Guitar instrumentals have supplied some of music’s most evocative moments. We asked some top guitarists for their take on this iconic movement. This month: Ex-Dokken, Lynch Mob and Ultraphonix guitarist, the great George Lynch.
GT: What is it about guitar instrumentals that most appeals to you as a writer?
GL: Two things ; I like to hear guitar phrasing that emulates or takes the place of a melodic vocal line and two, it’s a chance to hear a guitarist stretch out in a way that they can’t in the context of a traditional vocal based arrangement.
GT: What can an instrumental provide a listener that a vocal song can’t?
GL: The guitar is so flexible by design that in the creative hands of a Beck or Hendrix the sonic options become almost endless. Even the best vocalists have to work within the physical constraints of the human physiology. But still nothing compares to the emotive capacity of the human voice. I think the best other instruments can do is try and reinterpret or emulate it.
GT: What are the tendencies with instrumentals that you aim to embrace or avoid (rhythms, harmony, approach, tones)?
GL: Instrumental music affords you the opportunity and freedom to embrace every conceivable avenue of expression . But with all that freedom comes ‘option anxiety’ which requires a strong vision of what it is you’re trying to say to make sense of all the options.
GT: Is a typical song structure of intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle, outro chorus always relevant for an instrumental?
GL: I think certain arrangement formulas are satisfying to western ears and make a song easier to digest . If I’m working on a body of instrumentals I would probably conform to the ‘safe’ arrangement formula on 50% of the record using the guitar to mimic the vocalist ; then throw the rule book out for the other half of the record
GT: How useful is studying a vocalist’s approach for creating guitar melodies?
GL: I’m not sure how you would ‘study’ that. I think it’s important and helpful to be aware and appreciate great historic vocalists; Aretha, Al Green, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding etc. Personally, I’m a lousy singer but I do hear the vocal soundtrack in my head so essentially I’ve spent my life ‘singing’ through my guitar!
GT: How do you start writing one; is there a typical approach or inspiration for you?
GL: I think the first order of business is to decide on a theme. When I wrote Mr. Scary I wanted to create a heavy metal ‘caravan’. That inspiration can come from listening to other music to spark an idea (otherwise known as plagiarism), smoking a joint, going for a long ride on your motorcycle or a hike in the woods. Weirdly I’ve gotten some of best ideas while taking a
instrumental music aff ords you the opportunity to bust out all the toys and create sonic landscapes
shower . I think I need to take more showers!
GT: What do you aim for when your performance is centre stage for the duration of the instrumental?
GL: Variety. Keep it interesting avoiding repetition.
GT: Many vocal songs feature a guitar solo that starts low and slow then finishes high and fast. Is this structure a useful reflection for instrumental writing, developing pace and dynamics over the instrumental’s duration?
It’s a wonderful formula but challenging to achieve. This kind of songwriting requires a lot of focus and discipline.
GT: What type of guitar tone do you prefer for instrumentals?
GL: I think instrumental music affords you the opportunity to bust out all the toys and create sonic landscapes . Instrumental records can take a lot more time because you have all these tonal options which require a lot of tone questing and trial and error.
GT: Do you have favourite keys or tempos to play or write in?
GL: Like most guitarists I generally prefer to play in open keys that work with the guitar’s standard tuning ; E, A , G or D. Because of the way the instrument is designed there are a lot more options when you can utilise the open strings in these keys.
GT: Do you find minor or major keys easier to write in?
GL: I actually like writing arrangements or solo passages that weave in and out of major and minor motifs to create a sort of tension and release
GT: Similarly, do you have any favourite modes?
GT: What about modulations into new keys?
GL: To me, it sounds contrived to modulate a whole step or step and a half although I still use that device out of habit. Finding those unexpected modulation points that sound outside the box are a challenge but often the most satisfying.
GT: Do you view the backing band in a different way you would on a vocal song?
GL: I usually write from the perspective of the instrumental track which will then dictate the vocal (or other instrument’s) melody.
GT: What are your views on harmonising melodies? Do you like it or steer clear of it?
GL: I’m a fan of unorthodox harmonies but at the same time I try and not over use that effect. I usually play in one guitar bands so guitar harmonies would be tough to pull off live.
GT: What three guitar instrumentals would you consider iconic or have inspired you?
GL: ‘Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers, Jeff Beck; Caravan, Dizzy Gillespie; Race With The Devil On Spanish Highway, Al Di Meola.
Ultraphonix: George Lynch on guitar and Corey Glover on vocals
George Lynch in Lynch Mob days