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Andy Timmons Eschews Overdubs To Further The Art Of Rock And Roll Chord Melody

January 1, 2009
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“I thought, ‘How am I going to make this any fresher or different than all the other instrumental rock guitar albums out there?’” reflects Timmons, who has recently released a concert DVD version of the album called Resolution Live. “I mean, quite honestly, that genre of music was getting very tired, and I just wasn’t inspired to do it. The answer came to me in the form of a comment Steve Vai had made to me when we put together my That Was Then, This Is Now compilation record for his label. On my more recent songs, there were sections that were just trio, and Steve mentioned he really like those sections. He said, ‘I hear your fingers on the frets, your personality, and the sound of the guitar so much better without all the other guitar parts and layers in there.’ And that always stuck with me, so I thought, ‘What if I can get away with making a whole record with just one guitar? “That’s when I got excited, because I knew that it was going to kick my butt to do that and hold the listener’s interest while making it sound cool. I really wanted to do it for Steve, too. I grew up the youngest of four guys, and while many other guitarists were taking up the guitar to get chicks, I just wanted impress my big brothers, and, in a sense, I was like, ‘I want to impress my big brother Steve Vai.’”

The lack of rhythm parts or backing keyboards put a lot of responsibility on Timmons’ guitar. “I not only had to deliver the melody,” says the guitarist, “I also had to support the melody chordally, because at any given moment, all there’d be behind it was bass and drums, so there was a definite chord-melody approach involved to keep things sounding full.”

First, before we show you some of the intriguing ways Timmons fattened up Resolution’s riffs and melodies with harmony notes and color tones, a word about how he approached the other crucial task every guitarist must face when tracking a power trio record—achieving a huge guitar sound. “One thing worth pointing about the recording process is that we decided early on that we were going to use no EQ whatsoever,” says Timmons. “Every tone was going to be solely a Shure SM57 into a Neve mic pre, so mic placement ended up being the most important factor in the entire record. Every tone had to shaped using only the guitar, the amp, and the mic. Luckily, we were working at (co-producer) Mike Daane’s home studio, so budget wasn’t really the issue. It was just a matter of spending as much time as we needed, even if it took two or three weeks to get a sound right.” The main theme to Resolution’s title track first flowed out of Timmons’ fingers the way many a great riff is born—during a period of protracted noodling. “There was a lot of down time for me, so while Mike was fidgeting with placing the microphone, I’d be noodling around playing silly things like ‘Girl from Ipanema,’” says Timmons, playing the famous Jobim melody on his signature-series Ibanez AT100 guitar. “But one day, kind of spacing out while Mike was working, I kept playing this melody [Ex. 1] over and over. Mike said, ‘You really need to finish that. That’s a cool line.’ That particular song was the only song recorded with just one amp—a borrowed late-’60s Marshall—that was very different from the ’68 Plexi we’d been using, because it broke up very easily. We also took a direct signal and re-amped that into a Leslie Model 122 cabinet so you hear this kind of swirling sound.”

Timmons plays the A major “Resolution” theme primarily on the third string, striking the open A string every so often to maintain a hypnotizing pedal tone. “The open strings in this song made recording it a little tricky, because a guitar has to be perfectly in tune for this sort of approach. It was worth it. Again, it was a way to play melodies while also filling out the harmony, all with just one guitar track. And for the second verse, I thought, ‘Why don’t I harmonize it?’ So I just basically played the same thing in fourths [Ex 2].”

The parallel fourths, achieved by mirroring each melody note at the same fret on the adjacent fourth string, really serve to flesh out the theme. Timmons’ next challenge was to open up the composition with another section. He returned to the studio the next day with four simple, but beautiful bars that again harness the lively jangle of open strings [Ex. 3].“We ended up recording the song the next week,” says Timmons.

“That was good, because the record really needed that song.” Another place professional musicians often find themselves composing is onboard a tour bus. It was on the road with Olivia Newton-John that Timmons wrote one of the most poignantly melancholy rock instrumentals of the new millennium [Ex. 4]. With a somber vibe that lies somewhere between Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” and Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” (Jeff Beck version), the piece was written on a calendar date that is made obvious by its title. “The song is called ‘Gone (9/11/01),’ and while some pieces of instrumental music arise purely from an inspired jam or a cool lick, there are a lot of tunes I have written that are very specific reactions to things going on in life,” says Timmons. “Obviously, that day was a heavy day for the world, and continues to be. We were driving that morning as things were unfolding on CNN, and, as we were all trying to absorb this tragedy, I had a guitar in my hands. I literally don’t remember writing the song. It just kind of came at that moment, and I didn’t actually know if I’d ever record it on an album. I just wanted to document the feeling of the time.”

Harmonically, “Gone” is a juicy example of Timmons’ inspired rock and roll chord melody practices. “I’d state the melody— which is a very simple melody that sort of steps down the G minor scale—and then I’d figure out how I was going to place the harmony underneath,” says Timmons. “As I was playing, the harmony came to me in my head as to what would support it best. It’s really just a series of II-V cadences, the first chord being an Am7b5. For the second half of the melody, I basically shifted everything up an octave and played it again using these chords [Ex. 5]. I played a bit of jazz growing up, and really studied Joe Pass and Wes [Montgomery] and other guys playing great chord melodies. Being able to play songs in a similar way, but in a rock setting, is truly satisfying.”

TIMMONS’ TONES

While Resolutionwas, in large part, tracked using classic ’60s and ’70s Marshall heads, Timmons’ rig has since evolved to include more modern tube amps—specifically, Mesa Boogie Lone Star and Stiletto Deuce Stage II heads. “I’m quite happywith the Stage II, as [Mesa] used my ’79 JMP and ’68 Plexi Marshalls as tonal benchmarks when they were designing it,” says Timmons. A Voodoo Lab Ground Control Pro switching system helps him call up various amp/channel/effects combinations on the fly.

Timmons often puts the Stiletto’s second channel in Tite Gain mode and sets it quite dirty, controlling the distortion level with the volume knob on his signature Ibanez AT100 Andy Timmons model guitar. “The volume knob is your best friend,” says Timmons, who is excited that his line of Ibanez guitars will be reintroduced at Winter NAMM 2009. “On the AT100’s volume there’s a capacitor that maintains the top end as I roll the volume off. I like to be able to retain the clarity as I lower the volume. The main tones on the guitar are a Seymour Duncan JB humbucker in the bridge, and a DiMarzio Cruiser in the neck. The Cruiser is a single-coil-sized humbucker that has a very weak output and is voiced much likeasingle coil. It matches very well when I switch between it and the JB.

“Another big part of my playing is some sort of echo, either in front of the amp if I’m using a gain box, or in the effects loop of the amp if I’m using the amp for distortion. I’m currently running two Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man pedals, one set at about 500ms, and the other set to maybe 375ms. Though I’m running a mono rig, they’re kind of summed together. I like Memory Men—if that’s what you call more than one of them [laughs]—because they add chorus to the echo, but not to the actual signal. That creates this wonderful air around the notes. It really replicates sound of old tape echo units, where the repeated notes are just slightly out of tune.” —JG

 

 

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