In his typical self-effacing style, if you ask Steve Lukather to show you something on guitar, he will protest, “I’m not a teacher! I am not a teacher!” Whatever. The guy has a metric ton of knowledge to share, and there’s plenty to be gleaned from his riffs on Toto records. Take Ex. 1, for instance. This is the riff from the song “Running Out of Time” that opens the latest record and opens the current tour. It’s a great example of Luke’s ability to put a fresh spin on time honored phrases. It starts with an Eadd9 arpeggio, but two things keep it from sounding normal: the fact that it starts on the “a” of three and it lands on the flat 5 (or sharp 4). Bend that note into the G# with the bar and add some vibrato before you take a breath on the downbeat (a horn- or vocalist-inspired Luke trademark) and then launch into the cool descending figure in the second full bar. He plays a full G5 voicing on the “a” of 4, but you can totally cheat by just playing the open D and G strings.
Ex. 2 is from the tune “Holy War” off Toto’s latest. It features cool low-string bends of both a whole-and half-step and a super-slick slide from D to E in the second bar followed by an octave E on the G string and then a slapped harmonic E at the 19th fret of the A string. Whoa!
We go all the way back to Toto’s debut album for Ex. 3. These gorgeous chimes “are a cool Ted Greene, Lenny Breau kind of thing” and are taken from the song “Takin’ It Back.” Here’s how you play them: Barre your first finger across the 8th fret and stretch your pinky all the way up to the 13th-fret F on the high string à la Fig. 1. With your picking hand, pluck the harmonic at the 20th fret of the B string (either by plucking with your thumb and simultaneously touching the harmonic with your index finger, or, as Luke does, by holding the pick between your thumb and middle finger and using your index for the harmonic). With that harmonic ringing out, take your picking-hand pinky and pluck the high E string, then pluck the harmonic at the 20th fret of the G string, etc. Let all the notes ring together and bask in the chimey loveliness. Ex. 4 includes some pull-offs on the high E and has a slightly more scalar sound. If you’ve never explored this technique, you need to. It’s one of the coolest sounds in the world. Thanks, Luke!