Human hearing is most sensitive in the frequency range of about 1kHz to 5kHz, which is also where human speech is most intelligible. These are, similarly, the ideal midrange frequencies for the guitar, especially when you want your solos to prevail over a mix.
Over the years, guitarists have used various devices to find the ideal midrange sweet spot, including wah pedals, treble boosters, EQ and small combo amps. The Fulltone Secret Freq offers an excellent solution for guitarists who want fat, full midrange with vocal-like singing expressiveness that brings their playing right to the front of the mix.
Feaures The Secret Freq is essentially a distortion pedal with volume and distortion controls, but the circuit also includes a Freq control that boosts a certain narrow-band midrange frequency up to 20dB and a Highs control that cuts high frequencies when it’s turned down from its full clockwise/neutral EQ setting. Professional-quality features include true-bypass switching, a brilliant-red LED, four thumbwheel screws that provide screwdriver-free access to the battery compartment, and a center-negative DC adapter jack that handles any voltage from nine to 18 volts.
Performance Unlike wah pedals and treble boosters, the Fulltone Secret Freq provides sweet, expressive midrange without cutting crucial bass and upper-treble frequencies, producing rich, full-range tones that sound absolutely massive. The distortion control provides everything from subtle overdrive crunch to the aggressive roar of a fully cranked classic amp. Instead of compressing the guitar’s tone, the Secret Freq delivers smooth, singing sustain by enhancing the frequencies the ear wants to hear while maintaining excellent dynamics that preserve the guitar’s natural liveliness. Many midrange boosters have a pinched, nasal tone, but the Secret Freq’s character is satisfyingly dulcet and resonant, especially with single-coil pickups that need a little extra midrange enhancement.
This month I’d like to talk about the technique I use to perform the fast arpeggiated phrases on the song “A Wonderful Slippery Thing,” from my Erotic Cakes album.
For these licks, I employ fretboard tapping in conjunction with string skipping to achieve a very smooth and even sound throughout.
I know many guitarists prefer to use sweep picking when playing arpeggios, but to me, the sound of dragging the pick up and down across the strings is a little too abrasive and percussive.
In this month’s column, I’d like to demonstrate my basic approach to performing these types of arpeggios, which involves a combination of fretboard tapping and string skipping. My love for the sound of the saxophone inspired me to pursue this approach.
When sax players play fast arpeggios, they sound very fluid, liquid and bubbly. I devised a system that works for me, and the idea is to apply the concept in a variety of different ways.
The first question I ask myself is, “How many notes do I want to play in this arpeggio?” I then play each note once on one string before moving this specific note series to a different string.
For example, starting with a basic minor triad, which consists of three notes, I’ll play three notes on a given string and then move those same three notes to another string, as demonstrated in FIGURE 1. Here I’m playing the notes of a B minor triad—B, D and F#—on the sixth string, sounding the highest note with a fretboard tap. I then move these three notes over to the D string, execute them in the exact same way, and then repeat the process on the high E string.
You’ll notice that the “shape” on each string is identical, and I think this is not unlike the way pianists play arpeggios, in that they repeat the same fingering “shape” as they move to higher octaves. Just listen to the insane multioctave arpeggios that Art Tatum plays—I think there must be some logic like that going on.
If you are not used to playing in this way, the big challenge is hammering with the index finger to start each phrase on each string. Begin with just the first three notes on the sixth string, making sure they sound clear, with no extraneous noises. Then hop over two strings and up two frets, to the D string, and the shape is exactly the same. Strive to make these transitions seamless.
Now let’s play each three-note arpeggio in a repeated sequence, moving from low to high strings, back and forth, as shown in FIGURE 2. If I want a more complex arpeggio, I can add one note, the flat seventh, as I do in FIGURE 3.
If we transpose the idea to a major triad, we get FIGURE 4. To build up your technique, I suggest practicing each phrase on each string repeatedly, as shown in FIGURES 5a and 5b.
Guitarist Gus G has spent the better part of the last decade solidifying his place as one of metal’s reigning guitar virtuosos.
He’s recorded more than a dozen studio albums and performed around the world as a member of Arch Enemy, Dream Evil and Firewind. And let’s not forget he was handpicked by Ozzy Osbourne in 2009 to become his new guitarist.
But Gus G’s debut solo album, I Am The Fire, which will be released March 18, is a new adventure. The album, which was mixed by Jay Ruston (Anthrax, Stone Sour, Steel Panther), gives Gus the opportunity to explore a different side of his creativity and showcases his skills as a producer and songwriter.
Apart from a few signature Gus G instrumentals (“Vengeance” and “Terrified”), I Am the Fire veers away from the traditional heavy/power metal vibe and leans more toward a straight-ahead classic rock sound. The album also features a multitude of guests, including vocalists Mats Levén and Jeff Scott Soto and bassists Billy Sheehan and David Ellefson.
I recently spoke with Gus G about I Am the Fire, his playing and how he got the gig with Ozzy.
GUITAR WORLD: How did the I Am the Fire project begin?
I had some time off with Ozzy because he was busy with the Black Sabbath reunion and started coming up with ideas that didn’t really seem like a Firewind record.
They were more on the hard rock side of things rather than metal. One singer I’ve always wanted to write with was Mats Levén, who sang on the Yngwie Malmsteen album Facing the Animal. We’ve known each other for about 10 years and had always talked about doing something together. So I sent him a few demos, and that’s what got things started.
You have a lot of special guests on this album. How did that come about?
I already knew I was going to work with Mats, but around the same time I sent a demo to Jeff Scott Soto, and we wrote the song “Summer Days” together. That was when I got the idea of bringing on a bunch of different people to collaborate with. The next person I spoke to was Jay Ruston about mixing the album, and it was through Jay that I was able to get a lot of the guest musicians to help me put it all together.
Let’s discuss a few of the songs from the album, starting with the title track, “I Am the Fire.”
I had written the music for the song but didn’t have any vocals. Then someone suggested the band Devour the Day. I was just blown away by their work so I sent them the demo. A short time later they sent me back the lyrics and I just loved it. We then all met up together in LA and went in the studio.
“Blame It On Me.”
I asked Mats if he had a cool rocker and he sent me the song. It has a really strong Scorpions vibe to it that I dug right away. It’s very catchy.
You also have two guitar instrumentals on the album as well. Was that planned?
I wasn’t sure about including them at first because this was going to be a different type of record and those songs are more metal with a lot of shredding. But that’s when Jay said, “Fuck, dude! You should put whatever songs you want on there. That’s what a solo record should be!” Those are two of the best instrumentals I’ve ever written, so I decided to include them.
What are you touring plans?
I’ll be doing a few dates here in Greece with Uli Jon Roth and then in May I’ll be doing Guitar Universe 2, a co-headlining tour of Europe with Marty Friedman.
What inspired you to pick up the guitar?
Peter Frampton. My dad had a copy of Frampton Comes Alive, and he used to play it all the time. I remember being 8 years old when I first heard the talk box, and I was floored. At first I thought it was a robot, but once my dad told me it was a guitar, I wanted to play. I started taking lessons and knew immediately that I was going to be a guitar player.
Did you have a regimen for practice?
I had a teacher who taught me a little bit the first few years, but then I went to conservatory and really started learning about theory, harmony and sight-reading. At the same time, I practiced along to my favorite records at home. I would pick up everything I could get my hands on and just learn it. I learned a lot about solos by figuring them out by ear. It was the best thing I ever did.
Tell me a little about how you got the gig with Ozzy.
I got an email from Ozzy’s management team asking me to come to LA to audition. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I remember Ozzy called me at my hotel room shortly after I checked in and told me not to stress about the audition. He told me to just come in and play my heart out, and that really broke the ice for me.
What’s it like being in that position?
It’s really hard to put into words just how special it is. It’s the biggest honor a guitar player can get to be in that position because so few people have been there.
Do you have any advice for new guitarists?
I remember when I first heard Tony Iommi on Master of Reality. It was so inspiring and easy to play. I think that when you don’t know a lot on guitar but can still play “Sweet Leaf” or songs like “Iron Man” or “Paranoid,” it’s encouraging. The secret to a successful riff is making any kid who doesn’t really know how to play want to pick up the guitar and learn.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.