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To coincide with this month’s interview and player profile, Jamie Humphries offers a study piece in the style of Prog Rock legend Steve Howe..
Coming up with a track to demonstrate the playing style of someone like Steve Howe was never going to be easy, due to the huge breadth of musical styles and genres he includes in his playing. So for this month’s piece I have chosen to highlight just a few of his common playing traits, such as odd time signatures, arpeggios, scale runs, open string ideas and chord arpeggios figures. We could have dedicated a couple of tech session on Mr Howe, but hopefully you will enjoy my offering!
To start off with let’s talk tone. Steve is very particular about his tone, using Gibsons, Fenders, Rickenbackers and Martin acoustics. He also uses Fender lap steel guitars. For years he has used Fender twins, split in stereo using stereo digital delays, reverbs, and vintage tape echoes, as well as various stomp boxes including Treble Boosters (being a Rory Gallagher fan, like Brian May) and also fuzz units. These days, perhaps surprisingly for someone who strikes one as a bit of a purist, Steve has opted for the modelling route. He currently favours Line 6 combos and a POD HD floor unit. As he told me in our interview, to save carrying a multitude of expensive and rare guitars he has started to use Line 6 Tyler Variax guitars, enabling him to choose a wide variety of vintage electric and acoustic guitars, and integrate their sounds with it with the POD and the amp.
Steve also told me he worked with a producer, really nailing each tone for the chosen song and programming the sounds prior to the tour. So for our session I use the Tyler Variax and the Line 6 DT25 head. I also used a rather splendid handwired Top Tone DG2 fuzz pedal and a Dunlop EVH wah pedal.
Section A kicks off with a funky wah figure with a pull-off lick that is based around the E minor pentatonic scale, and makes use of the open strings in the open position. Make sure you “pump” the wah back and fourth as you strike the muted strings.
Section B enters with an up-tempo groove with the bass guitar playing a figure based around B Mixolydian. During this section we have used the triads of B, A and E major, V, IV and I of E major respectively, outlining the tonal centre of B Mixolydian. I have included some additional voicings of these triads higher up the next for additional tonal variation.
Section C is our first solo, and makes use of triad arpeggios performed on the top three strings. This section makes use of several diatonic arpeggios and also includes a fast descending three note per string B Mixolydian run. Take care with this section as it’s pretty fast tempo wise and includes quite a few position shifts, so practice this slowly to start with and build up the tempo gradually, making sure the lines and arpeggios are clean and accurate. This section concludes with a short arpeggio figure based around D major, F major, E minor and G major, before concluding with a D/F# triad.
Section D is our odd time section and is based around 7/4, meaning we now how seven quarter note beats to a bar. For this section we have modulated to the key of E Phrygian, the third mode of C major. Once again we have used a series of chord arpeggios, that out line our mode. Pay attention to our new time signature, as this may take some getting use to!
Section E is our final section and features a free-form legato based solo performed entirely on the G string, based around E Phrygian. This solo makes use of open strings, and I would urge you to experiment with some licks of your own. Also try kicking in some fuzz and dialling in some vintage echo for an authentic tone. The solo concludes with our arpeggio figure at the end of our C section.