Read the full article
This article was originally published in issue #38
To read the article in its entirety, view the digital magazine
Paul Gilbert is known for his immense technical ability on the guitar, from fast percussive picking runs to incredibly wide legato stretches, all executed with style, musicality and finesse.
GI's Sam Bell leads you through some of the stylistic tricks and sheer pyrotechnics that make Paul Gilbert one of today's most admired guitar players.
Hello fellow GI readers and shred-heads! In this issue I'm proud to present to you a Tech Session in the style of one of my personal favorite guitarists, Mr Paul Gilbert! Paul Gilbert is known for his immense technical ability on the guitar, from fast percussive picking runs to incredibly wide legato stretches, all executed with style, musicality and finesse. Not only is Paul a true representation of a modern day guitar virtuoso but he is also a well rounded musician who knows what he is talking about when it comes to Rock and Roll history and songwriting. He has kept a unique aggressive style that has followed him from his early days with Racer X when he was in his late teens playing terrifying speed metal with Guitar Virtuoso Bruce Bouillet to the Mr Big days with Billy Sheehan writing some incredible rock anthems, Paul even had a career playing with some of Japan's biggest pop stars and even released some punk pop style albums whilst he was between projects. The guy has a lot of arrows to his bow and throughout he has always been a fantastic teacher and an ambassador for modern Rock guitar technique and approach.
In this Tech Session I have prepared a short guitar solo that demonstrates a few of the most noticeable things technically about Paul’s playing. I have used fast picking licks, string skipping, legato and trills that have a Gilbertarian sound to them! I have kept it as simple as possible so you can learn the licks, take them away and make them your own. Paul is known for his string skipping ability to play arpeggios instead of the more common use of sweep picking. He uses string skipping to his advantage as it allows him to sequence the arpeggios in musical ways whilst keeping a rhythmic pulse to the arpeggio runs, a style that myself and Andy James use a lot to our advantage!
Paul is known mostly for using Ibanez RG style guitars with two humbucking pickups and a single coil in the middle. Most of the time in his early days he would pick everything on the bridge pickup to get a bright, percussive attack to his picking licks. He would use high gain amps with the presence boosted but the treble taken back slightly to help emphasise that percussive attack of the pick. Talking of picks, many people myself included, opt for a thick sharp pick for fast picking, it is the most logical choice of pick for technical playing, there is no give and the pick attack is quick and smooth. However, Paul opts to use thin picks, often with classic tips, a .73-. or even a .60 pick will probably get you close to what he uses now, he has said in countless interviews that he likes the tone of the pick as it makes the guitar sound like a ‘big cello’ especially on the low strings. I understand Andy James also uses thinner picks not only for the tone, but also the attack on the strings, the slight give stops the pick getting caught up when picking harder. I have often gone between hard and soft picks a lot of times, I would try thinner picks out if you haven’t and see what you think!
Some of the licks are so notey in this solo that breaking them down note for note in a write up would not make sense. Instead, there should be a lovely PDF tab that is downloadable with this lesson or if you have Guitar Pro 6, there should be a GP6 file that you can download. I will however break down the context each lick in this article.
The backing track has a bass/organ riff which is in the Key of Em, the chords descend Em, D, C, D with two bars for each chord. I decided to start this solo with some of Paul’s trademark string skipping arpeggios, each arpeggio outlines the chord being played underneath. This string skipping method uses one picked note per string followed by a hammer on to the next note, start slowly and make sure the timing of each note is exact as this will help you speed it up. Towards the end of the sequence on the C major arpeggio I add some diatonic notes to the arpeggio with some legato hammer-ons, this sequence will be used later in the solo and is another one of Paul’s trade mark style of licks, this sequence is very inspired by Eddie Van Halen, one of Paul’s early guitar heroes.
To finish of the first half of the solo, we have a picking run, which uses alternate picking throughout with 16th note triplets being the subdivision. Be sure to keep the picking as even as possible when practicing this slowly, aim to accent the first note of each six note block, you will notice that the last two groups of six are the same pattern but played an octave higher, this is another trade mark of Paul’s playing, which demonstrates a really cool way of expanding shorter licks into bigger ones!
After the picking run we hit a melody which outlines a G major triad, but with some extra notes around it to give it more of an Em9 feel, watch out for the ‘rolling bar’ technique (see video) on the D to A strings, this is a slow melody, but it can catch you out if you are not ready for it. It’s important to always stay relaxed no matter what style of playing you are doing, so going from a fast section into a melodic section can be a challenge if you are not careful about it.
We then go into another passage that uses very similar string skipping patterns as seen at the start of the solo, however this time played in a slower more melodic fashion with a slightly different sequence that is used a lot by Paul in his playing. I tried to aim for rhythmic emphasis in this lick, Paul has a great way of playing 16 note lines that have interesting accents in them in order to make them sound cool! He says he often thinks of fast licks like drum rolls so he can find inspiration to make his runs more interesting to the listener rather than just going up and down a scale. I would also say this is a result of his love of classical music, particularly Bach who would write 16th note based pieces of music with no real obvious rhythm, but inside the lines would be amazing syncopation and even counterpoint rhythms between instruments inside a 16th note structure.
The solo has two big licks left, the first one descends down the neck using a similar sequence we found at the end of our arpeggio run on the C major triad. This Van Halen style note flurry is Paul's trademark, making terrifying cascading runs that sound immensely complex however in the heart of it, very simple as a fundamental idea! Be sure to practice just two strings of the sequence before moving it to the next notes in the scale, try it in different positions and with different arpeggios/scales, it’s a really useful and fun sequence to have under your fingers.
After we have completed this run we then ascend up the next position in Em using a picking run which uses all alternate picking in 16th note triplets with a mini sequence in the middle. Paul often builds his picking runs out of different sequences to create interest, rather than just repeating a sequence up to a note, he will add variation in order to stretch the run out and give it rhythmic interest.
So there we have it, a solo in the style of Paul Gilbert! I hope you have enjoyed going through these licks and I hope that they have given you some new ideas to apply to your own playing. If you want some more Paul Gilbert, I would urge you to check out my LickLibrary DVD ‘Learn to Play Paul Gilbert’, where I break down five of his most well known instrumental songs. Have fun, take it slow, keep relaxed, crank the gain and shred on!