6 Ways to Conquer Red Light Fever - EMusician

6 Ways to Conquer Red Light Fever

Red light fever is an affliction that bedevils every guitarist from time to time. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, how much experience you have, or how scrupulously you’ve rehearsed — at some point in your life, you’re going to hit Record, and you will totally screw the pooch (to borrow a phrase for “failure” from Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff). Here are some hopefully inspirational suggestions from guitar stars who have faced the terror of not tracking a unique and brilliant part, but who have busted through the malaise to get something down.
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Red light fever is an affliction that bedevils every guitarist from time to time. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, how much experience you have, or how scrupulously you’ve rehearsed — at some point in your life, you’re going to hit Record, and you will totally screw the pooch (to borrow a phrase for “failure” from Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff). Here are some hopefully inspirational suggestions from guitar stars who have faced the terror of not tracking a unique and brilliant part, but who have busted through the malaise to get something down.

Review History

“Sometimes, you want to dream up a new way of playing. You’re sitting down, just hearing notes, and trying to find them. You’re not really thinking about where other people put their fingers to get a particular sound. But, at some point, something in your memory says, ‘Lightning Hopkins did something like that,’ and you seek out exactly how he did it. All of a sudden, you take that data as a new building block, and you say, ‘Okay, I can move forward on this.’ And then you wind up with a new style of riff, and, if it’s a good one, it becomes the new building block in that particular area.”
—Joe Satriani (Guitar God)

Study Other Styles

“Most things that are modern are just combinations of pre-existing things. I made some discoveries at one point as a player that a lot of the techniques used by country guitarists were not really used by rock guitarists unless they were playing country rock. Take, for example, the technique of internal string bending, where you’re holding a chord, but one of your fingers is bending a note within it. If you’re a country player, you do that with a Telecaster and a clean sound. But I realized you could integrate that approach with other guitar styles, and with distortion — which makes the pitch of the bent strings beat against each other in very cool ways. There are so many things that put the power in your hands, as opposed to using effects that can derail the personality of the player. Listen to Les Paul — he uses every part of the string, and he’s always changing pickups and fooling with his tone knobs. In the course of one line, he’ll play very close to the bridge on the low-E string on the treble pickup with all the tone on, and, three notes later, he’ll play the same line four octaves up on the neck pickup with all the tone down.”
—Jon Brion (Grammy-nominated soundtrack composer, session guitarist, and producer)

Channel Your Heroes

“When I want to stretch my limits, I definitely need to find something that sparks me, pushes me, and inspires me to come up with a great solo or guitar part. In these situations, I put myself in the mind frame of one of the guitarists who have influenced my playing, such as George Harrison, Jimmy Page, or Jeff Beck. For example, Page had a huge vocabulary, so I’ll ask myself, ‘What would Pagey do here?’ I think of my heroes almost as creative muses who can point me in the right direction.”
—Bruce Kulick (Kiss, Grand Funk tour guitarist, solo artist)

Screw Expectations

“Your ego wants your parts to be perfect, and this can kill you. In some way or another, you might be somewhat unsure of yourself, and afraid of criticism — afraid somebody might say you were a little out of time, or a little out of tune, or you bent that note too much or too little, or whatever. I don’t give a sh*t. I figure it’s like this: I’m going to do what I’m going to do, and some people are going to like it, and some people aren’t going to like it. A perfect guitar solo never got me a platinum album.”
—Earl Slick (David Bowie, solo artist)

Let Your Band be Your Guide

The way I played was very much shaped by the Doors. Being the only guitar player, and not having a bass player, made me fill up certain holes that I normally wouldn’t have filled. For example, I used my thumb to hit bass notes, and I’d play rhythm and lead at the same time.”
—Robby Krieger (Doors)

Listen to the Music

“A lot of guitarists have an ironic edge to their playing — it’s almost like they’re commenting on the music as they’re writing it. You need to have the ability to enter into the moment. You can’t think about what you’re doing — you just short-circuit that element of consciousness. Now you may hit a clam if you take this route, but I feel it’s critical that you listen really deep inside of the music that you want to come out of your fingers. The way to do that is to just observe the music, and not try to be smarter than it. For example, if you’re playing a solo, and you think, ‘That was a nice riff,’ you can be sure that doom is awaiting you around the next bar.”
—Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith)