Gitbox Culture

Musings on guitars, guitarists, guitar styles and approaches, technical matters and guitar design by a professional guitarist with a Ph.D in ethnomusicology. Also covering electric bass, lap and pedal steel guitar. And what the hell, banjo.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" - unpacking a classic guitar solo

If there is a piece of music that captivated me this week, it was Eric Clapton's solo in the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." I've been working on it again, and have found it difficult to master in its simplicity because of its unusual shifts and bends. It's only sixteen bars long, played over the verse chords and leading into a bridge in the parallel major key, A major. Here's a tab of it, transcribed by a man known only as Clark.


Clapton's opening gambit focuses on an unusual three fret bend from A to C, a sound already established in earlier fills. This kind of ambitious bending was not at all common in rock in 
1968, though Buddy Guy and Albert King were known for wide bends, albeit less psychedelic.Clapton's secret weapon was light-gauge strings - Ernie Ball Super Slinkys I believe.

   (Am)            (Am7)                (D2)   (F)

   (Am) (G)                          (D)                  (E)  

Here Clapton breaks out of the A-C bend motif to gradually shift positions, climaxing 
early on the high A, bent up from G.
   (Am)           (Am7)                 (D2)                         (F)

Backpedaling from this peak, he works in the 13th position with a series of permutations between C and G, the third and seventh of the A minor tonality.

   (Am)                                     (G)

After a brief return to the A-C 'overbend', a series of hammered and slid note pairs returns the
line to the highest pitch.

     (C)                         (E)

I learned this solo seven years ago for a Beatles show, but needed some serious 
rehabilitation when remembering it during my practice yesterday. The slides and hammers at 
the end in particular eluded me for a while - they're not in the common blues-rock lead guitar 

In the meantime, at one memorable gig around 2006 at the old Healey's club on Bathurst, Jeff Healey, Rob Phillips and I all wailed this solo in unison. A great night.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Check out the new header!

I have a sweet new header courtesy of cousin Stephen. I guess he couldn't stand to look at my plain-jane template for one minute longer.

Thanks Stephen!

Marshall Class 5: my new amp.

I bought a new amp yesterday.

I've been using an early Fender Pro Junior for several years, lately with a Hughes and Kettner Red Box between the speaker and the amp so that I can run a signal out to a small powered PA speaker for more headroom on stage.  This setup has worked quite well for me, since the Junior doesn't really have the cut with a drummer on stage.  At the same time it's too loud for certain applications where I want a bit of breakup.

But all of that is in the past, because I stumbled on the Class 5 yesterday. The Pro Junior has been giving me a lot of trouble, necessitating expensive repairs every six months or so for the last two years.  First the input jack broke (it was plastic), then the tube sockets separated from the circuit board, then the tube sockets stopped engaging the power tubes. I finally decided after the latest mysterious crackling noise to retire it and get a new one, thinking that it was my only option.

When I saw the Class 5 in a local used guitar store, I thought that it must be some sort of hybrid solid-state Marshall and I wasn't really interested.  But the price was right and when I realized that it was a Class A all-tube amp, I gave it a run with my Tele, which I had brought with me. I couldn't believe how good the amp sounded. I can't recall playing through an amp that was so responsive to the volume knob on the guitar.  It's sweet and nasty at the same time. I really love a clear, transparent overdriven tone (like an AC30) and the Class 5 has that, but it also has an aliveness that reminded me somewhat of Neil Young's tweed Princeton tone.

At another store later in the day, I did a side-by-side comparison with a Pro Junior and the Vox 4 watt amp.  There was really no comparison in tone, though the Pro Junior is certainly louder.  It was not a pleasant loud, but it was loud, and I wonder if the Class 5 will cut through drums enough for me to use it on stage without the Red Box and the PA speaker. I certainly hope so, but I'm prepared to beef it up if necessary. The Marshall's tone is just so musical and I can't wait to put it through its paces in a variety of live situations. I'm bringing it to a 50s rock and roll gig today - I'll report back.

This is my first Marshall - I've owned a succession of Fender amps - and I have to say that I am very impressed with the design, tone and build quality of this amp. It's also light as a feather and has badass white piping and silver grille cloth.

Monday, August 2, 2010

I am a solder monkey.

We did it! Greg Wyard and I rewired my Strat the other day, returning to its original three single coil pickups. There was a surprising amount of unsoldering and soldering between the pickups, switch, pots and ground, but success was achieved. We shared the soldering duties. We even did a little modification, changing the circuit to a master volume and master tone, rather than the usual configuration which provides tone controls to the neck and middle pickups but not the bridge pickup. As I'm still unable to read a schematic, we relied on the very clear wiring diagrams on the Seymour Duncan site, which nonetheless omitted the ground wiring.

 We did the job without understanding much about why a given wire went to a given terminal and so on, so I'm on a mission to clear away my ignorance by reading Craig Anderton's Electronic Projects for Musicians, which explains the theory behind basic electronics and provides directions for a number of projects, mostly of the stompbox variety. One item on the agenda for me is learning how to read schematics. Then, if all goes well, I'm gonna build something! I admit that I'm proud to have achieved this little rewiring project, and excited to build on this humble success.