The breakthrough album by one of today’s most versatile guitarists covers everything from funky rhythms to emotive ballads.
- Learn how to use “slap” and “pop” techniques.
- Create bebop-inspired solos.
- Understand how to play over 5/4 and 7/4 time signatures.
Guthrie Govan has the technical and musical abilities that make him one of the most sought-after players in the industry, and he just keeps getting better! Whether rocking out with Dizzee Rascal, writing prog records with Steven Wilson, collaborating on soundtracks with the great Hans Zimmer, or touring with the Aristocrats, Guthrie raises the bar every time he straps on his guitar.
In this lesson, we’ll touch a bit on all those styles and delve deep into Guthrie’s breakthrough solo album, Erotic Cakes. Before releasing Erotic Cakes in 2006, he submitted a demo to a guitar magazine and ended up winning a contest. (That demo eventually turned into “Wonderful Slippery Thing.”) The attention landed him a position as a music transcriber before he began to tour with Asia in the late 1990s. When not touring, Guthrie would play gigs around town with the Fellowship, a funk/fusion band that still occasionally performs in the U.K. Over the years, Guthrie’s riveting YouTube videos have brought him exposure to a wide international audience.
For this lesson, I’ve gone digital and used Positive Grid’s Bias FX for the guitar sounds. The overdriven amps are models of a plexi Marshall with the gain quite high and plenty of midrange, and I’ve used various room and hall reverbs to create space. For the clean lead moments, I used a tweed Fender model with an MXR-inspired compressor in front of it with a bit of studio room reverb. I’m playing a guitar made by Eternal Guitars with two low-output ’60s-style single-coils and a PAF-style humbucker in the bridge.
I’ve written a few unique examples that feature some of what I feel are key elements of the guitar playing on the Erotic Cakes album, and, of course, Guthrie’s own style. Each example has lots of different ideas, approaches, and concepts to take away, play with, and explore further. I’d strongly suggest taking these ideas and doing some deeper research into Guthrie’s music for subtle variations on the core ideas.
One of the tunes on Erotic Cakes that guitarists talk most about is “Waves.” It first appeared on a compilation album called Guitar on the Edge back in the early ’90s. The song features a 16th-note motif that works as a main theme throughout the song. Guthrie has said the melody was inspired by the portamento, or glide effect, on a keyboard. The melody was quad tracked for an ultra-expansive sound that really does sound like, well, waves.
Upon studying Guthrie’s tune, I discovered that the melody highlights arpeggios from the underlying chord progression. The arpeggios feature quite large intervallic jumps, and the use of lots of slides and legato keeps the melody sounding smooth. My melody outlines F#m, B, and A using some linear arpeggio fingerings and sliding sixths (Ex. 1).
It can be tricky to find one particular fingering that works for everyone. In fact, my choice of fingerings changed several times while writing this lesson. My advice would be to make sure that when you’re sliding up on a string, you have a finger behind the one you’re sliding with ready to grab the next note. Most of the ascending phrases on one string are often followed by a descending phrase. See if you can find other patterns in the other arpeggios for this progression to use in your own composition and playing. I’ve found this style of riffing is common in lots of modern tech metal bands, such as Periphery and Sikth. In Ex. 2 you can see an isolated example of one of the arpeggios.
Maybe my example song names aren’t as creative as Guthrie’s, but it’s not the easiest job breaking down his exceptionally versatile guitar style into bite-sized chunks! Based on moments from “Wonderful Slippery Thing,”
Ex. 3 features some of Guthrie’s funky rhythm work, slap guitar, and even some jazzy bebop-inspired licks. I’ve tried my best to demonstrate some key ideas in a few measures. Let’s go!
The first measure features a slap guitar riff. It uses a moving octave pattern that travels with the use of the open 6th string in groups of four. (Scott Mishoe is well known for his incredible slap guitar skills, and Guthrie has mentioned his name at many master classes as the inspiration for using this technique.)
A “slap” is when the thumb comes down on the guitar string near the neck, and a “pop” is executed by bringing the strumming hand’s index or middle finger under the string and plucking upwards. The pattern starts with a slap on the open string followed by a hammered-on note on the same string, followed by a muted slap, which is executed by muting with the fretting hand and slapping with the fretting hand. The last of the four notes is a pop on the note that’s an octave above the second note in the pattern.
The example then breaks into some funky syncopated strumming based around an Em9 chord that moves up a half-step to Fm9. This rhythmic motif continues with the addition of a quick 16th-note-triplet muted strum. The key to getting this sounding smooth and funky is to lighten up on the pick attack for the faster strumming and focus on the strong accents instead.
The first bebop-inspired phrase of the solo in Ex. 4 outlines notes from the E Dorian mode (E–F#–G–A–B–C#–D) along with some chromatic enclosures. On beat 3 of the second measure, we slip into an Fm7 (F–Ab–C–Eb) arpeggio before heading back to our E minor tonality. Guthrie frequently uses this kind of staggered phrasing with arpeggios to create interest and build upon memorable motifs and themes in his solos.
In the fourth measure, we have a 16th-note-triplet line that highlights notes from the E minor pentatonic scale (E–G–A–B–D) with an added 9 (F#). However, we’re including some chromatic enclosures between the scale notes to create a longer, smoother line. Guthrie is known for his relentless picking technique, and I’m quite sure he doesn’t think about it too much. He will go between various sequences and picking techniques in one phrase. It’s all about the musicality of the line for him, the technique is just there to execute the idea he hears in his head at the time.
Perhaps one of my personal favorite things about Guthrie’s playing is his use of slides that seem to add a whole new life to what could be quite a mechanical line. The phrase in the seventh measure uses notes from the E minor pentatonic scale, but in groups of five. The line moves in a reverse linear-style fashion with a slide before the first note of each quintuplet. For this line, I’m picking all the notes, but you can choose your own way of playing it to suit your style.
This final phrase is an ode to how “Wonderful Slippery Thing” finishes, yet not as advanced as Guthrie might play it. This is an E minor pentatonic scale played legato with string skipping and tapping. To build up speed over time, practice slowly and stay relaxed. Once you can handle this phrase, you’ll be ready for some of the lines in our next example.
Ex. 5 references “Hangover,” the final track on Erotic Cakes. Guthrie wrote the tune to musically express the feeling of being hungover. (I’ve named my tune after a U.K. drink that’s mostly cider topped off with beer.) By mixing a slow tempo with long legato slurs and gravity-defying bends, Guthrie has brilliantly depicted the effects of a hangover with his solo phrasing.
This line that starts in the fifth measure might look terrifying in tab, but try to break it apart into small segments. The first two groups of seven make a slurred blues lick that’s great for slipping into any guitar jam. The rest of the phrase plays around a two-octave Bm7 arpeggio (B–D–F#–A). Guthrie does a lot of this with his faster legato lines, as it creates rhythmic interest and gives the phrase a vocal or sax-like dynamic shape. The rhythmic subdivisions shouldn’t be followed too closely, just take the underlying pattern and mess around with it. The subdivisions will probably happen naturally due to the line’s structure.
More gravity-defying bends start in the 11th measure, this time with a more gospel or blues flavor. The tonality of the backing track has now gone back to Bm and highlights the G and A chords. I’m visualizing B minor pentatonic (B–D–E–F#–A) notes for this phrasing, as well as going for a bluesy sound by adding some slides and slurs to the scale’s b5 (F).
The final phrase of this solo is actually a reference to Guthrie’s song “Eric,” which features an eerie and beautiful melody that uses what I can only describe as pick tapping. Use the pick to tap the higher note and let it bounce off the string for an ultra-fast trill between two notes. This phrase outlines notes from an F#7#5 tonality. In this case, I’m using notes from the F# Phrygian dominant (F#–G–A#–B–C#–D–E) scale over the F# altered chord. The phrase uses a rhythmic motif that moves down through the positions before landing on the 9 (C#) of Bm.
You may notice there are lots of squeaks and pops during this solo. These are deliberately left in to give more of a human vibe to the sound. Guthrie’s playing is technically amazing, but it’s also very human—it sounds like he is really playing the guitar and sometimes these details and sonic artefacts are part of what makes the guitar such an appealing instrument. It’s real and it’s alive, enjoy it!
Odd Meter Peter
Guthrie is no stranger to progressive rock, and there are a couple of tunes on Erotic Cakes that feature odd time signatures. His tune “Fives” was inspired by a melody he heard a bird singing in a park while on a walk to refresh his creativity. This melody happened to be in 5/4 and the rest is history. There’s also a tune on the album called “Sevens.” Written in 7/4, it features a cascading tapping arpeggio section that sounds like a piano. I have attempted to create a short piece that pushes 5/4 and 7/4 together with all the traits from both songs. It’s named “Odd Meter Peter” after Pete Riley, who played drums on the album.
Ex. 6 starts off in 5/4, which means we have five quarter-notes per measure, or 10 eighth-notes. Before writing the riff, I set out a chord sequence for the riff to follow. The riff uses a mixture of minor and major 7 arpeggios with the addition of some Andy Summers-like add9 arpeggios in measures five and six. To keep this piece interesting, yet accessible for the listener, I employed a bit of repetition with some subtle turnarounds.
In the ninth measure we move to 7/4 and explore some unique arpeggio-tapping ideas inspired by the main section of “Sevens.” This time we’re using a 16th-note subdivision and a “cookie-cutter” approach to the arpeggios that can easily be applied in other contexts. The best way to visualize these patterns is in two-string fragments. First, practice moving between the first two beats. You’ll notice that a portion of the measure repeats in beats 3 and 4 before dropping down an octave. This is similar to a section of “Sevens.” For the tapping, I’m using my middle and ring fingers. The top string of each phrase is tapped with the ring finger, followed by the middle finger on the string below. In each arpeggio there’s a symmetry between the left- and right-hand fingerings that makes this a lot easier to see on the guitar than it is to read from the tab.
I hope my examples have inspired you to look for new things in your own playing. As a fan of Guthrie, I know his playing has always inspired me to be more creative and push past my own limitations. I hope this lesson inspires you to do the same.
Break free from tired old patterns by rethinking your approach to shred.
• Understand how to build arpeggios from the ground up.
• Create long flowing lines that follow the changes.
• Develop a more fluid legato technique.
My students often ask, "Exactly what is an arpeggio?" They've likely heard or read the term used by some of their favorite guitarists, but are still trying to figure out what it means. In this lesson, I want to address this question. We'll explore ways to incorporate arpeggios in our lead playing, and also discover how arpeggios can generate creative ideas that lie outside a scale-only approach to improvisation.
Simply put, you create an arpeggio when you play the notes of a chord individually. This can be a useful tool for soloing, as it allows you to easily target the chord tones of a progression and create musical lines that work well over the harmony.
We'll begin with arpeggios for major and minor triads, and also try some examples based around major 7, minor 7 and dominant 7 arpeggios. These arpeggios can be expressed as formulas, using numbers to indicate degrees of a major scale:
Major triad: 1–3–5
Major 7: 1–3–5–7
Dominant 7: 1–3–5–b7
Minor Triad: 1–b3–5
Minor 7: 1–b3–5–b7
These formulas will be important when we discuss some of the single-string arpeggios.
One way many guitarists learn arpeggios is by playing some of the sweep-picking shapes made popular by shredders. Ex. 1 and Ex. 2 show two of these: A minor and A major patterns, respectively. The problem with these patterns is that they tend to sound predictable and lack musicality—similar to running straight up and down a scale. So why are players attracted to them? Well, once a guitarist develops an ability to sweep pick, these patterns allow a convenient way to play some very fast and "impressive" ideas.
Instead of relying on these typical patterns, let's instead look at some more creative ways to employ arpeggios in our soloing. To do this, I'll examine concepts embraced by a few of my favorite players through the years. The first idea was popularized by the great Guthrie Govan, but has also been used by Shawn Lane and Glenn Proudfoot, both of whom frequently apply it to diminished 7 arpeggios (1–b3–b5–bb7).
This concept involves playing arpeggios along one string, sometimes with the help of tapping. This technique can be simple to execute, once you understand how the intervals of each arpeggio are distributed along the string in relation to a given root note.
Let's say our root note is E at the 12th fret of the 6th string. We can easily locate our other needed intervals to complete the arpeggio by knowing a few simple relationships. Here's a handy list:
One fret below the root: 7
Four frets above the root: 3
Seven frets above the root: 5
Those four intervals create a nice major 7 arpeggio along a single string. You'll notice in Ex. 3 that to play the 5 at the 19th fret, I use right-hand tapping as Guthrie often does. The great thing about this way of viewing these arpeggios is that regardless of what string or fret our root note is on, these interval relationships remain the same relative to it.
The wonderful thing about visualizing the intervals this way is that it's simple to alter the major 7 intervals to create other arpeggios ... a minor 7 arpeggio, for instance. If you look at the formulas above, you'll notice that the only difference is the 3 and 7 are lowered by a half-step—one fret—in a minor 7 arpeggio. In Ex. 4, we take the major 7 shape from Ex. 3 and lower the 3 and 7 by a single fret.
Ex. 5 shows how we can use the same concept to create dominant 7 arpeggios by simply using a combination of the major 7 and minor 7 patterns we've already discussed. The dominant 7 chord and its arpeggio consist of the root, 3, 5, and b7. If we arrange these intervals along the string the way we did before, we get the pattern below.
Once you have these patterns under your fingers, you'll find ways to move them around into longer sequences. One way to do this is by using a simple octave-up concept. Move the pattern you've just played on the 6th string to the 4th string and shift it up two frets to produce the identical notes an octave higher. Ex. 6 is a fun little musical line that includes a "hammer-on from nowhere" when crossing over to the 4th string. Try to play that first note on the 4th string at the same volume as the other notes. After mastering this, you'll have a very fluid (and fast) way to perform some less-typical arpeggio patterns.
For those brave souls who like to push the boundaries, Ex. 7 shows how we can take this even further. Because our original arpeggio line started out on the 6th string, it allows us the unique ability to simply repeat the same notes on the same frets up on the 1st string. This gives us a fluid three-octave arpeggio pattern. Again, make sure you're keeping the volume of the hammered notes even and consistent. This example is reminiscent of the line played by Guthrie Govan in his incredible tune, "Wonderful Slippery Thing."
The Guitar Gods - Guthrie Govan: "Wonderful Slippery Thing"
So there you have it—a compelling and somewhat different concept for playing arpeggios that you can apply to your solos. Start by slowly playing these patterns until they're effortless. At that point, you'll be surprised how easy it is to weave these sounds into your lead lines at will. Good luck with them!
The next evolution of Govan's popular signature model.
Scottsdale, AZ (August 11, 2016) -- As a preeminent modern virtuoso, U.K. guitar master Guthrie Govan dazzles all who hear his playing. Charvel spent two years of meticulous development with Govan to first introduce his Guthrie Govan signature model in 2014, and itâ€™s the ultimate ultra-pro guitar. Loaded with special features and high-performance appointments, it's truly the ideal expression of Govan's artistry rendered in distinctive Charvel form.
Now for fall 2016, Charvel is offering a limited run of the Guthrie Govan Signature model that shares many of the unique features of his original model, but in a handsome Britannica Red finish trimmed with a black burst.
The San Dimas body has a beautiful bird's-eye maple top with a thin clear matte finish and a specially contoured heel (sans neck plate) for easy access to the upper reaches of the fingerboard. The bolt-on neck is quartersawn flame maple with a "caramelized" heat and drying treatment that makes it sound and feel much older, with graphite reinforcement, hand-rubbed urethane gel on the back of the neck and a convenient truss rod adjustment wheel at the body end. Most unusually for a San Dimas model, the compound-radius (12"-16") flame-maple fingerboard spans two octaves, with the same caramelized treatment as the neck, 24 jumbo stainless steel frets and special maple dot inlays with ebony borders.
Other premium features include three specially wound Charvel custom MF pickups arranged in a versatile HSH configuration with five-way switching for the expansive tonal openness and dynamic sensitivity that Govan demands, two domed control knobs (master volume, master tone), U.S.-made recessed Charvel locking tremolo bridge with Tremol-No unit and oversized brass block, bone nut, chrome hardware and 25.5" scale length.
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