For this article a short brief about Joe Satriani: His style of guitar playing, his tone and the kind of songs he writes.
Joe Satiani became well-known to the world of guitar and music in the mid 80s. He was (and still is) one of the main players of the instrumental Rock style which was dominated by over the top guitar solos played at very high speed. The style was also responsible to give instrumental guitar music a boost and demonstrate all what is possible within that style of music.
Instrumental guitar style of albums have been known since the 1970s, think of Jeff Beck and the Jazz Rock kind of albums he produced in the early to mid 1970s. Then Van Halen came along later on in the decade to showcase a whole new style of guitar playing with a lot more swagger then what was usually seen in the style of heavy Rock guitar. Eddie van Halen made people aware that you could compose whole songs using the Two Handed Tapping Style. In the 1980s a lot more Rock guitar players started to use this approach for their song writing. Some of those players mainly used the style to demonstrate their guitar technique and showmanship, but some of those guitar players made fantastic and credible compositions. One of those players was Joe Satriani. His style of playing is not only loved by guitar players as such, his music speaks to a large audience of music lovers.
Let me now break down some of the elements of Joe’s unique guitar style.
Listen to any of Joe’s albums and you realise straight away that this music sounds different: His songs are full of bright guitar sounds which sound fresh and unique. Think of any typical guitar band of the 70s and most songs will sound the same tone wise. It is almost like the term production was overlooked in those days, bands seemed to concentrate on the songs and the riffs but how the recording sounded was not high on the list of priorities.
Better production makes for timeless music. Some of the 80s recordings may sound dated to today’s standards but the listeners can still hear that the artist cared for the sounds which were recorded at that moment.
Joe goes go for a clear and bright lead tone for most of his melodies and solos. Chords are usually played with a clean or slight, distorted sound. For variation in lead sounds he will use a Wah or a Pitch Shifter at times.
Most of the melodies sound like simple, vocal like melodies which can easily be hummed back. Those melodies are often treated with guitar embellishments such as slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs and a touche of the Whammy Bar.
They can be seen as variations on lead melody of the song. The solos are there to demonstrate Joe’s technique but they also add extra depth and emotion to the songs. Most of these solos are very diverse in nature. Some of the key ingredients of Joe’s style are: A mix of major, minor and diminished scales which add extra colour and emotion to the songs, Playing over one string, Use of Whammy Bar to enhance melodies or to create special effects, Two Handed Tapping to extend the playing range of melodies and riffs, Playing Harmonics above the fretboard (Jeff Beck does this as well!) to create special effects and new sounds.
Most of the chord structures are set up to bring out the best of the melodies and solos. Songs vary from straight Rockers such as “Surfing with the Alien” using mainly powerchords, blues-kind-of-songs, ballads and experimental songs which demonstrate Joe’s composition and guitar style. The depth of the emotion of his songs lie in the combination of Joe’s composing and guitar skills and his overall musician ship.
Enjoy and hope to see you soon again,