Guitar lesson: learn to play Smashing Pumpkins song Mayonaise from their classic album Siamese Dream

Smashing Pumpkins
(Image credit: Paul Bergen/Redferns)

In this new series, Matt Webster from YouTube's Let's Play All guides you through everything you need to know to play classic rock and metal songs.  

In the video lesson below we’re taking a look at both guitar parts to Smashing Pumpkins fan favourite, Mayonaise. Despite Billy Corgan reportedly recording most of the guitar (and bass parts) on the band's 1993 album Siamese Dream, the unusual guitar tuning and chord voicings are all thanks to bandmate James Iha here. 

Get the tone

Hungry Beaver

(Image credit: Future)

Ideally I'd advise using a single-coil pickup (bridge position) and your amp set pretty clean. James’s parts are basically a clean tone with a Big Muff fuzz pedal for the main part of the song. Billy uses the same fuzz plus phaser on his solo parts. 

In the video using the SoundLad Liverpool Hungry Beaver fuzz / boost for Billy's tone and the Benson Germanium fuzz for James's parts as they work nicely together in the recording.

Electro-Harmonix Op Amp Big Muff

(Image credit: Future)

The EHX Op-Amp Big Muff Pi is a reissue of the V4 Op-Amp circuit so if you’re just after that one tone, then look no further. If you don't have a fuzz pedal to hand then many distortion pedals will get you close if you crank the gain and tweak the EQ – Pro Co Rat-style pedals are a great example of this.

The phaser on the original Pumpkins' recording was likely to be an Electro-Harmonix Small Stone phaser, so that’s what I’m using too. Any four-stage phaser set to more restrained settings or one with a blend knob will get you there.


Smashing Pumpkins

(Image credit: Jen Rosenstein)

Each player has a different tuning in this song; James is in Eb/Bb/Bb/Gb/Bb/D, which I’m now calling “Bond villain” tuning – just strum the open strings and you’ll hear what I mean!

Billy is in a more conventional tuning but with the guitar tuned down half a step : Eb/Ab/Db/Gb/BbEb.

Technique tips 

Smashing Pumpkins

(Image credit: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images)

For James's parts watch your fingering in the intro/outro and use your thumb to mute the strings for the first strumming section. After that, strum away and bask in the loveliness of those chord voicings. 

There’s a wealth of great technique packed into Billy Corgan's short intro solo, with dynamic slides, hammer-ons/pull-offs, pinch harmonics and a natural harmonic. 

From there, it’s a V-IV-I chord progression for the most part. That high-pitched squealing sound you hear in the later verses on the record is feedback from a cheap $65 Kimberly guitar, but you can get close to this with a natural harmonic if you wish. Enjoy! 

Video lesson 

Classic interview: Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlin, Butch Vig, Flood and more on the Smashing Pumpkins' recording history

Matt Webster

Matt spends his spare time teaching guitar lessons and creating gear demos on his YouTube channel Let's Play All, which covers all manner of styles, but he does have a special place in his heart for '90s grunge and alt rock.