Using just a few notes or a barrage, John Frusciante creates guitar parts which deftly guide listeners through Red Hot Chili Peppers’ songs.
- Explore the hallmarks of John Frusciante’s unique stylistic and technical approach to guitar.
- Get a humdinger of a funk strumming workout.
- Learn how to go deeper to create memorable guitar parts.
I had a bit of a strange introduction to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Back in the day, during my first week of school at New York University, I noticed a sign on the door of the student cafeteria indicating that a relatively unknown band called “Red Hot Chili Peppers” was playing a show across the hall that Saturday night. I remember thinking, “Well, that’s a silly name for a band. Those guys are never going anywhere.” Yeah. Good call.
Cut to winter 2002: I’ve been a professional music transcriber for about five years, and I find myself in the Chili Peppers’ NYC management office, transcribing an advance copy of their By the Way album, set to be released that summer. It was the band’s eighth album and fourth with guitarist John Frusciante. It was also my first deep dive into Frusciante’s playing, though it would not be my last.
Guitars Gotta Groove
One of the Chili Peppers’ breakthrough hits was their cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” from 1989’s Mother’s Milk. This performance is a barnburner:
Frusciante’s aggressive strumming contributes mightily to the bedlam, combining bluesy double-stops and percussive muted strums. With Flea’s bass and Chad Smith’s drums, it’s a full-frontal punk/funk assault, and Ex. 1 is inspired by Frusciante’s playing on this classic. A key to staying in the groove is to keep your picking hand moving in a triplet rhythm, even if it’s not actually sounding any notes, as illustrated by the indicated strum pattern.
Another of Frusciante’s early records with RHCP, 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik, has Frusciante fueling songs with his funk-inspired strumming style, melding punctuated funky single notes with, again, a lot of percussive, muted strums. Ex. 2 is reminiscent of Frusciante’s verse part in “Give It Away.” Note that even when just a single note is indicated, you should also include some surrounding muted strings, in order keep the percussiveness flowing. Focus on muting all six strings with your fretting-hand fingers and thumb, applying pressure only when an actual note is indicated. And keep that picking hand moving!
One of Frusciante’s earliest influences was Jimi Hendrix, and in “Suck My Kiss,” Frusciante fuses funk guitar with a rock-style riff that has shades of Hendrix’s “Fire.” Ex. 3 is based on this Chili Peppers’ classic and illustrates just how impactful the use of space can be. No extra muted strings here, just play as written.
Let’s give our picking hands a break and detour into Frusciante’s use of chord voicings. Among his many influences were guitarists in 1980s punk-rock bands. One such guitarist is John McGeoch from Siouxsie and the Banshees, and you can just imagine a young Frusciante being inspired by McGeoch’s playing in a song like “Spellbound.”
In a similar vein, Ex. 4 is based on Frusciante’s playing in songs like Blood Sugar Sex Magik’s “Under the Bridge.” Frusciante doesn’t merely arpeggiate chords. He goes deeper, and creates hummable melodies. In doing so, his guitar parts often act as additional hooks throughout the Chili Peppers’ songs.
Some of Frusciante’s most memorable, not to mention fun-to-play, guitar parts are a mashup of techniques. Take, for example, his intro to “Snow (Hey Oh)” from the 2006 album Stadium Arcadium. He deftly arpeggiates chords, though here, he stops to add melodic flourishes, and Ex. 5 is based on this same approach.
Let’s Make Some Noise
As I alluded to earlier, I would have yet another opportunity to get into the nitty-gritty of Frusciante’s playing. Just this past year, I transcribed much of the Chili Peppers’ two 2022 releases, Unlimited Love and Return of the Dream Canteen, marking Frusciante’s return to the band after departing in 2009. Let’s explore…
Sometimes all a song needs is noisy weirdness. In the choruses of “The Heavy Wing” from Unlimited Love, Frusciante unleashes the fuzz and, in between power chords, launches into sonic assaults of wild Eddie Van Halen-inspired slide/bend hybrids, along with some awesomely noisy bends. Ex. 6 illustrates this approach. In the final measure, bring the weirdness by catching both strings with your ring finger as you bend.
Summoning Moods with Lines and Chords
On a more melodic front, Frusciante will occasionally give a nod to the closed-triad shapes from Ex. 5 in his soloing. In Unlimited Love’s “Here Ever After,” he mainly climbs up an F triad, but keeps things interesting by using a quarter-note-triplet rhythm (Ex. 7).
In “Not the One,” from the same record, Frusciante finds his inner Allan Holdsworth, providing moody, volume-swelled chords and single notes (Ex. 8).
In a track from Unlimited Love, “Whatchu Thinkin’,” Frusciante simultaneously uses chords and lines to create a triadic rhythm part, the melodic line of which complements Anthony Kiedis’ vocal. Remember, to create a solid groove, keep your picking hand moving in a steady 16th-note rhythm, even when not striking any notes (Ex. 9).
Technique as a Means to an End
While he generally eschews shredding, Frusciante grew up a fan of guitarists such as Steve Vai and Randy Rhoads, and honed his technical abilities by, among other things, playing challenging Frank Zappa tunes. In “Eddie,” their tribute to Eddie Van Halen from Return of the Dream Canteen, Frusciante lets loose, especially live, and Ex. 10 is based on the fiery EVH-inspired licks he unleashes to honor the passing of the guitar legend.
Through the years, one of the hallmarks of Frusciante’s guitar style has been his boundless creativity. Whether he’s adding a percussive funky rhythm part, a subtle melodic line, or an onslaught of fiery mayhem, his guitar parts are a defining element of the Chili Peppers’ sound. If you take away only one thing from this lesson, I hope you’ll make it this: Frusciante’s view of technique as a means to an end, rather than an end itself, illustrates the power our attitude has in making good musical choices and uncovering our own unique creativity.
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.
Riffs are the building blocks of classic rock. They are the earworms that stick with you and make the songs memorable. In this video, you will learn how to play five of the most popular riffs from Deep Purple, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin.
The envoy of evil honors Tony Iommi's ominous opening odyssey that is a foreboding fight between light and dark that ultimately sparked several subgenres of metal.
Here's a crash course in how one of the most eclectic and influential guitarists of all time developed a unique vocabulary through speedy rockabilly licks, fuzzed-out melodies, and an otherworldly use of the vibrato bar.
- Understand Jeff Beck’s rockabilly roots.
- Learn how to create tension-filled phrases over a 12-bar blues.
- Develop a more nuanced vibrato technique.
Jeff Beck is arguably the most eclectic and ever-evolving guitar hero. He was part of the holy trinity of Yardbirds guitarists, along with Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, and is the one who has consistently remained at the forefront of the electric guitar ever since. From John McLaughlin to Eddie Van Halen, Beck is a favorite of just about any guitar player you could name, and that includes the other Yardbirds alumni. Stephen Colbert explained it best at the Grammy awards, “You know the game Guitar Hero? He has the all-time high score—and he’s never played it.” Let’s take a look at some of the many highlights of Beck’s playing throughout his illustrious and uncompromising career.
Beck’s stint with the Yardbirds—including his groundbreaking work on such psychedelic hits as “Over Under Sideways Down” and “Heart Full of Soul”—cemented his iconic status, but his melding of influences from Chuck Berry, Cliff Gallup, and Les Paul on the blues instrumental “Jeff’s Boogie” was eye-opening to legions of guitarists in the wake of the British Invasion. Here’s a Cliff Gallop-inspired rockabilly phrase (Ex. 1) that uses pull-offs for speed.
The chromatically climbing lick in Ex. 2 reveals Beck’s brilliant technique and his love of flashy and dramatic fretwork.
Like Clapton and Page, Beck was steeped in Chicago blues, and as with those players, he developed a distinctive voice in the style early on. This Truth-inspired solo (Ex. 3) on a 12-bar blues demonstrates some unison bends (measures 1–4), ostinato licks (measures 5–8) and a quirky, pre-bend idea in the final section.
When Jeff Beck Group was released in 1972, it offered a premonition of Beck’s unique approach to the tremolo bar that would become so important to his playing in the decades to come. In Ex. 4, a wild use of the bar gives a modern and innovative twist to what could otherwise be more conventional blues ideas.
Our next phrase (Ex. 5) is in the spirit of “Freeway Jam” and a host of other funky instrumentals from the 1970s, and it showcases Beck’s use of the Mixolydian mode (1–2–3–4–5–6–b7). With its major quality and lowered 7, this scale is tailor-made for playing over dominant 7 and 9 chords. Beck often uses it as the basis for both melodic themes and improvised solos. Frequently, he further embellishes Mixolydian lines with bluesy ideas, like the Bb (b3) to B (3) leading into the final measure.
Beck’s impressive ballad work, inspired by the great Roy Buchanan, is heard on the classic Stevie Wonder composition, “’Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers.” In Ex. 6 you’ll hear many C minor pentatonic (C–Eb–F–G–Bb) licks with a host of bending techniques, such as compound bends (measure 2) and pre-bends (measures 3 and 7). Virtuosic ostinato–based figures are used to great dramatic effect in measures 5 and 6.
Beck’s revival of “People Get Ready” was a career high point in the late ’80s, and it made a clear statement of his relevance as one of the most expressive and distinctive guitarists of the day, already more than 20 years into his career. Bending finesse, with fingers and tremolo bar, and even a simple taste of a finger tap is present in Ex. 7. This is perhaps the clearest example of the precise tremolo bar usage to come, and worth mastering before tackling the likes of “Where Were You” or “Over the Rainbow.”
Our final example (Ex. 8) is a phrase from the Bulgarian folksong “Kalimanku Denku.” This particular vocal music is perfect for working on Beck’s tremolo stylings because it is, in fact, what inspired much of his playing in the past 20 years. Check out a compilation album called Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares to hear what Beck used as the model for his mature and advanced tremolo bar work. Also, make sure that you adjust your tremolo to float, i.e., so that it can raise a note by a minor third on the 3rd string. To check, play an open G note and be able to bring it up to a Bb.
Eric Gales’ method of playing a right-handed guitar left-handed and upside down gives him a sound that’s distinctively his. If you watch videos of him playing, you’ll notice he plays with his thumb wrapped around the top of the neck, like Jimi Hendrix or John Mayer. However, since his guitar strings are flipped upside down, his thumb is fretting what would be the first string to most people. This not only puts your brain in a whirl when trying to steal licks, but it also opens the door for some truly unique chord voicings. Gales, who fuses blues, rock, and classical together, constantly manages to play some truly otherworldly licks and passages.
Rhythm guitar is arguably the most important aspect of guitar playing, and it’s also one of the most challenging skills to develop. The discouragement many players feel when working on rhythms forces too many of them to oversimplify the nuances, and this can reduce a performance from exceptional to fine. In this lesson, we’ll investigate why rhythm guitar can be so puzzling and look at a few ways to keep yourself motivated enough to persevere and improve.
Pentatonics are certainly well used (maybe overused?) by guitarists. There’s so much you can do with them and there’s a lot of great music to be found within our beloved five-note scale. My aim is to go for the whole “sheets of sound” thing that was popularized by John Coltrane and later adapted to guitar by players like Allan Holdsworth. However, the technique arms race has slowed down over the last few years, with modern players opting for interesting lines that focus more on cool rhythms and unexpected intervals. Let’s get to it.
Learn to rip like one of the all-time masters of modern electric blues.
Mapping major and minor triads up and down the guitar neck can open new possibilities in your playing. It can also help you learn note locations on the fretboard, find new ways to play chord progressions, and inspire creative improvisations and compositions. But where do you begin?
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 substitutions.