Who is the best? Clapton?
Page? Beck? Hendrix? That question dominated
discussions between fledgling guitarists
in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Bands
like Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience,
Led Zeppelin, and the Jeff Beck Group took
the traditional blues form popularized by
B.B., Albert, and Freddie King (as well as
Buddy Guy, T. Bone Walker, and others),
and played a louder, more riff-driven version
of it. Not long after, lots of guitarists
were jumping on the blues-rock bandwagon,
including Johnny Winter, Roy Buchanan,
Rick Derringer, Elvin Bishop, Mike Bloomfield,
Duane Allman, and the force of nature
known as Stevie Ray Vaughan.
One thing that all these players have in
common is their ability to work soulful bends
into their playing. String bending is an integral
part of the blues-rock style, so I’d like to
focus on one aspect of bending that will potentially
open up new doors for your melodic and
rhythmic phrasing: “bent unisons.”
The idea behind bent unisons is to bend
a note on one string so that it sounds like
the same fretted pitch on the string above
it. For instance, bend the D on the seventh
fret of the G string up to an E and then play
E on the fifth fret of the B string (see Ex. 1).
Even though both pitches are the same,
they sound different due to the fact that
they are probably slightly out of tune and
because the two strings sound different as
well. This technique allows us to repeat the
same pitch in a much more expressive way.
The following examples are exercises
derived from licks used by Hendrix, Jimmy
Page, and Johnny Winter. The last two examples
are blues-rock licks that demonstrate how
to use the technique in a more musical way.
Ex. 2 is based on the opening phrase
to Page’s solo from “Good Times, Bad
Times.” Notice that the sixteenth-notes
are in groups of three.
For the ending riff of “Be Careful with
a Fool” in Ex. 3
, Winter uses a kind of
opposite rhythmic treatment by playing
sixteenth-note triplets in groups of four.
Jimi Hendrix uses groups of three
eighth-notes to start his solo on “Come
On” from Electric Ladyland, similar to the
lick in Ex. 4. The fingerings and picking
instructions are just suggestions. I
chose options that felt the best to me,
but I urge you to experiment.
Ex. 5 is also based on a Hendrix lick.
Hopefully, the groups of quintuplets
will open up a whole Pandora’s box of
ideas for you.
Ex. 6 is a lick I came up with over
a standard V-IV-I blues turnaround.
And finally, Ex. 7 uses a couple of different
bent unisons to create some nice
Remember: the most important thing
about any riff you play is that it has to feel
good and be used in just the right place.
The best way to learn how to do that in this
style is to listen to tons of music from the
great masters of blues-rock guitar. Learn
and transcribe their solos and really concentrate
on understanding and capturing
the nuance in the phrases.
For close to 30 years, Dean Brown has been
an integral part of the global fusion and electric
jazz scene, recording and/or touring the world
with his own projects as well as with Marcus
Miller, the Brecker Brothers, Billy Cobham, David
Sanborn, Joe Zawinul, and many others. Keep
up with him at deanbrown.com.