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This article was originally published in issue #3
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One thing to bear in mind with playing in Zakk’s style is the conviction with which he plays the guitar. Every note is really grabbed hold of and his vibrato has a very definitive style.
Zakk Wylde is the master shredder – the monster player behind some of the best of Ozzy Osbourne’s solo work and the front man of Black Label Society. Andy James puts the Zakk Wylde style under the microscope.
In this issue we’re going to be looking at the style of ex-Ozzy axe man and Black Label Society front man Zakk Wylde. Zakk is world renowned for being a master of pentatonic shredding and we’re going to take a look at how you can reproduce the style of one of Rock’s most identifiable guitarists.
One thing to bear in mind with playing in Zakk’s style is the conviction with which he plays the guitar. Every note is really grabbed hold of and his vibrato has a very definitive style. When approaching these licks, make sure that you get them down at a slow tempo and that you are comfortable with your co-ordination when speeding up the licks. This will serve you well as the licks will still be clean and audible at a higher speed. Zakk has a very clear sound, so clarity as well as speed should be one of your main concerns here.
One thing worth noting is that Zakk’s string choice is gauge 10-60. The reason for the heavy low end is so he can tune down the low E string as far as a B note. For Black Label Society, the only alternate tunings are on the low E string.
The backing track is in the key of E and has an up-tempo feel. There are no key changes so you can play the licks as they are in my performance or mix up the licks and incorporate some of these ideas in your own playing and have a go at improvising your own solos in this style.
This lick is classic Zakk Wylde as it incorporates a very aggressive double stop bend which is very common in Zakk’s style. Following on from that there is the use of the open B string, which is a great way of building towards the classic Zakk vibrato, which often signifies the definite end of a lick or solo. This features heavily in the other licks too.
In this lick it covers Zakk’s approach at having the sound of a whammy bar on a fixed bridge guitar. Like so many of Zakk’s licks, this is a very identifiable part of his sound and a unique approach to getting this type of effect.
The hammer-ons in this lick are used quite a bit by Zakk to sound like the solo is building and progressing to another part, almost like a bridge within a solo.
This lick starts with a very classic pattern that Zakk uses, not too dissimilar from the build-up to the end of the No More Tears solo, just lower down on the guitar. As this lick gets faster it requires a more palm muted and picked approach to build tension.
Utilising the first position pentatonic scale in the key of E, this is a building lick that requires good use of hammer-ons, pull-offs and palm muting which Zakk uses, as well as alternate picking to inject a lot of speed and dynamic into his playing.
In a lot of cases Zakk will introduce the wah pedal to add an added dynamic. This can also make the final note of any lick sound more aggressive. Even if the wah has not been used for the duration of the lick, he will often turn it on for the last note to add conviction. In this lick there is good use of hammer-ons and pull-offs in this pentatonic repeated lick which is a good exercise for the left hand as well as having a cool sound!
This lick was inspired by a the solo in a song called War of Heaven from the new BLS album, Order of the Black. Due to the more up tempo nature of the BT, this is slightly exaggerated on the speed side of things to fit in. There is a very wide stretch to be negotiated as well as incorporating strict alternate picking, so attention to detail at a slow tempo with a lick like this is a must before speeding it up. This introduces a more technical side to Zakk’s playing which is not for the faint of heart. Who said shredding pentatonics was easy?
Once again, another repeating pattern that is often associated with Zakk’s playing, a lick like this can be found on the solo for Miracle Man from Zakk’s first album with Ozzy No Rest for the Wicked. The ending to this lick is a chromatic sounding lick where Zakk puts his right hand over the neck and pulls off the G string with his left hand moving down with his right towards the headstock. On my performance, I played this in a more conventional way so you can get the desired effect a bit more easily.
These all link-up together to make one long phrase to demonstrate my performance of Zakk’s style. This is probably the hardest part as it highlights Zakk’s highly accurate and skilled picking technique which is hard to make easy from a teaching point of view. I’ve broken it down into sections and the same train of thought should be present when practising these type of licks/phrases as the co-ordination is key to making this kind of playing clean and precise. Zakk for most of this style playing often favours the neck pick-up as for picking, it can bring a more rounded definition to the notes and adds a different dynamic in terms of definition.