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Tech Session


Issue #64



When it comes to breaking down musical boundaries, Radiohead is hard to beat.
Jamie Humphries

Radiohead Tech Session

In this issue's Guitar Interactive Tech Session, Jamie Humphries delves deep into the beautifully disturbing guitar world of one of the UK’s most successful bands to emerge for the 90’s alternative rock scene: Radiohead 

When it comes to breaking down musical boundaries, Radiohead is hard to beat. As one of the most popular acts to emerge from the UK alternative post-punk scene during the “Grunge” revolution of the early ’90s, Radiohead refused to be pigeonholed stylistically. Their music is beautiful yet disturbing, ethereal, yet aggressive, with haunting vocal melodies, and a soundscape of guitar fuzz and ambient alien like effects. Radiohead’s style has evolved continuously, embracing influence from punk, progressive rock, and electronic music. 

The band was formed by school friend’s vocalist/guitarist Thom Yorke and bassist Colin Greenwood, primarily a punk band called TNT. They later joined with drummer Phil Selway, and guitarists Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood to form On a Friday. After gaining popularity on the live circuit, the band was signed in 1991, changing their name to Radiohead after the Talking Heads album. They released several EP’s, but gained global success with the angst-ridden song “Creep”, from their debut album 'Pablo Honey'. The song became a summer anthem and massive success in both Europe and the US.

Their second album 'The Bends' was released in 1995 and became an instant classic. The band evolved from the punk/grunge sound of their previous album, adopting a richer musical pallet, with stronger compositions, and more experimental and textural guitar parts from O’Brien and Greenwood. Although there isn’t a weak song on this album, stand out tracks include “Planet Telex”, High and Dry”, Fake Plastic Trees”, “Just” and “My Iron Lung”. “The Bend’s was voted number 10 in the NME’s 100 greatest albums poll.

In 1997, the band released their third studio album entitled 'Ok Computer' (its title taken from the radio series of “A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”,) which to many was their greatest to date, and being awarded a Grammy for “Best Alternative Music Album”. Once again the ever unpredictable Radiohead took a shift in style, experimenting more with keyboards as well as longer more progressive arrangements. This album includes such songwriting masterpieces as “Airbag”, “Paranoid Android”, “Let Down”, “Karma Police”, “Let Down”, and “Lucky”, the latter sounding like a Pink Floyd outtake with its haunting lead guitar melody.  

Although commercially the first few albums are said to be the high point for Radiohead, their reputation as innovators has continued to grow, and with such stand out albums as 'Kid A', 'In Rainbows' and 'A Moon Shaped Pool', seeing them experiment more with electronic angles in their music. 

As a primarily guitar-driven band, their harmonic and lush soundscapes are created by guitar due to Ed O’Brien and Johnny Greenwood, both having very unique style’s that meld together beautifully to create Radiohead’s utterly unique sound. While O’Brian often plays more of the ethereal and atmospheric parts, Greenwood adds anger and madness to the music, with his aggressive led and rhythm style, and unorthodox approach to effects. Both guitarists often become one with their wonderfully crafted chord arpeggio parts, with both guitarists performing complimentary melodic complimentary chord melodies.


For our Tech Session, I have looked at the collective style of both Greenwood and O’Brien, drawing inspiration from the classic period of “The Bends” and “Ok Computer”. Radiohead was always going to be difficult band to cover due to the use of unusual effects, that many of us to don’t have access too, so with that in mind I have tried to make this piece approachable even if you don’t have access to many effects units.

Bars 1- 10 kick off with our intro and the verse chord progression. This is based around a simple chord arpeggio figure using the triad chords of D major and D augmented. The progression concludes with a figure based around G minor and Bb minor. This section uses a whammy effect, blended in with the original signal, pitching the chord part up an octave. I have also included a Space Echo, and a large space reverb for an ambient sound.

Bars 11-18 illustrates the second half of our verse and has a slight harmonic twist. Although the original arpeggio part is now being performed by the backing guitar the bass and acoustic guitar change implying different harmony while the arpeggio part remains the same. The central part that you will play features a counter arpeggio, with the whammy off. This part is a two-bar loop based around a figure that uses both major and minor seconds resulting in an eerie, unsettling sound. This figure changes to accommodate the G minor and bb minor chords at the end of the verse.

Bars 19-28 see use performing a “Lucky” style melody over a “Street Spirit” inspired chord progression. This section uses a lot of bends as well as pre-bends, so take care with pitching. Here we are focused on chord tones, following the changes in the harmony of the chord progression. I use a mild fuzz for a Gilmour inspired tone for this section.

Bars 29-32 switches feel again, opting for a grunge tone, and inspired by “Just” from The Bends”. Here we use a movable E shape, but leave the 1st and 2nd strings open to add extended harmony to the basic chords. For this section, I switched to a more aggressive tube distortion from my amp, although an overdrive pedal or patch will do the trick.

Bars 33-34 reintroduces our intro section, and the whammy effect, with our D major triad, performed as a chord arpeggio.

Bars 35-38 introduce our solo section, performed over the verse progression. The solo kicks off with some aggressive tremolo “strummed” octaves in true Greenwood style. For this section we are using our fuzz, but with a more aggressive tone and drive.

Bars 39-40 shows the second half of our solo, with more tremolo picking but on single notes as we get to the higher register of the neck. To add to the aggressive sound the whammy effect is reengaged shifting the pitch up an octave.

Bars 43-47 concludes our track with an ebow section, with a melody based around D Lydian for an ethereal tone. A second ebow melody is introduced, with the final note being accompanied with a major second interval for a slightly awkward unsettling sound.


Radiohead Gear Breakdown: 

Ed O’Brien uses mainly Fender Strats and has his own signature model. But he also uses Fender Jaguar’s, Telecasters, Gibson’s and Rickenbacker’s. O’Brian has used a mixture of Fender, Vox and Mesa amps. He uses a wide range of effects including Line 6, Origin, Electro Harmonix, Boss and Digitech.

Greenwood has favoured mainly Telecaster’s although he uses Gibson, Rickenbacker and the Fender Starcaster. His amps of choice are mainly Fender nd Vox. He uses a wealth of effects, including Marshall, Digitech, Boss and Roland to name a few. For our Tech Session, I used my custom single coil Music Man Axis, to achieve the twin pickup Tele sound. This was plugged into my Mesa Mini Rec head and into a Two notes Torpedo studio using a dual mic’d AC30 cab. For effects I used an Omec Teleport, to integrate my iPad into my studio rig, and used Bias effects for the whammy effect. I also used a UAD Space Echo plugin and the TC DVR250 reverb plugin. For fuzz, I used a Wampler Fuzzstration, while the chorus drive was the pushed clean channel of my Mesa with the preamp boost on my Music Man engaged. For the outro, I used an Ebow, with a healthy dose of UAD Space Echo effect.


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