There's a lot of musical gold inside the scales.
• Develop a deeper improvisational vocabulary.
• Combine pentatonic scales to create new colors.• Understand the beauty of diatonic harmony.
Improvising over one chord for long stretches of time can be a musician's best friend or worst nightmare. With no harmonic variation, we are left to generate interest through our lines, phrasing, and creativity. When I started learning to improvise, a minor 7 chord and a Dorian mode were the only sounds that I wanted to hear at the time. I found it tremendously helpful to have the harmony stay in one spot while I mined for new ideas to play. Playing over a static chord was crucial in developing my sense of time and phrasing.
The following is the first improvisational device I ever came across. I want to say I got it from a Frank Gambale book. The idea is that there are three minor pentatonic scales "hiding" in any given major scale. If we're in the key of C (C–D–E–F–G–A–B) we can pluck out the D, E, and A minor pentatonic scales. If we frame them over a Dm7 chord, they give us different five-note combinations of the D Dorian mode. In short, we are building minor pentatonic scales off the 2, 3, and 6 of the C major scale.
Viewing this through the lens of D minor (a sibling of C major and the tonal center for this lesson), D minor pentatonic gives us the 1–b3–4–5–b7, E minor pentatonic gives us 2–4–5–6–1, and A minor pentatonic gives us 5–b7–1–2–4. This means you can use your favorite pentatonic licks in three different locations and there are three different sounds we can tap into from the same structure.
If you smashed all of them together, you would get the D Dorian scale (D–E–F–G–A–B–C) with notes in common between the D, E, and A minor pentatonic scales. Ex. 1 uses all three scales, so you can hear the different colors each one creates over the chord.
Ex. 2 is how I improvise with them, usually weaving in and out using different positional shapes.
The next idea is one I stole from a guitarist who often came into a music store I worked at. On the surface, it's very easy: Just take two triads (in our example it will be Dm and C) and ping-pong between them. The D minor triad (D–F–A) gives us 1–b3–5, which is very much rooted in the chord, and the C major triad (C–E–G) gives us the b7–9–4, which is much floatier. Also, if you smash these two triads together, you get 1–2–b3–4–5–b7, which is a minor pentatonic scale with an added 2 (or 9). Eric Johnson uses this sound all the time. Ex. 3 is the lick I stole years ago.
Ex. 4 is how I would improvise with this concept. Many different fingerings work with these, so experiment until you find a layout that's comfortable for your own playing.
If two triads work, why not seven? This next approach will take all the triads in the key of C (C–Dm–Em–F–G–Am–Bdim) and use them over a Dm7 chord (Ex. 5). Each triad highlights different three-note combinations from the Dorian scale, and all of them sound different. Triads are clear structures that sound strong to our ears, and they can generate nice linear interest when played over one chord. Once again, all of this is 100% inside the scale. Ex. 5 is how each triad sounds over the track, and Ex. 6 is my attempt to improvise with them.
If we could find all these possibilities with triads, it's logical to make the structure a little bigger and take a similar approach with 7 chords, or in this case, arpeggios. Naturally, all the diatonic chords will work, but I'll limit this next idea to just Dm7, Fmaj7, Am7, and Cmaj7. I love this approach because as you move further away from the Dm7 shape, each new structure takes out a chord tone and replaces it with an extension. I notice that I usually come up with different lines when I'm thinking about different chord shapes, and this approach is a decent way to facilitate that. Ex. 7 is a good way to get these under your fingers. Just ascend one shape, shift into the next shape on the highest string, then descend and shift to the next on the lowest string.
Ex. 8 is my improvisation using all four shapes and sounds, but I lean pretty heavily on the Am7.
This last concept has kept me busy on the fretboard for the last five years or so. Check it out: You can take any idea that works over Dm7 and move the other diatonic chords. The result is six variations of your original lick. In Ex. 9 I play a line that is 4–1–b3–5 over Dm7 and then walk it through the other chords in the key. These notes are still in the key of C, but it sounds drastically different from playing a scale.
In Ex. 10, I try to think about the shapes from the previous example, but I break up the note order in a random but fun way. The ending line is random but felt good, so I left it in.
While all these concepts have been presented over a minor chord, you can just as easily apply them to any chord quality, and they work just as well in harmonic or melodic minor. Rewarding sounds are available right inside the harmony, and I am still discovering new ideas through these concepts after many years.
Though the above ideas won't necessarily be appropriate for every style or situation, they will work in quite a few. Developing any approach to the point that it becomes a natural extension of your playing takes considerable work and patience, so just enjoy the process, experiment, and let your ear guide you to the sounds you like. Even over just one chord, there is always something new to find.
This vintage Leslie-designed cabinet is one of the first—and still among the finest—modulation effects built for guitar.
It's time to discuss the Fender Vibratone—Fender's "Leslie" guitar speaker. The Leslie cabinet is famously known for making the swirling sound of the Hammond organ, which everyone has heard in classic soul, gospel, and blues recordings. But the Leslie is also great for guitars. I try to be a natural-tone idealist, eschewing most effects, but Leslie-style modulation is my guilty pleasure.
I first heard a Hammond organ with a Leslie via Booker T. & the M.G.'s on The Blues Brothers movie soundtrack in 1980. I think I saw that movie over a hundred times as a kid, and I memorized the dialog and could play the songs and guitar licks. The tone, groove, and melody in "Time Is Tight," with Booker's organ and Steve Cropper's guitar locking and trading, hit a nerve in me. I still consider it the best soul instrumental ever.
"I first heard a Hammond organ with a Leslie via Booker T. & the M.G.'s on The Blues Brothers movie soundtrack in 1980."
So, let me explain how this swirling sonic effect works and share how to get great tone out of Fender's rotating pseudo-Leslie. The patent for "continuous modulation by acousto-mechanical means, e.g. rotating speakers or sound deflectors" was filed in 1956 by Donald J. Leslie. Since CBS owned both Fender and Leslie in the mid-'60s, they crossed brands and introduced the Vibratone for guitarists in 1967, based on the Leslie 16. The Vibratone was equipped with a single 10", 4-ohm Jensen speaker and required an external driver amp. In front of the vertical speaker, there is a rotating, circular Styrofoam rotor, with an asymmetrical opening. As an internal motor spins the rotor, the sound waves are intermittently blocked and allowed to pass through its opening, which creates a 3D Doppler effect. The audible result is that the frequency and volume are changed as the sound exits the cabinet at three places—both sides and the top—which simultaneously creates both tremolo and vibrato effects. The rotor has two speeds: approximately 40 Hz (slow) and 340 Hz (fast).
Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, and Robin Trower are among the notable guitar-wielding, classic-rock proponents of the Leslie effect. Here, the author drives his Vibratone with a Bandmaster Reverb head.
Since the Vibratone speaker sits deep into the cabinet, it sounds muddy, bass-y, and not as loud as a regular cab. Swapping with a louder 12" speaker is recommended, so the Vibratone can keep up with other amps onstage. Speakers with neodymium magnets can reduce weight in the 77-pound cab. I like to use powerful 40-watt driver amps with wide EQ possibilities to get enough cut and clean volume with the Vibratone. Also, I prefer to not plug in via the cabinet's crossover coupling unit with its high-pass filter. Instead, I install an input jack on the back, simply wired directly to the speaker. Keeping things simple reduces sources of failure, and the amp's crossover introduces unnecessary complexity. Without that mod, I simply dial down the bass on the amp.
Black-panel Bandmaster, Bandmaster Reverb, and Bassman amps are great drivers for the Vibratone since they are powerful, 4-ohm rated, and have enough sparkle. Plus, they sit nicely on top of the Vibratone. I use a second combo amp—for example, a Super Reverb—with the dedicated amp driving the Vibratone. An AB/Y pedal lets me select the Vibratone alone, the Super Reverb alone, or both together. I use two microphones on the Vibratone—one on each side. They are panned oppositely in the PA, with the left microphone panned 80 percent to the left and the right panned 80 percent to the right. This creates a big swirl in the room, and the audience can hear the powerful rotating vibrato effect in stereo through the PA. You don't get this kind of full stereo vibrato in a room with a single amp and a chorus pedal.
Note the sound ports on the top and sides of the cabinet, which, along with the rotor, give the Vibratone its Doppler effect.
The only other amp vibrato effect to challenge the sound of the Vibratone appeared in Magnatone combos of the same era and continues to be part of the recently revived brand's recipe. Magnatone's frequency modulation happens in the electrical circuit, using tube gain stages with varistors, which are resistors that simply drop in resistance value as the voltage across them increases. This circuit-based vibrato is more electrically advanced, requiring more components and more tube and overall circuit maintenance. But the upside is that you can get stereo vibrato out of small and lightweight combos without lugging around a bulky speaker cabinet with its electrical motor, belt, and a rotor that requires oiling and other maintenance.
There are several modern rotating speakers that are easier to find and maintain than a vintage Vibratone or Leslie. I've also found a few good Leslie-effect pedals, like the Analog Man chorus. But they don't beat a mechanically rotating Leslie-designed Vibratone in stereo mode, IMHO. Now, I hope you are inspired to go find your swirl.
ZZ Top's legendary bassist dies at 72 after more than a half century as the steward of Texas Boogie.
When Dusty Hill passed away on July 28, 2021, the world lost an icon of American music. It's hard to encapsulate the enormity of ZZ Top's impact on the canon of American rock music, but there's a moment in the 2019 Banger Films documentary, ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band from Texas, where the band's early producer, Robin Brians, perhaps puts it best: "ZZ Top plays the blues, but they don't sing the blues. They turned blues into party music."
The magnitude of that singular act can be traced directly to bands like Van Halen, the Anglo-American versions of Whitesnake, and countless others—that's how deeply embedded in popular music ZZ Top's influence has become. Not only are they quite possibly Texas's most successful musical export—with more than 50 million records sold worldwide and more than 50 years as a band—they are one of America's, too.
ZZ Top - Sleeping Bag (Official Music Video)
Hill's role in ZZ Top has always been understated and underrated. Upon hearing the news of his untimely passing yesterday, a colleague asked if I'd ever met him, to which I replied, "Only through his bass lines." Though I never got to interview him personally, there's an intimacy in learning someone else's music and bass parts. Dusty's Texas groove was undeniably delicious, and an exercise in restraint. It's tempting to want to overplay, but his bass lines represent a masterclass in the age-old musical mantra, "less is more." His performances are seemingly simplistic, but copping his indelible feel is another matter entirely. His deep-pocketed, hard-hitting grooves on now-classic tunes like, "La Grange," "Tush," "Cheap Sunglasses," and "Tube Snake Boogie," were based on a simple, yet effective strategy.
"Sometimes you don't even notice the bass," he said in a 2016 article by Gary Graff in For Bass Players Only. "That's a compliment. That means you've filled in everything and it's right for the song, and you're not standing out where you don't need to be." Ultimately, his spin on the blues, and attitude about bass, created the perfect foil for Billy Gibbons' masterful guitar playing and Frank Beard's rock-infused Texas Shuffle.
Born Joseph Michael Hill on May 19, 1949, in Dallas, Texas, Dusty grew up a self-professed Elvis Presley fanatic. He retells the story of his musical origins in the Banger documentary, recalling that he got into music by singing along to an Elvis record his mother brought home from the diner where she worked. When he was eight years old, he decided to sing a song in public, at a restaurant presumably, which resulted in the patrons at a nearby table giving him change. That was it—he got money in exchange for singing and essentially never looked back. He played cello for a bit in high school but switched to bass at the behest of his older, guitar-playing brother, Rocky Hill, who decided that their band, in which Dusty was solely a vocalist at the time, needed a bassist. And so, from 1966 to 1968, along with future ZZ Top drummer Frank Beard, the Hill brothers played locally in Dallas with the Warlocks, the Cellar Dwellers, and American Blues.
ZZ Top's bassist Dusty Hill and guitarist Billy F. Gibbons played together for 52 years. Atop Hill's shoulder is his main bass at the time this photo was taken in 2013: a John Bolin-built chambered slab body with a Seymour Duncan stacked P-bass pickup for Texas Blues tone with a dash of nastiness.
Photo by Ken Settle
In 1968, tired of the straight blues, and wanting to embrace a bit more of the British-Invasion-style rock music that was infiltrating America at the time, Dusty and Beard moved to Houston, where they subsequently teamed up with guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons of psychedelic-rockers Moving Sidewalks. Together, the trio took their combined Freddie King, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf influences, cranked up their amps, imbued them with a rock 'n' roll attitude, and ZZ Top was born.
They released their first album, the cheeky-titled, ZZ Top's First Album, in 1971, which captured their fledgling rock-infused blues sound. But it was their third album, Tres Hombres, released in 1973, featuring the songs, "La Grange," "Waitin' for the Bus," and "Jesus Just Left Chicago," that cemented their reputation as innovators. Perhaps it was Hill's early foundation in singing that allowed him to hone a bass skillset that embodies the instrument's most fundamental role: supporting the melody. His vocal ability, best represented on the 1975 Fandango! single, "Tush," the band's first Top 20 hit, and one of their most enduring songs, seems to have placed emphasis on indelible feel, rather than technical prowess. He used that same approach when playing bass. Check out any of the aforementioned tunes for a sample of his nasty grooves and dynamic tone. What he's playing may seem simple, but try to capture that feel. That's not something you just pick up. That comes from being steeped in a particular lifestyle and culture, comprised primarily of incessant touring, and growing up provincially, in Texas.
Dusty Hill circa 1975 playing the cornerstone of his sound: a vintage 1970s Fender P bass he bought in a Dallas pawnshop.
Photo by Phil McAuliffe / Frank White Photo Agency
ZZ Top had a successful '70s run before taking a three-year hiatus and reemerging in the early '80s with long beards and new records into a burgeoning, yet welcoming, MTV music-video era. If Tres Hombres put them on the map as musical innovators in 1973, it was 1983's Eliminator that turned them into cultural icons a decade later. Though the production was chastised by blues purists for having synthesizers and drum machines, the band's authentic blues roots still undergird the material, and tunes like "Legs," "Sharp Dressed Man," and "Gimme All Your Lovin'" solidified their place within the annals of pop culture. And, after all, as Dusty Hill says himself in the Banger documentary: "We never said we were a blues band. We are interpreters of the blues." In 2004, ZZ Top was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.
It appears the band will carry on with longtime guitar tech Elwood Francis taking over bass duties, as he did on July 23 at the Village Commons in New Lenox, Illinois, when Dusty was forced to sit out due to a hip injury.
Snarky Puppy's Mark Lettieri digs into the opening track of 5150 and describes his reaction to EVH's new sound.
The 30-episode podcast will be available exclusively through dweezilzappa.com and packages will include listening parties, Q&A sessions, "Brown Sound" bonus episodes, custom Axe-FX, Helix, and Kemper presets, a 1-year subscription to Premier Guitar, and much more.
Presented by Walrus Audio
Don't miss your chance to get loud with these amps!
The MOD 102+ is a great place to start for those interested in building their own tube amp. It is based on a classic American tube-circuit design combined with a British-style Class A output tube section that produces 8 Watts of power. At low volume it produces a clean, chimey tone that moves into smooth overdrive at higher volumes. The amp features a three position progressive toggle switch for off-standby-power. In addition, each control features push-pull functionality - pull out the bass control knob for "mid boost", pull out the treble control knob for "bright", pull out the volume control knob for "turbo". These features along with a JJ ECC803-S (a long plate 12AX7 known for its complex mid range tones) allow for a wider variety of tones and extra control for the user. All parts are included along with a pre-drilled steel chassis, wire, and tubes.
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