Stranglehold by Starlight
BY PAUL GILBERT
Paul Gilbert purposefully began playing guitar
at age 9, formed the guitar-driven bands Racer
X and Mr. Big, and then accidentally had a No.
1 hit with an acoustic song called “To Be with
You.” Paul began teaching at GIT at the age of
18, has released countless albums and guitar
instructional DVDs, and will be remembered as
“the guy who got the drill stuck in his hair.” For
more information, visit paulgilbert.com
• Learn to control the almighty
fire-breathing beast that
• Discover the secret behind the
sound of Godzilla brushing
• Develop the ability to think 44
times faster while improvising
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Ijust listened to the guitar solo in Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” with the intent
of discovering one important thing. I
wanted to know how long the solo stays
in one key before changing to another key.
The answer is two minutes and 56 seconds
of grand and grinning A Dorian before the
song finally shifts to an A Mixolydian melody, followed by some howling Byrdland
feedback. I just want to ponder that number one more time ... 2: 56. All spent in a
single key center. Right on!
Then, I listened to the jazz standard
“Stella by Starlight” with the same intentions. There are many versions of this
popular tune and after listening to several of
them, I would estimate that on average there
a four seconds between each key change.
Now let’s do the math: “Stranglehold”
(the solo) stays in one key for 176 seconds.
“Stella by Starlight” stays in one key for
four seconds. When it comes to improvis-
ing, “Stella” requires the soloist to think…
not twice as fast, not 10 times as fast,
but 44 times faster than when navigating
This is why playing over jazz chord chang-
es can be one of the most humiliating expe-
riences a rock guitar player can ever face. I
know. I’ve tried it. It’s horrible. Just horrible!
(Not the music, but my ability to play it.)
There are two things that I want to
scream out when I’m butchering a jazz standard. The first is, “I’m not ready to change
yet!” Basically, I’ve never had to deal with
my whole harmonic universe shifting every
four seconds. It doesn’t give me a chance
to even get started. I haven’t unpacked my
bags, or even taken my shoes off. I haven’t
had a chance to look around. I’m not
ready to leave yet! My second impulse is
to scream, “I don’t know what happened,
normally I can play!” Suddenly, all my
Ted Nugent licks don’t work anymore and
that is deeply unsettling. It fills me with an
uncontrollable desire to apologize.
Is this proof that all rock guitarists are
dummies and all jazz guitar players are
geniuses? It sure feels that way, when all
those chords toss me around. In defense of
myself and of my rock ’n’ roll brethren, I
have to say this: What we may lack in “wild
key center-hopping abilities,” we make up
for with “things that can’t easily be written
down” and “controlling that fire-breathing
monster we call distortion.”
Before I go further, I should say that
I really like the sound of traditional jazz.
When I hear a mellow hollowbody guitar
with squeak-free and unbendable flatwound
strings, the guitar’s tone control all the way
down, and then plugged into a super clean,
solid-state amp, it’s like a sonic massage.
The music is beautiful. The atmosphere
is sophisticated and attractive. I wouldn’t
change it one bit.
I also believe that this kind of jazz setup
prevents many of the problems that rock
guitar players have to deal with. It’s quite
possible that the typical clean jazz tone is
44 times less distorted than the average fire-breathing guitar rig.
This means that jazz guitarists can fun-
nel all their brain and finger power into
steering through those winding roads of
harmony. The jazz player is not distracted
by the obligations that distortion requires.
The rock player, on the other hand, has to
reserve significant brain and finger power
just to harness the wild beast that comes
alive when the distortion is cranked up.