First of all, judging by the guitar-generated seismic activity beneath your feet, it’s clear there’s at least one 4x12 involved in this rumble. And it’s the stunning licks being played that make it obvious you’re not hearing a teenager who just started playing one or two Christmas mornings ago. The distortion is scorching, the harmonics prismatic, the bar antics graceful and acrobatic, the bent intervals pure and resonant, and each blue note soulful as a wolf’s howl. The only thing “teenager” about this utterly rockin’ sound is its gleeful irreverence toward the world around it.
Head through the front door and into the home studio and, sure enough, you find Lynch warming up at top volume. (Luckily for your ears and general sanity, his speaker cabinets are on the other side of double glass.) Having returned mere hours earlier from a long overdue honeymoon in Hawaii, Lynch is sporting only cargo shorts, a trucker cap, a deep tan, a sprawling, brand-new tattoo healing on his left deltoid, a lit cigarette in the corner of his mouth, and Tiger, the striped guitar that, like Lynch himself, gained worldwide fame with Dokken in the ’80s. Lynch’s only other fashion accoutrements are some sketchy looking bandages on the 1st finger of his fretting hand. “This finger was totally infected a couple days ago, so I don’t know if I can really play today,” says Lynch. “I cut it open on a reef when I got knocked out of my kayak.”
As you’ll see when you check out the video footage of this interview on guitarplayertv.com, a wounded finger isn’t enough to slow down George Lynch. With each blazing lick he plays—and with that singing vibrato he’s known for—it dawns on you: This guy is one of the last great shredders who truly has one foot solidly planted in the blues. Shred guitar may have lost its soul in the late ’80s when chops and hairspray edged out the blues, but, as Lynch has proven with Dokken, Lynch Mob, solo albums such as 2004’s Furious George, and as he surely will prove again with the album he’s working on now (“It’s gonna be like a Santana thing—lots of special guests”), soulful rock/metal guitar didn’t flat-line on his watch. Listen closely, and you’ll hear a blue streak in Lynch’s playing that’s ocean-deep.
“That’s why I’m officially changing my name to Blind Lemon Lynch,” jokes the guitarist. “It’s funny: You listen to new bands that are doing great stuff—Children of Bodom, Dragonforce, and others—and it’s wonderful, but then you listen to the old blues cats, and when you go back to the new stuff, it’s like, ‘Where’s the beef?’ I’ve always envisioned incorporating both of those spirits—the Allan Holdsworth thing and the old blues thing—into one style.”
Leaps and Bounds
One of the toughest things for a guitarist to describe in words is his or her own sound. Perhaps that’s why so many of them address the challenge by instead pinpointing the things they lack. “What I don’t really do is connect the dots,” notes Lynch. “Most accomplished rock guitar players use a more scalar method. They play lines that travel across the whole neck. For example, Michael Schenker will play a run that flows into this and that, and it’s beautiful, but I don’t do that as much. I always thought it was more interesting to take a left turn here and there. I probably got a lot of that from listening to Jeff Beck. I never take something to its logical conclusion. I break everything up and bounce around a lot, like this [Ex. 1]. Other players might look at that lick and go, ‘Wow, why did he think of going there?’ F*cked up hardwiring, I guess [laughs].
“It probably all started with me wanting to work my way out of the A blues box. Simply stated, I was just trying to play between—or outside of—the dots. Instead of standard
pentatonic licks, I’d be doing stuff like this [Ex. 2]—you know, adding notes, subtracting notes, or even mixing up major and minor and skipping strings [Ex. 3]. I’ll even bend a low string and jump up to the highest string [Ex.4]. It’s interesting finding ways to make this stuff work against whatever rhythm part you have going in the background.
That Singing Sound
Chops, speed, and fretboard pyrotechnics are all very fine—and all quite abundant in Lynch’s style—but it’s all fool’s gold compared to the biggest treasure Lynch has to share: his vibrato. If you walk away from this lesson with only one new goal, let it be to gain the ability to make a single note sing from the depths of your soul via simple up/down fretting-hand vibrato, or vibrato generated using the bar, as Lynch does with Tiger’s Floyd Rose tremolo system.
“Bending and vibrato, that’s everything,” says Lynch. His lyrical vibrato—like that of the late, great bluesman Albert Collins—is sometimes as wide as a whole-step. “If you hear a guy who’s got an interesting scalar technique, but he lands on something and doesn’t have a mature vibrato like Schenker, Yngwie, Clapton, Leslie West, or Johnny Winter, it’s very unsatisfying. When Billy Gibbons digs in, that does everything for me. You can learn to develop a good vibrato, but it’s a bit like developing your own personality—it’s 50 percent environment and 50 percent what you’re physically born with.
“It’s also about dynamics. You can have all these chops, but no matter how good you are, it all just starts running together unless you use palm muting, finger muting on both hands, pick harmonics, vibrato, and, of course, the bar. The bar isn’t just about diving. You can also use it to sustain a note and hold it forever [Ex. 5]. Keep the bar vibrato going, and the sound starts changing. You hear all that air back there? Hear the springs? It all builds up anticipation.”
“The more you play, the more your fingers develop ‘bend memory,’” says Lynch. “Your fingers learn how to bend up to various notes and just nail ’em, like a great female singer hitting a note without vibrato. Think Sade. Vibrato helps you find a pitch—it gives you a little wiggle room—but playing without it is hard. You really have to learn where that note is by string tension alone.”
To experience a George Lynch bend extravaganza, try Ex. 6. In the first complete measure, the E, B, A, and G major grips are each sounded by fretting two stationary notes on the first and second strings while fretting a third-string note one fret lower and bending it up a whole-step. For extra gravy, simultaneously dip into each harmony with a subtle press and release of the bar, and then make each chord sing with bar vibrato. For more oblique bend/bar vibrato mania followed by a textbook George Lynch fretboard leap, launch Ex. 7.
The Sensei Is In
Believe it or not, George Lynch teaches 400 or more students a week. He does it via the Guitar Dojo, his online music school. (Check it out at georgelynch.com.) “It’s based around hundreds of hours of video and an annual seminar, and it’s a great way for people to augment their learning,” says Lynch. “The foundation of the approach is the way I view the fretboard—which is the way a lot of people view it—and that’s in shapes. You end up learning the same stuff you’d learn from notation or tablature, but it’s a much easier way to understand it. Your most basic shapes are constructed in half- or whole-steps, and can be played in three different octaves, like this [Ex. 8].”
The three-position approach is similar to one Lynch learned from his former guitar teacher, Jim Kelly. “He was very inspiring to me—particularly because he was a great player who I could actually watch in person every week. When I was 17, I pushed him to show me something tripped out and random sounding, so he showed me this lick [Ex. 9], which was pretty progressive to me back then. It’s a kind of atonal thing that repeats in two different octaves. It’s a great way to break things up. I’m not a big fan of chromatic stuff, but the lick lends itself to descending licks such as this one [Ex. 10], which is a fun way to get back to home base.”
One of the best things about having George Lynch as your teacher is that, well, he’s such a vet. He’s been through the rock and roll war—he’s enjoyed platinum success, done world tours, fought off major-label screw jobs, and seen the entire recording industry change before his eyes. “What I stress most to young players is that trying to sound like anybody else is futile and pointless,” says Lynch. “You definitely don’t want to be the next guy that already was. Is there room enough in the world for a million guys with their own voices? Probably now more so than ever. The business is in a real state of flux. It’s not all about the record deal anymore. I know some young players who’ve turned down major label offers because they like the way their life is going without a label just fine. These days, selling 10,000 records on your own is as profitable as selling half a million on a major. The way the ’Net is evolving, maybe we can all be rock stars.”
Sustain vs. Sparkle
When it comes to guitar tone, George Lynch confesses that for him, every recording session, gig, and rehearsal is like starting over. (“You plug in and if things sound good, you have a good night. But if you’re fighting the acoustics in the room, the humidity, the biorhythms, or whatever’s going on in your head, it can be another story.”)
When pressed though, Lynch admits he has made progress in his decades-long struggle for a consistent sound. “My tone has evolved to become a lot cleaner,” he says. “You learn a lot when you record—you learn that a lot of distortion is good for extra sustain, but sometimes when you play it back in the studio, it flattens out, especially when you take out the friendly, forgiving echo of the room. A cleaner tone is actually much more musical, and has a lot more dynamics. You have to strike that balance between sustain and sparkle.”
Lynch is also relieved that he is no longer switching rigs “every month.” “I had Soldanos, Boogies, Bogners—all great amps—and ended up right back where I started,” he says. For Lynch, tonal square one is his ’68 Marshall Plexi, which he often drives with a Legendary Tones/Robert Keeley Time Machine Boost. (“The head’s not modded with any extra gain stages or anything, though a buddy and I have tweaked it with different capacitors in different places. Also, sometimes we’ll get out a box of 12AX7 and 7025 preamp tubes to find the right tube for that crucial first position. Nine times out of ten, the cheapest, crappiest 12AX7 sounds the best.”)
Last but not least, Lynch’s sound is rounded out by one or more signature-series Randall RM100LB Lynch Box modular tube heads. (“My Brahma module emulates the ’68 Plexi, the Mr. Scary module a more Dokken-era high-gain tone, and the Super V module a six-input non-Top Boost Vox AC30.”) All of Lynch’s cabinets are loaded with his signature Eminence Lynch Super V12 speakers. “The Lynch Box cabinets are ported,” adds the guitarist. “One of the recording tricks we used do in the old days was take the back off a cabinet and stick a mic in there behind the speakers to get some of this [thumps chest]. Now, I simply mic the port, and it gives you the same oomph without having to take out 20 screws.”
George Lynch’s favorite guitar is a mutt instrument bred from random parts floating around Grover Jackson’s shop in 1978. On a transcontinental flight mere days after its maple body was painted, its nitrocellulose finish froze, contracted, and shattered like glass. (“Over time, the cracks have gotten worse—or better—depending on if you like the look or not,” says Lynch.) At 14 lbs, it’s anvil-heavy for a guitar. (“It’s given me back problems. I’ve been wearing it for 25 years, and one of my shoulders is lower than the other.”) It’s Lynch’s go-to guitar, Tiger.
“This is my bread and butter right here, my baby,” says Lynch of the solidbody, which has featured various ESP necks since the mid ’80s. “It’s had all kinds of bridges on it, too, but it doesn’t matter. One [Seymour Duncan Super V] pickup, one position—it always sounds great. Huge Dunlop 6000 frets; wide, flat neck—picking up that guitar is like coming home.”
To test-drive a replica of this one-of-a-kind 6-string, get your hands on an ESP George Lynch M-1 Tiger.
Confessions of a Total “Gear ’Ho”
Having partnered with everyone from Randall Amplifiers to ESP Guitars to Postal Monkey cases to Zoom effects processors, George Lynch jokes that he’s a total “endorsement whore.” Really, though, he’s a compulsive product designer striving to find ways to sound and play better by improving the gear he uses every day. Lynch may have more sponsors going in a given year than most famous guitarists do over their entire careers, but Lynch never lets a company simply “rubber stamp” his name onto their product. Instead, he is intimately involved in the design of each of his signature offerings, as he has proven with his Dean Markley Super V strings (“We changed the core diameter, made them 50 percent nickel, and we actually wind the strings at pitch tension, which improves intonation”), his custom Eminence Lynch Super V12 speaker (“It’s got a ferrite magnet, and I insisted its frame be cast, making it stronger than most frames, which are stamped”), and his latest Seymour Duncan humbucker (“It’s called, of course, the Super V, and unlike my Screamin’ Demon [Duncan] pickup, which has an Alnico 5 magnet, the Super V is more of a PAF thing with an Alnico 2 magnet—degaussed to emulate vintage pickups”).
In addition to designs for a new Morley “wah/wow” pedal, a signature cable from Spectraflex, and a custom “staggered pitch” Theremin from Groove Tubes, plans for a new ESP Super V prototype have most recently graced Lynch’s industrial drawing table. “I found this in an old automotive shop,” says Lynch, holding up a giant, spring-loaded switch (above right) that may become a standard feature on the V-shaped guitar. “Pushing on it kills the circuit so I can get that rapid-fire ah-ah-ah-ah kill-switch sound. I even use it while I’m playing solos, to get the effect of rhythms timed with the music. All we need now is a case deep enough to close over it!”
“After a lot of shows or recording, my picking hand’s index fingernail gets all worn down, turns black, and starts bleeding, and I have to tape it up or apply some Nu Skin,” says George Lynch. This injury arises from the somewhat unconventional way he holds his Dunlop Ultex .60mm pick—a unique grip (above right) that helps him produce some of the most dramatic, colorful, and sustaining pinch harmonics this side of Billy Gibbons (one of Lynch’s biggest influences). “I usually hit the string first with the inside of my index finger, then the pick—the round edge, not the tip—then the thumb. It’s a triple whammy that can create many different sounds. I don’t know that someone would want to try to cop this technique, though, because there are a lot of things you can’t do with it. When it comes to fan picking and alternating picking, I have to fake it a bit.”