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This article was originally published in issue #8
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To accompany this month’s Michael Schenker special, Jamie Humphries delves into the great man’s bag of licks for this special tech session.
With such a long career spanning more than three decades, there was plenty of material for me to use as inspiration for this month’s Tech Session. Michael has performed and recorded with his brother’s band The Scorpions, UFO, with his own Michael Schenker Group, as well as a solo artist. In this analysis I’ve looked some of Michael’s signature riff ideas, including galloping swing rhythms, incorporating open strings, plus some of his fiery blues inspired licks. We’ll also be looking at how Michael uses the wah pedal as a tone control, producing his trademark nasal cutting tone.
For many years Michael’s main tone tools were a Gibson Flying V and Marshall stacks, while these days he favours signature Dean V’s, though he has stuck resolutely with his Marshalls. For both the video session and backing track production I used a Musicman Axis Supersport. I also used an EVH wah pedal and an Xotic EP Booster. When recreating the Schenker tone, remember that although this is considered heavy metal, it’s vintage metal, so don’t make things too dirty.
Our track is based around two sections, a verse and a chorus, with the feel of the track being an up-tempo driving swing/ shuffle. Our first section has a slight Into the Arena feel and sound about it. The verse section is based around E natural minor, and consists of an E5 power chord being performed against a driving muted open 6th string, performed with palm muting. Make sure that the chord really cuts through and the low muted root note is tight and driven. The chord is embellished with various fills, the first being a triplet scale based idea that uses notes from E minor scale.
The verse riff also includes chord fills based around C5, A5, D5 and B5, as well as another scale based line that is performed with a tight muted triplet rhythm. Throughout this entire section, timing and feel is essential, so make sure you pay close attention to keeping the triplets nice and tight and make sure your picking is accurate and consistent.
The chorus section changes feel and moves into a bluesier dominant feel, with the next riff being based around both A and D Mixolydian. These new riffs are quite tricky as they make use of the open A and D strings, pedal between fretted and open string notes with our triple swing groove. This riff borrows slightly from the classic track Captain Nemo. These riff may prove quite tricky, as left and right hand coordination is vital; it’s very easy here to get things out of sync and mute the open strings by accident.
Following our chorus we head back into the verse riff which repeats twice, although on the repeat we introduce a figure the makes use of major and minor 3rd’s performed on the G and B strings, against an open E. This little figure is reminiscent of something heard on the UFO track Lights Out.
Now it’s solo time, and things kick off over our chorus section, with our intro lick including bluesy bends, and making use of the Major/Minor dominant A pentatonic scale; a kind of hybrid of both scales that crosses both major and minor 3rds, and resulting in a very bluesy sound. Our next lick compliments the D riff, by also including some pull off ideas on the open D string. The next lick is a tricky ascending figure that crosses the neck covering both A major and minor pentatonic scales.
The final part of the solo is performed over the verse section and includes some fast pentatonic flurries, a signature sound in Michael’s playing, plus a slightly tricky descending scale sequence. The solo concludes with a tremolo picked line based around E harmonic minor.
As you can see there’s a lot of different techniques and approaches in this track, so I would advise that you take things slowly, and approach this in bite size sections before piecing it together.