Shred Zeppelin: How to Play Like Jimmy Page
Though he's mostly revered for his huge-sounding, eternally cool riffs, inventive altered tunings, acoustic fingerpicking masterpieces and otherworldly, ambient soundscapes, Jimmy Page also is one of the most influential lead guitarists in rock.
That his solos in such Led Zeppelin classics as "Good Times, Bad Times," "Heartbreaker," "Rock And Roll" and "Stairway To Heaven" are so firmly etched in two generations of guitarists' memories is testimony to his compositional and improvisational genius.
In this lesson, we'll examine the main technical elements and improvisational approaches that characterize Page's soloing style, and we'll look at some of his signature licks.
The Smear Box
Jimmy relies heavily on the minor pentatonic "box" pattern illustrated in FIGURE 1 for many of his licks, using mostly the top three or four strings. When he does go down to the bottom string, he'll shift positions with his middle or ring finger on the 5th string, as indicated here.
FIGURE 2 shows this fretboard pattern in the key of E with the root note E falling on the top and bottom strings at the 12th fret. Using this visual pattern as a template, Jimmy will often begin a phrase by playing the Chuck Berry-influenced "smear" motif shown in FIGURE 3 in the key of E.
This lick begins with a whole-step bend on the G string from the fourth up to the fifth (A to B). The bend is executed with either the ring or middle finger while the index-finger barres the root-fifth doublestop on the top two strings.
Page utilizes this smear motif as a springboard to dive into blazing E minor pentatonic speed licks like those shown in FIGURES 4-6. As you play through these figures, notice the use of pull-offs on the top three strings, as well as whole-step bends, such as from the minor third up to the fourth (G to A) on the 1st string at the 15th fret. You can hear Jimmy playing licks along these lines in his solos in "Good Times, Bad Times" (1:30), "Dazed and Confused" (3:52), "The Lemon Song" (1:51) and "Communication Breakdown."
Jimmy also uses these same types of repeating smear/pull-off licks in different keys. For example, in his outro solo to "Black Dog" (4:12), he plays a lick similar to the one shown in FIGURE 6, but in the key of A using the 5th-position A minor pentatonic (A C D E G) box pattern illustrated in FIGURE 7. In his first two lead phrases in "Moby Dick" (:36 and :41), he uses this same fretboard shape in the 10th position (see Figure 8) to play scorching blues licks in D minor pentatonic.
Page utilizes this same fretboard shape to play major pentatonic licks as well. He does this by simply moving the minor pentatonic box pattern shown in FIGURE 1 down three frets, transforming it into a major pentatonic box pattern in the same key, as illustrated in FIGURE 9.
If you compare the E minor and E major pentatonic box patterns depicted in FIGURES 2 and 10, you'll notice that the fingering patterns are identical, but that the notes assume different harmonic functions. This simple three-fret transposition enables Jimmy to transform minor pentatonic licks into major pentatonic licks (and vice versa) in the same key using the same fretboard shapes and fingering patterns.
Jimmy applies this transposition principle brilliantly in his "Communication Breakdown" solo. After playing several measures of rather dark sounding E minor pentatonic blues licks in the 12th position, he suddenly creates a lighter shade of blue by playing E major pentatonic licks using the exact same fretboard pattern in the 9th position.
Page uses this same major pentatonic box pattern illustrated in FIGURE 9 to play bright-sounding country-style licks, most notably in "The Song Remains the Same" (in D, 7th position, at :58, and in A, 2nd position, at 4:19), "Celebration Day" (in C, 17th position, at 1:46, and 5th position at 1:53) and "Houses of the Holy" (in A, 2nd position, at 1:11).
FIGURE 11 is a signature Jimmy Page "wall of notes" triplet run played in the 12th-position E minor pentatonic box pattern illustrated in FIGURE 2. You can hear him playing similarly blistering runs, both ascending and descending, in "Good Times, Bad Times" (at 1:30, 2:02 and 2:33) using this same fretboard pattern. In "I Can't Quit You Baby" (2:29), he plays almost the same lick in A minor pentatonic using the box pattern depicted in FIGURE 7.