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Digging Deeper: Steve Lukather’s Fantastic Chromatics

Toto’s legendary guitarist can move from ear-twisting triplet licks to soaring bends at the flick of a pick.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to add chromatic passing notes to your phrases. 

• Decode Lukather’s unique bending technique.

• Develop funky rhythm parts over static harmony.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

Released back in 1982, Toto’s IV album yielded two chart-topping hits, “Africa” and “Rosanna.” This remarkable band and album featured a dream lineup centered around guitar legend Steve Lukather. For this lesson, I had the pleasure of breaking down some key aspects of his rhythm and lead playing on IV and then working them into my own example, which I’ve nicknamed “Joanna.”

Get the Tones
I’ve divided the example track into three main guitar sections: a solo, dirty rhythm, and some clean overdubs. I attempted to get as close to the original sounds on the album as possible using Positive Grid’s Bias FX plug-in. For the overdriven sounds, I used an amp based on a Mesa/Boogie Mark IV with a very light slapback delay and a room reverb. All the dirty rhythm examples are double-tracked and panned hard left and right to create a wider stereo sound. For the lead tone, I put an Ibanez TS808 in front of the amp with the drive turned down, but the level slightly boosted to increase sustain. I also added a fairly large hall reverb and a tape-style delay to create ambience. Combined with some chorus, these really expand the lead tone in a classic ’80s way. For the clean overdub sounds, I used a basic Twin-style combo with an MXR Dyna Comp in front of the amp, plus a little slapback delay after the amp to create space around the part. For the ambient clean sound, I added a large hall reverb and tape echo delay at the end of the signal chain, and then placed a studio-style compressor on the output to let these ambient effects really bloom.

YouTube It

You’ll hear that “Joanna” is a homage to “Rosanna,” which features drummer Jeff Porcaro’s addictive and groovy shuffle. For my example, I used ToonTrack’s EZdrummer 2, which offers some “Rosanna”-style grooves that I modified. For this groove, we can feel every pair of eighth-notes as a quarter-note and an eighth-note in the space of a single triplet. Describing it makes it sound a lot more complicated than it really is—listening to the track and counting eighth-notes will highlight this time feel in a more intuitive way.

Luke’s Licks
In Ex. 1,we start off near the end of my track with the main guitar solo. This solo is based over three chords: G for eight measures, Em for four, and finally a Csus2 for the last four. Over the G chord, I’m playing notes from G Lydian (G–A–B–C#–D–E–F#). I start the solo by ascending through a G major triad (G–B–D) before landing on a bend that highlights the 7 (F#) and 9 (A).

Luke is a master of off-kilter triplet runs, so I tried to cop some of that vibe. In measure seven, I start a rather long triplet run that uses chromatic notes and slurs. Pay close attention to the hammer-on and slide markings on the tab to ensure smooth execution of this line. Runs that use chromatic notes are very typical of Lukather’s unique playing style. Here, I’m visualizing a Bm7 arpeggio (B–D–F#–A) starting on the 3rd string in 14th position. Since Bm7 is diatonic to G Lydian, it implies a Gmaj9 tonality.

In measure nine, we move to an E minor tonality. This is still diatonic to G Lydian, but now we can open up some E Dorian (E–F#–G–A–B­–C#–D) sounds. We start with some expressive bends in bars 11 and 12 that feature another of Steve Lukather’s signature moves. There’s a tricky bend in measure 11. Use your third finger to bend the B at the 17th fret up a whole-step. While still holding the bend, use your pinky to reach over one fret to add a half-step to the bend. This is a really cool trick for getting gravity-defying bends!

Another triplet phrase pops up in measure 13, but this time I’m thinking of an E blues scale (E–G–A–Bb–B–D) to fill in the gaps. The solo then moves around to a Csus2 tonality, and this time I’m thinking in terms of C major.

Click here for Ex. 1

Ex. 2 features two separate parts double-tracked to create a more expansive stereo sound. Gtr. 1 has a funky syncopated octave motif starting on the “and” of beat 3 every two measures. This part fills in the space when the ambient clean overdubs and piano take a brief pause on a chord. It’s a subtle way to add more groove to the track.

To get a nice, slow attack on this part, I palm-muted the notes on the 6th string while digging in quite hard with a flexible .70 mm celluloid pick. Gtr. 2 plays different chords over the A bass note to create a bit of movement over this harmonically static groove—something that can be heard in a lot of Toto’s music. I strum each chord quite slowly and softly around the guitar’s bridge area to let the chords bloom into the sonic picture. Like all these double-tracked parts, I made sure each side was executed identically, thus adding to the size and depth of the sound.

Click here for Ex. 2

Let’s move to Ex. 3, which features double-tracked rhythm guitars over the verse. I stick to big chunky power chords to highlight the big changes and single-note lines that accent the triadic movement of the static groove. When double-tracking these guitars, I chose a slightly less saturated sound for each guitar and focused on keeping the articulations the same on each track. When done right, these double-tracking techniques can make a simple guitar part like this sound huge without getting in the way of the other instruments in the recording.

Click here for Ex. 3

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