Using just a few notes or a barrage, John Frusciante creates guitar parts which deftly guide listeners through Red Hot Chili Peppers’ songs.
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.
Supro goes toe-to-toe with the Princeton and comes packing a bag of extra tricks.
Appealingly retro. Compact. Practical power-scaling functions. A great low-power pedal platform.
Natural overdrive can get a little soft and squishy when pushed hard (if you don’t like that sort of thing).
If current trends are any indication, lower stage and studio volumes are with us to stay, and Supro, in particular, has built a lot of low-power amps to serve this segment of the market. The Amulet is the latest in a line built to satisfy small-amp appetites and deal thick, vintage-leaning tone.
The Amulet’s 15-watt, 1x10 combo configuration delivers a lot of flexibility: a simple control panel, nice tremolo and reverb sections, and a useful attenuator, which offers power scaling ranging from 15, 5, or a single watt. The output stage, meanwhile, is Class A and driven by a 6L6GC tube, rather than pairs of smaller 6V6s or EL84s, which drive the most common 15-watt tube amps. Together, these design features make Amulet an interesting and unique Princeton Reverb alternative.
Young, Free, and Single
The Amulet’s control panel will make any 1960s combo amp fan feel right at home. Volume, treble, bass, reverb, and tremolo speed and depth make up the control compliment, save for the 3-position output power switch. The Amulet is a looker, too, like just about everything we’ve seen from the revitalized Supro. Housed in a compact 17.5" x 17" x 8" poplar cabinet and weighing just 29 pounds, it’s covered in stylish black Scandia vinyl with cream piping and a cream grille cloth. A large leatherette handle makes for a super-comfy carry. The speaker is a Celestion G10 Creamback rated at 45 watts.
Given the Class A output stage, you could view the Amulet almost as a beefed-up Champ with extras. The past couple of decades have seen a variety of creative Class A offerings, like the THD UniValve, Victoria Regal (and double-single-ended Regal II), Emery Sound Microbaby, Blackheart Little Giant, the original Carr Mercury, and others. But only the Carr came with a built-in attenuator like the Amulet’s, so it’s nice and rare to see power scaling in this circuit type, at this power level, and at this price. Amulet’s true class-A output and the associated second-order harmonics add to the brew, which most will hear as lively, deep, overtone-rich, and more multi-dimensional in overdriven settings.
The whole of the Amulet’s circuit is tube-driven. There are 12AX7 preamp tubes for the preamp gain stage, reverb gain make-up, and tremolo sections, and a single 12AT7 driving the front end of the spring reverb. Inside, a rugged-looking printed circuit board is populated with quality, through-hole components and board-mounted tube sockets.
Good Luck Charm
The Supro Amulet is a pretty handy box of tricks, given the small package. At lower settings on the volume knob and ranging up to about 11 o’clock, it sounds clean, crisp, and detailed, with body and balance. And despite the modest 15 watts, it feels powerful enough that you could maintain those clean tones in a small club with a volume-conscious rhythm section. Add lush reverb and rich, warm tremolo to taste, and there are some superb atmospheric cleans to be found—offering great sonics for retro swamp-rock, surf, alt-country, and indie textures.
The Amulet offers nice shades of breakup between 1 o’clock and 3 o’clock, but roars when it’s cranked. Assuming that you’ll want to use this capability often, the 15-watt setting will likely be too loud for many home studios. But you can still hit this sweet spot at 5 watts. And apartment dwellers and bedroom jammers that need to use the 1-watt position will still find lots of nice tones. At its sweetest, though, Amulet generates chewy, thick, rowdy, vintage-flavored overdrive and loads of compression without totally sacrificing dynamics.
While the amp’s natural overdrive is expressive in the right setting, it’s awesome with overdrive pedals, too—particularly with amp volumes around 10 to 11 o’clock. One of my favorite pedal/amp recipes was a grinding, plexi-like Friedman overdrive with the Supro set to 15 watts and a clean-but-almost-dirty volume. With a Telecaster out front, the Amulet had the sting of Jimmy Page’s early Led Zeppelin solos. Class A amps are rarely blessed with much low-end thump. Faster onset of compression and sag is usually part of the brew, too. The Amulet is no different in either regard, but it has a way of reminding you how these characteristics can be real virtues and makes the Amulet an exciting amp live or in the studio.
The Supro Amulet is a super-likeable and super-useful amp. The retro styling is a winner. Tones range from crispy to juicy at a range of output levels thanks to the built-in attenuator. The reverb and tremolo are both very good, and it pairs beautifully with overdrive pedals. If, to your ears, that adds up to fun and musical versatility, you’d be wise to give the Amulet a listen.
Supro Amulet Demo | First Look
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.