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This article was originally published in issue #65
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Paul is the eternal student of guitar playing and music in general. So even now, after three decades in the music business, he continues to develop his unique style of playing each year.
In this issue's Guitar Interactive Tech Session, Sam Bell deep dives into the sometimes intense, sometimes blues-filled, but always technically difficult guitar stylings of Mr Paul Gilbert
Those of you who have been following my work here at LickLibrary and Guitar Interactive Magazine will know that I am a massive fan of Paul Gilbert's playing. Paul is the eternal student of guitar playing and music in general. So even now, after three decades in the music business, he continues to develop his unique style of playing each year. When Jonathan (editor of Gi) approached me to put together a Tech Session in the style of Paul Gilbert, I jumped at the chance, and I wanted to find some of the fundamental ideas that we can hear in Paul’s music in the last 10 years. He has gone in a totally new direction of Blues/Fusion from his original hair metal/stadium rock days with Racer X and Mr Big. However, his technique and the way he visualises the fretboard hasn’t changed, he has a method, and it works no matter what style he is playing
For this Tech Session, I wanted to base the example on his material from his solo albums ‘Silence Followed by a Deafening Roar’ and ‘Fuzz Universe’. I strongly feel these albums capture the widest angle picture of Paul’s influences and style. There are Classic Hard Rock inspired riffs, Funky Rhythms, Bluesy Phrasing and of course the Mind Melting Fast Passages that Paul started his long career with! As this is a Tech Session and Paul has some amazing technique, I am going to concentrate on 16th note and 16th note Triplet based examples. There is a melody/harmony section; however, please don’t confuse this tech session as an example of how to write instrumental guitar music! Melody is important. Having said this, Paul’s world-class playing is always melodic and interesting, no matter how fast or slow. His use of Rhythm within his faster phrases really sets him apart from all the other “Shedders” of his time.
Classical Music and Paul Gilberts Guitar Phrasing:
Before I get into this tech sessions examples, it’s important to bear in mind Paul’s wide range of influences and how it affects his phrasing. One of the most notable Influences on Pablo’s playing is Bach or classical music in general. Bach would often compose suits that were long strung out melodies using 16th note subdivisions, often basing the lines around chord movements and highlighting interesting notes in various subdivisions of the bar. These initial melodic contours would ‘move’ through the pieces chord progression. This translates very well for Guitar Players, we can often take a sequence within one modular section of the fretboard and move it into other areas for new harmonic ideas. In this Tech Session I hope to demonstrate some basic examples of this concept in action. Let’s dive in!
Paul has been using Ibanez for over 30 years now, and I have also been using Ibanez! Just not as long. For this tech session I used the Bridge Humbucker on my AZ2204, I dialled in a fairly saggy high gain tone with the Laney IRT 30, the IRT features a pre-boost which works a bit like having a clean boost in front of your amp, this really helps with picking articulation, it speeds up the attack slightly. I used a 60mm Jim Dunlop Tortex Pick. I strongly feel in order to Play Pauls lines, thin picks work the best, it might take getting used to if you’re a Jazz III person, but the tone, snap and articulation of a thin Tortex pick for me is the only way to go! Paul is also really into his modulation effects, perhaps most favourably the Phaser sound (probably inspired by his hero Van Halen!) it really helps the sound ‘move around’ it’s not set to an aggressive level, it’s just enough for the notes to bloom. Paul uses the MXR Phase 90. I don’t own a Phaser but luckily I found a Moore Mod Factory on a shelf somewhere in the depths of Guitar Interactive HQ, it had a very useable Phaser function on it, so I used it!
Section A: String Skipping Arpeggios:
The intro to the tech session features a String Skipping Arpeggio motif, the motif moves through a couple of different arpeggios however, the layout of the patterns on the fretboard and picking do not change very much. This is an example of the Bach influence within Pauls Playing. If you’re an avid fan of Paul Gilbert, you probably recognise the initial Arpeggio pattern in Bar 1. However, what I wanted to showcase here is that you can alter this basic pattern once you know where the intervals are (see video explanation) this way you can really get more out of a simple idea. Something Paul is an expert at!
Section B: Picking Triads/Sus Chords and a Classic 6’s Run:
Something I’ve always loved about Paul’s instrumental Guitar Playing is that he’s not afraid just to riff out on single note lines for whole sections. This kind of part reminds me of something you’d hear the band Rush play. This section is built up of triad picking arpeggios with ornamentations that follow the Bm, A and G chord sequence of this section. In bar 10 we see our first fast picking run, I say picking but if we look closely we can see that out of each 6 note fragment the first 3 are hammer on’s followed by 3 picked notes. I go into the details of this in the video. This style of run can be traced back to early Van Halen, it’s safe to say that Paul has done his own thing with it and these runs are super simple and effective, they sound super awesome!
Section C: Bendy Melody:
This section is the only real ‘melody’ section in this tech session, and it is harmonised on the backing track. Ensure that your bends are intonated and even. Paul has a very precise and percussive way of phrasing his melodies. Paul is a child of the 70s, and it can often be heard influencing his melodies, this one reminds me of the band Boston.
Section D: More String Skipping, Octave Arpeggios and Fast Picking!!
Bars 15 through to 17 feature some more string skipping arpeggios, however this time we have a simpler ‘down and up’ pattern that follows the underlying Bm – A – G chord progression. In bar 18 we have another really common device that Paul uses to extend his arpeggios and phrases across the fretboard in a similar manner to how Piano Players move their arpeggios through the octaves. This is simply a D Major Triad, the first 3 notes of the run are repeated two strings and two frets up each time before hitting the high D note on the 22nd fret (this was pretty tough to record!) The piece ends of course with another classic descending 6’s line using 3 note per string fingering. This time we’re picking every note, aim to keep it light and even. Make sure those 6’s pop. This run is inspired by some of the molten hot lines you hear in his Racer X tune ‘Technical Difficulties’
So there we have it! Paul’s playing is simplicity done sublimely, everything is solid, in time, and practical for live and recording use. Take these examples slowly, and most importantly apply them to your own playing in the ways that you see fit, be creative, you don’t have to play this stuff fast. Focus on articulation and dynamics. I had the pleasure of Jamming with Paul Gilbert back in 2017, and one of the biggest takeaways I got from it was his articulation, and relaxed confidence on stage. His playing is a well-oiled machine that can be modified no matter what the musical situation. Paul is and always will be one of the great Masters of Rock Guitar!