The Science Bit – LEDucation continued…

I am not a guitar player, unless you count being able to play a few chords guitar playing! But I have a lot of guitar boy/Led Zep fanatic friends who love to talk about the technical aspects of the music. As it dawned on me I was going to be a hopeless Jimmy Page wreck for the rest of my natural life, and for the sake of my long-suffering squee-battered friends, I decided to learn more about him than just how adorable he is in great detail. Then when they started talking about Pentatonics, I didn’t think it was a drink or something you did at the gym. If you find yourself completely lost when the guitar techno babble starts, don’t worry. Here is a very tiny and gentle starter. At the beginning, I found even this small amount good to know. Add to it as much as you want, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. In my experience most guitar boys are sweet and will be happy to explain things for you, especially if they see you are making an effort and didn’t mention how completely yummy Jimmy is once during their guitar talk! Okay here we go, try and pay attention now…

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  • The Guitar
  • You should learn the parts of it, and which one your favorite player is noted for using. Pagey is mostly a Gibson Les Paul player, but he also uses a Telecaster, a Danelectro, a Gibson Doubleneck (a six and twelve string combined), and once in while, a Strat. Your guitar boys will be very happy if you learn what these guitars look like too – a lot easier now with the internet! You will also see Jimmy playing acoustic, mandolin, banjo, pedal steel and that amazing triple neck, which is a mandolin, six and twelve string combined. He uses Ernie Ball super slinky strings and Herco heavy gauge flat nylon picks.

  • Effects
  • There are a number of devices used to create guitar effects – time delay effects, harmony effects, frequency, distortion…it gets very technical! Jimmy tends to use an Echoplex, MXR unit, harmonizer, a violin bow, a Wah Pedal, and a Theramin. It’s most useful to know about the following to start: The Wah, because it’s so visible, The Theramin and Bow because these are Jimmy specials! The Wah looks like a little gas pedal on the floor of the stage. It subtracts bass from the tone of the guitar and adds treble. A lot of players rock it back and forth, making that ‘wah wah’ sound, but Jimmy usually pressed it down and held it there, sometimes for an entire song, to get a sharper sound out of his guitar. A Theramin is what Jimmy is playing when he is waving his hands around in front of a little box, and all these weird noises come out. It has two metal antennas and by moving your hands between them you get varying pitch and volume. Jimmy’s is slightly different because he removed the volume antenna. They can be hard to play well, because you need very exact hand positions and an excellent sense of pitch. But no problem for Jimmy, just watch him go when he plays it in the movie The Song Remains the Same! Which brings me to the Bow and 3 words: OH, MY, and GOD. Bowing his guitar was suggested to him during his session days by a classical string player, who has my undying gratitude!! Watching Jimmy do this is so intensely hot it’s actually painful. In a serious guitar boy music chat, I am DOOMED with this topic. If I am around and the bow is mentioned, don’t bother trying to help me, just cushion my fall and call the paramedics.

  • Amps
  • If you hear the following in any sentence: cabs, stacks, AC-30s, EL-34s, Supro, Marshall plexi, think: amplifiers! It may be useful for you to know what your favorite player uses. The last time I recall Jimmy was using 4 customized Marshall 100s. Arrangements of these are liable to change, so you may have to keep up!

  • Scale
  • A series of tones arranged to rise or fall step by step in order of pitch. In rock, you are likely to hear a lot about the major and minor pentatonic scales, and the blues scale. Pentatonic scales are scales with 5 notes per octave. It gets used a lot in rock music because it is simple to use, easy to improvise on, and usually always sounds really good. The blues scale is a scale that has notes in it played or sung lower than the major scale, the “blue notes.” The blue notes turn a major scale into a blues scale. Jimmy is a dazzling blues player, and really floors my friends with Since I’ve Been Loving You, which wins their vote as his best blues song ever.

  • Tuning
  • Standard tuning of the strings is: EADGBE, but, if you change the tunings on the strings, you can make it easier to reach different chords you want to play. Doing this is called alternate tuning, of which Drop D is probably one you have heard of before. It drops the tone of the last string down to D rather than standard E. Jimmy uses a lot of tunings for his music, many are his own inventions that he keeps to himself, but you can hear him playing a DADGAD tuning in Kashmir, and a CGCGCE on That’s the Way.

  • Riff /Lick
  • A sort of ‘musical thought’, part of a melody, or phrase that repeats itself in a song. Jimmy is a well-respected MASTER of riffs. The Wanton Song, Four Sticks, No Quarter, When the Levee Breaks, Trampled Underfoot, Custard Pie, Black Dog, For Your Life, The Ocean…give a listen to any one of these and the riff will jump out at you. Slash thinks Black Dog contains the “biggest, baddest, sexiest riff out there.”

  • Chops
  • a word used by guitarists when they talk about the technique of a player, their accuracy, speed and agility. Jimmy is said to be a sloppy player, hence lacking in chops. Be warned, this topic is a minefield and can cause huge arguments, but later we’ll venture in! This is just one of things people discuss about Pagey that could turn me into a snarling pitbull, just because people get so ugly if they don’t like him, but Zep fans have to learn to live with the total devotion/vehement hatred they tend to evoke in people. I promise to keep the leash tight.;)

    I think that should do. There are a zillion other things you can go into, and all in more depth, but keeping it simple at the start is the best approach. Soon you will be able to sit back and watch all the mouths drop open when your sniffed at squee of, “Oooo Jimmy’s so yummy” carries on with, “when he plays that descending riff on Whole Lotta Love!” 🙂

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