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Tech Session

Albert Lee - Tech Session

Issue #37

Clearly then, Albert’s hands are, individually and in combination, not placed or functioning quite like anyone else! Is this why he sounds so distinctive? Who knows!
Lee Hodgson

Lee Hodgson guides you through the intricacies and secrets of possibly the world's greatest Country Rock guitarist.

As Albert explains in our interview elsewhere in this issue, his piano playing has informed his guitar playing - the solid, speedy and forceful finger motions that he applied, and continues to apply these days when playing piano, have significantly affected and arguably enhanced his guitar technique in terms of articulation, clarity and definition. More specifically, Albert thinks nothing of using his right-hand little finger (pinkie) to pluck the plain strings, especially when it’s part of a banjo-esque pattern (I don’t recall seeing Albert use his plucking 4th finger for chord grabs, although I have occasionally seen the late, great Danny Gatton use his pinkie to pluck the top note of a chord). Like I say, Albert doesn’t give it a second thought - he once told me that he plucks using whichever finger is nearest, which make perfect sense in terms of economy of motion. I’m labouring this point because I’d say incorporating the picking hand’s little finger for plucking duties is a rare thing indeed!

I mentioned the forcefulness that Albert applies to his right-hand plucking, yet there’s a certain physical flexibility involved, which I once again attribute to Albert’s piano playing background: the relaxed - “loose yet controlled” seems contradictory - vertical wrist motion that many pianists (especially Rock’n’Roll piano players such as Jerry Lee Lewis) use - and I’d include pianist/guitarist Eric Johnson as well here - means that piano playing guitarists (or guitar playing pianists) demonstrate a certain bounce in their guitar playing, which I don’t see (hear) in non-piano playing guitarists, if you see what I mean. And this bounce translates as a snappier, more dynamic sound, which is all the more effective when using a clean sound and one that’s not overly compressed (Albert only uses a small amount of compression via his KORG A3 rack processor).


Considering Albert’s fretting hand (his left), he regularly places his thumb over the neck, not merely for comfort or ease of bending, but to actually fret certain bass notes - I’ve even seen his thumb point towards the pickups!

Another unique technical aspect concerning Albert’s left hand is how he frequently bends either the 2nd or 3rd string upwards by a tone with his index finger. Try this: play an open position (beginner’s type) D7 chord then, preparing for A7, shift your first finger up to the 8th fret, thus placing it on the note of G – the b7th of A7. Now bend it up by a tone (temporarily removing your second finger from the 3rd string in order to do so). Have you ever done that before? Most people haven’t! What’s the difference? Well, it allows you to immediately follow on with playing the 1st string, which would be already fretted by your third finger on the major 3rd of the dominant 7th chord. (I’ve featured this move, for an F chord, in bar 29of my supplementary lesson as found elsewhere.)

Clearly then, Albert’s hands are, individually and in combination, not placed or functioning quite like anyone else! Is this why he sounds so distinctive? Who knows!

But of course, it’s not all about physicality and technique, there are concepts at work; yet Albert, having previously confirmed with me that he actively considers the CAGED system and plays licks and lines around particular (pre-visualised) chord shapes or patterns, has told me in not so many words that, like so many other “geniuses”, there really isn’t any game plan or intellectual inventions or real-time monitoring. What I’m saying is that with “old-school” players like Albert, their playing has naturally developed over the years through hard work and perseverance and, definitely in Albert’s case at least, an inextinguishable, burning desire to keep gigging! To players of a certain generation this is merely a truism, but, with all due respect, to the younger generation, they might be wondering how this guy became such a great and highly respected musician. It has been called “paying your dues” - something that doesn’t just happen overnight! Nor does it happen without a lot of listening and, more importantly, a lot of playing.

I’ve interviewed Albert a few times over the years and he has always promoted the idea that players, especially the young, should simply get out and play: the sooner the better!

 

To be clear, my offering is not a transcription of what Albert played during our interview. Rather, it is a collection of licks and lines in his style, using mostly similar techniques to those Albert himself uses, although I do not use my little finger to pluck with, as Albert often does. That said, you’ll see comprehensive details for both hands shown in the supplied transcription. Learn each lick or phrase slowly, while memorising relatively longer lines, then gradually build up some speed, going for high speed now and again. Repetition - the stuff of practice - is the order of the day. However, be careful not to practise too hard or for too long, which could lead to RSI: take regular breaks.

Albert Lee’s Delay effect

Albert is perhaps the best-known exponent of mind-boggling delay effects, whereby the notes seem to be rapidly spat out, machine-gun style. Well, there is mechanism at work in the form of an electronic device: the delay. Many guitar teachers, myself included, describe the effect as the “dotted 1/8” (which generates a repeat 3/16 later than each played note), but Albert usually refers to it as being “a beat and a half”, and with respect to the fast quarter notes used in my chord progression, that’s exactly what’s going on: the set tempo is 275 bpm and, to save you the calculation, you need to dial in a delay time of 327ms, with only a single repeat (regeneration set to minimum) and with the “wet” (delayed) signal the same level as the “dry” (original) signal (i.e. 50% mix or the equivalent thereof, depending on how your delay device operates). Albert doesn’t use this effect as much as he used to, but when he does it’s always attention-grabbing and mesmerising. Other exponents of this effect include John Jorgenson (e.g. ‘The Price I Pay’ by Emmylou Harris with the Desert Rose Band) and The Edge (e.g. ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ by U2). Enjoy-joy-joy-joy-joy!

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