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Chuck Berry

Top 10 Greatest Guitar Riffs

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry

What makes a great guitar riff? Does it come down to the technical brilliance that goes into playing it, or the ease by which a simple but effective riff can be played by beginners? Similarly, what riffs act as useful indicators of changing periods in music, and how have they transcended their status within songs to almost stand in for a whole band’s career? The following list represents an effort to put together some of the best guitar riffs, which are presented in rough order of influence through to some personal favourites at the top of the list.

10. Johnny B. Goode, Chuck Berry

Included on this list almost solely due to its iconic appearance in Back to the Future, ‘Johnny B. Goode’s’ electric riff arguably stands in for early rock and roll as much as Elvis Presley’s hip jigging on the Ed Sullivan Show. Simple, but invested with considerable power, Berry helped inspire a new generation of performers.

9. Start Me Up, Keith Richards

Reflecting The Rolling Stone’s powerful, pop-edged take on the blues, the open G tuning and percussive opening to Start Me Up by Keith Richards says all you need to know about the band’s swaggering sound. Originally Recorded in the mid 1970s, ‘Start Me Up’ appeared on the 1981 album Tattoo You.

8. Paperback Writer, George Harrison/John Lennon

Signalling the rock power that underpinned The Beatles’ melodies and harmonies, George Harrison’s overdriven mono riff on Paperback Writer demonstrated a band making a crucial turn towards more complex albums in the mid 1960s.

7. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Kurt Cobain

Perhaps the first riff that everyone tries when they get their first distortion pedal, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’s stripped down appeal and instinctive use of a few chords still sounds as powerful today as in 1991.

6. Sweet Child O’Mine, Slash

If ‘Teen Spirit’ marked the breakaway of Seattle grunge from the excesses of West Coast hair metal, ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’ remains the key example of how the pomp and swagger of the LA scene could be boiled down to Slash’s virtuoso opening riff.

5. Smoke On The Water, Ritchie Blackmore

Perhaps the most imitated riff for beginners, Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke On The Water’ is simple but highly effective, and represents a rare riff that can be picked up by a new player on the first day of owning a guitar.

4. Enter Sandman, Kirk Hammett

For heavier riffs, look no further than Kirk Hammett’s building intro and main riff for Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’. Pure, pulse pounding guitar playing at its best.

3. Sweet Home Alabama/Free Bird. Ed King/Lynyrd Skynyrd

A tie for third place, Lynyrd Skynyrd can be criticised for turning every rock encore into a crowd chant for ‘Free Bird’, the band’s oftentimes 14 minute closure to their shows. ‘Sweet Home Alabama’s’ infectious riff, however, remains one of the most memorable, and oft imitated examples of its kind.

2. Stairway to Heaven, Jimmy Page

The perfect embodiment of Jimmy Page’s technical mastery during Led Zeppelin’s peak, ‘Stairway to Heaven’ gradually builds around an opening riff that most just about manage to learn before taking on the rest of the song.

1. Walk This Way, Joe Perry

Just edging out ‘Stairway’ is Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way,’ if only for the fact that it fused rock and rap music around a central riff that has been much imitated, but rarely bettered.

Rob James, guitar enthusiast, rocker, and fan of the Lick Library

Tube Tone Crystal Ball 2010: Amp Trends & Future Predictions!

It’s once again time to take stock of what’s happening in the world of tube guitar amps. I’ll examine some interesting happenings in 2009, make some predictions and revisit Tube Tone Crystal Ball 2009 to see if any of last year’s guesses came true!

Small Is Beautiful: Under 10 Watt Guitar Amps Grow Up
Last year I discussed what I believed to be the growing fascination with power reduction. At that time I reviewed the ways in which an amp’s power can be reduced: attenuators, variable power reduction, switchable power reduction, pentode/triode operation and single tube, low watt amps.

One year later it turns out that the industry seems to have focused on single tube amps and either variable or switchable power reduction.

In 2009 the already crowded ranks of the ‘under-10-watt’ category grew significantly. Three aspects of that growth are, I believe, interesting and give us an indication of what’s coming.

  1. VERY low power. Not only did many manufacturers introduce under-10-watt amps, a number of them provided the ability to reduce power to under 1 watt – sometimes well under 1 watt. I believe this acknowledges the fact that the vast majority of electric guitar players – if not all – spend a significant portion of their time playing at home. Therefore, it makes sense to provide amps optimized for home playing and less than a 1 watt output is necessary to obtain the best tone at bedroom volume.
  2. The economy made me do it. The impact of the economy has helped fuel the industry’s interest in low power amps – 2009’s Mesa’s Mark V and the PRS amp line being notable exceptions. In the worst economy since The Great Depression it makes sense that manufacturers introduced lower priced products. Relatively few guitarists were willing and able to spend over $1,000 on a guitar amp this past year – and likely won’t for some time to come.
  3. The economy made me do it, part II. Boutique builders embraced low power for the same reason the rest of the industry did: to have something to sell! Good news for tone hounds! Prior to the world’s economic bubble bursting, boutique amps were overwhelmingly focused on 15-18 watts and above – (2+ power tubes).

Where are we headed?
I believe that the low power amp trend will have legs at least as long as the ’18 watt’ trend – that is 5+ years. For the next few years expect to see more under-10-watters hit the market. This trend will be long lived for two reasons:

  1. First, with the global economy expected to experience only limited growth over the next two years (and perhaps longer) and unemployment expected to decline at a very slow rate, high ticket guitar amps will not be selling like hot cakes. As I mentioned above, amp companies have to have something to sell at a price people are able to pay. Hello under-10-watters!
  2. Second, I predict the electric guitar world will discover that under-10-watt amps can provide GREAT tone and surprising flexibility – they can be legitimate tone machines suitable for more than just bedroom strumming.

The positive result for all electric guitarists is that as more and more builders pursue low power amps of their own, the quality and variety of under-10-watt amps will increase – just like 15-18 watters did a few years ago, which were considered low power amps before the under-10-watt trend took hold!

Guitar Amp Industry Reacts to Change – Extension, Contraction and Caution
It’s no surprise that this year the Crystal Ball is clouded by the effects of the economy. Most industries (all?) have been forced to change tactics. Here’s how I think the guitar amp industry will cope.

Up until the fall of 2008 the overall guitar market was as overheated as the rest of economy. Vintage guitar prices were sky high, manufacturers were introducing new products at a rapid rate, a boutique builder baby boom was in full swing with new arrivals being born almost every week. Music Industry revenue statistics confirmed double digit annual growth: guitarists were buying gear like there was no tomorrow.

Sound familiar? Substitute guitars and amps with almost any product you can think of and the scenario was the same.

And then we hit the wall.

How have manufacturers reacted and how will they struggle through until sales start to grow?

Product Line Extension – Want More Pedals?
As mentioned above regarding low power amps, many guitar amp companies that previously relied on $1,000+ products to sustain business are searching for lower priced offerings that appeal to income battered guitar players.

This is confirmed by an interesting fact about how this recession differs from those of the past: the sale of ‘luxury’ products have dropped right along with everything else. In every recession since the Depression, luxury goods manufacturers (in our case think boutique builders) enjoyed relatively robust sales: those with money kept buying high-end items. Not this time.

So, I believe that in addition to under-10-watt amps many amp builders will extend their product lines by creating their own line of effects pedals. After all, compared to a guitar amplifier an effects pedal requires less labor, fewer components (usually), no power supply (or an off the shelf, cheap wall wart), a dramatically smaller and less costly cabinet and, as is the case with combo amps, they don’t require a large and expensive speaker.

To an amp company, that looks like a promising path to a relatively inexpensive product line add-on. I’m certain that I am not the only amp builder who has thought of that!

However, will extending a previously amp-only product line by adding pedals be the ‘answer’ to increased sales? Maybe.

We all know the pedal market is as crowded as the amp market if not more so. Will amp company offerings cause guitarists to buy a pedal when they otherwise wouldn’t or cause them to choose the amp company’s product vs. a pedal company’s?

Time will tell, but those amp companies that successfully launch a line of pedals will do so solely on the merit of their product (and their marketing budget!): amp builder pedals will have to be sufficiently different from the crowd to garner attention and sales.

Can that happen? Who knows for sure, but I believe you will see an increasing number of pedals offered by amp companies that are, of course, designed using their knowledge of tube amp design and tone – not from a pedal manufacturer’s ‘pedal-centric’ perspective.

So, expect to see pedals that are designed to form a ‘system’ with an amp rather than being simply an add on. How a pedal compliments, enhances and changes the amp’s tone (and vice versa) and how the pedal interacts with the amp’s first preamp stage will, I think, be areas of interest for amp-centric pedal designers.

Pedals designed to, in effect (bad pun), add another channel or multiple channels to an amp… pedals designed with a frequency response perfectly matched to an amp’s voicing… overdrive and distortion based on the detailed knowledge of how tubes produce their particular mojo and long experience ‘voicing’ amps. I think that amp builder’s will have their own take on pedal design, particularly in conjunction with their own amps.

Guitar Amp Product Line Contraction – Less Choice
I think we will see some amp companies narrowing their product lines. Following the unfortunate theme of this article, higher priced and/or lower volume models may see the end of their life cycle in the coming 12 months.

Too bad for guitarists, but inevitable at least to some extent I think.

Guitar Amp Product Line Caution – Fewer New Products
This is another prediction that isn’t a surprise. When sales are down there is less money available for research, product development and product launches. Plus, these days the risk inherent in any product launch is much greater than in the past.

So, as was evident in 2009 – aside from low power amps – I believe that the number of new amp product introductions will significantly lag that of past years.

Again, too bad for guitarists, but inevitable.

2009 Tube Tone Crystal Ball Revisited.
Last year I made three predictions. As it turns out, it looks like I called two of them correctly!

  1. End of the 18 Watt Guitar Amp Trend: In my opinion 2009 proved what I believed was already happening in 2008: the fascination with dual EL84 amps has ended. Although I don’t have precise statistics, I think there were dramatically fewer amps of this type launched in 2009 – yes, launches were down overall, but other than perhaps a small hand full none were twin 84s. As I pointed out last year, this is not to say that EL84 based, 18 watters aren’t good amps! In fact, the trend was legitimate – these things can sound fantastic!!
  2. Guitar Amp Power Reduction – enough said above.
  3. PCB Amps On The Rise: My prediction that more ‘high-end’ amps will feature printed circuit boards (PCBs) instead of hand made, stuffed and soldered circuit board has not been realized. Nonetheless, I believe that this change will occur, but when it will start given the current industry situation, who knows.

I’d like to know what you think is happening in the world of tube amps. Send me an email at: Don@MackAmps.com.

Mack Amps: Skyraider SR-15 Amp (front)

Mack Amps: Skyraider SR-15 Amp (front)

Don Mackrill

The Beatles: Were They Really That Good?

Now that they have finally released the remastered Beatles albums, it seems a good time to reopen the classic argument. The Beatles – the best group of all time or just a matter of timing? Since 09/09/09 I’ve been listening to the fab four round the clock until I couldn’t bear it any more, with mixed emotions (to quote Mick Jagger). As a whole there are a lot of good songs, several great songs and then quite a bit of rubbish some of it downright embarrising, and I’m not just talking about Revolution 9.

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show

Let’s start from the very beginning (a very good place…but enough of the kitch, I’ll leave that for Paul.)

Please Please Me: definitely one of their purer efforts, pure rock and roll, simple lyrics, but that was what was expected of them then. A good start and still good today.Of the fourteen tracks six were covers of other artists including songs written by Carol King and Burt Bacharach. Now remastered the harmonies and simple music renditions make it feel even more alive. Grade: A-

With the Beatles: released only four months later. Another great raw album. You don’t change a winning combination. Finally Ringo gets to play drums – not the best drummer in the world by far. Again six of the fourteen tracks are covers. Grade: A-

A Hard Day’s Night: down to 13 tracks, this album was entirely self written. Another strong production Grade: A-

Beatles for Sale: the Beatles are by now tired and pressed for time and a bit fed up – thus the title. Between a concert tour in the U.S. and one in the U.K. they had all of five weeks to put together and record this album. Luckily they could lean heavily on successful covers they sang on stage in their Hamburg days. Much due to this fact, the album is almost flawless and great fun to listen to, especially after being remastered. It has a very live, gritty feeling to it, something that was actually missing from their actual concerts (see my blog ). Grade: A-

Help!: The soundtrack from their second film. Who could dare fault an album including Yesterday, Ticket to Ride and and the beautiful You’ve got to Hide your Love away. Grade: A

Up till this point definitely a great group. Not a rock group or a revolutionary force but still great enough to be worthy of all the hype.

Rubber Soul: the first hint that the Beatles wanted a change. There is a candid attempt to add hidden meaning to the songs. Here the Beatles try to go beyond the boy / girl love / dove lyrics and attempt to make a statement. Hints at drug use are abundant as is the influence of Dylan and the Byrds. Ambiguity is the name of the game; Norwegian Wood, Drive my Car, Looking Through You. Though it has it’s great moments, the album is uneven. There are initial signs of the banal McCartney love songs to emerge in future years – Michelle Ma Belle!!!. Gone are the rhythmic, exciting numbers that got all the girls screaming – the Beatles concert years are behind them. Grade: B

Revolver: Electric Rock has replaced the folk rock of the previous album and once again the vitality is back: Got to get You into my Life, Taxman, And your bird can Sing. Several songs, notably Tomorrow Never Knows, offer a shift to the East with the use of the sitar. At the time many critics hailed Revolver as one of the greatest albums of all time. In retrospect their praise seems overrated. The songs are strong but the mixture of different styles make it more a unconnected collection of songs than a concept album. Grade: B

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: Often voted the best and most revolutionary album of the twentieth century, the real question is does it hold up to the test of time. In my opinion no. Marketed as a concept album it falls flat after the second song and leaves us with a batch of psychedelically touched pieces that are unlikely to get you excited today. On the one hand there’s With a little help from my friends (Joe Cocker’s half stoned version sounds far superior), A day in the Life (actually two songs knitted together) and When I’m 64 but how many times are you willing today to listen to Getting Better,McCartney’s Lovely Rita (Wings are on the way) or Mr Kite (more of a joke than a song really). A great album cover but not my favourite album or even my favourite Beatles album by far. Grade: B-

Magical Mystery Tour: not really worth mentioning. A failing BBC TV special with no script, turned into a disastrous EP set and then reshuffled to make an album. Eleven songs in all, luckily including Fool on the Hill, Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, otherwise worthless. Can you really listen to All you need is Love or Flying without throwing up? Grade: C-

The White Double Album: The Beatles didn’t even bother themselves with a name or cover. Not really a group album at all. This album has enough good songs to fill a short, single album but it as a double album it is full of garbage. High marks for Back in the USSR, Dear Prudence and While my Guitar Gently Weeps, but new lows for Revolution 9, Why don’t We do it in the Road and Happiness is a Warm Gun, not to mention Paul’s idiotic Rocky Raccoon, and Mother Natures Son. Even George and Ringo got in the act with Piggies and Goodnight. Did they really believe they they could sell anything? A real embarrassment. Grade: C- (and I’m being nice)

Yellow Submarine: don’t even get me started. Just let me give them an E and leave it at that.

Abbey Road: After three previous no shows, no one really saw this coming. True it’s as much a George Martin album as a Beatles one, but finally it all comes together. My favourite Beatles album by far. The Beatles finally get it together again. A masterpiece Grade: A+

Let it Be: I wish they had. The title song is more gospel than Beatles. Then there’s The Long and Winding Road – George Martin and Paul really went overboard there. Apart from Get Back and The One after 909, which returned them to their rock and roll era, the album isn’t worth mentioning. Grade: D-

So there you have it. Six great albums, three not so great and four pretty awful ones. So were they really that great. As a rock and roll group they could even get your grandmother up and dancing. As rock psychedelic revolutionists they were out of their league.

Post by: Steve Taite
The Taite Gallery Blog

Live Earth 2007: Private Jets for Climate Change

One of the most forgettable events from 2007 was Live Earth. I was clearing up my inbox today and found an article that I had clipped from the local Toronto newspaper, written by one of Canada’s national treasures, Rex Murphy. I got a real chuckle from this, so I thought I should share it with you.

For those who can’t remember, Live Earth was a series of worldwide concerts held on July 7, 2007 to combat climate change, spearheaded by Al Gore. The concerts brought together more than 150 musical acts in eleven locations around the world and were broadcast to a mass global audience through televisions, radio, and streamed via the Internet.

Live Earth 2007: Cleavage Climatologists

Live Earth 2007: Cleavage Climatologists

As Rex observed, “NBC gave 3 hours of prime time and managed to stir up only 2.7 million viewers – a number that would be embarrassing for a re-run of Three’s Company. It featured such acts as Madonna, Shakira and other “cleavage climatologists”. It was a flop. Why? The spectacle of the world’s most wasteful people, rock star plutocrats with their cribs and bling, caravans and trailer trucks and 100,000 watt amps, taking a day out of their wealth-stuffed lives to preach about the moral importance of consuming LESS, set the hypocrisy bar so high that it put too great a strain on the digestion of ordinary people”. Private Jets for climate change sums it up.

For the whole story, click on this link: Live Earth? How about live irony?

Marks Don’t Matter

The nice thing about a blog is that I can write about anything that is on my mind. This week has nothing to do with guitars. I’ve just returned from being in Europe for 3 weeks – 1st week at Messe, then the next two with my wife Kay and 9-year-old son Troy in Southern Spain and a couple of days in Paris. Yes, a well deserved Holiday.

Troy in Paris (Eiffel Tower in background)

Troy in Paris (Eiffel Tower in background)

Since returning (and before we left for that matter), I kept hearing, “How can you take your son out of school for that long, won’t he fall behind!?”. And the question always comes with some sense of panic – as if the parent asking the question truly believes the child will fall behind in life, never to recover. Ridiculous. Today our school systems are (IMHO) a pile of crap, with outdated curriculum being run by a system that motivates the teachers to give the kids more and more homework – to hopefully improve the grades – to make the system look better. But in the end, it is stripping away the most important thing – giving the kid an opportunity to develop some common sense and the ability to learn make decisions on their own. I believe the time we spend away with Troy in Europe is far better developmentally than if he would have stayed in class.

I might be wrong, but here are a couple of articles that Kay has clipped from the past few years that shed a deeper light on the subject. The first deals with the issue of homework. Right now Troy is in Grade 4 and he is spending HOURS and HOURS trying to memorize the different names and situations from Medieval times. That should come in handy some day… Or not? The second deals with how we are over protective of our kids and consequently stripping them of their ability to learn about risks and rewards.

This was my experience in school – I was board out of my mind for most of my time, being force fed statistical information on subjects that ultimately served no purpose in my life thus far (I’m turning 50 in 2009, perhaps the Medieval stuff might come in handy yet!?). A third article that I will include in a future ramble talks about how many C+ students (much more than you think) turn out to be our community leaders. Winston Churchill, Richard Branson, Bill Gates and many others were reportedly bored to tears in the school system too. But they all had curiosity and an appetite for risk – the very things that homework and our child protective society is squelching.
This quote rings true for me, “The A Students end up teaching the B students how to work for the C students.” MARKS DON’T MATTER.