The Fabulous Fretwork of Jon Herington

“Whenever I’m playing on a classic Steely Dan tune, the challenge for me is to honor the original but still find a way to make it my own,” says NYC-based guitarist Jon Herington.
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“Whenever I’m playing on aclassic Steely Dan tune, the challenge for me is to honor the original but still find a way to make it my own,” says NYC-based guitarist Jon Herington. A member of the legendary group since 1999, Herington also performs and records as leader of the Jon Herington Band. His latest CD shine (shine shine) [Decorator] is full of precisioncrafted pop-rock and intricate, yet sublimely melodic, guitar work that will earn major props from fans of the Dan clan.

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“When I was learning Jay Graydon’s solo for the song ‘Peg,’ I was immediately struck by this one lick [shown here in Ex.1] where he is essentially outlining a G diminished scale as a series of pull-offs against the open G string,” explains Herington. (Note: To effortlessly execute this dissonant digit-distender, I recommend using the first and third fingers of the fretting hand and moving them up the neck in halfand whole-steps.) “Using this as a jumpoff point, I started to investigate what else I could do incorporating hammer-ons and pull-offs in the key of G, until I assembled a whole vocabulary of licks that worked not only for the song, but in other situations as well,” he adds, demonstrating Ex.2.

One particular track on shine (shine shine) that was directly influenced by Herington’s onstage “Peg” explorations is “Fabulous,” a Beatles-esque piece of ear candy whose solo is a both a technical and melodic tour de force. For the recording, Herington tuned the first string of his P-90-loaded Hamer Special down a whole-step to D, slapped a capo on the first fret, and jacked straight into his Guytron GT-100 amp. I’ve transcribed the solo without a capo in Ex.3, but retained Herington’s original tuning, E, A, D, G, B, D (low to high).

In last month’s Herington lesson, the maestro stressed intimate knowledge of chord tones as the key to effective improvisation. To understand why this is so, simply play through the first three bars of the solo and be awed by how its breathtaking lyricism is drawn only from the clever phrasing of notes of G and C triads—G, B, D and C, E, G, respectively.

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The swift-fingered pull-off run that starts on the and of the fourth beat in bar 3 seems to be culled from a lick that originally surfaced when Herington was improvising over “Peg” in concert. I suggest starting it in ninth position, then switching to fifth position on the second beat.

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The sweeping phrase that begins on the fourth beat of bar 4 and extends through the first beat of bar 7 is composed of a series of multi-octave arpeggios that will require some quick position changes. In bar 6, you’ll need to play the G on the 12th fret of the 3rd string with your first finger. This will put you in good stead to grab high G on the 17th fret of the first string with your pinky. Finally, dig how the string-skipping hammer-ons in bar 7 are both a clever arpeggiation of a D to Dsus4 change and a hip retooling of the original “Peg” lick from Ex.1.

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Vinnie DeMasi is a NYC-based guitarist and regular GP contributor. He currently lives out his rock star dreams as a full-time member of several tribute bands and part-time in several Broadway pit-orchestras. He also teaches at the NYC Guitar School and can be reached at