Creating An Entire Solo From Just One Lick

Many guitarists get to the point where they’ve got a couple of scale patterns under their belt and/or learned a solo or two from TABs. The problem they’re then faced with is how to turn this knowledge into an ability to come up with a solo for themselves. This is what this lesson aims to help with.

One solo I use to introduce students to the world of pentatonic soloing is Noel Gallagher’s lead break from Oasis’ “Live Forever”. If you listen to the track, you’ll hear this lick at around 2:15…

001

Click HERE to hear this lick.

The scale being used here is the G major or E minor pentatonic, meaning that this lick will work in any situation where a G or Em chord is the focus of the chord progression you’re soloing over. Now, let’s use this simple phrase as the basis for building an entire solo.

So, where do we start? Well, timing is an important element in an effective solo and a good rule of thumb is to avoid playing the first note of your solo on beat 1 of bar 1 of your solo. It tends to work better if you begin either slightly before the start of the bar or slightly after. Take a listen to this example – to begin with I play the lick starting exactly on beat 1 of the 1st bar. I then play it again, but this time I start on beat 4 of the bar before & finally, I play exactly the same phrase beginning on the “and” of the 1st beat of the bar. Essentially, you’ve got the lick on beat 1, then a bit early, then a bit late. I think you’ll agree that the second two examples sound somehow “stronger” than the first one. Click HERE to listen.

OK, so let’s use the lick which begins on the “4” of the previous bar as our starting point. This (as you’ve heard) will sound pretty good. What next? Well why not repeat the lick? Using repetition like this will help to give your solo a sense of continuity. Click HERE to hear me play the same lick twice. Notice how, on the second time, I still play the first note of the lick on beat 4 of the bar… we’re going to keep that the same throughout the solo.

So that’s the first couple of phrases in place, what next? A trick I often use is to take a lick and play it backwards – it totally changes the sounds & feel of a lick. Click HERE to listen to the lick we’ve been using, played backwards, and here is the TAB.

002

Now, listen to the original lick, played twice, followed by the reversed lick, also played twice. Click HERE.

So far, so good – you’ve got an 8 bar solo out of one simple lick. But is there anything else we can do to make it sound a little more interesting? Well, as it happens… there is! All of these licks can be moved down 12 frets to the open string position (simply subtract 12 from all of the TAB numbers). You can ALWAYS do this… move a lick up or down 12 frets and it will stay the same – just a lower octave version of itself. Click HERE to hear me play the four licks (original + repeat followed by reversed lick + repeat) the same as I did in the last example. The only difference here is that I’m going to alternate between the open string position & the 12th fret. I think you’ll agree that this sounds particularly effective. Don’t worry if some of those open position bends are a little tricky – as you’ll hear on the next example, you can easily turn a 2 fret bend into a 2 fret slide… in fact that little bit of variation adds an extra texture to the solo.

Right… what else can we do? Well, let’s move away from our original lick a little bit by moving it onto a different pair of strings. In case you aren’t aware, the scale pattern we’re playing from is this one (notes used in lick shown in GREEN)

004

How about we move the lick from the 3rd & 4th strings onto the 2nd & 3rd strings – you can see from the diagram where the notes would be. That would make the original lick look something like this…

003

We can now do all the same tricks with this version of the lick that we did with the original one… reversing it, and moving it down to the open position. Click HERE to listen to a solo using these new ideas in addition to the previous ones.

This provides you with a great set or resources to conjure up a solo. For the purposes of keeping it easy to follow, I kept the licks pretty recognisable here, but you’re not restricted to that in the real world… why not take the end of one lick and graft it onto the beginning of another? Then you’ll have another lick that you can flip backwards and get even more mileage out of… the possibilities are endless! Couple this with the ability to move to other pentatonic patterns around the neck (get those shapes learned!) and a bit of note targeting & you will NEVER run out of licks to play. Click HERE to listen to a final example of me adding in all kinds of variations on what we’ve discussed here. All the licks have their origins in that initial Noel Gallagher phrase we began with… as promised at the start… an entire solo from just one lick!

Until next time…

Have fun!

John.

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

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My Writing Process

When it comes to writing music, I will occasionally stumble across an idea when I’m just noodling away on the guitar. But this is the exception, rather than the rule. What normally happens is that I begin with an overall feeling or emotion I want to convey & go from there.

Knowing that minor chords sound sad & major chords sound happy is a good starting point, but if you dig a bit deeper, you can find more colours for the palate. Here’s what I mean…

Supposing I want a minor chord “sad” feeling for a piece: well I know that the aeolian mode will be good for expressing a sense of sorrow or loss; the phrygian mode is a good starting point for something a little darker; the harmonic minor scale adds an exotic touch to proceedings – there are all kinds of options for refining exactly what kind of minor/sad mood you want to create & the same is true for conjuring up something with a major chord/happy mood. Take a listen to the examples below to hear what I mean.

If the subject of modes is a closed book to you, then you can find an introduction to it HERE. All modes & scales have their own inherent moods. Here is a list of those that I use most often when writing with a description of how they sound to me:

Aeolian Mode – sad/angry (with a faster tempo)

 

Dorian Mode – still sad, due to the minor chord at it’s heart. But perhaps a little “sweeter” sounding than the aeolian. Good for jazz & blues riffs.

 

Phrygian Mode – Very “dark sounding”. The flat 9th in this mode creates real tension. Everything you can do with the aeolian mode is true of this one, but it just sounds a bit more intense.

 

The Harmonic Minor Scale – essentially just an aeolian mode with a raised 7th note. It somehow sounds a bit “eastern” & exotic.

 

The Neapolitan Minor Scale – basically a combination of the phrygian mode with the harmonic minor. Even more “snake charmer” sounding than the harmonic minor scale.

 

The Ionian Mode – sweet and melodic and easy on the ear. Easy to write beautiful music with this one. Perfect for conjuring up images of happy warm summer days.

 

The Lydian Mode – like the ionian, but that raised 4th note adds a touch of dissonance. It’s a happy scale, but with a slight edge to it.

 

The Mixolydian Mode – Because it’s based around the notes of a 7th chord, this is ideal for writing anything bluesy.

 

The Phrygian Dominant Mode – This is what you get if you take a harmonic minor scale and focus on it’s 5th note. A great scale for adding a touch of faux-flamenco to a piece. Sometimes also known as the “Spanish Phrygian” scale for this very reason.

 

The Lydian Dominant Mode – basically, a mixolydian mode (which sounds bluesy) with a raised 4th note (like the lydian mode). This adds that unsettling “madness” to it which is perfect for adding a touch of insanity to a blues riff. Best example of this mode in action is the Simpsons theme tune.

 

What’s even better is that you can mix these modes & scales in the same piece of music to combine their effects. Want to write a sad, dark sounding tune with a chorus which dispels this feeling like the sun coming out from behind a cloud? Easy… write your verse in the aeolian or phrygian modes, then go to the ionian mode for the chorus.

The relative sound of each mode is also something to take into account – for example, if you go from the ionian mode into the mixolydian, then the mixolydian will sound somehow “darker” by comparison. However, go to the mixolydian mode from (say) the phrygian or harmonic minor, it will sound comparatively brighter and more “up-beat”. Like an artist choosing colours, the effect of a colour (in this case, a mode or scale) can be influenced immensely  by what it is placed next to.

There are other scales & modes that I haven’t mentioned here and they all have their own unique flavours… the whole tone scale; the diminished scale; the enigmatic scale etc etc. However, the ones I have listed are my favourites and represent my choices most of the time.

Once I have the scale/mode chosen I’ll then write a chord progression around it, where all the chords are made up from the notes found in that scale or mode. Then it’s a case of strumming that chord progression into any kind of recorder (I normally use Audacity). Once I have that, I can begin to experiment with melodies.

For me, the best way of doing this is to play about with a software synth in a DAW, where I can drag & drop notes around until I have a melody that speaks to me. I have a few staples that I like to use when coming up with phrasing ideas for the melody, and one such stand-by is known as the “clave rhythm”- just make the main notes in your melody land on the 1 of the bar, the “and” of beat 2, then on the “4”. I find it helps to begin a melody on the “4” of the previous bar as a lead in. Also, now and then, it helps to one or more of these prominent notes, just to allow the melody some space to breathe. See below:

clave

And here are three quite different ideas based on this rhythm… a melodic ballad based on the ionian mode, a chunky rock riff using a mixture of the aeolian mode & harmonic minor scale, and finally a mid-tempo melody based on the dorian mode. As you can hear, this same rhythmic idea can be made to sound quite different depending upon the context in which it is being used.

 

This is just a starting point though. Sometimes I’ll take a melody & play it backwards or shift it along by half a beat, or chop it up an put it back together in a different order. The point is that it provides a start from which the tune can then evolve.

I know that this all sounds a bit methodical & some people believe that such practices have no place in a creative sphere like music. There are those who believe that any form of artistic expression should not involve any kind of thought process – it should all come from an unfathomable place, somewhere deep inside where the soul (if you believe in such a concept) resides. However, I consider myself to be a craftsman & I take a pride in being able to craft a piece of music from scratch whether I’m feeling inspired or not. Also, once you become fluent in all of this, it isn’t something you truly think about that much… in the same way as when you are fluent in a language, you’re not thinking about spelling & grammar as you speak… you just unconsciously apply the techniques you know in order to express yourself. Well it’s the same with music (or any artisan craft for that matter).

Occasionally, I will get a fully conceived piece in my head and then it’s just a case of nailing it down on the guitar – finding the notes & chords that I heard in my head. But this is far from the norm for me. And I really value being able to come up with something out of nowhere, just by working at it. Once I’ve got a basic “skeleton” for a tune (crafted in the manner described), I often find that it’s THEN that the inspiration will come & I’ll start flowing with ideas for how to develop the tune. Ideas that simply wouldn’t have been there if I’d sat down with a guitar and waited for the muse to call.

As I said… this is what works for me – feel free to do it your own way. Until next time…

Have Fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

Mixing Metropolis

I’ve just completed a new track entitled “Metropolis”, although it could easily have been called “The Never Ending Mix”, as it was a right, royal pain in the arse to get it finished. Time and again, I would set up another mix & think “yeah… it’s OK, but that drum fill coming out of the 2nd chorus needs to be longer…” or something like that. Anyway I persevered and finally got it sounding the way I heard it in my head, so I thought I’d share with you how I put a mix together.

Before we begin, let’s just get a couple of terms out of the way…

If you’re not familiar with using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) or mixing desk a “track” is the individual channel that a performance is recorded onto. You can control the volume, EQ & effects of the take you record onto this track using the controls assigned to it. A “bus” is like a track, but you don’t record onto it – a bus is essentially a track that you feed other tracks into so you can manage a group of them with a single set of controls. The “Master Bus” is exactly what it sounds like – the bus that all of the tracks in the tune eventually end up going through to produce your final mix. Now, let’s take a look at how I mixed “Metropolis”…

First of all, let’s begin with the bass – all I do to this is add a little compression. You can see the settings here in this screen shot of the preset I use in Cakewalk Music Creator.

comp

Next, I plumb this track straight into the Master Bus.

For everything else in the track… drums, rhythm guitars, piano & lead guitar, I tend always to use the same reverb setting (you don’t really want a reverb-y bass sound as it will lose definition). Using a common reverb to all the instruments gives the subliminal impression that they are all in the same room & helps to reinforce the “band” sound that I’m going for. To this end, I put the outputs of all these instruments into a separate bus called “All But Bass” & place my reverb on this bus. Here is the preset I use:

reverb

The output of this bus is then fed directly into the Master Bus.

For the rhythm guitars, I tend to always double track these – play the same part twice on separate tracks & pan these hard left & right. This gives a much bigger sound. Don’t be lazy about it & think you can just copy/paste from one track onto another though… all this will do is give you a louder, centred version of the part. It’s the minute differences between the two takes that give the big sound you’re looking for when they are panned to opposite sides of the stereo picture.

On this tune I ended up doing a total of six rhythm guitar tracks:

  • Left & right clean strummed chords
  • Left & right clean strummed chords with tremolo effect
  • Left & right power chords

Each left/right pair of rhythm guitar tracks was sent to it’s own bus, so I could control the volume of each left/right pair with a single fader. The output of each bus was then sent to the All But Bass bus where it would get a coating of reverb & from there it goes into the master bus.

The lead guitar track, like all the others was fed into the All But Bass bus, but before it goes there, I always tend to add a little delay. Once again here are my settings:

delay

This way the lead guitar ends up with a little delay echo as well as the reverb it gains on it’s way through the All But Bass bus.

Finally we come to the Master Bus itself. Cakewalk Music Creator has a wonderful analogue tape simulator effect which really warms up the sound of the whole mix. Here is the preset I use on this effect:

tape sim

And lastly I always add a subtle touch of compression to the overall mix on the Master Bus & here are the settings for that.

mix comp

I’ll round off by letting you hear the difference that some of these effects make. For the reverb check out these two examples using the drums:

  • Drums with no reverb – Click HERE
  • Drums with reverb – Click HERE

And here’s how the compression solidifies the bass sound:

  • Bass with no compression – Click HERE
  • Bass with compression – Click HERE

Let’s take a look at how that double tracking trick widens up the sound of a rhythm guitar part:

  • Single rhythm guitar take – Click HERE
  • Double tracked rhythm guitar – Click HERE

The lead guitar…

  • Without delay & reverb – Click HERE
  • With delay & reverb – Click HERE

The final mix…

  • Without the analogue tape sim – Click HERE
  • With analogue tape sim – Click HERE

And finally, the whole track as it ended up sounding using the methodology described, as well as a “wash” through the LANDR online mastering service…

Until next time…

Have fun!

 

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

10 Guitarists I Just Don’t “Get”

A bit of a polemic this time. Have you ever found yourself wondering what it is about certain guitar players that make other people wax lyrical about them? You may, from time to time, have frowned in confusion about just what it is that everyone else sees in a particular player. These are the ones which illicit this reaction in me. Feel free to disagree… I know you will, but music is a very personal thing & these are just my opinions…

  1. Billy Gibbons – Is it just me, or is this guy little more than style over substance? It’s all about the furry, odd shaped guitars, that spin around his belt buckle, and squealy pinched harmonics every other note. I saw ZZTop, (whose name I pronounce as “Zed Zed Top” on account of me not being American, by the way) on the BBC Glastonbury coverage this year. His tone was dreadful… like a wasp farting into a kazoo underneath an old army blanket. And his playing was plodding, pentatonic noodling – I’ve heard more inspiring fretboard skills down the local pub on open mic night.

  2. Now, I know this choice is going to upset some people, but I have to be honest… I really don’t see what all the fuss is about when it comes to Jimmy Page. I’ll admit that I do own Led Zep IV & I listen to it occasionally… Stairway To Heaven is a great track, but that’s kind of where I lose interest. Watching that reunion “Celebration Day” gig on the telly a while back, I was struck by how much his rambling, dissonant, never-quite-in-tune, over-indulgent soloing reminded me of Nigel Tufnel on a bad day.

  3. Often, it is said, the best way of achieving immortality is to die young. It’s also a pretty good way to be declared a genius when clearly you aren’t… or weren’t. Never was this more true than in the case of Kurt Cobain. Nirvana were just starting to hit it big at around the same time I began teaching guitar for a living. So I knew just how long it took to master the few barre chords necessary to play songs like Lithium & Smells Like Teen Spirit… not long. Not long at all – these are NOT difficult songs to play. And didn’t he just nick that “quiet bit/loud bit” idea from Frank Black & The Pixies, anyway? “Ah…” you might say “but Kurt had immense inner pain & he spoke for a generation.” Really? I was part of that generation (I was born in the same month of the same year as Kurt) & he didn’t speak for me… or indeed anyone else who liked to listen to inspiring, musical, virtuosic guitar playing. And as for “inner pain”… every 6th form poetry club is awash with it – being glum doesn’t make you a genius.

  4. Yngwie Malmsteen. I bet you thought from my little rant about Nirvana that I am a dyed in the wool “shred” fan. Well, think again. Whilst I begrudge the “genius” status bestowed on anyone not equipped with the requisite technical skills, I also have no time for any guitarist who seemingly places astonishing technique above musicality. I remember having Yngwie’s first album on vinyl in the mid 1980s. I never got as far as listening to side two. Although his technique was/is gobsmacking, it always struck me as being like a circus act… no matter how amazing the daring young man on the flying trapeze may be, it does wear thin after a while. By the end of side one, I was bored… every time.

  5. Neil Young. Let’s face it… we all know he can’t sing. His voice is a peculiar nasal whine that has the same effect on me as sucking a lemon whilst scratching fingernails down a blackboard. But we’re talking about guitar playing here, right? Well let’s address that then. I have never heard anyone get such an awful, ham fisted sound out of a P90 equipped Gibson Les Paul. A guitar like that should sing with mellow sustain but instead, it’s all fret buzz, dead notes and the kind of plunky, bum-note-filled solos you can hear in any music shop when a new guitar is being tried out by a teenage “guitar hero”.

  6. David Evans. Who he? Well, he’s the guitarist in Paul Hewson’s band. You may have heard of them, they’re called U2. “The Edge” (as Mr. Evans somewhat pretentiously requests that we call him) has built a career out of plunking away on open chords whilst letting his delay echo effect give the impression of him playing more notes than he actually is. But that, in itself is inspired right? Yup… and it was being done long before Dave “The Edge” Evans supposedly “invented” it. The godfather of using tape delay to augment his guitar sound was, of course, Les Paul back in the 1950s – the kind of innovator that The Edge is often called. But isn’t.

  7. Eddie Van Halen. Oh… another controversial choice. Like the aforementioned David Evans, Eddie (or is it “Edward” these days?) is credited with inventing an entire style of playing. Namely the phenomenon of finger tapping. He has even stated in interviews that he gets annoyed by people stealing “his thing”. Except, it’s not “your thing”, is it Eddie? Robert Fripp was doing it on King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man long before Van Halen released their first album, as was Steve Hackett in Genesis. And flamenco guitarists have been employing this technique for centuries. Sure, Eddie popularised this way of playing but what exactly did he do with it? Songs which sound like they were written by a teenage boy who’s wondering what it’ll be like when he finally “does it” with a girl, and the adolescent, immature obsessions with partying, getting high & thumbing a nose at the “squares” of the older generation. Throw in a few bars of Eddie’s tasteless, un-melodic pyrotechnics half way through each song (he’s got some fast licks & he’s going to use them whether they serve the song or not) and you have the formula. Perfect example? How about Jump?

  8. Ritchie Blackmore. I know, I know… He played on one of my favourite albums, Machinehead, but that still doesn’t excuse the years of truly awful soloing since then. If you want an example of the kind of thing I mean, listen to his tuneless, meandering, ego trip of a lead break from Knocking At Your Back Door. Then listen to the live album Nobody’s Perfect released after the “classic” Mark II line up reunited in the 1980s… it’s horrible (particularly the dreadful version of Child In Time). And that was also the opinion of Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord, who disowned the album largely due to Ritchie’s bum-note infested speed-finger widdling. If you love Deep Purple, and want a great “best of” album, check out “Live At The Olympia ’96” where Steve Morse plays the songs the way they deserve to be played… tasteful virtuosity personified.

  9. The Blues Police are probably going to come & lock me up for this one… B.B. King. There, I said it. I love blues, I really do. But I just don’t see what all the fuss is about with BB. I really don’t want to speak ill of the recently departed, so I’ll just say that I find his playing a little bit… erm… boring. Give me Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin or T-Bone Walker any day. These are guitarists who (to my ears, anyway) convey the passion & angst of the blues in the way that B.B. King never really did. Sorry.

  10. Finally, and probably most controversial of all, Eric Clapton. Yes, he has recorded some absolute gems… Layla being the most obvious example. When he’s on form, there are few guitarists who can touch him – take a listen to his solo on Roger Water’s Pros & Cons of Hitch-hiking, it’s a masterpiece of tone and phrasing. Or how about Derek & The Dominoes version of Key To The Highway? Utterly spectacular! The problem is that he only seems to play this way about 10% of the time. For every “Layla” there are dozens of drab mediocre “I want a new Ferrari, so I need to make a new record” type tracks. Have you ever heard anything as tedious as Wonderful Tonight? If you have then I bet it’s either Lay Down Sally or Holy Mother. Even his old boss, John Mayall (of The Bluesbreakers) said of the 19 year old Eric “Some nights he (Eric) would just turn up and strum his way through the songs, like he couldn’t be bothered.” Also, there are those of us still remember his remarks in 1976 about “keeping Britain white” in support of Enoch Powell. It was this rant, at a gig in Birmingham, that spurred the “Rock Against Racism” movement to be created in response. If, like many, you idolise this man then check this out & see if that alters your perception: Eric Clapton’s Racist Rant.

So there you have it. Sorry if I’ve ruffled any feathers but I can’t pretend I feel otherwise about each of these players. Some, or even all, of them may be responsible for “that special tune” which gives you goosebumps and sends shivers down your spine. If this is the case, then please don’t take offence – none is meant. I just needed to get this off my chest.

Next time it’s the 10 Guitarists Who Leave Me Awestruck. If I’ve slagged off any of your favourites here, feel free to rip my list of heroes to shreds next time. Until then…

Have Fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

My Lottery Win Guitar

The other day I got an email from the National Lottery informing me that there was yet another big rollover jackpot to be won. Having watched a few YouTube videos recently from various custom guitar builders, I decided to spec up my own “fantasy” guitar. The one I would have built if my lucky dip ticket delivered the goods. Here’s what I came up with…

First of all, the choice of timber. I’m loving the sound of my mahogany Harley Benton LP copy at the moment, so it would be a mahogany body & neck. The construction would be of the “set neck” type, like a Les Paul, but with improved top fret access – take a look at the Harley Benton SC450+ (my LP copy) and you’ll see the kind of thing I mean.

So, it’s starting to look a lot like a Les Paul, then, right? Well, yes and it would also include such Gibson attributes as a figured maple top on the body (I think “birdseye” maple, rather than the traditional “tiger stripe” bookmatched variety) as well as a rosewood fingerboard.

Where it differs mainly from a Les Paul, though, would be the scale length. Years of being a habitual strat & tele player have instilled in me a preference for the Fender 25.5” scale. On the traditional Gibson 24.75” scale, I just start to feel a little cramped when I go much above the 12th fret.

Right then, a Les Paul with a strat scale length? Well, yes, but now we come to the body shape. It would have to be a tele. There’s just something about this particular outline that I find aesthetically pleasing in a way that no other body shape stirs me. While we’re on the subject of the telecaster, has there ever been a more elegant headstock shape? I think not. Certainly, the “3-a-side” Gibson arrangement would not be on my “ultimate” guitar. Apart from anything else, it is a design flaw… it makes keeping a guitar in tune a nigh-on impossibility due to the angle at which the strings have to travel over the nut.

Now, the neck… I think you’d have to go a long way to find a more comfortable playing experience than the current crop of American Standard Fender guitars, so in terms of neck profile, fingerboard radius, fret wire etc. it would be a carbon copy of an American Standard tele with (of course) 22 frets. One attribute I particularly like in a guitar is that slight “rolled” edge to the fretboard. It just makes everything feel “played in” & comfortable, so that’s on the list too.

Are you picturing it yet? A mahogany, set neck tele with a rosewood fingerboard, improved top fret access & a birdseye maple top. Well, it gets better…

If money isn’t a factor in the spec (and why would it be if I’d scooped the Euromillions?), then I’d go for the uber-expensive option of a “drop top”. If you’re not familiar with this idea, it was invented (I think) by Tom Anderson Guitars in the ‘90s. It basically means that the maple top is formed over the curved top of the mahogany body enabling you to have all the comfort coutours you find on a strat. Expensive & difficult to do, but hey… I’ve won the lottery, remember? It goes without saying that I’d also have the ribcage contour on the back of the guitar too.

Now, how about the hardware? Well, starting at the headstock, let’s have some nice tuners… Grover… Gotoh… Schaller… anything with a nice 18:1 ratio for smooth tuning. I’m not a big fan of locking tuners – if you put your strings on correctly by tying them off properly, you get just as good tuning stability & it’s less to go wrong. They would have to have nice looking buttons though… we’ll come to those later when we talk about the finish.

Moving to the other end of the strings, let’s talk about the bridge. A “hardtail” would be my choice. I’ve never been a big fan of the trem/whammy bar, so it would be a beautifully crafted but simple affair with through-body stringing. A “hardtail” strat bridge, basically. But there would be one twist – it would have to have piezo saddles to allow me to get a pseudo-acoustic sound. I’m not trying to sound like a Martin Dreadnought or Gibson J200, but it would be nice to add a little acoustic-type texture to a mix.

OK, so as we’re talking about the actual sounds the guitar is going to make, let’s have a look at the pickups. It would be a two-pickup instrument, with a big, warm, meaty vintage voiced humbucker in the bridge comparison. Not for me, the screaming “tear-your-face-off” squeally shred-bucker. No, it would have to be something more like a Seymour Duncan 59 – a great “old-school” sounding pickup.

When it comes to the neck position, I have always favoured single coil sounds. Be it Stevie Ray Vaughan or David Gilmour or Hendrix’s “Little Wing”, I just love the lyrical quality you get from the open sounding tones of a neck single coil. Therefore there is only one choice of neck pickup for my lottery win guitar… the venerable P90. It would have to be a noiseless variant on the theme, though… I haven’t checked it out, but I’m sure such a pickup exists.

Finally, on the topic of pickups, they would be controlled by the usual 3-way switch. A “blade” style switch, like a tele, in roughly the same place (mounted, like the pickups, directly into the body – no scratchplate or pickup rings on this instrument). The pickup selector would have one final trick up it’s sleeve, though: in the middle “both pickups” position, it would have to have that Peter Green “out-of-phase” tone you hear on Need Your Love So Bad.

All the pickups, including the piezo system would be controlled by a master volume pot & a “blend” control balancing the output of the magnetic & piezo units. No tone control – in nearly 40 years of playing the guitar, I have never, ever used one. The master volume should also have a treble-bleed capacitor installed so I can go from a ballsy overdriven sound to a clean tone without losing any high frequencies, simply by rolling off the volume.

And finally… the finish: A lovely dark, tobacco sunburst. Coupled with that birdseye maple top it should end up looking reminiscent of the dashboard on an old Jaguar. The body edge will have the “faux-binding” effect that Paul Reed Smith pioneered back in the 1980s. Oh… and those tuning buttons on the machine heads? Well, I’m torn between having mother-of-pearl or maple, to match the body finish… erm… mother of pearl… no, maple… no…mother of pearl… Oh to hell with it, I’ve won the lottery so I’ll have two guitars with a set of each!

Well, I can dream, can’t I?

Until next time,

Have fun!

John.

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

An Interesting Comparison

After years of being a dyed-in-the-wool strat player, just before Christmas last year, I got a hankering for something a bit more “Gibson-y”. I’ve owned Les Pauls in the past but never really got on with them, however we all change as we grow older & suddenly my strat was starting to seem a bit “thin” sounding – even with a hot-rails in the bridge position. I wanted that rich, deep, set-neck, mahogany & humbuckers tone that only a Les Paul style guitar can deliver. Not having a fortune to spend, I trawled the net looking for a suitable LP style guitar that would fit my budget. I almost pushed the button on a Vintage V100 “Lemon Drop” guitar on eBay, but someone beat me to it.

Having read many great reviews, I settled on a Harley Benton SC450 Plus. A great LP style instrument from Thomman:

HBSC450Plus

You can watch a full review of this guitar, recorded on the day it arrived by clicking HERE

Anyway, as you can tell if you’ve watched that review, I was pretty damn impressed with the guitar. Without having a genuine Les Paul to compare it to, it gave a really good account of itself. But… there was always that nagging doubt in my mind: “Can a £120 guitar REALLY be a substitute for a REAL Les Paul?” I mean… sure, it sounds convincing & this is exactly how I remember my old Les Paul sounding, but what would happen if I put it up against “the real thing”?

Well, today I got the chance to find out. One of my students rolled up with a band new Gibson USA 2016 Les Paul Studio T. Check it out HERE

As you can see, this is a £1000 guitar. OK, so it’s not the Les Paul you want – that would be the LP Standard, complete with book-matched, figured maple top, edge binding, and about a ton & a half of street-cred. However, this is a genuine made in the USA, Gibson Les Paul, albeit the entry-level model. How does my cheap & cheerful Harley Benton £120 “knock off” measure up?

Well, at the end of the lesson, I borrowed the guitar from my student (Cheers Stuart!) and recorded a quick demo – some clean chords, a crunchy rock rhythm part, and some bluesy-rock lead with a higher gain setting. After the lesson, I recorded pretty much the same thing again on my Harley Benton. Here are those recordings just referred to as “Guitar 1” & “Guitar 2”. Just ask yourself, which guitar is the one that cost a grand & which one is the £120 copy?

Click HERE to listen. Both guitars were recorded through a VOX Tonelab ST with a “Dumble” amp model for the clean sounds & a “Soldano” model for the overdriven tones.

I received quite a bit of flak from the “Label Snobs” when I posted the initial video review of the Harley Benton… “Oh, if you ever play a REAL Les Paul, you’ll know the difference straight away…” that kind of thing. The assumption seemed to be that I am wet behind the ears & have never experienced the joy of playing a guitar as good as the one they paid a fortune for (not true, by the way  – I’ve owned two Gibson Les Paul guitars in my career). Well, as far as I’m concerned, the matter is now settled: My Harley Benton…

  • Is built from the same materials as a Gibson
  • Is finished to the same standard as a Gibson
  • Feels like a Gibson
  • Sounds like a Gibson
  • Has the adornments of Gibson’s “flagship” model (edge binding & figured maple)
  • Costs approximately 90% less than even an entry level Gibson

Looking at that list, if you still yearn for something with the “G-word” on the headstock, ask yourself why… are you interested in owning a superb musical instrument, or do you just care about the “brand attributes” & image that goes along with owning a “boutique” guitar? Me? I choose a guitar based on it’s performance as a musical instrument, not as some kind of “trophy”.

Oh… and by the way:

  • Guitar 1 = Gibson USA Les Paul Studio T
  • Guitar 2 = Harley Benton SC450 Plus

Listen again & see which (if either) you prefer.

Until next time… Have Fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

 

 

Diatonic Enhancement of Static Harmony (DESH)

This is one of those scary sounding music theory terms that can put a lot of people off before they even start. Fear not, though, as it’s quite a simple concept which has been used by composers & songwriters as diverse as J.S. Bach and Percy Sledge via David Bowie. It also happens to be one of my favourite techniques for writing a killer chord progression.

So… what’s it all about then? Well, in essence, it involves writing a chord sequence which allows you to plot a descending bass line which moves down a scale. Take this example:

|D A |Bm D |F#m |A | (click HERE to listen)

Those of you with a keen ear might already know what it is, but let’s put a bass line under it which will make it a little more obvious. Here’s how it works…

First of all, look at the chords, not as shapes that you put your fingers into on the guitar, but as collections of notes. This gives us the following:

D = D+F#+A

A = A+C#+E

Bm = B+D+F#

D = D+F#+A

F#m = F#+A+C#

A = A+C#+E

All I have to do is place a D note under the D chord; a C# note under the A chord; B under the Bm, and an A note under the second D chord. This will give me a bass line which descends from the root note of the “parent scale” (D major) to the 5th, creating a very recognisable sound. Click HERE to hear this.

For anyone who still doesn’t recognise this yet, here it is again with a melody line on top (click HERE).

Bob Marley was another fan of DESH, and he used it in this next tune. Take a look at this chord progression:

|C G |Am F |C F |C G | (click HERE to listen)

On it’s own this is basically just the chord sequence from The Beatles “Let It Be” (albeit with a couple of chords placed in reverse order). But put the descending bass line underneath it and suddenly it becomes much more recognisable as “No Woman No Cry”. The bass descends like so:

  • C (under C chord)

  • B (under G chord)

  • A (under Am chord)… and a short linking G note taking us to…

  • F (under F chord)

  • C (under C chord)

  • F-E-D descending run (under F Chord)… taking us back to…

  • C (under C chord)

Here’s what it sound like with the bass line. Much more recognisable as the song, don’t you think? (click HERE). And here’s what it sounds like with the melody (click HERE).

You simply cannot talk about the use of DESH in popular music without mentioning “Whiter Shade Of Pale”. It is, perhaps, the definitive example of this technique at work in a classic rock tune. Procul Harem came in for a lot of flak for supposedly “borrowing” this tune from JS Bach’s “Air on a G String”. But I’ve always thought this to be a little unfair… a bit like saying that Stevie Ray Vaughan ripped off Glenn Miller when he wrote “Love Struck Baby”… it’s a 12 bar blues, the same as Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood”, so you could easily point out the similarities. That’s missing the point though: Both parties used an existing, well established progression as the basis for their own original tunes. The same is true of JS Bach vs Procul Harem, in my opinion… but I digress.

Anyway… here’s the basic chord progression for Whiter Shade Of Pale:

|C G |Am C |F C |Dm F |

|G G7 |Em G |C F |C G | (click HERE to listen)

And here it is taking descending bass line into account:

|C G/B |Am C/G |F C/E |Dm F/C |

|G G7/F |Em G/D |C F |C G | (click HERE to listen)

As you can see there are not one, but two, descending bass lines happening here:

C to B to A to G to F to E to D to C in the 1st 4 bars (a complete cycle of the C major scale in the bass).

And G to F to E to D to C in the 2nd half of the tune – the bass descends from the 5th note of the C major scale (G) to the root, a C note. It is this movement generated by the bass, which is (in my opinion) as important, if not more so, than the melody when it comes to making the piece of music sound the way it does. Click HERE to hear the chord progression with the bass line & melody together.

Once you switch on to the fact that you can use a bass line to steer a chord sequence like this, you can have some great fun. Here, for example, is a little thing I came up with in next to no time. For the 1st 4 bars, I’m descending mainly chromatically – A to G# to G to F# to F to E to D, then back up to E again. For the next 4 bars, I use the same principle to ascend: A to B to C to C# to D to D# to E to G#. This chord progression weaves through many different keys & all I’m doing really is looking for a chord that I can link to next which will allow me the bass note I need. To explain the way this tune meanders around all the keys that have even a tenuous link to the A minor tonality is beyond the scope of this blog post, but trust me… it works! Click HERE to check for yourself.

|Am G#aug |G D/F# |F C/E |Dm E7 |

|Am G/B |C A/C# |G/D B7/D# |E G#dim7 | Am

Now… get busy with the DESH!

Until next time… Have Fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist