Pentatonic Boxes Are for Squares
With a few minor fingering adjustments another world of musical expression can be unlocked.
- Look at the pentatonic scale in a new light.
- Understand how to navigate diagonally across the fretboard.
- Use this newfound knowledge to create more musical phrases.
How do you play a pentatonic scale?
One of the first shapes that guitarists learn when starting to explore the pentatonic scale is the ubiquitous box in Ex. 1. And why not? It’s a simple pattern to memorize, it’s easy to play, and you can get musical sounding results almost immediately. In fact, if you play these notes in just about any order, play in time, and exercise some logical phrasing, you can’t really mess it up.
There is a wealth of guitar vocabulary in this simple device. Eric Johnson, Eric Clapton, Eric Gales, and other legendary guitarists not named Eric have demonstrated this for decades. However, the two-note-per-string nature of the pattern can limit your phrasing. Let’s dive into a few simple things we can do to inject some articulations into an otherwise choppy march across the fretboard.
This isn’t a “Stop doing this and start doing that” proposition but rather a supplement to your bag of badassery that you’ve accumulated. Let’s remap some of the notes found in Ex. 1 to other strings to elongate the scale along the neck rather than simply march across it (Ex. 2).
Notice that we alternate between two notes on a string and three notes on a string. Add some strategic slides into the mix and our little fretboard square dance gets a welcome dose of swagger. Naturally, we will need to practice this descending pattern (Ex. 3) as well. These fingerings have a certain hipness that the box lacks.
Ex. 4 features a nice blues gesture that exemplifies the articulations that this fingering invites. Judicious use of bends, slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs make the magic happen.
Double-Stop the Presses
The slippery fourths found on adjacent strings combined with an eighth-note delay summon an early ’80s funk/pop feeling. Play Ex. 5 with long legato notes and have a glass of chardonnay on hand for a funky smooth-jazz vibe.
Two often-used tricks are the sliding fourths/hammer-on double-stop phrases in Ex. 6. Once again, it’s the strategic use of slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs that make the slinky goodness happen. These tasty double-stop licks are useful chordal accents in your solos or R&B-style rhythm parts. Even though Ex. 6 is a bucket of pentatonic scale phrases over a I–VIm–IIm–V chord progression, the double-stops provide a harmonically informed sound. Think Mateus Asato, Stevie Ray Vaughan, or Jimi Hendrix.
Get Louder … Without Turning Up
Did you know that two notes are louder than one? How ’bout that? Next time you’re playing at your local blues jam and the well-intentioned but way-too-loud rhythm player tempts you to turn up your amp, don’t do it. You’ll just add to the problem. Instead try some double-stops (Ex. 7). It transforms otherwise basic melodies into majestic, purposeful, and yes, louder statements without adding to a never-ending volume war.
Peace, Love, and Understanding
Play some nice rhythm guitar without banging out all those barre chords. Yes, barre chords are useful but sometimes it’s just way too much. Guitarists already have to deal with the stigma of being eye-rolling loud. Why is that? The bottom portion of the chord (the power chord part) is an essential sound if you’re in a rock band. But in a blues, R&B, jazz, or country setting, it can sound muddy (and kinda stupid). The low-register notes are getting in your bass player’s way and the keyboard player, by default, is already annoyed at you. Let’s be friends with these folks and sound better in the process.
Reimagining the pentatonic box will add depth and vibe to your playing. And using smaller double-stops versus banging out giant fists-full of notes not only tends to make the band sound better but they’re easier to play too. As a bonus you just may find that your solos sound fuller and more interesting. Don’t forget to acknowledge the perceptive audience that applauds your tasty masterpiece.
Holiday Gear Finds 2022
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
Gibson Les Paul Standard 50s Faded
SE Standard 24-08
MONO FlyBy Ultra Backpack
JBL 3 Series Studio Monitors
Guitar Tech Screwdriver Set
Xvive U2, U3 and U4 Wireless Systems
Elixir® Strings Acoustic Phosphor Bronze with NANOWEB® Coating
Elephant Foot Risers and Frames
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
Caparison Horus-WB-FX MF
The Woman Tone
Templo Devices Holiday Specials
Taylors Guitars GS Mini
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Sennheiser MD 421
Orangewood Guitars Oliver Jr.
Marshall CODE 50 Digital Combo Amp
Line 6 Catalyst 100
LR Baggs Venue DI
Kali Audio LP-6 V2
Eventide H90 Harmonizer®
Wilkinson R Series Trev Wilkinson Signature Pickups
Hercules Stands Five-Piece Guitar Rack with Two Free Expansion Packs
ISP Hum Extractor Pedal
LAVA ME 3
Gator Cases Transit Guitar Gig Bags
DeLoach Guitars DL-225
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Outlaw Effects Launches NOMAD ISO Pedalboards
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.
Dunable Reveals the Minotaur
Dunable announces new Minotaur model featuring Grover Rotomatic Keystone tuners.
The Minotaur's DNA is rooted in their classic Moonflower model, which Dunable discontinued in 2017. However, they have long since wanted to create a fresh take on a carved top guitar design, and various attempts to rework the Moonflower led them to a brand new concept with the Minotuar.
Dunable's goal is to give the player a guitar that plays fast and smooth, sounds amazing, and gives maximum physical ergonomic comfort. The Minotaur's soft and meticulous contours, simple and effective control layout, and 25.5" scale length are designed to easily meet this criteria.
- 25.5" scale length
- Dual Humbucker
- one volume, one tone, push pull for coil splitting
- Grover Rotomatic Keystone tuners
- Grover Tune O Matic bridge with brass Kluson top-mount tailpiece
- jumbo nickel frets
- 12" fretboard radius
Missing Link Audio Unveils AC/OD Pedal
This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
Adding to the company’s line of premium-quality effects pedals, Missing Link Audio has unleashed the new AC/Overdrive pedal. This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal – the only Angus & Malcom all-in-one stompbox on the market – brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
The AC/OD layout has three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone. That user-friendly format is perfect for quickly getting your ideal tone, and it also offers a ton of versatility. MLA’s new AC/OD absolutely nails the Angus tone from the days of “High Voltage” to "Back in Black”. You can also easily dial inMalcom with the turn of a knob. The pedal covers a broad range of sonic terrain, from boost to hot overdrive to complete tube-like saturation. The pedal is designed to leave on all the time and is very touch responsive. You can get everything from fat rhythm tones to a perfect lead tone just by using your guitar’s volume knob and your right-hand attack.
- Three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone
- Die-cast aluminum cases for gig-worthy durability
- Limited lifetime warranty
- True bypass on/off switch
- 9-volt DC input
- Made in the USA
MLA Pedals AC/OD - Music & Demo by A. Barrero
Missing Link Audio AC/OD Pedal