Electric Etudes: Jimmy Page
Unlock the secrets of one of the most influential guitarists of all time.
• Learn about riffs that use movable triads.
• Understand how to combine pentatonic and blues scales.
• Play solos in the blues-rock style of one of the most influential guitarists of all time.
For this installment, let’s look at one of rock’s most revered and influential guitarists, Jimmy Page. Not only did Page form one of the biggest-selling bands of all time, but his blend of American blues-style soloing and rock ’n’ roll has inspired generations of guitarists and bands alike, and many point to him as the father of modern blues-rock and hard rock.
Page is one of those rare guitarists with an instantly recognizable sound. He was one of the first guitarists to use extended pentatonic riffs, fusing complex unison lines with the bass. He also showed his folk influences by experimenting with acoustic instruments and the very Eastern-sounding DADGAD tuning. He was a sonic pioneer too, employing a wide variety of effects and even playing his guitar with a violin bow.
Page recorded a wealth of material, so I want to cover as much stylistic variety as possible in this short study piece. The goal here is to demonstrate his riff style, use of triads, and also his approach to creating solos—namely position shifts and repetitive phrases.
The first eight measures of the verse are based around the power chords A5 and G5, with guitar and bass unison riffs that use notes from the A minor pentatonic scale (A-C-D-E-G). Notice the sprinkling of chromatic notes and check out the bluesy move from the b3 (C) to the major 3 (C#). The verse concludes with D and A/C# arpeggios.
For the beginning of the next section, I’ve tried to show an idea reminiscent of “Kashmir” without departing from regular tuning. As you play through this, you’ll see that the open D on the 4th string remains constant below a series of descending triads before the phrase ends with a pair of Gm triads.
On the audio demo, I’ve opted for a slightly clean tone in this section, and I doubled the main guitar with a 12-string electric to create a jangly texture.
The solo section is inspired by “Stairway to Heaven” and uses the Am-Am/G-D/F# progression–the Am/G is a chord that many people play as a straight G chord. The second half of the progression includes the chords of Am, C and D. The solo is based mainly around the A minor pentatonic scale, but also includes the b5 (Eb) to create the A blues scale, and adds the 6 (F#), which implies a Dorian sound. The solo kicks off with a classic blues-based bending figure that resolves to the F# note and outlines the D/F# chord. Measures 19-20 start with a classic Page repetition lick using bends and fast pull-offs. This lick is pretty hard to get smooth and clean, so build up speed gradually.
The phrase in measure 20 starts in A Dorian and shifts up a minor third—with the shape remaining the same—and turns into a cool blues-based lick. In the next few measures you’ll move through a few different pentatonic positions before hitting some high-register bends. The solo concludes with two classic Page-style moves: a repeating bending figure (this leads to the solo’s climax) followed by a fast pull-off lick.
Page is known for using mainly a Gibson Les Paul or a Fender Telecaster, but also played a double-neck Gibson SG and a Danelectro. His choice in amps was also varied. Everything from Marshalls, Supros, Oranges, and Hiwatts made appearances in the studio and onstage.
For the recoding I used several different guitars, all of which ran into a Blackstar Series One 50 set to the clean-bright mode with the gain full and the Dynamic Power Reduction (DPR) set to about 10 watts. For the verse, I used my 1960 Fender Telecaster plugged into a Wampler Plexi-Drive for a little bite and drive. On the chorus, I ran the Tele straight into the Blackstar’s clean-bright mode for some Class A-style breakup. I also doubled this with my 12-string electric, a Music Man BFR Silhouette. This sound was slightly cleaner and I added some phaser in the mix stage.
For the solo, I used my Music Man Axis Supersport that’s fitted with low-output DiMarzio 36th Anniversary PAFs. Still using the clean-bright mode, I plugged into the Plexi-Drive pedal and added a little extra gain, but rolled off some bottom end to make the tone slightly harsh.
Make sure you carefully study Page’s tone because many people add too much gain. They hear what they think it is, but it’s not. His tones were quite thin—fuzzy, in some places—but they worked perfectly in a mix.