Jimmy Page: Three Guitar Techniques

June 12, 2019 3 min read

Jimmy Page: Three Guitar Techniques

If you’re playing electric guitar in 2019, you owe a debt to Jimmy Page.

The Led Zeppelin axe-slinger is so influential that his DNA can be found across the full range of guitar-based popular music that came in his wake.

His playing is instantly recognizable. But, if you’ve ever sat down and tried to really learn a Jimmy Page riff, lick, or solo, you’ll know that it’s no mean feat.

Page brings such a unique character to his playing. His riffs are iconic, but not always easy to master. And his solos, with their edge-of-your-seat intensity, hide their undeniable virtuosity under the guise of down n’ dirty rock n’ roll.

Jimmy PageToday, we’re getting to grips with three of the guitar techniques that make Pagey such a master of his instrument. Whether you’re a Led Zeppelin disciple, or just want to give your playing a bit of that Jimmy flair, they’re worth checking out. 

Smearing

One of the most unique characteristics of Jimmy Page’s guitar playing was his penchant for smearing notes.

When playing pentatonic licks, rather than picking out each individual note, Jimmy often smeared his pick across the strings. Listening back, it almost sounds like a sweep picking, rake-like motion.

And, Tyler Larson of Music is Win highlights, Page’s note smearing was a huge component in the attitude of his lead playing:

“He wasn’t afraid to miss notes. He was always on the beat, was always in time and always intonated perfectly. But, he also played on the edge, at the very top of his potential, meaning he would constantly be pushing himself. When you’re watching him play, it’s like “is he going to complete this phrase? Oh man” and he keeps completing the phrase and you’re like “oh man, what’s happening?” it’s like a freight train running.”

For an iconic example, check out the frenetic flurry of notes during Page’s solo section in “Heartbreaker” from “Led Zeppelin II”:

 

 

Here, those smeared notes really bring that unmistakable Page swagger.

Minor/Major Blending

Alongside smearing, one of the tricks Page often employed to create truly memorable solos was the blending of minor and major pentatonic box patterns.

To do this, he simply moves a given minor pentatonic box pattern down three frets, which transforms it into a major pentatonic box pattern in the same key.

Jimmy PageOr, as Guitar World puts it:

“The fingering patterns are identical, but… the notes assume different harmonic functions. This simple three-fret transposition enables Jimmy to transform minor pentatonic licks into major pentatonic licks (and vice versa) in the same key using the same fretboard shapes and fingering patterns.”

For an example of this used to great effect, check out Jimmy’s solo in “Communication Breakdown” from “Led Zeppelin I.” Here, he kicks off riffing on some dark sounding E minor pentatonic blues in the 12th position, but then transforms the solo by moving to E major; using the exact same pattern in the 9th position. The impact is transformative, giving the solo a depth of character that’s unmistakably Page.

Badass Bends

Another core component in Jimmy Page’s guitar playing is his unique use of bends.

There are three types to consider here. The first is the bending into a chord that you hear on tracks like “Black Dog.” The effect is a massive sounding rhythm part, likely employed by Page to fill out the sound in the three-piece instrumental band.

Jimmy Page

Then there’s behind the nut bends, like those used in the “Heartbreaker” solo. Here’ Pagey bends the note up by a major third to startling effect. As Music Radar notes:

“Behind the nut bends have been employed by country guitarists forever! Often bending by a semi-tone or a tone to create tension and resolution on regular or open string chords. However, Jimmy took doing this to a whole new level.”

Pushing these kinds of bends might wreak havoc on untrained fingertips. But trust us, it’s worth building up your callouses for sounds like these.  

Finally, there’s the small bends against the open string, most prominently heard in the intro to “Whole Lotta Love.” Like the bending into a chord heard on “Black Dog,” this was probably employed to embiggen the guitar sound. In this instance, though, it also adds a bit of dissonance, giving the riff its unique swagger. Try playing it with – then without – that small bend and you’ll see what I mean.

What are your favorite Jimmy Page techniques? How do you channel his sound in your playing? And what do you think is the greatest Led Zeppelin guitar moment of all time?

As always, share your stories in the comments!



Also in Fingerboard Stories

You can do that in pop-punk?!
You can do that in pop-punk?!

July 19, 2024 3 min read

While punk and pop-punk are arguably defined by stacks of power chords and clean guitar passages, incorporating capos benefits the genre.

They can make some things more accessible to play. In interviews, Mike Ness of Social Distortion said he has a Gold Top Les Paul tuned down from E standard to Eb standard and capos the guitar at the second fret. This is to make playing certain things more accessible and comfortable, accommodating an old injury on his fretting hand. Thanks to capos, Ness can play in different keys.

The Wisdom of Guthrie Govan
The Wisdom of Guthrie Govan

July 10, 2024 4 min read

While he can imitate the greats, his voice on the instrument is also distinct, blending virtuosic technique, great tone, incredible musicality and a healthy dose of humour. All of that has made him an in-demand clinician and very busy player, recording and touring with Asia, Dizzee Rascal, Steven Wilson, Hans Zimmer, and his project, The Aristocrats.

One does not travel this world without gaining experience and wisdom, which Guthrie has shared with many through the years. Without further ado, here is some of the knowledge he has passed on over the years.

The Guitar and American Pop Culture
The Guitar and American Pop Culture

July 02, 2024 2 min read

The guitar has been a game-changer in American popular culture, turning into both a musical powerhouse and a cultural icon. Its influence cuts across genres, decades, and social movements, weaving itself into the essence of American life. From the early days of folk and blues to the electrifying rise of rock 'n' roll and beyond, the guitar has been central in expressing the nation's values, struggles, and triumphs.