The silky smooth slide man may raise a few eyebrows with his gear—a hollow, steel-bodied baritone and .017s on a Jazzmaster—but every note and tone he plays sounds just right.
KingTone’s The Duellist is currently Ariel Posen’s most-used pedal. One side of the dual drive (the Bluesbreaker voicing) is always on. But there’s another duality at play when Posen plugs in—the balance between songwriter and guitarist.
“These days, I like listening to songs and the story and the total package,” Posen told PG back in 2019, when talking about his solo debut, How Long, after departing from his sideman slot for the Bros. Landreth. “Obviously, I’m known as a guitar player, but my music and the music I write is not guitar music. It’s songs, and it goes back to the Beatles. I love songs, and I love story and melody and singing, and there was a lot of detail and attention put into the guitar sound and the playing and the parts—almost more than I’ve ever done.”
And in 2021, he found himself equally expressing his yin-and-yang artistry by releasing two albums that represented both sides of his musicality. First, Headway continued the sultry sizzle of songwriting featured on How Long. Then he surprised everyone, especially guitarists, by dropping Mile End, which is a 6-string buffet of solo dishes with nothing but Ariel and his instrument of choice.
But what should fans expect when they see him perform live? “I just trust my gut. I can reach more people by playing songs, and I get moved more by a story and lyrics and harmony, so that’s where I naturally go. The live show is a lot more guitar centric. If you want to hear me stretch out on some solos, come see a show. I want the record and the live show to be two separate things.”
The afternoon ahead of Posen’s headlining performance at Nashville’s Basement East, the guitar-playing musical force invited PG’s Chris Kies on stage for a robust chat about gear. The 30-minute conversation covers Posen’s potent pair of moody blue bombshells—a hollow, metal-bodied Mule Resophonic and a Fender Custom Shop Jazzmaster—and why any Two-Rock is his go-to amp. He also shares his reasoning behind avoiding effects loops and volume pedals.
Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard.
Blue the Mule III
If you’ve spent any time with Ariel Posen’s first solo record, How Long, you know that the ripping, raunchy slide solo packed within “Get You Back” is an aural high mark. As explained in a 2019 PG interview, Posen’s pairing for that song were two cheapos: a $50 Teisco Del Rey into a Kay combo. However, when he took the pawnshop prize onstage, the magic was gone. “It wouldn’t stay in tune and wouldn’t stop feeding back—it was unbearable [laughs].”
Posen was familiar with Matt Eich of Mule Resophonic—who specializes in building metal-body resonators—so he approached the luthier to construct him a steel-bodied, Strat-style baritone. Eich was reluctant at first (he typically builds roundneck resos and T-style baritones), but after seeing a clip of Posen playing live, the partnership was started.
The above steel-bodied Strat-style guitar is Posen’s third custom 25"-scale baritone. (On Mule Resophonic’s website, it’s affectionately named the “Posencaster.”) The gold-foil-looking pickups are handwound by Eich, and are actually mini humbuckers. He employs a custom Stringjoy set (.017–.064 with a wound G) and typically tunes to B standard. The massive strings allow the shorter-scale baritone to maintain a regular-tension feel. And when he gigs, he tours light (usually with two guitars), so he’ll use a capo to morph into D or E standard.
Another one that saw recording time for Headway and Mile End was the above Fender Custom Shop Masterbuilt ’60s Jazzmaster, made by Carlos Lopez. To make it work better for him, he had the treble-bleed circuit removed, so that when the guitar’s volume is lowered it actually gets warmer.
"Clean and Loud"
Last time we spoke with Posen, he plugged into a Two-Rock Classic Reverb Signature. It’s typically his live amp. However, since this winter’s U.S. run was a batch of fly dates, he packed light and rented backlines. Being in Music City, he didn’t need to go too deep into his phone’s contacts to find a guitar-playing friend that owned a Two-Rock. This Bloomfield Drive was loaned to Ariel by occasional PG contributor Corey Congilio. On the brand’s consistent tone monsters, Posen said, “To be honest, put a blindfold on me and make one of Two-Rock’s amps clean and loud—I don’t care what one it is.”
The loaner vertical 2x12 cab was stocked with a pair of Two-Rock 12-65B speakers made by Warehouse Guitar Speakers.
Ariel Posen’s Pedalboard
There are a handful of carryovers from Ariel’s previous pedalboard that was featured in our 2021 tone talk: a TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Noir, a Morningstar MC3 MIDI Controller, an Eventide H9, a Mythos Pedals Argonaut Mini Octave Up, and a KingTone miniFUZZ Ge. His additions include a custom edition Keeley Hydra Stereo Reverb & Tremolo (featuring Headway artwork), an Old Blood Noise Endeavors Black Fountain oil can delay, Chase Bliss Audio Thermae Analog Delay and Pitch Shifter, and a KingTone The Duellist overdrive.
Another big piece of the tonal pie for Posen is his signature brass Rock Slide. He worked alongside Rock Slide’s Danny Songhurst to develop his namesake slide that features a round-tip end that helps Posen avoid dead spots or unwanted scratching. While he prefers polished brass, you can see above that it’s also available in a nickel-plated finish and an aged brass.
Tired of playing the same old dominant 7 chords during a blues? Let’s fix that.
- Learn what chord substitutions are and how they work so that you can get more color out of your rhythm guitar playing.
- Use extensions on dominant 7 chords as a way of creating new substitutions.
- Play practical examples of substitutions within various blues grooves while maintaining the standard blues harmony.
Staying creative and phrasing musically while playing chords, especially over a blues progression, seems like an impossibility to many players. After all, most blues songs contain only three chords, the I, IV, and V. So how can you make those simple chords more interesting? The answer is by using chord substitution.
Substitution is when two chords share enough notes in common that by exchanging one for the other, the overall harmonic function remains unchanged, but the color and very often the melodic nature of the chords is enhanced. By adding extensions to standard dominant 7 chords found in a blues, you can see a whole new world of substitutions become available. No longer will you be stuck playing two or three shapes for an A7 chord, but rather you’ll be equipped with a massive palette of colorful chords that will catapult your blues playing to another dimension!
Dominate the Minor Subs
Most players are familiar with playing dominant 9 chords; they are, after all, very commonly used in many genres of music, especially the blues. The most common form of this chord can be found in the first measure of Ex. 1. This A9 chord contains the five notes of a dominant 9: 1– 3–5–b7–9 … or in terms of note names: A–C#–E–G–B.
The 9 in the A9 chord is considered an extension because it takes the foundation of the dominant 7 chord (1–3–5–b7) and “extends” it by an extra third, creating the 9. In measure 2 you can see that removing the root note (A) will leave you with a four-note chord: C#–E–G–B. This coincidentally is the exact spelling of a C#m7b5 chord. Yes, this means that within an A9 is a C#m7b5.
By removing the root note of an extended dominant chord you are left with a new chord that can easily be substituted in place of the original dominant 7. This means that in nearly every circumstance you can substitute a m7b5 chord for a dominant 7 because within the dominant 9 version of that chord lies the corresponding m7b5. In order to transpose this to any key, you simply build a m7b5 chord upon the 3 of the dominant 7, as seen in measures 3 and 4. C# is the third of A7 and so you can substitute a C#m7b5 for any A7 and it will retain the function of the A7.
Ex. 2 highlights this in the context of the first four measures of a blues in A. The first two measures are a standard A7 riff, however measures 3 and 4 utilize the m7b5 substitution. In this case the C#m7b5 is used to create harmonic and even melodic variety by sliding in and out of the chord from a half-step below. This is a common technique in jazz-blues playing.
Summary: Extending a dominant 7 to a dominant 9 creates a m7b5 chord built on the 3 of the dominant chord. Playing this m7b5 chord in place of the original dominant 7 is harmonically acceptable because it is implying the dominant 9 tonality, even without the root note being present.
Dominant 13 Chords
Following this concept of extending chords, a dominant 13 chord is another common variation of a dominant 7. Unlike piano players, guitarists don’t have the luxury of playing with all 10 fingers, so we must make exceptions. A fully extended dominant 13 chord would contain all seven notes of a key: 1–3–5–b7–9–11–13. Since we are limited in the number of notes we can realistically play, it’s important that we cut out unnecessary notes. It’s very common to cut out the 5, 11, and even the 9, leaving the chord spelled as: 1–3–b7–13.
In the beginning of Ex. 3 you can see a standard A7 chord voicing. There is only one note difference between this voicing and the A13 chord found in measure 2. Namely the E (5) located on the 2nd string. By removing this note and replacing it with an F# (13) we have essentially created an A13 chord.
If desired, playing the 9 as part of this A13 is always an option (A–C#–G–B–F#). In measure 3 you can see this A13 chord, but it is often cumbersome to play while including the bass note. Removing that root note will leave you with a b7–3–13–9 shape. Just as removing the root in an A9 chord left us with a C#m7b5, removing the root note of this A13 leaves us with a new four-note chord: Gmaj7#11. This may seem like a complicated way of saying “A13 with no root note,” but it goes to show you that the substitutions for a dominant 7 chord can be profound.
In Ex. 4 you can see the first six measures of an blues in A with the addition of a Gmaj7#11 in measures 3 and 4. Measure 5 introduces a D9 which is then substituted with an F#m7b5, recapping the first substitution we discussed (building a m7b5 upon the third of any dominant 7 chord).
Summary: Dominant 13 chords are most often played on guitar without the 5, 11 and occasionally the 9. However, swapping the 9 for the root creates: 3–b7–9–13. By making the b7 the new “root note” of this substitution chord you create a major7#11. An easy way to implement this into your everyday playing is by building a maj7#11 chord on the b7 of any dominant chord. In the case of an E7 you would substitute a Dmaj7#11 which would create the same harmonic function as an E13.
“Hendrix” Chord Subs
Just as the name implies, a dominant #9 chord is a dominant 7 chord, with a #9 extension. Commonly known as the “Hendrix” chord, this is a very useful extension for any dominant 7. The interesting thing about this chord is that the #9 is also the same tone as a b3. The reason for it being called a #9 is that in a dominant chord, there is already a 3, and it’s major! Since you can’t theoretically have both a 3 and a b3 in a chord, that b3 must be called a #9 instead (this is called enharmonic spelling).
Looking at Ex. 5 you can see an E9 which is spelled as E–G#–D–F#. Notice the conspicuous lack of a 5. This is very common in many chords because the 5 adds nothing harmonically to the chord. In measure 2 the F# is moved up a half-step to create an E7#9 chord. In measure 3 you can see another extension added to the E7#9; it would be the #5 added by barring the fourth finger across the top two strings at the 8th fret. This is another very common extension and one that creates a new substitution when the root note is removed.
The spelling of the E7#9#5 is: E–G#–D–F##–B#. Why B#? Well because it is a #5 it must be called B#. B is the fifth of E and a #5, according to enharmonic spelling, means that it must be called a B#.
Compare the chord shape in measure 4 to the chord shape of the Gmaj7#11 from the previous example. That’s right, it’s the exact same chord shape! This means that by playing an E7#9#5 and removing the root note, you are left with a G#maj7#11…I told you extensions can lead to profound new substitutions!
Ex. 6 outlines a typical blues turnaround. The standard turnaround being E7–D7–A7–E7, this version begins by using an E7#9 in place of an E7. This upper note then descends chromatically to form an E9 on beat four and then to a D7#9. Next is a standard blues walk-up which takes you to the E bass note at the beginning of measure four. However, the ending of measure 4 introduces the G#maj7#11 which is the substitution for an E7#9#5.
Summary: Adding a #9 to a dominant 7 chord creates the common “Hendrix” tonality that allows players more freedom to solo. However, barring the fourth finger across the top two strings creates another extension, the #5. This chord, E7#9#5, when played without a root note is spelled as G#–D–F##–B#. This spelling creates a G#maj7#11.
Dominant 7b9 Chords
One of the most versatile dominant chords imaginable is the dominant 7b9 chord. Just as the name suggests, it is nearly identical to a dominant 9 chord except in this case, the 9 is flatted by one half-step, hence the name “dominant 7b9”.
Looking at Ex. 7 you can see a D9 chord in measure 1 spelled out from 5th string to 1st as: D–F#–C–E–A. In measure 2 is a D7b9 chord spelled out as: D–F#–C–Eb–A. There is only one note difference between these two, but that b9 makes a huge difference in the function of this chord.
Moving on to measure 3, we remove the root note and end up with a F#dim7. Here is where things get really interesting. Diminished 7 chords are symmetrical, meaning they are comprised entirely of minor thirds. The notes of this F#dim7 chord are: F#–C–Eb–A. Now if you move this same chord shape up a minor third on the fretboard (three frets) you’ll get an Adim7 chord. The spelling for this chord is: A–Eb–F#–C. That’s right, it’s the exact same set of notes in another inversion. Move it up another minor third and you get Cdim7 and one more minor third will get you Ebdim7.
Essentially, all these diminished 7 chords can be considered a substitute for a D7b9 because they all share the same exact set of notes—minus the D root note. The implications of this are enormous because now the option to play diminished scales and chords can be easily superimposed on top of any dominant 7 chord.
A great way to conceptualize this while playing is to first become familiar with the chord shapes for diminished 7 chords so you can easily finger them in the midst of a song. Then simply look for any of the following four notes within a dominant 7 chord: 3–5–b7–b9 and build your diminished 7 chord on one of those tones. From there you are free to move that chord shape up and down in minor third intervals and you’ll retain that dominant 7b9 harmony the entire time.
Look at Ex. 8 and you’ll see a full 12-bar blues progression in A that uses the sub techniques we’ve covered so far. I’ll point out a few things to take note of. In measure 6 the F#dim7 is moved up a minor third to Adim7 and then to Cdim7. These two measures are utilizing the harmonic function of a D7b9 without the root note.
Going into measure 8, the diminished 7 substitution is once again present, but this time it’s used in place of the A7 chord normally found in this measure. In place of an A7 we are substituting a C#dim7 followed by a Bbdim7 and a Gdim7. Remember this diminished 7 chord substitution works on the 3–5–b7–b9 of any dominant chord. In this case, these three diminished 7 chord substitutions are built on the 3, b9, and b7 of A7b9.
The final measure introduces another of the substitutions we’ve discussed, the maj7#11. In this case the Dmaj7#11 is substituted for the E7 that normally occurs in this bar. This Dmaj7#11 functions as the upper structure of an E13 chord, without the root note.
Summary: Dominant 7b9 chords are essentially equivalent to a diminished 7 chord. By removing the root note of a dominant 7b9 (1–3–5–b7–b9) chord you are left with a diminished 7 chord which is symmetrical and can be moved up or down in minor thirds. This diminished 7 chord can be built on the 3–5–b7–b9 of any dominant chord and will retain that dominant 7 function, albeit with much more tension and color.
Admittedly, there’s a lot of info here, so don’t feel like you need to hop on all of these ideas at once. Pick one, try it out, explore it, and maybe even write a tune with it. Only then will it become a part of your vocabulary. Good luck!
Was Moody and Marsden one of the most underrated guitar duos of all time?
- Develop a better understanding of blues-rock riffs from the ’70s.
- Learn how to harmonize solos and riffs.
- Create interlocking guitar parts that make sense.
Whitesnake’s self-titled album is a pinnacle of ’80s hard rock, instantly making them one of the biggest rock bands of the era. It was a departure from their previous six albums due to significant lineup changes. Both original guitarists, Micky Moody and Bernie Marsden, had left the band and opened the doors for former Thin Lizzy guitarist John Sykes to join. Sykes’ influence, which began on the 1984 release, Slide It In, moved the band away from its British blues-rock sound towards the more popular American glam-rock vibe. Let’s take a look at the band’s style during the Moody/Marsden era which is often overshadowed by 1987’s incredible success.
After leaving Deep Purple in 1976, David Coverdale eventually formed his own band with guitar duo Moody and Marsden. During the early ’80s he also had former Purple colleagues Ian Paice and Jon Lord in the mix. While Whitesnake clearly stuck to the same genre as Deep Purple, and some songs are reminiscent of that legendary band, Whitesnake have their own recognizable style thanks to Moody and Marsden’s melodic guitar work. Besides the pentatonic-based power chord riffs that were typical for ’70s blues rock, Whitesnake incorporated a lot of harmonized melodies that seem inspired by Thin Lizzy.
Even though their sound changed somewhat on every album, it’s always been anchored by classic Marshall tones. If you don’t have a Marshall-style amp, I’d check out pedals like the Friedman BE-OD, Wampler Plexi-Drive, Bogner La Grange, or many others. Aim for a more vintage-style tone rather than a hot-rodded sound.
Let’s start with Ex. 1, which is a simple power chord riff in A minor. Note how there is some harmonic movement within the riff. The syncopated slide into the tonic is very typical. Also, it’s cool to alternate between the two double-stops over the root in measure 2. Whitesnake used it a lot but is also famously known from Ram Jam’s hit “Black Betty.”
Ex. 2 is a single-note riff like the ones you can hear in songs like “Medicine Man” from Whitesnake’s Lovehunter album or “Fool for Your Loving” from Ready an’ Willing.
It’s in G minor and uses the faithful G blues scale (G–Bb–C–Db–D–F). The main motif repeats three times before ending with some chromatic approach notes for the turnaround. Those little chromatic notes at the end really add a bluesy feeling to this riff. I incorporated another very “Whitesnake” idea by moving the riff up to C (the IV chord) before playing another two measures of on the tonic. I then ended on a big open-string G power chord.
Ex. 3 imitates a chorus that could be found on a track like “Lonely Days, Lonely Nights.” Whitesnake often used major and minor chords instead of power chords in the chorus to bring out the melody. This progression is in the key of E and features the IIm and b7 chords, which were very common in rock music of this era. Check out Danzig’s “Mother” or Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talking ’Bout Love” for more examples.
Whitesnake - Lonely Days, Lonely Nights
Ex. 4 is a bit of a solo section over the same progression in A minor. While sticking mainly to pentatonic material, Moody and Marsden also incorporate the 9 and even target it before resolving it to the 3. You can find the 9 as a melodic passing note in the first measure as well as in measure 3 where I hold the G while it becomes the 9 over the F major chord. Then I resolve it to the A in the final measure.
Ex. 5 is another riff that features a dual-guitar attack, again in octaves. Moody and Marsden would often do this with their signature riffs. The upper octave adds a more melodic touch to an otherwise simple single-note riff.
Since harmonizing in thirds was so common, Whitesnake also incorporated them into a few of their melody lines. In Ex. 6 the harmony is a third below the actual tonic line giving it the more colorful flavor of a sixth from a harmonic perspective. A very Whitesnake-y sound. Also note how the last note moves in a different direction creating a bit more harmonic movement.
For Ex. 7 we’ll take a look at one of the few shred lines you’d encounter in Whitesnake’s earlier work. I shamelessly stole it from the “Medicine Man” solo and changed up the end a little, simply because these slightly shreddy moments were very rare in Whitesnake’s music at that time. It’s a simple pentatonic line in G# minor that mixes a few different subdivisions. You can pick it or play it with hammer-ons and pull-offs. It’s just to build a bit of tension at the end of the solo.
Hopefully, after this lesson you will feel inspired to go back and check out Whitesnake’s early catalog. They were a woefully underrated rock band during that time and thanks to Moody and Marsden, the blues-based, hard rock sound will continue long after the band itself.
A few simple chords is all it takes.
- Learn to play a 12-bar blues, in three different keys, using one shape.
- Study an assortment of strumming and picking patterns.
- Gain a basic understanding of the 12-bar blues form.
As usual, there is more to this lesson than the title implies. We will be working with one chord shape at a time, but over the course of the lesson we’ll study three different shapes. The final example in this lesson incorporates all three shapes to demonstrate how a few basic ideas can provide us with infinite possibilities.
It is important to know that for every chord name in this lesson there are countless shapes—also known as fingerings or voicings—available. For this lesson, I chose what I consider to be the most practical and flexible shapes.
The A7 Shape
A relatively straightforward shape, the A7 form only requires two fingers, and if you can manage to keep the open 5th string ringing and get the G on the 1st string to sound, the rest will eventually make itself heard.
Like all of the examples in this lesson, Ex. 1 is a 12-bar blues using the I, IV, and V chords with a “quick change.” That means we’ll be moving to the IV chord in measure two rather than staying on the I chord for four measures. Both the quick change and non-quick change forms are commonplace in the blues repertoire. Additionally, all examples will move the chord shape(s) up and down the guitar neck, allowing us to play through the entire progression. The real fun begins with modifications you can generate using right-hand rhythmic patterns.
For Ex. 1, merely finger the A7 shape, strum the basic rhythmic pattern, then move the shape from the 2nd fret (think of the barre in this shape as your fret point of reference) up to the 7th fret. Wondrously, the A7 shape now sounds a D7 chord! That’s because even though the shape hasn’t changed, the fretboard position has. A static shape with lots of movement—that’s the secret. To complete the 12-bar blues form, simply move the A7 shape up to the 9th fret for the E7 chord.
Things start to get interesting in Ex. 2, and yes, we do modify the shape ever so slightly. First let’s address the right-hand pattern. You can play this figure using your fingers or a pick (I used my fingers in the audio) as you alternate between the open 5th string and the chord. Meanwhile, your left hand has some work to do as well. You’ll be lifting off your third finger between each A7 chord to allow the 2nd fret notes to ring (with the barre), which creates an A6 chord. This A7–A6 relationship is lifeblood to the blues. This pattern may be noticeably harder for some beginners. If so, don’t concern yourself with moving to the other positions, just work on the A7-A6 movement. Once that is manageable, the shifting shouldn’t cause you too much distress.
Note: When you move to the D7 chord at the 7th fret, you should play the 4th string open for the bass note. Likewise, when playing the E7 at the 9th, play the 6th string open.
The E7 Shape
Ex. 3 continues our theme with the E7 shape. This might be more challenging than the A7 shape, but stick with it—it’s an essential grip. As with the previous example, this one focuses on the right hand for variety. But unlike the previous examples, I used a flatpick when recording this track. Don’t fixate on getting every single note right, but be loose and aim for the essence of the chord. Missing a note or two isn’t a big deal. Only on the B7 shape does accidently hitting the 1st string imply some non-blues color you might want to avoid … maybe not. I kept a fluid down-up strumming pattern throughout this example, but once you have the basics down, feel free to mix it up.
Ex. 4 stays with the same E7 shape, although now we will be very specific with our right hand. This is a common fingerpicking pattern, with the thumb handling the 6th, 5th, and 4th strings, and the fingers picking the rest. At first, focus more on the picking pattern than the chord movement, as it’s the fingerpicking that’s vital to this style of playing. Note that you do not play the open 1st string on the B7 chord, otherwise the pattern is uniform throughout.
The D7 Shape
You could argue I should have started this lesson with the D7 shape, as it is probably the easiest shape to play. Consider my saving it for last as a reward for making it this far! In Ex. 5, I’ve gone electric and added bass and drums to demonstrate how these shapes work in any context.
Ex. 5 is two choruses of a 12-bar. The first sticks with our unwavering right-hand picking pattern and left-hand movement up and down the neck. The second proves that, with rhythmic variation, one can create boundless combinations when playing with simple shapes.
All Three Shapes
Finally, Ex. 6 incorporates all three shapes into two choruses of a 12-bar blues. The first chorus applies the shapes in their most basic forms, the second chorus displays more functionality and complexity.
I hope this lesson has shown you that the modesty of basic chord shapes and the predictability of a chord progression are not a measure of aptitude. A better gauge of proficiency? The capability to imagine and create incalculable variations from a small number of rudimentary concepts.