Ali Handal on Jamming Out Riffs

February 1, 2011

AFTER LED ZEPPELIN TRASHED her youthful enthusiasm for piano lessons, and more or less fused a guitar into her hands, all Ali Handal wanted to be was Jimmy Page. But while she didn’t grow up to be a Page clone, Handal did manage to steal some of the Zep wizard’s knack for unleashing ballsy and beguiling guitar parts. Her new CD, Make Your Move [], is a mélange of riff-fueled rockers that could stand up to anything broadcast on The Midnight Special in the ’70s, dreamy singer/songwriter fare, funk workouts, and ballads spritzed with Beatles essence.

The project’s diverse 6-string sounds were constructed with the help of Handal’s “guitar guru,” Bob DeMarco of Nurvilicous Studios in Camarillo, California, who encouraged her to experiment with various gear combinations until she found something “delicious.”

“My voice isn’t particularly ‘rock,’ because it’s not male and it’s not raspy,” says Handal. “So I need killer guitar tones to deliver the edge, punch, and attitude that gets the point across. Therefore, I like to hit the front end of the amp really hard using a boost pedal—a trick I learned from Bob—because the right boost makes it seem like your amp’s speakers are exploding, and that sound can add incredible energy to a track.”

Handal’s Make Your Move armory included three boosters—a Catalinbread Serrano Picoso, an Analog Man Beano Boost, and a Pete Cornish TB-83—as well as her trusty 1998 American Standard Telecaster, two Les Pauls (a ’69 Custom and a ’59 Special), a ’65 blackface Fender Princeton Reverb (her goto amp), a Snarling Dogs Whine-O Wah, and “every pedal known to mankind.”

To write the riff for the album-opening “All the Way,” Handal sat on her bed and played along to Queen’s “We Will Rock You”—but she wasn’t weaving around Brian May’s guitar parts.

“To get out of ruts, I’ll often play around with the vocal melody of a song I really love,” says Handal, who attacks her solos with Pagelike fire, abandon, and gritty melodicism. “That approach gets me out of the normal fingering patterns I’d use. So the ‘All the Way’ riff was a result of me jamming with Freddie Mercury, and then going off on various tangents.”

While her Telecaster is now almost a constant musical companion, it wasn’t exactly an instantaneous seduction.

“It was a journey,” she admits. “Before my Telecaster, I always used a Strat for clean parts, and a Les Paul for heavier sounds. But once I tried the Tele, I realized what a versatile instrument it is. It’s more intense than a Strat for the funky parts I like to play, and it delivers a great crunch sound. It also didn’t hurt to learn that Jimmy Page recorded most of Led Zeppelin with a Telecaster.”

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