School of Shred: Paul Gilbert on the Art and Science of Playing Lead Guitar
When it comes to shred, few guitarists can rip like Paul Gilbert. As the driving force behind shred-progenitors Racer X and the chart-topping late-Eighties outfit Mr. Big, Gilbert dazzled with his unhuman fretboard range that included wide stretches and intervallic leaps.
But he was a reluctant guitar hero.
When he went solo in 1996, Gilbert shied from the shred spotlight and pursued a pop vocal direction. It took more than 10 years, but in 2007, he returned to the land of big guitar chops with his solo debut, Get Out of My Yard, an album that represents the perfect meld of his amazing technique, harmonic gifts and off-the-wall sense of humor.
As anyone who has seen him on a G3 tour with Joe Satriani and John Petrucci can tell you, Gilbert’s talent for ripping guitar lines has only grown stronger.
An articulate and effective teacher, Gilbert presents an insightful multipart lesson in which he breaks down the mechanics of his various playing techniques and his conceptual approaches to the instrument.
As Gilbert explains in this first section of the lesson, a great way to generate ideas for melodic and rhythmically grooving solo licks is to play a simple rhythmic vamp made up of a few notes and some “scratch” strums, then use it as a springboard for improvising melodic ideas. This is easier said than done, especially for shredders who are used to tearing up and down the fretboard with little consideration for rhythm and playing “in the pocket.”
Gilbert suggests starting out with simple ideas that are rhythmically interesting but don’t have a lot of notes, such as the funky A minor pentatonic-based vamp shown in FIGURE 1. By thinking like a drummer and focusing on playing something that really grooves, you’ll pay more attention to playing with feeling and soul. When playing this vamp, pick aggressively and try to get the most out of each note, and be sure to tap your foot in steady quarter notes to really get into the groove.
Once you get used to this approach, you can start to introduce more notes, and that’s where the fun really begins. As Gilbert demonstrates, you can use a simple vamp as a launch pad for improvising more ambitious, note-inclusive licks and fills, like those shown in FIGURES 2 to 4. Gilbert advises that it’s very helpful to think of each of these phrases as being played as a drum solo, something that inspires him creatively and helps him remember ideas.
The fret-by-fret chromatic movement in FIGURE 2 shouldn’t be too difficult to master. When playing it, use whatever fingering you like; make sure to mute the lower strings to suppress unwanted noise and to count and perform the rhythms correctly.
FIGURE 3, while based on the harmonically straightforward A minor pentatonic scale, is a more challenging fill, as it involves some string skipping. As when learning any new piece of music, start out slowly and gradually increase the tempo while streamlining and economizing your movements.
The lick in FIGURE 4 doesn’t follow a set pattern but uses ideas similar to those in the three previous examples. The muted notes will help you maintain your groove throughout, so concentrate on making the pick hand comfortable before targeting all the notes.
“Reverse” String Bends
FIGURE 5 is an example of a slick, country pedal-steel-style bending technique Gilbert demonstrates whereby he picks a fretted note on the B string, bends the string with his ring finger (supported by the middle finger) and simultaneously bends the G string at the same fret with the tips of the same fingers. Upon completing the B-string bend, he picks the G string for the first time and releases the bend, creating a drop in pitch on that string (from Eb to D). This cool-sounding move is often called a “pre-bend and release” or a “reverse bend.”
Most of your practice should be centered on executing the half-step bends in tune. You can reference the target pitches of the bends by playing the unbent notes one fret higher. Once you get the techniques under your fingers, move the lick around the neck in different positions and keys. The technique also works quite well on the first and second strings.
In true Gilbert style, our maestro demonstrates the lick in a fast blues context at the end of a blazing run in A (see FIGURE 6).
Fast, Repeating Blues Licks
Gilbert plays many note patterns that are familiar to most rock guitarists, but there is always more than meets the eye when one attempts to play any of his licks. The resourceful guitarist often begins a fast run with an upstroke.
This may seem unusual, but it allows Gilbert to maintain an outside picking motion as he moves from the second string to the third, as he demonstrates with the repeating A minor blues scale lick shown in FIGURE 7. This kind of economical picking movement becomes even more important when string skipping, as the guitarist goes on to demonstrate in FIGURES 8 and 9.
In FIGURE 10, Gilbert performs a double pull-off on the third string, changing the rhythm from three- note groups to four-note groups. When playing all four of these examples, keep your fret-hand index finger barred at the fifth fret.