21. Buckethead – Big Sur Moon
Sometimes it is liberating when a guitar player writes, records and performs a track like Big Sur Moon, because here we were, fussing around with an endless procession of delays, controls up the wazoo, and along comes Buckethead who casts a spell on an analog delay to record a next-gen shred piece that is pure sci-fi.
How does he do it? Well, he can count, and he can play. Like a metronome, delay repeats do not lie. Like the pseudonymous shred enigma that he is, Buckethead makes no mistakes. Here, he’s got a mellow clean tone, a melodic progression to work through, and the picking skills of a surgeon.
Of course, we are foregrounding the technical excellence required to compose and perform a piece such as this, but even if you approach this as a non-guitarist, Big Sur Moon stands up as a beguiling instrumental moment.
As for replicating it, the repeats have a dotted eighth feel to them and are clean, pronounced, and watching him perform it live it looks like the majority of this arpeggiated mind-melter is performed using upstrokes, with palm-muting used to control the dynamics.
Played at 159 BPM, a dotted eighth note would require a delay time of 283ms. Limit the feedback to a single repeat at unitary gain to your dry signal. Given that it’s best to embark on this slowly and build up speed, use a BPM-to-delay time calculator to adjust for tempo, and aim for precision and feel before getting faster.
22. Paul Gilbert – The Echo Song
All right, Mr Joe Buckethead, we see your Big Sur Moon and raise you one Echo Song… Okay, it’s not like that, it’s not a competition, and in mood and feel they are two very different pieces, but here Paul Gilbert is following in the footsteps of Buckethead’s technical excellence and giving it his own super-juicy overdriven twist on it.
Again, this sort of technical excellence is not normal. If you find yourself sitting at home, performing The Echo Song, or perhaps writing and performing a similar piece, which sees the electric guitar have a busy conversation with itself in a strong "brown sound"-accented tone, then you have made it. Please share your secrets with the guitar world at large.
Again, it’s one where the repeats are as pretty much as loud as the picking, and the ability to count and pick accurately is the ability to save yourself from turning a fascinating arrangement into the unlistenable.
23. Mogwai - Helicon 1
Guitarists: Dominic Aitchison, John Cummings
The ur-post-rock sonic landscapers, Glasgow’s young team have developed their own form of sculpting, taking distortion’s dark energies and rendering it in aerosol form via reverb, modulation and delay. Helicon 1 – or New Paths to Helicon, Pt. 1 to give it its full title – is a perfect example of their genius at play.
As ever, the guitar melody is gaseous, the bass, played by Stuart Braithwaite as bassist Dominic Aitchison is seconded to guitar, carries a lot of the melodic information. We’ve heard delay being used as a doubler, as a performance-enhancing effect, or as a means of creating ambience without creating the wash of reverb, but here it is working in tandem with reverb to establish a mood.
This is a masterpiece of languid twilight, but of course, this being Mogwai, a predominantly rock enterprise with nonetheless a similar appreciation of dynamics as a classical composer, the big noise follows the big mood, too – a savage ecstasy that sends every dial into the red before receding back into polite ambience.
24. Kaki King – Bari Improv
Okay, so Rotten Tomatoes has taken the critical temperature for August Rush and awarded it just 37 per cent on the Tomatometer but if Kaki King’s breathtaking acoustic improv piece was given a heavier weighting in the critical judgement we’d expect to see this up there with Citizen Kane.
Where do you start with this? Well, you’ll need an Ovation acoustic, a grimoire of alternate tunings, a Boss digital delay, and then throw out pretty much all the received wisdom on how to play acoustic guitar.
Kaki King is cut from different cloth. Her playing style is so hard to climb inside because it exists outside the traditional/percussive axis. It is all of the above. It’s no surprise that she’s a drummer, too.
On Bari Improv, she uses the strings percussively as opposed to the body, building a rhythmically and melodically complex piece, and using clean repeats at unitary gain to augment those rhythms.
It should be an essential piece for acoustic players to learn, and the biggest lesson to take from it is how to incorporate these techniques in your own compositions, and how the delay pedal can lift it and make it truly special.
25. Tash Sultana – Jungle
Tash Sultana is a 21st-century phenomenon with a sound that’s been workshopped on the streets of Melbourne and broadcast into homes and cellphones the world over via the internet. Like many solo performers, Sultana’s Boss RC-30 looper is a crucial component in performance delivery, but it’s the Boss DD-7 and TE-2 Tera Echo that are doing a lot of the heavy lifting with the tone on Jungle.
Watch how Sultana constructs the loop, building the song from the ground up with some ska upstrokes, before working in some spaced-out Jazzmaster cleans on top. Sultana keeps such tone secrets under lock and key, but with a Boss TE-2 Tera Echo on the ‘board, it could be that the TE-2’s reverb/delay hybrid tone is adding texture while the DD-7 is adding rhythmic complexity with dotted-eighth repeats. They are as much part of Sultana’s backing band as the looper.
You might notice 2:56 seconds into the video that Sultana’s dog is unimpressed, but we are. This is a new kinda magic.