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Tech Session

Rival Sons

Issue #58

While Zakk’s vocabulary is certainly distinctive, his style is really less about what’s being played and more about how it’s being played. Keep the following in mind as you go forward.
Nick Jennison

Tech Session....Rival Sons

Rival Sons are one of the most vital and exciting rock bands in the world right now. Formed in California in 2009 and with five critically acclaimed albums (and one EP) under their belts, the band is a mainstay on the international festival scene.  Nick Jennison breaks down the unique approach of the band’s guitarist Scott Holiday and shows you how to nail that sought after fuzz tone.

At the core of Rival Sons’ sound is Scott Holiday’s muscular, fuzz-drenched guitar work. They don’t call him the Fuzzlord for nothing: Holiday’s live rig consists of no less than three pedalboards, and the dedicated fuzz/dirt board is bigger than most guitarists’ entire rigs. There’s even a secret fuzz pedal on there - he once told me what it is outside a show in Newcastle (and no, I’m not telling).


As tempting as it was to make this tech session a total pedal-fest, I really wanted to focus as much on Scott’s playing more than the gear. All you’ll really need to get the best out of this session is a fuzz and a slide, but if you have access to an octave fuzz, a tremolo and a spring reverb, even better.

  • The amp we used for this sesson was an Orange TH30 set just on the edge of breakup. The more delicate “clean” section of the track should stay clean when you pick gently, but the reduced headroom should accept your fuzzes with grace (if the amp is too clean, you run the risk of sounding like the theme tune from “Roobarb & Custard” - look it up!).
  • The tremolo in the intro is set to 16th notes at 98bpm - don’t stress about getting this absolutely bang on, it’s more to illustrate how Scott uses this kind of effect.
  • You’ll need a slide to get the very best out of this session. You can play everything in here without one, but you really should give it a go - it’s easier than you might think!


While Zakk’s vocabulary is certainly distinctive, his style is really less about what’s being played and more about how it’s being played. Keep the following in mind as you go forward.

  • Scott’s riffing is extremely rhythmically tight. Pay particular attention to the note durations: it’s not enough just to start the notes on time and let them decay any old how. The silences between the notes are where the magic is.
  • For the slide lines, I’m going to recommend wearing the slide on your pinky so you can switch seamlessly between regular and slide lines. Scott uses a “slide ring” for this very reason, but any slide will do for this session. I used my trusty Rockslide Ball-tip Aged Brass slide. It’s very important to use your remaining left hand fingers to mute behind the slide, as well as the right hand fingers to mute any unwanted strings.

Got all that? Alright, let’s get stuck in!

BARS 1-4: 

We kick off with an ominous, pulsing tremolo on a held D power chord, inspired by Manifest Destiny Pt. 1 from Head Down 

BARS 5-7:

You’re all on your own for the main riff of this session, inspired by Electric Man from Great Western Valkyrie. Keep focussed on the hi-hat count, and keep those note durations tight.  

BAR 8:  

Our first slide lick. Slide quickly up the B string to the 6th fret, and then slow down to curl the note sharp as you transfer to the G string 7th fret. Finger 1 goes behind the slide to catch the 5th fret note. You don’t actually need to lift the slide to let this note sound; fretting it will take the string out of contact with the slide. 

BARS 9-13:

More riffing as before, punctuated with the slide lick from bar 8 a second time in bar 10. Remember to keep the silences as quiet as you can - space is your friend.

BARS 14-16: 

Bar 14 is the second of the slide licks in this session, with more “fretting behind the slide”. This time, we slide up to B string fret 10, and use the first finger to fret the 8th fret notes behind the slide. These 8th fret notes alternate with the slide on the G string 10th fret, before sliding down to the G string 7th fret. Once you’re done, it’s once more round the riff before the “verse”. 

BARS 17-24:

The second riff of the session, loosely taking inspiration from Thundering Voices and Hollow Bones Pt.1 from Hollow Bones. You might think of this as a “verse” riff. The staccato stabs here are crucial to making this riff work, so don’t get sloppy.

BARS 25-32: 

Time to clean things up with some sensitive chord voicings, inspired by the multi-layered prechorus heard on Open My Eyes from Great Western Valkyrie. Switch your fuzz off and let the notes ring into each other.  

BAR 33-34: 

Solo time! We’re kicking off with some slide. Use your right hand palm and fingers to dampen every string other than the B string (where all the action is), and use a wide vibrato to create some real drama. 

BARS 35-36:

Sticking with some slide, we’re drawing inspiration from Open My Eyes for some harmony work. Sweep dramatically into each note, but be sure to stay rhythmically tight.

BARS 37-38:

This kind of reckless, widdly blues playing isn’t something Scott does a whole lot of in the studio, but take a look at the live version of Soul from the 2011 High Voltage festival and you’ll see our noble hero cutting loose. Think of this phrase in two parts - play the first three notes two times around before moving into the six-note cyclical pattern that follows. Don’t worry about being too rigid with the timing on this lick - just cram as many repetitions as you can manage before the B string bend at the end of the lick.

BARS 39-40: 

One last lick to bring things to a close, and we’re being a bit more measured this time. That said, don’t be afraid to let the howling E string bend catch the B string ever so slightly on the way up - as long as you dampen the B string again on the release


Scott Holiday’s playing is a masterclass in how a blues-rock guitarist can exist in the modern world. His use of space and texture elevates the music without overpowering it. When it’s time to cut loose with a solo, his restrained and structured approach keeps the focus on the song - something we all need reminding of from time to time.


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Issue #75

Peter Green / Ivar Bjørnson

Out Now

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