Here Charlie Griffiths takes a Journey of discovery into the style of the great Neal Schon. So, whatever you do, Don’t Stop Believing!
Charlie Griffiths looks at Journey’s stunning lead guitarist, the ever-brilliant Neal Schon.
Early in his career Neal Schon was part of Carlos Santana’s band, and the Latin and fusion influence he absorbed here is evident on Journey’s self-titled, prog rock tinged debut in 1975. Later in the ‘70s and early ‘80s the classic Journey sound emerged, blending radio-friendly hits with unforgettable rock solos. Schon is the only member of the band to have appeared on all 14 releases, from the debut in 1975 right up to Eclipse, released in 2011.
We have five riffs and a solo to give you flavour of Neal’s approach. Our first riff is in the style of a Journey mega-classic from the 1981 album Escape. It features Major triad stabs in various inversions, played over palm-muted fifth and sixth strings. Note how the bass reinforces the root notes and the synths enhance the stabs.
Riff two explores heavier territory as found on the ‘83 album, Frontiers. It uses just two notes, but the syncopated rhythm, open notes and palm-mutes creates a driving feel.
Our third riff is another typical Schon-style creation. It’s based in D Minor Pentatonic (1-b3-4-5-b7)
and uses an open D5 power chord coupled with open strings and hammer-ons and pull-offs to create a riff with a lot of notes but very economic movement.
Example four is reminiscent of Neal’s playing on tracks from Raised On Radio. The descending arpeggio pattern is played with a palm muted tone throughout with a three against four feel. Although the subdivision is 16th-notes, the melody is grouped into threes.
The final riff is inspired by various cuts from the 1996 album Trial By Fire. In the key of G (G-A-B-C-D-E-F#) it’s played entirely on the third string using the open root note as a pedal and the melodic notes plotted along the length of the fretboard.
Our final example is an epic sounding solo, which tips its hat to some of Neal’s most famous lead performances. The solo is in C (C-D-E-F-G-A-B) and shows Neal’s skill at playing melodic lines that could just as easily have been sung by a vocalist (a great approach to develop in your own solos). Sustain and vibrato are the main features in this solo, so aim to make those notes sing out and emote. Neal also uses legato to create rhythmic tension before releasing with a slower, more direct rhythm. He often shifts between subdivisions to develop an idea and in turn to keep the listener interested.
Play through all the riffs and solo slowly at first, focusing on accuracy before speeding things up and playing along to the backing tracks provided.
sustain and vibrato are the main features in this solo, so aim to make those notes sing out and emote
NEXT MONTH Charlie takes a look at the twin guitars of Brummie rockers Judas Priest
Schon has used a host of guitars, particularly Gibson and Kramer, but nowadays he has a signature PRS with Duncan Custom Custom in the bridge and a Fast Track 2 at the neck. A Fernandes Sustainer is used for those soaring melodies. Neal uses PRS Archon and Diesel VH4 amps and an AxeFXII for effects. Use your bridge pickup and a high-gain tone with plenty of mids plus reverb and delay.