Rodrigo y Gabriela’s Brave New World
On their new album, In Between Thoughts… A New World, the acoustic duo goes half-electric, plumbs programmed beats, adds slide guitar, and explores nondualism—following a creative path that opened due to the Covid shutdown.
Grammy Award-winning guitar virtuosi Rodrigo y Gabriela started recording what would become their latest album, In Between Thoughts… A New World, in February 2021. At the time, crafting a new album wasn’t the catalyst for making new music. They really just wanted to write, jam, and record without an agenda while locked down during the pandemic.
“It was just something to kill time,” admits Gabriela Quintero, one half of the Mexican guitar duo. “Just to be in the moment and not to think too much about it, even though here in Zihuatanejo it was more like the tropical version of the apocalypse [laughs].”
The other half of the duo, Rodrigo Sánchez, concurs that the pandemic presented a unique set of circumstances that allowed them to be creative without the added pressure of making a record, going on tour, or meeting a deadline. “Musically speaking, it was a very unusual process for us,” he says. “We weren’t really thinking about recording a new Rod and Gab record, and we didn’t really know what was going to happen. It was a really detailed process we never had done before, because we never had this amount of time to record an album.”
Rodrigo y Gabriela - True Nature (Official Audio)"True Nature" is off Rodrigo y Gabriela's first album in 4 years. The album 'In Between Thoughts...A New World’ is available now on limited edition vinyl, CD...
Guided by spiritual practices like Buddhism and nondualism, Rodrigo y Gabriela’s presence-of-mind approach to the guitar has led them on a fantastic, fulfilling journey from their humble heavy metal beginnings in Mexico City, to busking on the streets of Ireland, to performing in front of tens of thousands of people on the world’s biggest stages, opening for Muse and others.
Formed in 1998 out of the ashes of their heavy metal band, Tierra Ácida, Rodrigo y Gabriela left their hometown of Mexico City to pursue their musical ambitions in Dublin, Ireland, where they first began busking with their acoustic guitars on tourist-heavy Grafton Street, mixing elements of flamenco, rock, and heavy metal. In 2002, they released re-Foc, showcasing their virtuosity on guitar and their unique fusion of musical styles—even incorporating elements of the Irish folk music they had immersed themselves in while living abroad. In 2006, the duo released Rodrigo y Gabriela, a mix of original compositions and covers of classic songs by early influences Led Zeppelin and Metallica. The album was a commercial success, reaching the top of the Irish album charts and earning them a nomination for the Mercury Prize, awarded for the best album released in the United Kingdom by a British or Irish act. In 2008, they released 11:11, which featured 11 original compositions—each dedicated to a different musician who had influenced their music. In January 2020, Mettavolution, their fifth album, won Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the Grammy Awards, cementing Rodrigo y Gabriela’s status as one of the most innovative and exciting guitar duos in the world.
“Gab has seven piezos inside her guitar, and everything is very tight. And I have five piezos.”—Rodrigo Sánchez
Gabriela Quintero’s Gear
Lead guitar provides the flash, but Gabriela Quintero’s right hand is what keeps the party jumping, with a driving, uncommon approach drawn more from traditional Irish music than flamenco.
Photo by Jim Bennett
- Yamaha NCX5 Signature Model
- Boss FV-500L Volume Pedal
- Boss OC-3 Super Octave
- Boss TU-3S Chromatic Tuner
- Dunlop Cry Baby Standard Wah
- Dunlop DVP4 Volume (X) Mini Pedal
- Lehle P-Split III Box
- D’Addario Pro-Arté EJ45 Normal Tension
Self-produced by Rodrigo y Gabriela at their studio in the resort city of Ixtapa, Mexico, In Between Thoughts… A New World reasserts their seemingly innate ability for cultivating a musical repertoire that captures the zeitgeist. And while it may have begun without intention, that doesn’t mean In Between Thoughts lacks direction. Like its predecessors, there’s a familiar and explosive display of virtuosic guitar craft, including all of the hallmarks one would expect from Rodrigo y Gabriela. The powerful, percussive playing of Quintero and the deft melodicism of Sánchez remain the duo’s calling cards. But new, unexpected sonic elements abound as well, including the reverb-drenched slide guitar on “Egoland,” the energetic percussion on “Descending to Nowhere,” the kinetic electronic beats on “The Ride of the Mind,” the passionately chanted vocals of “Broken Rage,” and the dreamy mystique of the robotic vocal effects embedded within “Finding Myself Leads Me to You.”
In fall 2020, while recovering from Covid, Sánchez stumbled upon an online video on nondualism—the notion that there is a “single, infinite, and indivisible reality, whose nature is pure consciousness, from which all objects and selves derive their apparently independent existence,” as defined by author/teacher Rupert Spira. “Advaita Vedanta, or nonduality, is often called the direct path—accepting what is,” explains Sánchez. “We’re not saying that everything in this structure of the body/mind we live in is right. It is just what is, and we cannot really argue with that.”
“The beauty about music is that it’s always expanding.”—Gabriela Quintero
During the early stages of the pandemic, Rodrigo y Gabriela did what many other artists did: They turned to social media, posting short anecdotal performances from their studio. But when they finally got bored of that, they started to write music based on the concept of nondualism without really thinking it would become their new album. “It was just a project,” emphasizes Sánchez. “We were just here in the studio doing things that we would never dofor Rod and Gab. I started to work with electronics, I left my acoustic guitar [at home] and just took my electric guitars [into the studio]. We started writing the music at the same time as we were writing a story based on this philosophy that we were so much attracted to. If we had known that it was going to become the Rod and Gab album, we probably would’ve limited ourselves in terms of not using electronics, or not using too much electric guitar. But we didn’t really think that way. That’s how the album came about.”
Their new album began as a pandemic songwriting and recording project, and took shape almost by accident as they accumulated tracks and tunes.
As for Quintero, she took a slightly more pragmatic approach to the endeavor, particularly regarding nondualism. “I think me and Rod, we share a lot of things that we like, and we feel attracted to, but we process differently,” she explains. “That’s where the nondualism becomes dual [laughs]. I discovered these teachings through a book called The Power of Now [byEckhart Tolle]. To me, that book was incredibly insightful and practical, and such a ‘no rules’ type of thing. I tried to meditate but there was too much discipline with some of the spiritual teachings. I remember when Rod was into Buddhism, and he was meditating a lot of hours a day and learning some mantras that were very strict. And for me, it was too much of a discipline. When I discovered The Power of Now, it was like, ‘Oh great, you don’t have to basically do anything [laughs].’ And then, when the pandemic came in and Rod discovered these videos about nondualism, the way he presented them to me sounded super confusing and too much like nihilism. So, we were constantly having friendly debates here in the studio. And I was going, ‘This is too crazy.’ It felt to me that it was denying this existence. But then we discovered these are the same teachings as The Power of Now, but in different words, in a different way. Then we stopped the debates.”
Quintero, very late into their writing and recording process, asked Sánchez if they were, in fact, writing their next record. “And then she asked, ‘When are we going to record it?’” says Sánchez. “We’d been recording [what we were writing] from day one with quality, and so I went back to the studio that afternoon and I checked all the recordings and all the levels, and we had produced the album already. We had the record.”
“We love flamenco. My best friend in that scene, Vicente Amigo, is one of the best. But no, we never play flamenco.”—Rodrigo Sánchez
As for how they record, Sánchez says it happens all sorts of ways—sometimes tracking together, sometimes individually. Sánchez says the acoustic guitars get picked up by German-made Schoeps MK 4 mics, recommended to him by his close friend, Spanish guitar maestro Vicente Amigo. They also adopted some of what he calls his “old-school metal techniques” for recording. “Knowing that we were going to have orchestra and electronics and all that, I used room mics for Gabs—and instead of just copying her track, I have her record two guitars exactly the same,” he explains, noting he did not use the copy/paste shortcut many musicians use nowadays. “She would do one guitar rhythm and then she would double that to make it sound bigger. Overdubbing the same rhythms and the same parts actually give her much more presence on top of the electronics. And she’s so good at it.”
Due in large part to Quintero’s right-hand technique, which Sánchez recorded so well on In Between Thoughts, “heavy metal flamenco” is a label often applied to the duo. “Ah, the ‘F’ word,” laughs Sánchez. “We love flamenco. My best friend in that scene, Vicente Amigo, is one of the best. But no, we never play flamenco. I understand some people are confused because of Gab’s rasgueado[gesture to invoke her right-hand technique], but actually she’s not doing the flamenco technique at all. She learned most of these techniques from an Irish bodhrán player, Robbie Harris.”
Rodrigo Sánchez’s Gear
Rodrigo Sánchez wears his musical roots on his chest,
in a t-shirt proclaiming his fan status for the Bay Area metal band Testament.
Photo by Dan Locke/Frank White Photo Agency
- Yamaha NTX5 Signature Model
- Fender Jaguar
- Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II XL+
- Marshall JCM900 4100 Hi Gain Dual Reverb
- Boss DD-3 Digital Delay
- Boss FV-500L Volume Pedal
- Boss OC-3 Super Octave
- Ibanez WH10 V3 Wah Pedal
- Lehle P-Split III DI Box
- MXR M133 Micro Amp
- MXR M234 Analog Chorus
- One Control Minimal Series AB Box
- TC Electronic Ditto X2 Looper
- Truetone 1 Spot Pro CS7 Power Supply
- TWA WR-03 Wah Rocker
Strings & Picks
- D’Addario EXL115 (.011–.049
- D’Addario Pro-Arté EJ46 Hard Tension
- Jim Dunlop Jazz III Black Stiffo
The bodhrán is a frame drum used in traditional Irish music that Quintero learned about when they moved to Ireland. “At the time, I was trying to imagine how flamenco players played their rhythms,” she explains. “I couldn’t figure it out, because back then there was not YouTube—there was nothing. Nowadays, you can go and say, ‘How to play rasgueado flamenco, how to play rhumba,’ and you’ll find something, but not back then. And I always got it wrong. And then I discovered the bodhrán.”
In the old days, the bodhrán was played with hands, not with a stick, as is often seen presently, and she says the Irish kept telling her she actually exhibited the movements of a bodhrán player, but on guitar. “They encouraged me to do certain rhythms. So, just watching them, it was easy to emulate a lot of the movements—it just came organically. The beauty about music is that it’s always expanding.”
“If I came back to a solo bit or something, there was not that beat—people were not jumping anymore, and it was like, ‘Ah, we’re losing the audience,’ so I tried to become more the drummer of the band.”—Gabriela Quintero
After weaning his guitar craft on West Coast thrash metal bands Testament, Megadeth, and Slayer, and New Yorkers Anthrax, Sánchez’s nylon-string style was originally grounded in a lot of the palm-muting he carried over from that style of electric playing. “First of all, I had to translate my palm muting [from electric to nylon string],” he explains. “Then, I used a little bit more of Al Di Meola’s technique, but he was playing steel-strings, right? So, I was like, ‘Okay, how can I translate this into nylon?’ And then I started to listen to Strunz & Farah, and they are incredible. I listened to the way they played, especially Jorge Strunz, who is so clean and so fast. And I started to learn some of his licks here and there, so I was in that zone already.”
They want a whole lotta folk! Rodrigo y Gabriela get down on the Newport Folk Festival’s Harbor Stage in 2014.
Photo by Tim Bugbee/Tinnitus Photography
It’s worth noting that the nylon-string guitars Rodrigo y Gabriela play live are the result of years of practical research and application in collaboration with Yamaha and are not models or designs your average nylon-string player would use, nor are they commercially available. “It’s not like any nylon-string guitar can just go and play in the middle of a festival of 40,000 people,” explains Sánchez. Originally, they were using guitars made by Irish luthier Frank Tate, which they still use at home and in the studio. But the guitars they now use live were specially designed over a 14-year period by Yamaha’s Japan-based Custom Shop for arena-concert environments. “These guitars have a very special system for us to sound the way they sound live,” he says. “Gab has seven piezos inside her guitar, and everything is very tight. And I have five piezos, which is really important for those kinds of shows.”
Within the duo, both players are very melodic and very rhythmical, but Quintero did gravitate to doing more of the beats, simply out of necessity, once they started playing bigger shows. “At the beginning when we used to play together, we swapped all the time—solos, arpeggios, and all of this,” she explains. “Eventually, when we started playing rock festivals, because I was the one who played the chords and the beat, if I came back to a solo bit or something, there was not that beat—people were not jumping anymore, and it was like, ‘Ah, we’re losing the audience,’ so I tried to become more the drummer of the band.”
Jumping from a metal band in Mexico City to an acoustic guitar duo busking the streets of Ireland seems quite serendipitous and grounded in the kind of ideology they eventually discovered via nondualism. Circling back to Quintero’s The Power of Now-influenced, pragmatic approach, she jokes that the decision was really quite simple. “Eventually, we were so internationally non-famous and miserable, we decided we’re going to quit the band,” she chuckles. “But we’re not going to quit music. We wanted to travel the world. So, our new goal was to travel and play guitar.”
While this live performance doesn’t capture the duo’s current blend of acoustic and electric sounds, it does afford a close-up look at their playing technique. In particular, check out Gabriela’s right-hand approach, which is based on the traditional Irish instrument called the bodhrán.
Is 'Fair Warning' Eddie’s Best Work?
Eddie Van Halen pushed his singular talent past its limits on this overshadowed masterpiece.
- Explore Eddie’s lesser-used approaches to two-hand tapping.
- Learn simple ways to create dramatic guitar parts.
- Make navigating complex time signatures a breeze.
New Adventures in Tapping
Eddie’s use of two-hand tapping is, of course, legendary. But on Fair Warning, he took it to some new places. He steered clear of the more-familiar tapping licks he used in “Eruption.” One new technique he employed on “Mean Street” is percussive tapping. Combining tapped notes and harmonics with percussive fretting-hand slaps, it’s akin to playing drums on guitar. In Ex. 1, tap the opening harmonic with the side of your picking-hand thumb, tapping right on top of the fret to make sure it clearly sounds. This is followed by some muted notes, which are sounded by lightly slapping the open strings with your fretting-hand fingers at about the third fret. Rest them on the strings as you slap to prevent them from ringing. The riff is punctuated by double-stops, in which both notes are tapped with the picking-hand index finger. Eddie often included his “Mean Street” intro during his live solo. (Note that while Eddie often tuned down a half-step, all examples here are in standard tuning.)
Eddie also had the ability to use tapping in a more melodic way, by slowing things down and substituting slides for the usual hammer-ons and pull-offs. In this way, tapping is more of a phrasing choice, meaning the melodies could be played in a more standard way using a pick, but tapping imbues them with some of Eddie’s singular style. For Ex. 2, fret the slides with your middle or ring finger, with the tapped notes played as usual. Eddie can be heard employing this version of tapping at the 3:02 mark of “Push Comes to Shove,” as part of one of his most moving guitar solos.
Creating Dramatic Riffs, Simply
For his rhythm parts, Eddie often used simple rock guitar techniques, but played them in slyly nuanced ways to created irresistibly catchy parts. Throughout Fair Warning, he bases riffs around open-string pull-offs, creating a “bouncing” effect which propels the riff along. But when playing Ex. 3, you won’t quite conjure all the magic unless you pay close attention to the accent marks in the music notation. Accents indicate when to play a note slightly louder, which on guitar translates to picking a bit harder. As much as Eddie’s playing features cool techniques, it’s also his grasp on how powerful these musical subtleties can be.
Eddie created another subtle effect by using partial chords extensively in his songwriting, an example of which being he would often drop the low root note from a standard root-fifth-octave power chord. Notice when playing Ex. 4 how this reduces the chords’ thickness, as they take up less sonic space. In a band setting, this allows them to sound with more clarity where the bass player has already got the low end covered. Now let’s explore how this gave Eddie room to add more magic.
A hallmark of the production of Fair Warning is Eddie’s frequent use of overdubbing, or layering of guitar parts, something he hadn’t yet explored extensively. But sometimes he simply creates the illusion of two guitars playing when it’s just one. Ex. 5 demonstrates how omitting the low root note can also facilitate playing two parts simultaneously with clarity. The key here is the execution of the palm-mute: Rest your picking-hand palm on the guitar’s bridge just enough to cover only the 6th and 5th strings. This way, the chords on the higher strings can ring freely. You can hear Eddie take a similar approach towards the end of “Mean Street.”
Playing Melodies with Style
Sometimes, however, adding an element can increase clarity. Throughout Fair Warning, Eddie plays more than a few memorable guitar melodies. To make them speak more clearly, and to give them a bit more character, he’ll often plays them simultaneously in two octaves. Doing this on guitar requires playing notes on two non-adjacent strings, which you can easily visualize by thinking of the standard three-string power chord shape with the middle string omitted. This is accomplished by lightly resting the inside of your fretting-hand index finger on that middle string, so it won’t be sounded by your pick. Ex. 6 illustrates how to create octaves in two different registers of the guitar, and Eddie used it to similar effect in “Unchained.”
In “Dirty Movies,” Eddie unexpectedly used a slide to inject a different sort of character into his guitar melodies. To ensure each note is solidly in tune, place the slide directly over the fret wire. Then the main challenge will be to prevent it from sounding any unused strings. Strings lower than the ones being played can be silenced with a well-placed palm mute. Then while holding your pick, allow your free picking-hand fingers to rest lightly on the underside of the higher strings not being played (Ex. 7). Note that accomplished slide players like Derek Trucks and Bonnie Raitt choose to instead play fingerstyle, producing a fuller, rounder tone than a pick. Either way, dialing back your guitar’s often-neglected tone knob a bit will help to tame any tonal shrillness.
Are Complex Time Signatures Really So Odd?
In its pre-chorus, the classic party anthem “Unchained” suddenly becomes a quasi-prog-rock adventure, featuring complex shifting time signatures. At the outset, this sort of thing can seem like a daunting challenge, but it’s really all how you think about it. Ex. 7 features time signatures of 6/4 and 7/4. How can we navigate these measures without pulling our hair out? Well, often these complex time signatures can be broken down into a combination of simpler ones we use every day. Let’s look at measure one, which is in 6/4. If we think of this as simply 4/4 plus 2/4, it’s more manageable. In much the same way, measure two’s 7/4 can be broken down into 4/4 plus 3/4.
While the final two songs of Fair Warning are arguably also-rans, I still can’t escape the notion that if I could only listen to one Van Halen album for the rest of time, it would be this one. Eddie’s playing seems almost supernatural, and the breadth of his creativity makes Fair Warning a triumph, album sales be damned.
Squier announces five new additions to the Paranormal Series.
Here’s what’s new in this series:
The Paranormal Series has models for players from all walks of life, with features including:
- Short and easy-to-play 30“ scale length
- Slim and comfortable Maple “C”-shape neck profile
- Fast-playing 12” radius fingerboard
- Vintage-style tuning machines for smooth, accurate tuning