Explore Ford-style chord voicings and turnarounds.
• Explore the nuances of Robben Ford’s style.
• Create rootless voicings inspired by T-Bone Walker and Freddie King.
• Combine blues and pentatonic scales over standard turnarounds.
Robben Ford is one of the most sophisticated blues guitarists around—we briefly touched on his style in the first part of this lesson. In this installment, I’m going to focus on his use of jazz-inspired chord voicings and take a look at how he handles a few turnarounds.
We are going to take a step pass the triad-based approach we covered in the last lesson by looking at the voicings Ford borrows from jazz pianists. He likes to keep the notes from moving too far when shifting from chord to chord, only changing notes when it’s absolutely necessary. This is a very musical way of approaching harmony.
In Fig. 1, we can see how Ford would play over a funky blues in the key of D with some added tensions. We begin with the basic target tones (3 and 7) of each chord and then add a note on top. In blues music, we almost always focus on dominant chords. The 3 and b7 of a dominant chord create an interval called a tritone, which is the quintessential sound of the blues.
We start with a D7#9 chord as the I chord. The lower two notes form our tritone, and then we add an F (or E#) on the 2nd string for the #9. Now the trick here is to understand that the tritone is this little sonic nugget that moves around in a very subtle way. For the IV chord, G13, we simply move the entire shape down one fret. How easy is that? Now, instead of a #9 on top we have a natural 13.
While we are on the topic of rootless chords, let’s take a look at a simple blues in A in Fig. 2. In this example, we are playing an A9 chord with the 3 (C#) in the bass. Many players such as T-Bone Walker and Freddie King used this type of voicing in order to make the chords move smoothly from one change to another. Again, we cut out the root, but over the IV chord (D9) we add it back in and keep the E on the 2nd string as a common tone. Keeping this E common through all three voicings gives the chords a connectedness that is pleasing to the listener.
We stay on the inner four strings, but move up a bit for Fig. 3. Here, we will use a new dominant 13 voicing with the b7 (G) in the bass and the root (A) in the highest voice on the 2nd string. The IV chord shape is the same voicing we used on our A9 chord in Fig. 2. In measure nine, we use one of Robben’s favorite voicings for a dominant 11 chord. Many chords can be analyzed in different ways and this is no exception. Even though you don’t have the 3 in the chord, another name for this chord could be either E9sus or D/E if you like to think in slash chords. These dominant 11 chords are a little spacey for most blues players, but not Ford—he uses them quite a bit.
Turnarounds are a key part of any blues guitarist’s style and Ford keeps things somewhat simple in Fig. 4. It isn’t as fancy or complex as his diminished licks, but it does the job. We start on the V chord (A7) in the key of D with a triplet-based arpeggio that leads smoothly into the IV chord, or G7. I played this at a slow tempo but to really get the effect that attracted me to this one in the first place, I suggest you work it up to as fast a tempo as you can manage while keeping a good feel and solid time.
Fig. 5 sticks with the simple approach as well. We are still in the same key and we are starting on the V chord. The phrase starts off in the fifth position by playing notes straight out of the A7 arpeggio with an added C natural used as a passing tone. Make sure to milk the bend in the second measure as much as possible before hitting the D at the 15th fret. We then move to the D minor pentatonic (D–F–G–A–C) before resolving to the root at the 12th fret.
It’s been a lot of fun dissecting the playing of one of my favorite blues players. I hope you’ve enjoyed my example of what sticks out to me about Robben Ford’s playing, and I also hope you’ll be able to add these concepts to your trick bag and bring ’em to the next jam.
Dennis McCumber has been a guitar instructor and performer for more than 20 years. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in music education from The College of Saint Rose. Dennis performs regularly in the New York City area with various rock, blues, and funk bands, and occasionally as a classical soloist. In addition to performing, Dennis has been a middle school music teacher in the Bronx for the past 12 years. While teaching in the Bronx, he was given a guitar lab by VH1 Save the Music and a keyboard lab from the radio station Hot97 Hip Hop Symphony. Dennis has been an instructor at the National Guitar Workshop since 1996, where he teaches Blues, Funk, and Rock. Find out more at dennismccumber.com.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.