Of course not. But he sure makes it sound good.
- Learn how to tweak the minor pentatonic scale to create a jazzier sound for the blues.
- Dramatically increase your soloing vocabulary.
- Dive deep into Robben Ford’s unique style.
Often the first scale many blues and rock guitarists learn is the minor pentatonic, so adjusting one note to create a new sound is fairly easy. The RF scale has the benefit of jazzing up the blues a little, yet it’s still very familiar and firmly rooted in the style. All examples for this lesson will be in the key of A.
Ex. 1 shows the five main positions of the scale as fretboard diagrams, and also in music notation and tab. It is critical to become familiar with this material before proceeding further. I’d suggest starting with position 1 and running the scale many times until you can play it without any thought, in as many ways as possible. Once you’re comfortable with position 1, move on to position 2, then 3, etc.
Now we need to hear how the scale works in context. In Ex. 2 you can see (and hear) how the RF scale sounds over the I chord (A7) of our A blues, and has the effect of implying an A13#9.
One of the benefits of using the RF scale instead of the regular minor pentatonic or blues scale is that it sounds “more correct” on the IV chord. Remember, we’re playing blues in the key of A, so the IV is D7. In this context, the RF contains the 3 (F#), b7 (C), and 9 (E), which implies a D9 sound. The chord’s 3 is critical to defining its sound. The standard minor pentatonic has the 4 of the chord and therefore implies a need to resolve. In Ex. 3 you can hear how these notes line up over a D7 chord.
Ex. 4 shows the sound of the RF scale on the V chord, which in this case is E7. Over this chord, the notes function as the 11, #5, b7, root, and 9, and this implies a E9#5 sound. It’s interesting to hear how the 11 works well over the V chord. That’s because the V always wants to resolve, typically to the I chord.
Ex. 5 is a 12-bar blues progression in the key of A with typical changes. The brackets show the chord changes that would be implied when using the RF scale over this chord progression. Note, while the implied chords lean toward jazz, they don’t tip too far in that direction, and this keeps the sound still firmly rooted in the blues. This is a key element of Robben Ford’s playing.
If the theory is starting to sound a little too heavy, don’t worry—the principal is simple: Take the A minor pentatonic scale and replace every G with an F#. Boom, you have this new hip sound which is very usable.
Our first phrase in Ex. 6 starts off with a swinging Am6 arpeggio (A–C–E–F#) before moving into a bluesy bend of the 3 and then resolving to the root. Notice how many chord tones are on strong beats. Even when dealing with extended harmonies, it’s always good to reinforce the essential sound of the chord.
We focus on the IV chord (D7) for the lick in Ex. 7. The addition of the F# to the scale is really the key here. Again, aim for the chord tones on the strong beats and you can’t really go wrong.
In Ex. 8 the harmony moves from the V (E7) to the IV (D7). The slight differences in the pattern from measure one to measure two are emphasized by the rolling triplets. This is a great way to build tension before the release back to the tonic (A7) in the final measure.
There’s plenty of space in the first measure of Ex. 9. Leaving space is an essential element of blues phrasing, and listening to such giants as B.B. King and Albert King will give you plenty of inspiration for when to lay out. The quarter-step bends in the second measure will require some practice to get just right. Aim for a sassy feel that’s slightly out of tune, but in control.
The next lick in Ex. 10 works great in measures five through eight of a 12-bar blues. After establishing a simple motif in the first measure, the second measure alters it just enough to keep the listener engaged. Such motivic development happens all the time in blues solos, so keep an ear out for it.
Finally, Ex. 11 is a lick that would work great as a cadenza at the end of a tune. The rhythmic idea of triplets should almost always be felt in any swing-style phrase. Here, I use a pattern similar to Ex. 8 to descend to the root.
So, there you have it—a new sound with minimal effort. Isn’t that the best way to learn? Take something you already know and expand it to create new material. Next time you’re at a jam session, give this scale a try, as someone will almost always call a blues.
Streamlined simplicity belies a capacity for appetizing spring-style reverb tones.
Evocative and lively spring-style tones that work across disparate styles. Simple!
Pulsing reflections come on sooner than on some digital emulations. Some might like a darker basic voice.
Eastwood Dusty Spring
If, like many of us, you hail from a style-minded and vintage-oriented but budget-constrained segment of the populace, you’re probably grateful that Eastwood Guitars exists. Though the company’s offerings tend to favor the obscure, Eastwood is good at building functionally unique, well-made, and practical homages to weirdo styling. I know players who make Eastwood instruments front-line, first-choice guitars as much for their unique sound and feel as their looks.
Given their history, it’s easy to be tantalized by Eastwood’s new guitar-pedal endeavors. The new Black Box series may forego the flash that one associates with the brand. But they use much-loved vintage touchstones as a jumping-off point. And the uniform, utilitarian appearance of the pedals (which fits nicely with a certain branch of vintage-pedal aesthetics, if you think about it) helps Eastwood achieve more approachable pricing—another pillar of the company’s ethos. The Dusty Spring reverb, with its two knobs and very straight-ahead functionality, is an especially fine embodiment of the Black Box Series’ substance-before-style philosophy.
Sprung From the Cage
Digital approximations of spring reverb have always been tough to execute. For starters, the mechanical, clanging, and metallic overtones of a spring reverb are tough to reproduce in digital formats that aren’t high-horsepower, number-crunching DSP applications. Further, “authentic” spring reverb can be a lot of things. Even if you’re a Fender reverb purist, the spring in, say, a black-panel Vibrolux can sound pretty different from that in an outboard Fender Reverb. And that’s before considering the differences between those units and a Space Echo’s awesome spring sounds, or a Bandive Great British Spring, or a Grampian—or, for that matter, two different Fender Vibroluxes. As with most things music related, I take a very liberal view of what constitutes the “best” spring-reverb sound, so I didn’t listen for a spot-on Fender reproduction in the Dusty Spring. I’m glad, because what I heard is a spring-reverb approximation that sounds great on its own merits while delivering a lot of what any player—Fender fans included—would want from an affordable digital spring reverb.
Pinging and Swinging
The Dusty Spring’s economical layout—there are just controls for wet/dry mix and dwell, which is essentially decay time—means it’s very easy and intuitive to move between pretty disparate sounds. Such simplicity can feel like a gift from the gods if you have a busy pedalboard or want to make changes in the heat of a set. But what makes that simplicity doubly satisfying here is that both ends of the Dusty Spring’s range produce tasty takes on spring-reverb flavor.
Such simplicity can feel like a gift from the gods if you have a busy pedalboard or want to make changes in the heat of set.
More subdued settings are soft around the edges while retaining the ghostly, nostalgic sense of space that gives spring reverb its emotional tug. It’s a cool balance when you find it. Splashier and more extreme settings are super fun as well. The Dusty Spring probably resides narrowly on the slightly brighter side of the spring-sound spectrum (again, it’s a very broad category), and that makes the effect quite lively. It might also accentuate the hard, almost pulsing reflections that spring reverbs and digital spring emulations usually produce, which come on at relatively lower dwell settings here. No matter how right or wrong that may sound to your ears on its own, it sounded great in the context of small-ensemble playing, where the percolating reverberations added a dose of kinetic energy.
The Dusty Spring is aptly named. There’s an earthiness to the pedal in the way it sticks to spring-style sounds without trying to get too celestial, which often equates to sounding too digital. There are audible trace elements of digital artifacts at the wettest, most ambient settings when heard in isolation. Then again, a spring reverb can produce its own strange overtones at the advanced settings, some of which won’t sound quintessentially Joe Meek- or Dick Dale-style either. The streamlined controls are authentically old-school and provide a useful creative-decision constraint without significantly diminishing the breadth of tones. There are reverbs that do more in the Dusty Spring’s vaguely-$150 price range. But few offer such a nice cross of elegant simplicity and vintage-patina’d tones.
Eastwood Black Box Pedal Demos | First Look
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