Frusciante’s Guitar playing technique with RHCP: Under The Bridge
A massive John Fruscinate interview that I’ve split into it’s two different sctions, plus there is a Flea interview about this history of RHCP; links to the other sections below the gallery for this part
Flea Interview: Funk Brothers- Stadium Arcadium & the history of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
JOHN FRUSCIANTE DEMONSTRATES HOW TO PLAY “UNDER THE BRIDGE” AND HIS TECHNIQUE FOR PUTTING THE CHUNK IN THE RED HOT’S FUNK.
By Andy Aledort photographs by Ross Halfin
THERE’S NO DENYING the distinct musical personality and mystical sensibilities of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante. Working alongside such formidable mates as bass funk-master Flea, groove drummer deluxe Chad Smith and the charismatic frontman Anthony Kiedis, Frusciante served as the primary writing force behind many of the band’s biggest hits, such as “Under the Bridge,” “Give It Away” (both from Blood Sugar Sex Magik), “Scar Tissue” and “Californication” (both from Californication).
In this exclusive lesson, Frusciante demonstrates how he plays the complex guitar parts in “Under the Bridge,” and discusses his approach to R&B-style rhythm guitar, James Brown—style funk, chord/melody inventions and soloing.
GUITAR WORLD Your mastery of the Jimi Hendrix/R&B style of rhythm guitar [earmarked by arpeggiated “broken” chords, moveable small chord voicings, voice-leading and single-note figures] is clearly illustrated in “Under the Bridge.” How did you learn to play in that style?
JOHN FRUSCIANTE I love that style of rhythm guitar, and I’ve always associated it with Jimi Hendrix. I learned to play in that kind of way from listening to Hendrix songs like “Little Wing,” which I first heard as a kid.
I remember being pretty young and going to some sort of get-together on an Indian reservation in Florida, and I saw a Native American Indian band playing “Little Wing.” At that point, I had already thought about that song a lot and had decided that no one could possibly know how to play it. It was in the category of “impossible to play!” But this guitar player was playing it, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I felt like he was doing the impossible.
It took me quite a while to get a handle on playing in this style, because there are so many elements happening at once: you’ve got chords, plus little “lead”-type parts going on at the same time on top of the chords. And you’ve also got sympathetic notes that ring out by the nature of the fact that a finger is often barring across a few strings at once. To the ear of someone at the beginning stages of playing, it sounds like two or three guitars. That’s why “Little Wing” had me so confused: I thought, How could that be one guitar?
I later discovered that Hendrix had learned about that rhythm style from listening to Curtis Mayfield. Curtis did some really innovative things on his solo records and in his work with the Impressions, which I know influenced Hendrix quite a bit.
GW Can you show us how to play the intro to “Under the Bridge”?
FRUSCIANTE Sure [FIGURE 1; see bars 1-8 of the transcription, which begins on page 127]. As I alternate between the D and F chords, I keep all of the notes of each chord fretted as much as possible so that they ring into each other. And I use fingerpicking so that each individual note rings out clearly.
When I recorded the song for the album, I overdubbed a pair of sustained high notes [see Fill 1 in the transcription]. When I play the song live, I incorporate the first high note, D, into the primary part.
GW I notice that when you go back to the F: chord [bars 4 and 8], you use your thumb to fret the low note [sixth string/second fret].
FRUSCIANTE Using the thumb in this way has a lot to do with the way this rhythm part sounds overall, specifically because it gives my other fingers a lot more freedom to add different riffs and small chord voicings above the root note. In most circumstances, it’s too limiting for me to play “conventional” barre chords [with the index-finger barred across all of the strings]. For me, fretting the low root notes with the thumb is essential to this style. This is also true for our new single, “Dani California.” Many of the guitar licks in that song couldn’t be played any other way.
GW How do you play the verse section of “Under the Bridge”?
FRUSCIANTE Like this [FIGURE 2; see bars 9-18 of transcription]. For the majority of this section, I simply strum each chord and allow it to ring. The only exception is the occasional Om chord, which I slide up to while fretting only the A and D strings [bar 10].
GW You hit the guitar in a very percussive way with the picking hand, which makes this rhythm part sound more powerful. F
FRUSCIANTE I’ve never really thought much about how I play, but now that you’ve mentioned it, I think the sound has more to do with which strings the fretting hand allows to ring clearly and which ones are blocked. By muting certain strings with my fretting hand, I can strike all of them freely with the pick and still have control over the notes that are heard. If I don’t want a certain note to ring, I just loosen my grip on that string slightly without taking the finger completely off the string.
A good example of this technique happens in the second verse [FIGURE 3; see transcription bars 19-26]. There’s a part where I switch from holding a chord to adding a little single-note fill [on beat four of bars 19-21]. I lightly lift the fingers of the previously held chord each time I play a little melodic fill. At this point, this technique has become second nature to me, and I think it’s a great one for guitarists to learn to use.
GW How do you play the pre-chorus [FIGURE 4; see transcription bars 27-30]?
FRUSCIANTE For this section I combine muted strums [bar 27, beat one; bar 28 beat four] with high chord voicings. To sound the muted strums, I lightly lay my fretting fingers on the strings without pressing down to the fretboard.
GW The interlude of “Under the Bridge” [FIGURE 5; see transcription bars 45 until the end] is reprised for the last chorus and outro. How do you play the basic part?
FRUSCIANTE This part is relatively simple. I don’t play any low root notes on any of the first four chords; instead I put the fifth on the bottom, fretted on the A string. The interlude concludes [in bars 51 and 52] with an unusual chord voicing for Fmaj7: it’s played like a standard eighth-position F barre chord, but I reach up to the 12th fret on the high E string with my pinkie to add the major seventh, E. I use the same voicing for Gmaj7 in the next bar.
GW Another defining element of your style is your use of hard, staccato funk rhythm guitar riffs [a la James Brown guitarists “Chank” Nolen and “Catfish” Collins] on songs like “Give It Away” and “Can’t Stop” [from By the Way].
FRUSCIANTE Here’s an example [FIGURE 6]. When playing in this style, I get a real percussive, funky sound by barely pressing down on the strings. The idea with James Brown’s music is to make the guitar more like a time-keeping percussion instrument. That kind of playing places the emphasis on being very precise with the picking hand and staying deep in the groove. On a Strat, it’s also good to use the bridge pickup in order to get a sharper sound and attack.
GW On “Around the World” [from Californication], you use a similar approach but play single-note riffs instead of chords.
FRUSCIANTE Right. Here’s an example of playing in kind of that style [FIGURE 7]. It’s all about getting your rhythmic feel really tight, like a machine, and picking the string as hard as possible without moving the picking hand around too much. I made up the tiff to “Around the World” while playing along with a Beastie Boys song, and when I took it to Flea and Chad they played something behind it that was completely different from the Beastie Boys, and that turned my guitar part into something different again.
GW Another signature element of your style is the use of two-note, chord/melody—type parts, whereby you’ll pick bass notes on a low string with your thumb while fingerpicking a syncopated melodic figure above it on higher strings. Two good examples are the main licks in “Scar Tissue” and “Murderers” [from Frusciante’s solo album To Record Only Water for Ten Days].
FRUSCIANTE I’ve noticed examples of that technique in different styles of music from different eras, but I was mainly influenced in that way by Eric Avery’s bass playing in Jane’s Addiction. I first made that a part of my style in 1991 when I was influenced by his bass lines on “Summertime Rolls” and “I Would for You.” So I took that idea and did my own thing with it, like this [FIGURE 8]. The idea is that when you subtract all of the space between the lowest and highest notes it creates space and dimension, because now you have a high part and a low part—two distinct things—instead of just playing a chord, which is one thing. It was a good way to play acoustic guitar and improvise with myself, because I could send my head in two directions at once.
Here’s an example of improvising with this technique [FIGURE 9]. You can sit there and have fun with yourself, acting as the guitar player and bass player at the same time.
GW You also have a distinct approach to soloing in that you usually place the emphasis on melody over any flashy technical playing.
FRUSCIANTE Well, you can’t forget that it’s all about playing music. It’s not about what you can show people you can do with a piece of wood with strings on it; the idea is to make sounds that are good, and in music, that has everything to do the relationships between the different elements. If I’m sitting at home studying a guitar solo, it’s not enough to learn the solo; I have to make sure I under-stand the relationship between the notes in the solo and the chords or the bass line that’s played behind it. The fact that I take that approach is apparent in my soloing because I’m often absorbed in what the bass and the drums are doing and am thinking about trying to create dimension in relationship to that. I’m not thinking, Oh, good—they’re giving me a blank canvas that I can go crazy over. It’s more about the constant interaction with your fellow musicians.
On the new album, Stadium Arcadium, it was very important to me to do a lot of speeding up and slowing down within my solo phrases. A lot of people play in a very straight up-and-down manner, as if they have to ad-here to some sort of invisible 16th-note grid. It’s like they’re in jail: they don’t go outside of it; they don’t play slower or faster and speed up or slow down.
The idea for me, especially on this record, was to go outside of that and not pay any attention to strict rhythms at all. Even when I’m playing things that sit right on the 16th notes, I try to lay back or push forward on the beat, and if I’m doubling a guitar part, I try not to double the phrasing exactly. On “Dani California,” for example, I double some parts where, in one speaker, the part is right on the beat, while the overdub in the other speaker is a laid-back version of that, which creates a cool stereo effect. Chad and Flea did a lot of experimentation with me in the studio, and I tried to solo in a style wherein the guitar is “talking” over the music, finding its own groove other than what the bass and drums are laying down. Here’s an example of soloing in this way [FIGURE 10]. Or like this [FIGURE 11]. I’m just trying to bend and twist the time around, stretching time by slowing down and cornpressing it by speeding up, and playing games with it all of the time. It’s about trying to bend the fabric of reality, because for me it’s easier to do that with a guitar than it is to do when talking to someone in conversation. ?
ADDITIONAL STYLING CREDITS:
“DEVIL” LOOK: Grey suit with fur trim and silk shirt from Lords. Shoes and jewelry from Henry Duarte.
COVER LOOK: Vest from D&G. Belt, necklace and frock coat from Henry Duarte.