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5 shred techniques you can learn from Bumblefoot

Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal
(Image credit: Mark Weiss/Getty Images)

Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal is perhaps best known for appearing on Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy album and as their subsequent touring guitarist. But guitar lovers will have followed The Adventures Of Bumblefoot since that debut solo album of 1995. 

Ron has since released a host of solo works, most recently Little Brother Is Watching in 2015. He is also a member of prog metal band Sons Of Apollo, with Derek Sherinian and Mike Portnoy formerly of Dream Theater, and Billy Sheehan on bass.

Ron’s style is unique and delivered with jaw-dropping skill. From world-class picking and legato runs, to sweeping, tapping and fingerstyle, Ron has everything covered and more; equally comfortable on the fretted or fretless fretboards of his Vigier double-neck electric guitar.

We begin with a scale exercise in A Harmonic Minor (1-2-b3-4-5-b6-7), played in two octaves, using hybrid picking to alternate between low and high notes. Ron plays this type of thing effortlessly; probably able to have a conversation while doing so.

Example 2 is a tapping lick that ascends the neck using fretting and picking-hand tapping in quintuplets. Examples 3 and 4 are whacky tapped licks that use two fingers of each hand. First is an octave jumping chromatic lick, while the second has two different rhythms played simultaneously.

Finally we look at Ron’s thimble tapping, his way of extending the range of the guitar beyond the fretboard and opening up the entire length of the string. For this you’ll need to wear a metal sewing thimble on the picking hand’s fourth finger (or use any metallic object, such as a whammy bar). 

It acts as a movable fret which, when tapped on to the string, produces a note, allowing Ron to play beyond the 24th fret. You’ll need to develop an eye for where the frets would be. For example the 34th fret is half-way between the 24th fret and the bridge.

As well as adding imaginary frets, Ron also thinks from the bridge end of the guitar, seeing the thimble as a moveable saddle that shortens the string and raises the pitch of any note you play. 

In the tab the thimble tapped notes are marked ‘TT’ and are followed by a number such as ‘+1’. This means you tap the thimble near the bridge to add 1 semitone to the fretted note. At first this will be largely guess work, but with a fair bit of practice you will learn where these new semitone positions are.

Get the tone

Amp settings: Gain 7, Bass 6, Middle 7, Treble 7, Reverb 3

Ron plays Vigier guitars with one single-coil at the neck and a humbucker at the bridge to even out the pickups’ sounds. Select either pickup and go for a classic high-gain rock tone with plenty of drive from your guitar amp or a dirt pedal, but go easy on the bass so as to keep the tone from getting muddy, especially when tapping. Light reverb or a medium delay will help the notes pop.

Example 1

Start by playing through the A Hamonic Minor notes in the low octave using downstrokes throughout. You should be able to do this using only your first finger to fret the notes, leaving the other three free to fret the higher octave. Use your second finger in a hybrid picking style to pick the upper octave.

Example 2

Begin this lick with a fourth-finger hammer-on from nowhere, while using your fingers and palm to keep the other strings muted. Next play the five-note phrase using pull-offs and fretting-hand taps while keeping the notes even. 

Next tap with your picking hand at the 12th fret and descend and ascend the notes along the string. Repeat these two patterns while ascending the neck through the Major and Diminished shapes.

Example 3

Use your fretting hand’s second and third fingers to hammer-on to the 5th and 6th frets, while using picking-hand second and third fingers to tap up at the 16th and 17th frets. These four notes are a descending chromatic scale, with alternate octave displaced jumps. 

Repeat four times before moving down to the lower strings with the same fingers. Another challenge is the four-note melody played in a triplet feel, so keep your foot tapping on the downbeats to stay in time.

Example 4

Play the squared notes with your fretting hand by hammering on to the 2nd and 3rd frets. You can use your second an third fingers for the hammer-ons while resting your first finger across the 1st fret to mute the strings. 

While keeping the bass line going, use your picking hand to tap the melody notes. You can also practise the rhythm away from the guitar by tapping quarter-notes with one hand and dotted 8th notes with the other.

Example 5

Use four fingers to hammer-on, then pull-off the notes A-B-C-D on the 17th, 19th, 20th and 22nd frets throughout. Notice that your fretting fingers never move out of this position. 

As you legato through the notes, place your thimble trying sliding the thimble on the string near the bridge. Start near the saddle to transpose the notes up a semitone, then three semitones, then five semitones. For a pitch bending effect trying sliding the thimble along the string.

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