Master Class: The Mesmerist

May 18, 2005

But for some reason, in the late ’80s, Berkeley High School was churning out phenomenal musicians (and probably still is to this day) at an astounding rate. Eight-string jazz/funk wunderkind Charlie Hunter, gospel/soul guitar prodigy John “Jubu” Smith (Tony! Toni! Toné!, Whitney Houston, Maze), modern rock virtuoso Geoff Tyson (profiled in the June 1993 GP), Cake lead guitarist Xan McCurdy, and Grammy-nominated tenor sax sensation Joshua Redman were just a few of the talented kids I met by being a student at that school.

But of all the gifted musicians roaming the halls of Berkeley High back then, I wouldn’t have immediately pegged the lanky and (at the time) somewhat introverted freshman named Kevin Cadogan I met in Classical Guitar class as the dude who would crack the code of mainstream rock stardom. However, by going on to forge one of the most unique, inspired, and truly underrated styles of ’90s rock guitar—and by joining forces with singer/producer Stephan Jenkins and selling eight million albums (and counting) as lead guitarist of Third Eye Blind—that’s exactly what Cadogan did. Cadogan’s jangly, orchestral, fully rockin’ open-tuned riffs interweaved perfectly with Jenkins’ haunting melodies and tantalizing turns of phrase. For a few years there, this pair of musical alchemists had the straw-into-platinum formula down, and theirs seemed a match made in heaven. But it’s hard to say whether the two will ever collaborate again, because, simply put, there was friction—a lot of friction—and the two ultimately parted ways after just two albums. Though their differences were largely artistic, they ended up saying their goodbyes through lawyers in lawsuits against each other that were ultimately settled out of court.

Cadogan’s sterling contributions to the lexicon of modern rock guitar, however, remain, and, with possibly more custom tunings than Michael Hedges and Jimmy Page combined, Cadogan is about to show you how to play the flagship riffs from Third Eye Blind [Elektra] and his new solo disc Thousand Yard Stare [Loud Bang; kevincadogan.com]. And if you’re like 90 percent of rock guitarists—that is, you rarely deviate from standard tuning—then rejoice: You’re about to learn what those six tuning machines on your guitar’s headstock are really for.

Gorgeous

Like a handful of rock guitarists at Berkeley High School in the middle to late ’80s, Cadogan was taking lessons across town from a soon-to-be world famous guitar sensei named Joe Satriani. But while most kids seemed obsessed with becoming a black belt in Van Halen tapping, Malmsteen sweep arpeggios, Holdsworth legato, and whatever else was the hottest guitar kung fu at the time—Cadogan was clearly a different kind of player. By the time he was a senior, when most of the other rockers were still shredding away like a noisy battalion of wood chippers, he was the guy who would show up with stunning 4-track cassette recordings—fully realized arrangements featuring lyrical themes, catchy hooks, and complementary timbres that would stop people in their tracks and render even the shredders silent.

“Joe was very much a great teacher, and like so many other kids, I was extremely lucky to have him,” credits Cadogan. “But the speed playing that was so popular at the time just didn’t move me the same way as the playing of, say, David Gilmour or The Edge. And I remember tuning up with Joe one day and asking, ‘Why is there only a major third between the second and third strings when there’s a fourth between all the others? Why can’t I tune the whole guitar in perfect fourths?’ The answer was something like, ‘You just don’t do that,’ and it made me think, ‘Wait a minute. Who says? Who says you can’t change your tuning to make a riff easier to play, or make a fretted note really stand out by retuning the guitar so it’s played as an open string? Who says you have to play chords using the standard fingerings that everybody else uses?’ I’ve always felt a calling to do something uniquely my own on the guitar, and right away, the whole breaking-the-rules aspect of custom tunings made the guitar really exciting for me. It instantly made me feel like my songs and my sound were my own. ”

To get a taste of that custom sound, try Ex. 1, the guitar theme Cadogan wrote for the never-released but often performed Third Eye Blind song “Gorgeous.” It’s in the tuning just hinted at—perfect fourths tuning [E, A, D, G, C, F, low to high]—which you can get into by simply raising your second and first strings a half-step from standard. The soul of this lick lies in the final two notes of bar 2, a ringing open C and open F. Not only would this lick be more difficult to play in standard tuning, more importantly, it would lose its magical chime. This phrase also features some long stretches, so, if you’re in the mood to warm up on something simpler (but with a more elaborate tuning), why not play through Cadogan’s enchanted intro to …

...Narcolepsy

The second song on the gazillion-selling Third Eye Blind is in the rippling, full-sounding tuning, open Dadd9 [F#, A, D, F#, A, E, low to high]. From standard, this tuning is achieved by lowering the second string a whole-step, the third string a half-step, and raising the sixth string a whole-step (which puts Dadd9’s 3, F#, in the bass). Like a big, fat, juicy piano chord, the tuning sounds great just strummed completely open—which, as you’ll see when you play Ex. 2, is exactly the inspiration behind Cadogan’s shimmering theme to “Narcolepsy.” FYI, the notes in parentheses are open strings Cadogan strikes almost by accident when playing the riff’s simple melody. They fill things out, sound beautiful, and add a bell-like quality—collateral beauty courtesy of a clever tuning.

“This tuning reminds me of a lot of tambouras and other Indian instruments that are designed to sound great when strummed open; instruments that sound just like chimes ringing in the wind,” notes Cadogan. “The fun part—and the challenge—comes in finding other chords you can create a bridge and a chorus with, like these, from later in the song [Ex. 3].”

Losing a Whole Year

I remember you and me used to spend the whole goddamned day in bed—it’s the sneering opening lyric to Third Eye Blind’s “Losing a Whole Year,” and one deserving of a similarly intreaguing guitar intro. The song’s open-F#m9 tuning [F#, A, C#, F#, G#, E, low to high], doesn’t disappoint. (From standard, you get there by raising the sixth string a whole-step, lowering the fourth and third strings a half-step, and dropping the second string a minor third—that is, three half-steps.) It is not only an interesting sound on its own, but this tuning also noteworthy in that it in no way hints at the song’s simple harmony and key. (As you’ll soon hear, the song is actually built on a basic IV-I-V progression in E.) To hear the fundamental E major sound of this tune, strike the E/G# chord in Ex. 4. If you can play this voicing, you can probably play the entire song intro [Ex. 5] no sweat, as it requires little more than simply arpeggiating the same chord shape at the 7th, 2nd, and 9th frets.

Graduate

“Another thing I don’t like about standard tuning is that it makes it nearly impossible to play licks where you barre a chord with your 1st finger and play ornamental stuff with your other fretting fingers,” notes Cadogan, getting into open-D tuning [D, A, D, F#, A, D] by lowering his sixth, second, and first strings a whole-step and dropping his third string a half-step (from standard). “For instance, open D frees up your fingers to do stuff like this [Ex. 6]. This is one of the riffs that really caught the ears of A&R

people when we were first shopping for a deal.”

He’s playing his catchy intro to “Graduate,” again from Third Eye Blind’s debut. The fun part about the main looped segment of this phrase (bar 1, which is repeated three times) is that it’s entirely slurred—that is, it’s played using only hammer-ons and pull-offs, entirely without a pick. Be sure to re-hammer that big, six-string G chord each time it comes around. “And the high F# [fretted with the 4th finger] in those hammered-on D chords is important too,” adds Cadogan. “Don’t let it get lost, because it adds a lot.”

Thousand Yard Stare

True to form, Cadogan’s new solo album is full of inspired tunings and symphonic sounding riffs. Since we’re still in open D, here are two Cadogan themes from Thousand Yard Stare that share the same tuning: “So High and Solo” [Ex. 7] and “Surfacing Submarine” [Ex. 8]. But one of the wildest tunings on either of albums covered in this lesson is the open Aadd9 tuning Cadogan uses to generate the sparkly arpeggios on “Painted” [Ex. 9]. The tuning is spelled E, A, E, C#, B, E, low to high, and, from standard, you get there by raising the fourth string a whole-step and the third string—get this—a tritone. That’s three whole-steps, and it actually makes the string higher in pitch than the second string, so be careful: You could be risking a snapped third string if your strings are old.

“In general, it’s very important to have strings gauged on the heavier side when you’re messing around with open tunings,” notes Cadogan who sometimes even has entire guitars (he typically plays MJ or Paul Reed Smith guitars) set up for specific tunings. “I can’t imagine playing with anything less than an .011-.052 set. I don’t usually use a wound G, but sometimes that helps when you’re dropping that string down in pitch a fair amount. Heavier gauges also stay in tune better when you’re really banging on the strings—which I’ve always done, because guitars just sound better when you hit ’em hard. I’ve always liked that sense of reckless abandon you see towards the guitar from British players like the Keith Richards and even John Lennon. I like how there wasn’t too much reverence for the instrument in that music, at least not in the sense of traditional jazz or classical where there’s a ‘proper’ way to do things. I mean, my guitars get banged up.”

God of Wine

“Ay Kevin, so what happened to the band?” It’s always a tough question for Cadogan to answer, and one he unfortunately gets all the time. But in a Hollywood bar last year, the question was even more painful because it was coming not just from a friend, but from a personal idol—The Edge, whom Cadogan met while opening stadium shows for U2 a few years earlier. Before Cadogan could formulate an answer, the Irish guitar god deftly divined, “Let me guess—musical differences?”

Though Cadogan still doesn’t have the pat answer for that question (“It’s like trying to explain to someone why your marriage failed”), he is doing great nonetheless—he has a family, he has released a new solo album, and he has just produced the self-titled debut of SoCal rockers the Chemistry [on Razor & Tie]. But even though his living room has a stunning view of the San Francisco bay that most people only get from a 747, Cadogan naturally misses being on top of the world. “I don’t have the occasion to go back and play these Third Eye Blind riffs that often,” he says as the spellbinding intro to “God of Wine” [Ex. 10] pours forth from his guitar. “It’s painful. It’s kind of like looking at a picture of a kid you lost custody of.”

The lick is in open-D5add9 tuning [D, A, D, E, A, D, low to high], which, from standard, is achieved by dropping the sixth, second, and first strings a whole-step and the third string a minor third (three half-steps). The notes in parentheses are subtle ornaments Cadogan typically plays but weren’t audibly played on the recorded intro to this song. Complementing this moody riff lyrically and melodically is Jenkins at his best.

“Yeah he rocked that one,” agrees Cadogan. “The song has a real haunting quality, and the guitar and vocals interweave perfectly. When Stephan gets inspired, he really steps up to bat.” Then, with absolutely no intent to slam his replacement in Third Eye Blind, Tony Fredianelli, Cadogan postulates, “Maybe that was the problem with the last album and why it didn’t catch on as well as the first two—maybe the chemistry just wasn’t happening.”

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