The title of this month’s column refers to the standard minor pentatonic “box” patterns that so many guitar players rely upon when soloing. While they are valuable, they can be restricting if they represent the primary way in which one utilizes these scale patterns on the fretboard. When playing in the standard box pattern, we generally play two notes per string.
For some of the really fast passages, I could hear that they were using a legato approach—incorporating an abundance of hammer-ons, pull-offs and finger slides—but I had absolutely no idea how to play the guitar in that way or achieve anywhere near their speed and precision. It sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before, so I always referred to it as “alien guitar.”
I remember listening to Holdsworth play when I was a kid -- with complete disbelief at what I was hearing. It almost didn’t sound like a guitar. The speed and the wide intervalic playing was simply amazing. It wasn’t until I saw live footage of him playing that I began to understand how he created that amazing sound.
In this Sick Lick, I'm using the diminished 7th arpeggio. I combine a few different techniques to create what I call an “alien" sound. This lick is very heavily influenced buy one of my favorite guitarists, Shawn Lane. Lane really pushed the boundaries of guitar playing. He had flawless technique and speed, and he used this technical prowess to write some incredible music.
It was because of my experimenting with major scales and modes that I originally came up with the “Thumb Technique”; I was searching for ways to play descending arpeggio patterns while keeping an even flow and rhythmic pattern. What I eventually came up with is the pattern played in this lick.
In this Sick Lick, I'm using the Whole Tone Scale. You have to be careful with this scale when adapting it to rock, as tonally it is way outside what the listener would normally be used to -- so it's important not to get lost in this scale! Make sure you are always mindful of where you are on the neck and that you are thinking about what other scales you can switch in and out of if you start to get too far outside the tonal core.
I'm using a pretty crazy combination of scales in this Sick Lick. We start with the whole tone scale then move into the diminished and finish with the pentatonic. When I'm combining scales, I always base it around the pentatonic scale. As in, even though I might be using many different scales, I tend to focus the solo or lick around the pentatonic. Basically, I use it like my road map!
In this Sick Lick, I'm using the E Pentatonic Blues Scale (Pentatonic Flat 5). Whenever I'm soloing, this is the scale I naturally gravitate toward because I love its aggressive sound and power! For me, Stevie Ray Vaughan used this scale better than anyone, and he was my inspiration to explore the possibilities with this scale and sound.
In this Sick Lick, I'm using a combination of the “Natural E Minor Pentatonic," Flat 5 (blues scale) and Major 3rd Pentatonic. Many players forget there is a difference between these scales, and the “Natural Pentatonic” often gets overlooked and replaced by these other variations. There is a significant difference between them, and they should all be given the same respect and attention.
For a long time when I was younger, I felt trapped with the pentatonic scale. Most players only use the scale in the box form or two-note-per-string technique. Now, while I absolutely love the sound this creates, I was searching for ways to create runs that were tonally similar to my personal favorites such as Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jimi Hendrix but utilize techniques that Steve Vai or Satch would use in their soloing.