How to Play Like... John Frusciante

Sure, The Red Hot Chili Peppers dropped a musical A-bomb on the world with their alchemy of funk, punk, metal, and rap. Too bad many of those following in guitarist John Frusciante’s footsteps reduced his incendiary rock-funk hybrid to mindless machine-gunned 16th- notes on an E9, ad nauseum. Had they paid closer attention they might’ve noticed Frusciante’s dedication to minimalism and understatement, as well as the subversion of his own musical ego to serve the Almighty Übergroove.

A favorite Frusciante less-is-way-more tactic involves the use of diads—two-note voicings sometimes referred to as double-stops—to stand in for weightier grips.

Ex. 1 recalls the song “Give It Away” and is based around an Am7 tonal center. Really snap those bends in bars 1 and 3 and make sure to play the 5th-fret double-stops staccato. The key to this riff is to let it breathe—deliver it slightly behind the beat and leave space for a fat drum and bass groove underneath.

Recalling the extended guitar coda to “Breaking the Girl,” Ex. 2 uses diads to outline Am, Fmaj7, and E7. Frusciante rests on the accented downbeats of the 6/8 measures (beats one and four) creating a call-and-response feel with the rhythm section. Yeah, he could’ve played a ripping solo here but this simple part is way more interesting and effective.

While they were plenty capable of dishing out brutally nasty grooves, the Peppers have also evolved into masters of the soulful ballad. Ex.3, a re-working of Frusciante’s somber “Scar Tissue” riff, uses diads spaced at intervals of a tenth (a third plus an octave) on the fifth and second strings, to suggest wide-open chord voicings. Play these shapes with the 1st and 3rd fingers on your fretting hand using the 1st to mute the third and fourth strings. Simple yes, but highly combustible!