Marty Friedman’s top 6 tips for guitarists
Wall Of Sound
“I make no effort when it comes to gear,” admits legendary guitarist Marty Friedman, who shot to fame during Megadeth’s golden years at the beginning of the ’90s before leaving to pursue his own creative endeavours.
“Imagine I put 100% of my effort on a record, well, only 2% of that goes on gear. I don’t have that chromosome which it seems a lot of other guys do.
“I actually admire guys that really get into their gear stuff. I round up as much great stuff as I can in the studio and let the engineers and techs figure out what I should play through.
“If you have good people around you, let them do their thing. I know the difference between a phaser and a flanger, but that’s about it. That way I can concentrate on the music, the playing, the phrasing… all of that.”
Ah yes, the phrasing - something that Friedman has long been revered for. Listen to any guitar solo from that genre-defining era of Megadeth or, indeed, anything he has put his name to since - of which there is a lot - and it’s crystal-clear there’s something incredibly special about this particular player. As many have said before him, it’s all in the fingers…
“If you listen to my new record Wall Of Sound, there’s not many effects going on,” he continues.
“Maybe a couple of little things, but nothing featured especially. That goes for my entire career - any effect I can’t get out of my hands is probably not something I wanted to do in the first place.
“But there’s plenty of other trickery on the album… it’s just not in the guitar department. For example, if I use a pedal, I might have my tech fiddle with it while I’m playing. If there is any wah on my records, I’m probably not the guy stepping on it. I’ll get something even deeper than what I could have done on my own… I like to enlist the talents of others wherever possible.”
As for other talents, there’s no shortage on the new record - which features Jinxx of Black Veil Brides, Shining frontman Jorgen Munkeby and Deafheaven six-stringer Shiv Mehra. For Friedman, there’s genuine excitement in collaboration…
“I learned on [last solo album] Inferno that the best thing to do is give the guest a commitment to the song,” he reveals.
“So why not write the whole thing from the ground up with them instead of having them come in and blow out a solo. Let them arrange things, for that one song, be a band together.
“I wanted to know what it would sound like if I was in Deafheaven or if Shiv was in my band. Same with the Jorgen collaboration… it’s as if I was in Shining. You can really smell both of us and we’re sweating real bad on that thing!”
Here the legendary gunslinger gives us six tips of the trade...
Wall Of Sound is out now via Prosthetic Records.
1. Be original
“One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of guitar hero types have a lot of people copying them. That’s something I don’t fit into at all - where music is learned and mastered by mechanics.
“I’m not taking anything away from those other players by saying that… guitar fans tend to want to play like their heroes. And you can get pretty damn close to your heroes by learning all the mechanics. You can go from point A to B and C sounding like them if practise those techniques a lot. That’s why there are so many guys that sounded like Van Halen after he came out!
“Copying others is not necessarily the best thing if you’re trying to reach an audience as a young guitar player, because what happens is you might try to play something really far away from what you can actually get under your fingers.
“There’s no course for that. There’s no method to it. The only way to really get to it, if you really want to play like someone, is understand there is no way. The guys that come closest to me are the ones that play in my band and have dissected those songs to a professional level. It’s a non-mechanical approach.
“It’s going to be hard to emulate a player like myself because it all comes from random background music in an Indian restaurant, old Japanese idol pop melodies, Persian violin concertos, Russian ballets, 1950s pop songs... there’s no way you can get all that stuff and all of it makes my music what it is!
“You’re not going to see a lot of Eddie Van Halen clones being stars in their own right. There’s a billion of these guys who can play note-perfect renditions of other people’s music. They spent all their time perfecting something that someone else has already done...”
2. Ditch the scales already
“People tend to talk about music in relation to scales, but I don’t think that way at all. I think in terms of phrases and melodies, and the interesting little in-roads that go from one place to another over a chord or a series of chords.
“The liberating side of it is that I never had to memorise billions of different scales. The downside is that if someone asked me to play a particular scale, I couldn’t do it... but that never really comes up.
“The point is making something sound right to your own ears - that way it doesn’t have to be a memorised sequence of notes. I remember a long time ago, I regretted doing this instructional video because they asked me to explain scales and shit like that. I was a lot younger and just glad to be getting a paycheque, so I bullshitted my way talking through scales when I knew zero about it.”
3. Dissect the music in your own head
“You have to be able to hear a melody and dissect it at any time. For example, imagine being in a store and hearing this interesting melody - you need to immediately log that melody into your brain, as well as the chords underneath it. If you don’t forget it, you can start messing with it when you get home!
“I did that a lot as a young guitarist, especially on tour in different countries, learning new ways to sit melodies on top of chords. You really have to log that stuff in your mind and exploit what you’ve learned as soon as you can.
“After a while, you will start creating your own theories about what you like hearing over certain chords, rather than, ‘Here’s scale number 36, which goes nicely over the Phrygian minor of the D flat major seven!’
“That’s the recipe to sounding like everyone else. They all have the same theory books. If you only listen to what you like and analyse the shit out of it, you’ll start understanding it in your own language, in your own terms. My way of thinking is a bit weird!”
4. Stop looking for back doors
“People want warm-up exercises and shortcuts… there aren’t any! Take any sequence of notes: there’s your warm-up exercise.
“Okay, to be a bit more helpful, you could write out all the notes in the chromatic scale and then jumble them up in a random order. Then find a fingering that works and repeat it. Usually it will sound like complete shit, but there’s your exercise.
“People should stop wasting time on exercises; you might think early on they help with getting used to moving fingers, but to be honest, there’s not one that’s loads better. These are all mechanical things. If I want to warm up, I’ll play anything at all... it really does not matter.
“Don’t even spend a quarter of your time on this tips stuff. Get out there and play in bands to anyone you can. That’s how you find out how to play well. In your bedroom, you won’t have the right stimulus to play for real and avoid fuck-ups. Mechanical stuff is great if you’re Billy No Mates; otherwise, put pressure on yourself by getting out there!”
5. Try to refrain from playing fast 24/7
“Here’s a great tip: one thing you want to avoid is playing fast unless it’s absolutely necessary. If it’s not needed, then playing fast totally sucks.
“I hear so many people that are brilliant at playing fast, but the second they end their run, what they play completely negates anything that was cool about the fast stuff. It becomes completely lame; people spend way too long on the mechanical things.
“When someone holds a note or plays a great melody, that’s what sounds beautiful. If you’re playing fast, whether it’s sloppy or accurate is something only guitar players will be able to notice. Not only that, they also don’t give a shit. When you play a melody, that’s when you’re singing, and if it’s out of tune or not good, even your grandmother can notice that. That’s how much more important it is.
“If you get a call from Elton John about doing some session, he’s not going to want to hear your eight-finger tapping arpeggios... he’ll send you straight out the door. Sir Paul McCartney won’t want your insane diminished shit either - you’ll get fired. So think big and focus on your vibrato, make sure each note sounds nice. That’s how you sound professional.
“For all the kids learning how to play fast like their heroes, the hard thing is to distinguish the notes being played. Usually, the guys that play fast have a limited vocabulary, so find something where they played at a medium tempo, and it’ll probably be very similar to what they’re playing really fast. So if you learn the slower stuff, it will give you big clues to what they’re doing fast.
“I was a big Frank Marino fan as a kid and used to wonder how he played ultra-fast. By learning the slow stuff and speeding it up, boom! I had it. Saying that, Frank Marino is one of the tastiest fast players on the planet. Same with Steve Lukather... those are the guys with large vocabularies.”
6. Pay attention to vibrato
“Vibrato is very important and there’s a way to approach it. Listen to all the types you like, and learn.
“It might be guitarists; for me, it was violins, cellos and Chinese erhus especially, as well as vocalists. Listen to the waves of how the note is being shaken. Often, a violinist will play a note completely straight with no vibrato and then with a bit more time start wavering it a little bit. I tend to like that approach.
“You hold the note, make sure you are spot-on and when you’re feeling like it needs to move, start fucking it. Literally have sex with that note... but only when it’s ready, haha! When you do that, it sounds like you’ve got a lot of control. Then you decide how fast, how slow, how violent you wanna vibrate that thing.
“Jeff Beck is fantastic at that; he never plays these 64th-note patterns like these other maniacs. He has a way with melody that sounds beautiful... and that’s what people truly remember about you.”