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This article was originally published in issue #36
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Joe is one of the most immediately recognisable guitar players out there today and is loved equally for not only his impressive technical skills but his amazing compositions and melodic sense.
Who doesn't want to play like the astonishing Joe Satriani? To celebrate the release of Joe's new album, Shockwave Supernova, GI's very own Tom Quayle leads you through a typical Satch-style solo, showing you how to nail that impeccable quality that has made Joe one of the world's most loved and admired guitarists.
Hey guys and welcome to this Tech Session on the amazing Joe Satriani. Joe is one of the most immediately recognisable guitar players out there today and is loved equally for not only his impressive technical skills but his amazing compositions and melodic sense. In this session I’ll be teaching you an ‘in the Satch style’ solo that works through some of Joe’s most lauded and signature techniques such as his liquidy legato, harmonics, pick tapping and whammy bar skills. This is a tricky solo with a lot to digest so, as ever, work slowly and take your time with each of the licks and I wish you luck as we get into Joe’s amazing style. Let’s start with an overview of the track before we dive into each lick.
The solo is based on Joe’s awesome tune ‘Flying in a Blue Dream’ which was released on the album of the same name in 1989. The backing track is built around two Lydian chords, Cadd9#11 and Bbadd9#11 giving us the classic modal sound that Satriani is famous for. His writing often revolves around the use of so called modal grooves so that he can exploit the sound of a particular mode for his melodic writing. The track simply moves between these two chords allowing us to use the C Lydian and Bb Lydian scales as our source of melodic material. Now let’s check out each of the licks in turn.
Lick 1 – The solo starts out in C Lydian with some classic Joe Satriani melodic motifs based around some slides that are picked fairly aggressively with a raked downstroke. Joe will often play this kind of quick slide into a melody note with a slight pinched harmonic to get a more vocal kind of sound and you can do this by bringing the thumb over the end of the pick as you attack the string with the right hand. There is an element of randomness to this that adds to the vocal quality that is present in Joe’s playing. Try to match the phrasing and rhythm for this first lick as closely as possible and really listen to your sound as you play, trying to get the right vibrato and length of notes to mirror my performance.
Lick 2 – For the second lick we are still in C Lydian territory, but move up to the 15th fret of the B string for another very melodic phrase. This time we incorporate a pre-bend up a whole step for the first note so be careful with your intonation as Joe is pretty much flawless in this department both in the studio and live. Here again it’s beneficial to go for a pinched harmonic as you pick the bend release at the 15th fret of the high E string. Other than that just watch the switch from the 15th fret of the B string up to that 15th fret high E string bend where the quick shift can cause issues.
Lick 3 – Here we are in classic Satriani whammy bar territory where he uses a dipping technique with the bar to add rhythmic interest to a melody. The track moves into Bb Lydian here and we’re still in our melodic mode before the next more technically involved lick ramps things up a notch. Each melody note is accentuated with four dips of the whammy bar and here a floating bridge becomes essential to get the right effect. I recommend that you bounce slightly off the bar rather than actually pushing it down in a deliberate motion in order to get the desired effect. Watch my performance video to get a better idea of the technique required. After we’ve moved this motif up the neck the final motif is slightly different with a half step bend, release, pull off combo that then moves into a couple of arpeggiated pull off licks, culminating in a whole step bend at the 20th fret of the high E. You absolutely want to go for a pinched harmonic on the release of this bend for the most vocal effect possible.
Lick 4 – More classic Joe Satriani territory here thanks to this fast, liquidy legato phrase. Joe likens the sound of this technique to a ball of mercury rolling around in his hands and the idea is to get a smooth sound that doesn’t necessarily outline any specific sub-divisions but rather floats over the bar line and beats in a textural manner. My best tip here is to use the melodic stopping points where the phrase pauses momentarily as rhythmic marker points in order to develop the phrasing of each line. Listen to the lick as much as possible and stay as relaxed as you can while executing the technique.
The lick starts off at the 14th fret of the High E and moves around C Lydian. Notice the small amounts of whammy bar vibrato and the little dip into the note B at the 4th fret of the G string towards the end of the descending section. After finishing at the 2nd fret of the A string we execute a dive bomb with the bar and a slide up and down the neck to lead into the second ascending phrase that is faster and has an accelerating quality leading all the way up to the Gmaj7 arpeggio at the end. Go for the rhythmic vibe in this section rather than trying to nail the rhythm and note groupings exactly as I played them. Satriani will execute these kind of licks differently every time he plays them and you can too.
Lick 5 – Joe is also known for his extensive use of ‘box shape’ style pentatonic Blues phrases that offer a great juxtaposition to his three note per string scalar lines such as those in Lick 4. By playing these types of phrase against one another their impact is enhanced for the listener. Check out Joe’s self-titled album for a ton of this kind of playing. For this lick I’m using an A minor pentatonic scale that works great with our Bb Lydian tonality giving us the 7th, 9th, 3rd, #11th and 13th of the chord, in other words – all the juicy notes. This lick works its way up to the 20th fret with a slide from the 17th into a whole step bend before coming back down the neck with a classic Satch pick tapping phrase. It’s important to stay as relaxed as possible while tapping with the edge of the pick at the 22nd fret or this phrase will sound forced and awkward. I also mute the lower strings with my first and second fingers of my left hand on my way down the neck as my right hand is tapping.
Lick 6 – Now we’re into classic Satch harmonics territory, using the natural harmonics on the G string to outline a G major arpeggio against our C Lydian tonality. I recommend that you pick near to bridge and bounce your left hand finger off the string after executing the harmonic for the maximum sustain. The last three harmonics occur in-between frets and are much harder to perform, varying slightly in placement from guitar to guitar, so take a bit of time to find out where exactly they are best located for your instrument. The last harmonic is followed by a slow dive bomb before releasing the bar back up and with a well-executed open string pinched harmonic on the G String. This is a big part of Joe’s sound and is a really cool, vocal sound but requires quite a lot of distortion to achieve the desired amount of sustain so don’t be afraid to crank up that gain control on your amp or pedal.
Lick 7 – Here we are back into our melodic territory to finish the solo with more raked melody notes and very vocal phrasing. Watch out for the position shift into the bend at the 10th fret of the high E string. You have to think ahead a bit in order to not miss the bend at this important point in the solo.
Lick 8 – The solo finishes over a static C Lydian vamp with an ascending two string pull off motif that recalls a phrase from earlier in the solo. The phrase is built from an E minor pentatonic scale, outlining the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th of the Lydian scale. You want to slide into the first note of each phrase, so a bit of target practice is required to execute this well. Once you reach the 22nd fret you’re going to do a whole step bend and release, again trying to go for a pinch harmonic on the release if possible. We finish the whole solo with more whammy bar dips at the 22nd and 20th frets of the B string with a cool rhythm that I recommend you use your ears to get down.
So there we have it folks! I really hope you enjoy this solo and that it gives you an insight into some of Joe Satriani’s techniques and approaches. His style is both unique and innovative and many of today’s greats owe a big debt to his sound. Good luck with the solo guys and I’ll see you all soon.