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Tech Session

Steve Morse

Issue #9

Cracking the Morse Code

To tie in with our exclusive interview, this iGuitar Tech Session delves into the playing style of one of the world’s most revered and in-demand guitarists - Steve Morse. Jamie Humphries presents you with the ultimate Steve Morse style analysis!

With a career spanning over 30 years, Steve Morse has to be one of the most versatile guitarists in the business. Throughout his career, be it with The Dixie Dregs, Kansas, Deep Purple or the Steve Morse band, Steve is at home with a number of styles from Rock, Hard Rock, Southern Rock, Fusion, Country, Bluegrass, Classical or Celtic.

Steve’s dedication and years of practice have resulted in a technique which is admired by guitar fans the world over. He is known for his blistering alternate picking technique, as well as his ability to alternate pick through arpeggios with ease. He is also a great composer, making use of his knowledge and love of classical music, not just within his own classic compositions, but also in his rock pieces, making use of classically inspired chord movement, as well as counterpoint melodies.

As well as his technical and compositional abilities, Steve is also known for his unique thick and crunchy tone. To get that sound he uses his own signature Musicman guitar and a signature Engl amp. Steve’s guitar shows just how far a guitar player will go to get his tone, being actually based on an old Fender Telecaster that Steve hot-rodded a number of years ago, packing it with every possible pickup configuration. We’ve reviewed both Steve’s Musicman and Engl elsewhere in this issue.

Steve also runs a wet and dry set-up, meaning that one amp delivers a completely dry natural tone, while the other amp is all effects - mainly delay (see this issue’s TC Flashback Steve Morse TonePrint review). Steve then uses a series of Ernie Ball volume pedals to blend the effects into the wet amp, giving him total control of how much or how little effect he requires. On top of all of this he flies planes; is there anything this man can’t do?!

When our editor said “Hey; fancy doing the Steve Morse Tech Session?” I didn’t hesitate to say yes! I’ve been a fan of Steve since I was around 15 years old, and after seeing Steve in a Musicman advert back in the mid 80’s, my love of Musicman guitars started, resulting in me eventually signing to the company. I use to study Steve’s Power Lines VHS video religiously, learning my scale shapes.

Then I was struck with the question of, “How do I sum up Steve Morse in two minutes?” Quite a challenge. I sat down and decided to come up with a piece based on something that you might hear on a Steve Morse band album. I decided to study the following points; 16th note shuffle groove, syncopated riff, unison guitar and bass lines, pinched harmonics, alternate picking runs, chromatics, pentatonic lines, Country bends and also ethereal chord embellishments using effects. As you can see there’s quite a lot of ideas here, and my original list had a few more included! But to my mind this month’s track is probably the most in depth analysis of Steve Morse that you will find.

Now let’s take a look at the track, which is made up of four sections: the A section, a unison guitar and bass figure, B section, the verse, the C section the chorus, and the D section, which features the middle eight. The solos are performed over a repeated B and C sections. The track kicks off with a unison guitar and bass line that makes use of the E minor pentatonic scale. With this figure make sure you pay attention to the swung 16th note groove, as the 16th notes are not to be played straight. The first verse kicks off and is based around a bluesy swung 16th note riff, which includes various different fills as well as some descending triad ideas.

We conclude our verse section with a syncopated figure that is performed in unison with the bass guitar.

The C section is our chorus, and is bass around another bluesy idea in the Key of A, and features a riff that pedals off of the open A string and is embellished with power chords, and an arpeggiated figure. The verse concludes with a pretty tricky unison figure that includes two open voiced arpeggio ideas that is performed with an 1/8 note triplet rhythm, followed by a 2/4 bar that features a unison scale run performed as 1/16 note triplets. The D section features a middle 8 which includes some ethereal soundscape style guitar ideas that make use of a very long modulated delay sound with the effect level turned up very high, producing an almost keyboard style pad sound. The guitar part should be performed by fading in the chords and interval ideas with the volume pedal, so that the pick attack is not heard.

I have used very modern sounding “sus” chords, as well as sparse interval ideas to create this very “spacey” section.

Now it’s solo time, and our first solo kicks off over the E riff, and really makes use of space with licks and picking runs being performed between the riffs. Take care with the opening solo as there are some fast, muted picking runs, as well as some fast alternate picked chromatic ideas. The second solo is performed over the A riff, and this solo showcases some of Steve’s signature Country style licks, Celtic inspired melodies, arpeggio figures, and also a favourite lick of Steve’s that as a repeating figure that string skips, changing the top note of the lines.

As you can see from this break down there is a lot of material to get through, so I strongly advise that you spend plenty of time studying both the video and the transcription. Also make sure that you work on the tones required through out this piece. A thick crunchy rhythm tone, Boosted mids for the solo and a delay saturated clan tone for the middle eight…have fun!

Ig9 Coversmall
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