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This article was originally published in issue #45
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As the driving force behind two of Rock's most successful bands, Mott The Hoople and Bad Company, Mick Ralphs has proved the enduring power of straight-ahead Rock guitar.
As the driving force behind two of Rock's most successful bands, Mott The Hoople and Bad Company, Mick Ralphs has proved the enduring power of straight-ahead Rock guitar. Jamie Humphries explores Mick's unorthodox approach to open tunings, and how he uses them to craft the perfect Rock song, handing you the keys to the Mick Ralphs style.
Mick Ralphs' guitar playing can be heard on some of the best-loved rock anthems of the past 40 years. From the ‘Glam Rock” inspired lines of the Bowie-penned Mott the Hoople track “All the Young Dudes”, to the driving Blues fuelled Bad Company rockers such as “Can’t Get Enough”, “Feel Like Making Love” and “Movin’ On”. As one of the key song writers in both bands, Ralphs also earned himself a reputation as an accomplished guitarist, being hired by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour for his solo tour promoting his About Face album in the mid-'80s.
Ralphs employed altered tunings for not only slide playing, but also for aiding inspiration when writing songs. Ralphs was known for his unique C tuning, C, C, G, C, E, C 6th to 1st string. The 6th and 5th strings featured two C notes an octave apart, whilst the C notes on the 3rd and 1st strings are tuned to the same pitch, creating a drone effect. Ralphs came up with the tuning when he presented “Can’t Get Enough” to Bad Company and ex-Free vocalist Paul Rodgers. Inspired by Keith Richards, Ralphs had penned the track using an open G tuning; Rodgers loved it, but wanted it higher to suit his range. Instead of simply using a capo, Ralphs devised his new tuning, which resulted in a broad rich tone, especially when mixed with a standard tuned guitar. Ralphs would use lighter gauge strings, due to some of the strings being tuned up considerably, and would use a Fender Telecaster to perform songs in this tuning.
I have used Mick’s custom tuning for the basis of our Tech Session piece, demonstrating how he crafts his songs with alternative chord fingerings, and voicings giving a very rich and different tone. I have also shown some lead ideas based on his soloing style to demonstrate how to solo using this tuning. I have based this track around three classic tunes featuring Ralphs guitar work, Bad Company’s “Can’t Get Enough”, and “Movin On”, and Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes”. I would strongly recommend that you check out the tuning notes on the accompanying video before delving into the transcription.
Bars 1-5 kick off our track with a shuffle feel Blues based riff in C, performing a tight cut off rhythm that pushes into each bar. This riff uses familiar sounding bluesy chords, C5, and C6, in a traditional blues/rock style.
Bars 6-9 see the progression modulate to F major and Eb major, including the Eb7 chord to our bluesy riff. We return back to the original riff in C, that includes a bluesy quartertone bend on the Eb note, the minor 3rd in bar 9.
Bars 10-17 repeat the first half of our chord progression including the Blues based riffs performed around C, F and Eb. The verse riff concludes with the chords of Ab, Db/Ab, Bb and Eb/Bb, using Keith Richards inspired chord fingerings
Bars 18-23 include our “Can’t Get Enough” inspired chorus section, which features more Keith Richard style chords outlining an I, IV, V in the key of C major. This section is where this tuning demonstrates its full potential, with its droning high register notes, and low octave base notes, that create a wide rich tone, that works with the consistent chord fingerings used throughout.
Bars 24-25 conclude our chorus progression with a descending chord figure that utilises the droning open C strings, and is inspired by the Bad Company track “Movin On”.
Bars 26-33 introduce the middle 8 section, and a half time feel, dropping the dynamic of the track. For this section I drew inspiration from the classic Mott the Hoople track “All the Young Dudes”. This section features a melodic motif based around a consistent rhythm figure that performs an arpeggio followed either a bending or pull of phrase, that alternate. This lead figure outlines the descending chord progression, gradually building to the final solo section.
Bars 33-45 illustrate our harmony solo section, that is based around a two bar melodic phrase that follows our I, IV, V chord progression in the key of C.
Bars 46-49 conclude our piece with the lead melody outlining the chords of Ab and Bb major, before concluding with a descending line that follows the final descending chords.
To enable me to achieve the altered tuning I used a fixed bridge guitar, namely a Music Man Armada. This was plugged into my Mesa Boogie King Snake combo, with some additional drive dialled in using the solo by the new Ernie Ball Expression Overdrive pedal. Aim for a slightly cleaner tone for the chord parts, as too much saturation will sound muddy and lack definition with the full open tuned chords. Try adding a little extra boost for the solo section to aid sustain.