall half stacks, despite being a predominantly distortion-free player. The added toughness of a cranked but still clean Marshall allowed his sound to cut through the mix in a way unattainable with a pristine, hi-fi sounding rig.
For effects, Summers favoured Echoplex tape delays, and a variety of chorus, delay and flanger pedals. To attain a Summers-like tone for yourself, try running single coil pickups on individual settings for the sharper stuff like “Roxanne” and “Bed’s Too Big Without You,” or in combinations for that zingy “Walking on the Moon” tone. Try to retain some edge and toughness – don’t let the tone get too pretty. Keep your amp’s preamp gain low but don’t be afraid of the power valve overdrive created by cranking the amp. One way of keeping the sound from being too ‘nice’ is by using the chorus and flanger into the amp’s input, whereas traditionally they might go in an effects loop or towards the end of a signal chain into a very clean tone.
If you’re working with a modelling device, make sure you select models of tape echo, Marshall Plexi, and more analog styles of chorus rather than more electronic-sounding ones. If you can move effects within the signal chain (either in a modeller or with real pedals), try the chorus as the first effect, perhaps even into an overdrive pedal with the gain control turned right down and just used as a tone shaping device. Also try some light compression – I prefer the MXR Dyna Comp but there are other more transparent models out there too.
CLICK HERE to search for Fender Telecasters on eBay.
This article originally appeared in Mixdown magazine.
There comes a time in the life of every axe slinger when he/she must venture out of the bedroom/garage/New York sewer and interact with other musicians. Maybe even – gasp! – other guitarists. And sooner or later, said guitarist might get bored with the sound of two guitars playing the exact same thing. So what do to? You don’t necessarily have to arrange all your riffs like Def Leppard (“not that that’s a bad thing,” 10-year-old me mumbles), but there are many interesting things you can do to get the most out of a two-guitar band.
First off, CLICK HERE to see the tab/music for this lesson.
Figure 1 is a simple 8th note strum on a Gm chord. Yawn. Figure 2 makes it slightly more interesting by delegating the bottom two notes to one guitar (which chugs them out with some palm muting), and the top 3 notes to the other, played more freely and maybe with some delay and reverb to add a nice reverberous chime.
In Figure 3, guitar 1 picks out a few notes from the Gm chord while guitar 2 chugs out the same 8th note figure as before. Figure 4 is a further evolution of this idea, but more melodic, perhaps used as a main riff between chorus and verse in a vocal song, or as part of the main theme in an instrumental.
Figure 5 steps outside of the Gm framework a little. Guitar 2 (who seems to get all the easier parts in this lesson… poor guitar 2) just strums whole note G5 power chords while guitar 1 gets all Queensryche, playing a higher version of G5 in the first bar then dropping the fifth down for a deliciously evil tritone.
Finally, in Figure 6 we have something Metallica would be proud of, where guitar 2 plays the same G5 power chord while guitar 1 alternates between an open G string (oo-er) and fretted notes. Try playing a different chord for each of 4 bars in this style, and keep the rhythm of guitar 1’s part but change the notes to match (or build upon) the new chords.
I’ve picked up a bunch of new I Heart Guitar readers over the last few weeks, especially thanks to some links on kickass sites like Guitar Noize, Melodicrock.com, Truth In Shredding, Random Chatter Music Blog, Premier Guitar and Guitarsite.com, so I thought it might be a good time to point to some previous articles, reviews, interviews and lessons. So here ya go!
1. Play it like you say it. Sometimes one might speak in a low, sexy Barry White voice, like “Heeeeeeeeey baby… how YOU doin’…” Other times, it’s more like ‘ohmygodyoutotallywon’tbelieveitIjustsawagiganticspidereatingachicken” Both are valid forms of communication but you don’t wanna be saying “heybabyhowyoudoinletsgobacktomyvanbythewayyougotrealprettyeyes” when “Heeeeeeeeeey baby…” would do.
2. Play the pick as much as you play the guitar. Experiment with different pick types and grips, and with picking in different areas of the string. Pinch harmonics, percussive clacks, faux-wah sounds, imitation 12-string textures and grinding metal sludge are all yours for the taking.
3. Put the pick down. After you’ve mastered the pick, chuck it into the audience, Yngwie-style, and learn to pick with your fingers. A frequent pick-misplacer in my younger days, I learned to pick with my fingers quite early and developed my own voice that way, much sooner than I developed my ‘pick’ voice. You can hear an example in my song ‘Mistral’ which is played 100% with the fingers (even what sounds like pinch harmonics, using the edge of the thumb and the thumb nail).
4. Train your ear by playing along with the TV. Whether it’s picking out the melody to the Flintstones, adding chords to the Seinfeld closing credits or breaking out of a rut with the Conan O’Brien theme, this is a great way of learning intervals, melody construction, and transcribing.
5. Practice in front of a mirror. No, not guitar hero poses, Johnny Bravo. Watching your hands in a mirror is a great way of checking if your vibrato is smooth and even: if it looks right, it will sound right. Mirrors also help to make the transition from staring at the fretboard to looking out into the audience by reducing reliance on looking directly down at the guitar.
6. Steal from singers. If you’re just starting out on this technique, Ozzy’s phrasing is easy to replicate on guitar, and the way he sings behind the beat and slides between notes is very useful when applied to guitar melodies. After you’ve done that, try to replicate the vibrato of your favourite singers. Extra points if you can nail that Alanis Morissette squealy thing at the end of each phrase.
7. Play with the band, not just at the same time as them. This sounds simple but it can take a while to learn. Lock in with the kick drum, the high hat, the bass player, whatever you need to do to make sure you’re fully aware of the song and your place within it. When I was younger, I found this kind of advice to be boring – why should I focus on the drums when I’m enjoying the sound of a raging guitar amp? But it only takes one good rehearsal or gig to realise that stuff like this makes you sound better.
8. Play your song with PRIDE (Phrasing, Rhythm, Introduction, Dynamics and Endings). This is a lesson my Aunty Barbi, a music teacher, instills in all her students and it’s great advice whether you play guitar, violin, piano or whatever. They’re all obvious, and yet it’s easy to forget one or even all of them in the heat of the moment. Catch the audience’s attention and imagination with the introduction, leave them with a clear sense of finality at the end, and make sure you do everything to keep them there in between.
9. Use gadgets as much as you like, but don’t NEED to use them. It’s all well and good to chain together a dozen pedals and try to replicate the sound of a unicorn belching through a megaphone into the third circle of hell, but a truly well-rounded player should be able to conjur up the same vibe (even though the sound itself might only be attainable through a few feet of transistors) with just their fingers.
10. Do. Or do not. There is no try. This immortal advice comes from Yoda, and whether you’re a whiny little bitch like Luke Skywalker or a seasoned guitar vetaran like Steve Lukather, Yoda’s message is clear, even though his syntax may be a little shaky. If you tell yourself that you can’t play something, you’re probably right. If you tell yourself you can play it, you’re probably right about that too. Check out the book The Inner Game of Music by Timothy Gallwey and Barry Green for advice on how to locate that little voice inside you that says “I can’t,” roll him up into a carpet, and throw him into the river.
One of my favourite tricks is to combine hammer-ons, sweep-picking and tapping. This little lick is pretty straightforward, and it provides an interesting alternative to a straight up-and-down arpeggio.
This lick can be tapped with one finger but I prefer to use two. I usually tap with the middle finger so I can hold the pick in the normal manner. When playing this lick, I pick over the fretboard, between the 19th and 20th frets, which positions the tapping fingers nice and close to the notes they’ll be hitting (at the 17th fret of the high E string and the 16th fret of the B string).
I’ve included the left and right hand fingerings. If you’re new to this type of right-hand finger notation, ‘A’ is the ring finger, and ‘M’ is the middle finger. They’re named after the Latin terms, with the exception of the Italian-named pinky, and it goes P (pulgar, or thumb), I (indice, or index), M (medius, or middle), A (annular, or ring), C (chico, or pinky).
Here’s the slow version, at 100bpm in 8th note triplets.
Here’s the ultra fast version, which is the same pattern, but played at 140bpm in 16th note septuplets. The trick to playing it this fast is to both pick and fret with a light touch.