This particular lick, and the style I've developed, is the result of my obsession with Eric Johnson. When I first saw him play, I was so captivated and blown away that I set about learning everything and anything I could of his work. Until I discovered his playing, my influences where SRV, Hendrix, Beck and Clapton. My love of the blues-rock guitar style and tonality is something I can't shake.
What I wanted to break away from with my soloing and playing was the box form of the pentatonic and the repeated licks you hear everybody play. The sound in my head was very clear, but the challenge of making it a reality was huge. I started by combining two of the boxes and creating three-string arpeggios. From there, I started working on the transitions to combine them.
I was always fascinated by the sounds jazz guitarists created when they'd play licks all over the fretboard. The interesting thing was that tonally I couldn’t relate to jazz or fusion; I never connected with it, although technically, I could. I wanted to take these ideas and apply them to a more rock/blues approach. This is the result.
In this Monster Lick, I'm using the E pentatonic blues scale with the legato technique. Legato and the blues scale are nothing new. We all use hammers and pulls in the traditional box form of the scale to add spice to what we are doing. But this approach is a little different. I'm treating the scale as a three-note-per-string scale — as I'd treat a mode or major/minor scale.
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Because we generally approach the flat 5 or “blue note” as merely a passing note when we play blues or blues rock, the scale sounds incredibly smooth and even a little jazzy. My way of incorporating the flat into the licks and runs creates a slightly dissonant-sounding movement. The dissonance immediately creates the tension that is often needed when soloing to heavy, dark rock or blues-based rock.
In this lick, I'm using the blues scale in the key of E. When used in the right fashion, this scale can sound incredibly dark and even a little evil! It is the dissonant sound of the flat 5 that creates the dark feeling. In the traditional blues format, the flat 5 is used as a passing note. This creates the intensity and gives tremendous feeling to the lines or licks.
In this Monster Lick, I'm using the E minor pentatonic scale and demonstrating how to create huge transitions all over the fretboard. I was always fascinated when I'd watch guitar players soloing and moving all over the neck — players like Steve Vai, Shawn Lane and Eric Johnson. I approach this in my own unique way, by combining the use of six-string arpeggios with hammers, pulls and slides.
What makes this a little more difficult than usual are the stretches. They require a lot of practice and getting used to. The techniques in this lick are nothing unusual (apart from the over-the-top section) but the techniques, in conjunction with the stretches, become very difficult. So like anything else, be patient and work on it slowly.
The grouping of notes is very heavily inspired by Shawn Lane. When I first heard Shawn play, it was so blisteringly fast, it really excited and scared the hell out of me at the same time. I could hear that a lot of his tonality was with the pentatonic scale, but I couldn’t understand how anyone could play this scale so fast.