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Why a Guitar Riff Becomes a Classic

Nobody knows how or why a guitar riff becomes a classic. It’s like hit songs, if everybody knew how to write them then all they would write were hits. It doesn’t work that way. We can’t define a classic guitar riff, but we know it when we hear it. And we know we can sing it, and more importantly we know we want to sing it. And if we can’t play it, we want to play it. That’s air guitar 101. It can be two notes and a chord (“Whole Lotta Love”), played on one string (“Satisfaction”) be chord based (“You Really Got Me“) be the melody of a song (“Iron Man”) played in plucked 4ths ( “Smoke on the Water”) be multi-tracked ( “Layla” ) be the intro to a song (Sweet Child O Mine), played with a Wah pedal ‘Voodoo Chile” (Slight Return)”, or include a touch of chromaticism (“Walk this Way”, “Sunshine of Your Love”). An indelible guitar riff is as much a musical hook as an indelible vocal melody, except it’s cooler.

Read more: How to Sweep Pick on Guitar

My vote for a classic guitar riff that totally deserves more appreciation goes to Whiskey Train by Procul Harum. Written and played by Robin Trower on the 1970 album Home, the song was strong enough to be the opening track on side 1 back when being a lead off track actually meant something. As simple and direct as any riff on Mountains Climbing album, it was no surprise that 24 years later Leslie West recorded his own version of the song. The original studio version of Whiskey Train also has one of the most memorable cowbell figures ever recorded, courtesy of drummer B.J. Wilson. Plus there’s three, yes three melodic and snarling Trower guitar^olos. But it’s that simple pentatonic riff that takes up permanent residence in your brain and brings you a whole lotta love, and satisfaction. Pun intended.

How to Sweep Pick on Guitar

Hi everyone and welcome back! In this article we’ll be continuing our journey into the subject of sweep picking with particular focus on the movement that lots of players tend to have trouble with: the ‘inside’ picking movement.

The majority of players that I have spoken to regarding negotiating string crossing when picking all seem to have trouble mastering the ‘inside’ picking movement of the right hand. The reasons for this really do depend on each individual player with individual guitar but looking at the movement itself, it becomes clear why it would represent a challenge in the majority of cases. Essentially, it’s all to do with the movement of the right hand.

Neal Schon – Journey Man

Guitar Collection: Oscar Schmidt – Kay K-136 & Maccaferri G-30

With the ‘inside’ picking movement, the right hand is always travelling in the opposite direction to which it needs to travel to reach the appropriate string with the appropriate stroke. For instance, if we are making a transition between the top E and B strings, the down stroke played on the top E should be followed with an upstroke on the B string.

With this in mind, it’s clear that with the downstroke, the right hand is travelling away from the intended target string, in this case the B string. Therefore, the player has to stop the right hand from travelling to move it in the correct direction toward the B string with an upstroke. This is a very unnatural movement for the right hand and is probably why most players find it an awkward movement to perform with accuracy. By contrast, the outside’ movement allows the right hand to move in the SAME direction that it needs to move to in order to reach the appropriate string.

In this article then, I’d like to share with you some ideas I use to solidify my ‘inside’ picking technique in conjunction with sweep picking technique.

One very effective method I use is to practice using one note per string arpeggios. Usually, sweep picked arpeggios involve the use of several notes on the low and high end of the arpeggio.

In this instance we will be playing one note per string, which allows us to insert an inside movement on the low and high end of the arpeggio. You’ll no doubt find this particularly challenging to pull off especially at higher speeds but, as always, only concentrate on building the speed when you feel ready to do so.

The arpeggios that I tend to use with this technique are played across 5 strings with the root on the 5th string. I like to play the arpeggios as 7th arpeggios rather than triads as it usually precludes having to barre across the same fret and also sounds a little more colourful. Also, you’ll find that with these patterns you’ll need to work on the left hand position shifts as they can be quite challenging, especially for the index finger of the left hand.

Once you have the basic 7th shapes down, it’s a useful idea to apply them to diatonic 7th chords. Please be sure to study the accompanying tab to learn the patterns I play in the lesson video.

As always, make sure you practice with efficient right and left hand movements and only start pushing the speed when you feel ready to do so.

That’s it for now. Be sure to practice hard and I’ll see you all in the next article!

Neal Schon – Journey Man

Neal Schon has been at the top of the tree since 1971 – when he was asked by both Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton to join their bands! The founder of Journey way back in 1975, Schon has been the sole constant member throughout its 14 million-selling albums and endless touring history. GI’s Stuart Bull met Neal for not just one, but two in-depth interviews, plus an exclusive look at Neal’s system with tech specialist Adam Day, while Tim Slater profiles one of Rock guitar’s most enduring greats.

Imagine being 15 years old and being invited by Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana to join their respective bands. Sounds like the stuff of fantasy doesn’t it? But American Rock guitarist Neal Schon was a gifted teenage prodigy who got his big break at the tender age of 15 when, in 1971, Carlos Santana out-manoeuvred Clapton and secured him as second guitarist. Santana’s pioneering Latin-Rock fusion band was still riding high on the momentum generated by its scene stealing appearance at Woodstock three years previously, but even greater success was to follow, with Journey, just four years later.

Who knows where musical ability really comes from? But if you happen to believe it’s an inherited trait, then Neal Schon had the perfect pedigree. Besides being in the military (Schon was born at Tinker air force base in Oklahoma) both of his parents were highly accomplished musicians; his mother Barbara was a professional singer with USAF big bands, while his father, Matthew Schon, was a Jazz tenor saxophonist, composer and arranger, who also taught reed instruments. Maybe it was inevitable that music would feature prominently in Schon’s early years.

Neal-Schon-Issue-No24 (more…)

Guitar Collection: Oscar Schmidt – Kay K-136 & Maccaferri G-30

Official Kojo welcomes back the noted guitar collector and historian Paul Brett with his unique take on vintage guitars. Just what’s left that is affordable and – most importantly fun to play?

This article – 1920’s Oscar Schmidt ‘Pocket Mandolin’ (selling November 2012 for c. $650), 1956 Kay K-136 (selling November 2012 $600-$1700) and 1953 Maccaferri G-30 (selling November 2012 for $500-600)*

Jason Becker – Not Yet Dead

Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Childhood Memory

Oscar Schmidt ‘Pocket Mandolin’

1920’s Oscar Schmidt ‘Pocket Mandolin’

Sometimes I come across a find that is out of the norm of my collecting timeline but by the same token, I find it interesting and enjoyable to change the pattern occasionally and especially when I come across an excessive rarity. Now, I am not a mandolin player by a long stretch of the imagination, but I was taken with a beautiful little instrument made by Oscar Schmidt, he of the legendary Stella guitars, called quaintly, a ‘Pocket Mandolin’. No, it doesn’t quite fit into your pocket but it is certainly a piece of eye candy and it’s loud as you can hear in the video that accompanies this article! Made in the mid-1920s it carries the Sovereign brand on the headstock, which was Schmidt’s top of the range brand during the company’s period of prolific manufacturing in the ‘20s and ‘30s.

Constructed with a solid spruce top and mahogany back and sides, it is adorned with a perloid fingerboard and headstock. It has a standard mandolin scale but the body is only 5 1/4” wide. Unlike traditional mandolins, it has a flat back, as opposed to bowl back, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen another.

As Americana goes, it could be the only one left and I would love to know if anyone else either has one, or knows of someone who has? It’s difficulty also to value it exactly but I guess it’s probably at present worth around the $650 mark to a collector. You can never tell however with unique items, what a collector will pay on the day.

Kay guitars are one of America’s iconic guitar makers with a history stretching way back to the 1930’s and are recognised as pioneers in the development of the electric guitar. From the mid ‘30s to the 1960s, Kay produced some of the finest electric guitars around, even at one time they were on a par with Gibson. I have been collecting some of their models over the years and have seen them steadily rise in collectability and value. Guitars like the K-131, known better as the ‘Thin Twin’ because of its lipstick shaped pickups, was used by the great Bluesman, Jimmy Reed and Jazz greats like Barney Kessel endorsed their Upbeat models with the famous ‘Kleenex Box’ pick ups, which I shall feature in a later edition.

1956 Kay K-136

1956 Kay K-136

The guitar I want to show you in this article is the solid body K-136 single pickup model. In my humble opinion, this is one of the best all round electric guitars I own. I have demonstrated a few different styles and sounds on the accompanying video but it really has a far greater versatility than I can cram in. It even plays great slide and Jazz chords! I have my one set with a slightly high action so I can play a bit of bottleneck occasionally when needs must. It’s a mid-’50s model, probably 1956, and is finished in spring green and white which gives it an Art Deco appearance. It won’t be everyone’s choice as a player because of the thick chunky neck, but after a while, it’s barely noticeable.

These are quite rare in original condition and I have seen a few around where over the years, players have changed and added various makes of pick ups which may give the guitar a different sound, but have decreased its collectability value as it’s not in original condition.

These guitars over the last few years have become quite collectable and prices have increased considerably for models in vgc. I have seen bad ones on sale for around the $600 mark and good ones for up to $1700, so if you spot a good one and you have a few bucks to spare, it will be worth picking up as an investment and also as a very enjoyable play.

Django’s style of‘Jazz Manouche’ inspired so many guitarists it is impossible to list them all. Even today, there are swathes of his admirers keeping his music alive around the world. The large D – holes and the oval soundboard of the Selmer Maccaferris threw out a louder sound when strung with metal strings and were ideal for Django’s style and music.

1953 Maccaferri G-30

1953 Maccaferri G-30

The iconic shape of the guitar also inspired many later copies and in juxtaposition with the music of Django, ensured the success and future legend of Mario’s design.

However, one great design doesn’t another. In the Spring of 1953, Maccaferri launched another unique guitar, this time, made of plastic! He even got the likes of the great Andreas Segovia to laud the guitar.

The Dow Chemical Company produced the material under the name of Styron and a massive PR exercise was launched to herald Maccaferri’s new icon. It had a bolt on- neck that could be adjusted by a simple turn of the screw situated under the tailpiece.

It boasted a warp proof neck and perfect intonation. These guitars in fact, were a serious piece of kit and far superior to many guitars of the period whose playable actions at the first fret were akin to finger strippers when one tries to fret them.

I actually really like these guitars and feel that Mario may have come up with a viable guitar well ahead of his time, especially with the CITES treaty and its restrictions on the

import and export of rare woods. They were released in two models the G-30 and G-40. The one here is a G-30. They have started to rise in value recently after spending a while in the doldrums and if you find one with its original box and labels this will increase the value. They currently pitch for around $500 – $600 although I did see one on Ebay for around the $1700 mark which is a little hopeful to say the least!

Important note about our guide prices:

The prices quoted are US-based (prices in the EU tend to be higher) and represent a spread between private and dealer figures at the time the article was written, as shown in the text. They are not meant to be any more than a very approximate guide and are subject to change on a weekly basis!

Jason Becker – Not Yet Dead

As the long awaited documentary on the astonishing life of shred pioneer Jason Becker hits the cinema screens and is about to be released on DVD, Guitar Interactive is proud to bring you an exclusive trailer.

Back in issue 6, Jamie Humphries told the story of Shrapnel Records, paying particular tribute to Jason Becker – the young American guitar-slinger extraordinaire who was struck down at just 19 with Lou Gehrigs Disease, told he would soon never play the guitar again and would be dead by the age of 25. But Jason proved them wrong. Over 20 years later he is still very much alive and though almost completely paralysed, is still making music, communication through a visual interface by the mere movement of his eyes, using a system devised by his father.


Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Childhood Memory

It was at the tender age of 13 that he got his first break, appearing with blind New Orleans Blucsman Bryan Lee. Prior to this Shepherd had had a hard time trying to get anyone to take him seriously, but as Bryan Lee later said, “I think what did it was that I didn’t see you, as a blind person I only heard you” going on to make the poignant remark, “A lot of time with music, people should just close their eyes, and forget all the visual aspects of it.”

At the age of just 18 KWS recorded his debut album, Ledbetter Heights. The album was a huge hit, shifting half a million copies in its first year and going platinum just a few years later. The album sat at the top of the top of the US Blues chart for an astounding 20 weeks. It’s full of great songs and is a must own for any fan of the Blues, a quick listen to tunes like Shame. Shame, Shame and Everybody Gets the Blues should have you on Amazon in seconds.

From there, Shepherd has gone on to record five more albums, 1997s Trouble Is…, I999s Live On, 2004s The Place You’re In, 2007s 10 Days Out: Blues From The Backroads and 201 Is How I Go. Of this impressive list, every single one reached number one on the US Blues charts, three went platinum and one went gold and he earned himself an impressive five Grammy nominations. All this along with opening slots for the likes of the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, the Eagles. Van Halen and many more!

When it comes to gear, as we’ve already mentioned, Shepherd has his own line of signature KWS Fender Stratocasters, though he also has a Jimi Hendrix Monterey Pop limited edition which he likes to use too and an SRV Strat – but in short you’re going fora Strat for sure to cop his tone. Let’s be honest – he’s most famous for his original ’61 and ’59 Straus and how many of us can afford one of those? For amps, Shepherd uses various Fender models, including a blackface Vlbroverb, a ’57 Tweed Twin reissue, a Supersonic and an Alexander Dumble modded Deluxe Reissue. He’s big on effects pedals too, using a host of drives, fuzz, a univibe, phaser, wall, chorus, octavias and delay with a collection that would make your eyes water. You could look for old TS 808s, Rion pedals, Analogman mods and originals, vintage fuzz pedals etc, but on a budget though, a nice multi effects unit would do the job.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd is currently out on the road promoting 201 l’s How I Go, with Noah Hunt on vocals, Tony Franklin on bass, Chris Layton on drums and Riley Osbourn on Hammond and keys, which is when GI’s Stuart Bull caught up with him. Watch the video for some words of wisdom!