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This article was originally published in issue #14
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Tom Quayle takes us through an exclusive analysis of the style and advanced techniques that have made Richie Kotzen one of the world’s most respected guitarists.
Welcome to this Richie Kotzen tech session. For this lesson I took the liberty of writing a Rock groove based on the style from Richie’s latest album, featuring a harder, traditional Rock vibe and his trademark bluesy, virtuosic phrasing combining multiple modern techniques that are essential for the contemporary guitarist.
The solo is based around an Em (pentatonic) Blues tonality that remains harmonically simple throughout before moving into an A major chord progression consisting of E, D/F#, G and A major chords. Richie is very skilled in developing lines that are rhythmically and harmonically exciting, over traditional Rock grooves and utilises a series of modern techniques such as legato, hybrid picking, sweep picking and tapping.
This solo example sways heavily towards Richie’s more modern Rock playing, harking back to Blues, Soul and Rock influences but with a little bit of his Fusion/Jazz sensibilities thrown in for good measure. It never becomes harmonically complex but the techniques and lines will take some practice, even for more advanced players, so take it slow and remember to have fun.
For the lead guitar tone I used my Axe FX II direct into the desk with a Cornford MK50 amp sim and a 4x12 Celestion Vintage 30 loaded cab. Any half decent tube amp will do to approximate Richie’s tone but some kind of boost in front of the gain stage will help to make these licks easier to play and get you closer to that high gain lead tone.
This first line is built from a 5th position Em pentatonic scale with the 9th added in for melodic embellishment. Not too much to watch out for here other than the off beat 16th notes and making sure your intonation is good on those bends. Make sure your vibrato is nice and wide (think ‘80s shred vibrato) and you play with attitude throughout these phrases- no half measures here, you really need to go for it to sound authentic, so dig in with that pick and get into the vibe of the backing track!
Again, more Rock/Blues licks going on here but with subtle off beat 16th note phrasing lending a more modern twist to these otherwise clichéd ideas. Watch out for your intonation on that first bend at the 15th fret and pay careful attention to the phrasing for the transition from that bend to the pre-bend/release on the 14th fret of the G string. In bar 7, the 6th or 13th degree of the Em tonality is introduced giving us a brief E Dorian sound typical of more fusionesque material.
Here we have our first Richie Kotzen trademark technique, using a combination of legato and hybrid picking. This is instantly recognisable and is employed heavily by Richie in many of his solos and those of fellow guitarist and friend, Greg Howe. The technique involves a three note, rolling phrase that is sequenced up the neck, again incorporating the 9th degree of the Em pentatonic scale. The lick is definitely a speed based idea, so don’t worry too much about the timing – just make sure you get the feel of the phrase down and go for the feel and smoothness rather than worrying about getting the subdivisions exactly in time.
More syncopated 16th note rhythms here following more modern Blues style phrasing ideas. This is a pretty straightforward lick but watch out for the second bar containing a tricky slide from the 12th to 9th frets on the G-string and a tricky fingering moving down a E major triad in beats 2 and 3. The final beat is also tricky due to the sudden change of gear from 16th notes to 32nd notes, so make sure you practice slowly to get the fingering down before trying to speed this up at all.
Here we have the first of our trademark fast legato lines. Richie is definitely from the modern school of legato playing, where every note is perfectly in time, in this case using 16th note triplets to create a horn like line that snakes around the neck. Watch the tricky fingering in the 2nd beat where the phrase string skips from the 5th fret on the B-string to the 5th on the D-string. The main things to work on here are the timing and hybrid picking as demonstrated in the video. By using hybrid picking the line becomes more synchronised and in time, allowing for less left hand movement than by using the pick alone. The slides at the end of the lick should also be performed in time so make sure you practice slowly to develop your rhythmic accuracy.
As mentioned earlier, Richie’s playing is firmly rooted in the Blues and this first phrase is straight out of Blues 101. This is followed by a simple melodic phrase but pay particular attention to how I slide in and out of the notes to add a vocal quality to the playing. This is very prevalent in Richie’s playing and shouldn’t be underestimated as a phrasing device. The final part of the phrase is an alternate picked Emadd9 arpeggio using an economical fingering in 4th position.
You can hear a lot of Hendrix in Richie’s song writing and phrasing and this easy lick is pure Hendrix thanks to the double stops outlining the Em tonality, preceded by a classic Em Blues phrase. Richie wears many of his influences on his sleeve and so should you. Be proud of where your playing stems from!
Here we see some rhythmic creativity again with a simple five note phrase that is made interesting thanks to being displaced by a single 16th note rest. By using a five note phrase the line moves around in the bar adding a cool rhythmic effect to an otherwise dull line.
This phrase returns the solo to legato territory and is simply an Em Blues scale played as a three note per string pattern. There are some wider stretches here but the phrase has a liquidy quality that would be very hard to achieve any other way. As with the previous legato line make sure you concentrate on the timing here and become as accurate as you can. The end of the phrase is a lightning fast Blues run using some arpeggio based descending lines to add intervallic interest.
Here we have a simple melodic phrase utilising screaming bends and wide vibrato to give a vocal quality that wails after the fast runs of the previous line. A rhythmically displaced Blues lick is then used to add a climax to this section before the new riff is introduced. This phrase may take a bit of practice to achieve thanks to the tricky fingering but persevere and try this kind of rhythmically displaced phrase in your own solos.
This is the first fast picking phrase of the solo and shows the technical versatility of Richie’s playing. I start this pentatonic phrase with an upstroke, playing two notes per string but you could perform the same line starting with a down-stroke if that feels more comfortable for you. Notice how the phrase accelerates as the scale is ascended, giving a cool effect to the line and increasing tension. Try not to tense up too much as you accelerate through the scale.
This final phrase is a direct copy of the riff underneath but moves through three octaves before changing to an octave B phrase and finishing on an E7#9 chord. Nothing tricky here but remember to perform the lick with the correct accents, grouping the phrases as four groups of three and a group of four.
So there we have it! I hope this has been an insightful look at some aspects of Richie Kotzen’s playing. We can’t cover everything here and you could display a wealth of other techniques that have been used by Richie over the years but hopefully this represents some of the cool aspects of his amazing style. I wish the best of luck and would love to hear your results!