What makes some of your favorite blues players sound so tasteful and different? Here’s one concept to expand your vocabulary into their territory.
• Gain a fresh approach to the pentatonic scale in different positions.
• Learn how to create “fluttering" licks within the pentatonic scale.
• Add a tasty new element to your soloing. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.
Blues players ranging from B.B. King, Albert King, and Albert Collins to J.D. Simo, Robben Ford, and John Scofield all have seemingly untouchable elements to their playing that make them masters of the guitar. The good news? Some of those seemingly untouchable elements are totally learnable and customizable! A concept I picked up from listening to these legends opened my eyes to one thing they had in their playing that I did not. The idea is a simple way to spice up your blues playing yet is underutilized at most jam sessions and in most 12-bar solos. So… what is it?
Half-step bends within the pentatonic scale.
I'm sure you're thinking, “Well of course. B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and countless others have been using that idea for decades." While true, they mostly used this concept in a different way—by building those massive slow bends one half-step at a time. We're going to take that a step further, no pun intended.
In Ex. 1, I start with the concept in its simplest form. By working out of the E minor pentatonic scale (E–G–A–B–D), I ascend by playing the 5, b7, and root notes. Immediately after playing the root, I fret the 7 and bend back up to the tonic with vibrato. The key to making this sound intentional is to not linger on the D# . Although this is only a basic demonstration of the concept, I enjoy the slide-esque feel and tonality this lick provides.
In Ex. 2, I expand on the same idea with a longer lick, but out of a different position of the E minor pentatonic scale this time. You'll notice that the second bend is actually outside of the pentatonic box, and I release that bend before finishing the lick. Using your first and third fingers, it isn't much of a stretch.
Now that you've got the basic concept under your fingers, it's time to add a simple pull-off. In Ex. 3, this idea is placed at the peak of the ascending section on the lick. After fretting the 6 with my third finger, I fret the b6 with my second finger and bend right back up into the 6. Once I hit the target note, I release the bend and pull-off from the b6 to the 5. The rest of the lick is fairly simple, still working within the E minor pentatonic scale. By using a half-step bend followed by a pull-off, this lick has a brief moment of tension and a general sense of “slipperiness" before being resolved.
One more embellishment of this concept worth adding to your vocabulary is to slide into the target note after a half-step bend, slide downward one half-step, and finish with a pull-off as shown in Ex. 4. This lick can be tricky to execute with speed at first, so I encourage you to take it slow and focus on the clarity of each note within the lick.
Once you get the hang of it, try tackling the next trio of licks. When you're comfortable with these examples, you've really got the concept under your fingers and you can use them to add “flutter" and “wow" to your soloing.
Ex. 5 combines major and minor pentatonics and might take a while to feel natural. It's a bit of a stretch, so be sure to use your fourth finger in the middle of the triplets—this will help with transitioning between the three sections of the lick.
In Ex. 6, I work the concept into a classic blues lick to create a different feel and sound from what you would normally hear.
I'm still working in the key of E, but just for fun I target the V chord (B7) in Ex. 7. This willhopefully spark creativity when applying this concept. Plus, it's great for setting up a turnaround!
Implementing this concept of half-step bends can add several new and interesting sounds to your repertoire. Don't be surprised when your guitar playing peers ask, “What was that?!?" As with any newly learned concept, it's easy to overuse once it's comfortable. The goal of learning this idea is to add flavor to your blues playing, keeping in mind that it isn't meat and potatoes—it's a marinade.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.
This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal.
If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and QUACKS like a duck, then it must be a duck. That's how we came up with the name for our new envelope filter. This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal. Trevor explains how this is possible in the launch video, as well as gives a demo on Le Canard’s operation.
The attack control determines how quickly the filter responds to the envelope, and the decay sets how quickly the filter releases afterward. The range controls which frequency spectrum the filter does its magic on. Add to this relay-based full-bypass switching with failsafe, and you've got one crazy little quacky beast. It is so expressive that you'll want to give up on your rocker-wah forever.
The MayFly Le Canard envelope filter features:
- Super fast responding envelope follower. Touch it and it jumps!
- Range control to dial in the character of the filter
- Attack control to control how fast the filter moves on that first touch
- Release control to control how slowly the filter slides back to baseline
- Full bypass using relays with Fail SafeTM (automatically switches to bypass if the pedal loses power)
- Cast aluminum enclosure with groovy artwork
- MSRP $149 USD ($199 CAD)
Introducing the MayFly Le Canard Envelope Filter
All MayFly pedals are hand-made in Canada.
For more information, please visit mayflyaudio.com.
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.