The Best Of Blues Edition #1: Kirk Fletcher & The Blues King
On Friday night I was fortunate enough to go and see Kirk Fletcher play live in London. Fletcher is one my favourite modern blues guitarists and the gig was amazing. Perhaps what I enjoyed the most was that the venue was packed with fellow blues fans, just as excited as I was to see Fletcher.
As blues fans, I think we can easily fall into the trap of constantly looking to the past for inspiration. Most of my favourite bands and musicians are either deceased, or no longer performing. These are the bands and musicians that first inspired me to play the guitar, and they will always feature on my blues playlists.
But the modern blues scene is thriving, and you shouldn’t neglect it. Not only are guitarists like Kirk Fletcher are an amazing source of ideas and inspiration, but you can actually go and watch them live. This is what the blues is all about and how you should experience it.
With so much out there, I wanted to put together a fortnightly collection of the best of the modern blues scene. From modern blues guitarists; to gear and practice tips, here is what has been on my radar so far this month:
If you haven’t done so already, add Kirk Fletcher to your blues playlist. Fletcher is unquestionably one of the best guitarists on the modern blues scene. He has amazing technique, great feel and a beautiful tone. He has really inspired my playing over the past few weeks. I would urge you to listen to his music at first for the sheer pleasure of it. But after that, I think you can learn a lot by listening to it on a more technical level. The 3 things that I have really taken from Fletcher are as follows:
- Vibrato. Focusing on the quality of your vibrato is one of the best ways to make your playing more expressive. Fletcher puts a lot of emphasis on his vibrato, and it is one of the best elements of his playing. At times is soft and expressive, at others muscular and aggressive. Skip to 11.15 on this clip here to see how he achieves this versatility and gets his signature vibrato.
- Moving between pentatonic positions. Fletcher plays mostly using the pentatonic scale. Yet it never sounds like he is playing scale patterns. This is because he views the fretboard laterally, and not just vertically. If you play scale shapes going across the strings from low to high, it can sound like you’re just rehashing the scale. Instead of playing in this way, try thinking about lateral movement. Focus on moving laterally across the neck to change between positions of the pentatonic scale. It will make your playing sound much more fluid and natural.
- Enjoyment. One of my favourite things about the Kirk Fletcher gig was seeing how much he enjoyed himself. He was thrilled to be playing his guitar and was so appreciative that there was an audience there watching him. It just reminded me that learning and playing the guitar is meant to be enjoyable. It is a process that should enrich your life, not be an added source of stress. No matter how advanced you are, just think about having fun and expressing yourself.
If you haven’t yet heard Kirk Fletcher, start with his new album Hold On. All of the tracks are brilliant, but some of my favourites include ‘The Answer’, ‘Two Steps Forward’ and ‘Hold On’. You can also find more information on him here:
The Supro Blues King 12
When it comes to tone, one of the biggest challenges for most of us is getting a great sound at a low volume. There are lots of amazing amps out there for the blues, but most of these are too powerful for home use. If like me you have to play at lower volumes to keep your neighbours happy, consider buying a smaller amp. I recently shortlisted my top 10 amps for home use, but I’d like to add the Supro Blues King 12 to that list.
After a number of years in the wilderness, Supro are back on the radar. And with the release of their new amp – The Blues King 12 – they have presented the Fender Blues Junior with some serious competition. As the name suggests, the Blues King is designed with vintage blues tones in mind. It comes with 3 band EQ, built in spring reverb and both a boost and gain switch.
With those switches disengaged, the amp produces beautiful cleans and works as a great platform for pedals. Engage the boost and you’ll push the amp into vintage style overdrive. Add the gain on top of that and you’ll get a more modern sounding distortion.
At 15 watts, the Blues King 12 is suitable for home use, or for smaller gigs. Perhaps best of all, the Blues King 12 is only £599/$599. It is amazing value for money, especially when you consider its versatility and quality. If you want a high quality tube amp that won’t break the bank, it would make a great addition to your rig.
Alternate Picking, Anchoring & Efficiency
Pay close attention to your picking hand when you practice this week. Not only does the placement of your picking hand have implications for your tone (as I wrote about in more detail here), it also impacts the efficiency of your playing. I’m quite a heavy handed player and recently I’ve found that my picking arm is getting tired when I practice. Evidently I’m not being very economical in my movements. If you’ve experienced anything similar, then I would urge you to think about 3 things in your practice this week:
- Make sure you are alternate picking. This will double the efficiency of your playing and help you to execute speedy runs and licks. If you struggle to alternate pick, or if this is a new concept for you, implement it in your daily routine by using it to play scales. Set your metronome at a tempo that feels slow for you. As you play through your scales to warm up, really focus on your picking hand and make sure you are using alternate strokes with your picking hand.
- Anchor your picking hand against the guitar. Rest your palm against the strings, and your little finger against the finger board. This will stabilise your picking hand and stop your picking arm from getting tired.
- Execute all movements from your wrist, rather than from your arm or your elbow. This will make your playing much more efficient and help you to play with greater speed.
Well that’s it for this edition – I hope you’ve found it useful and you enjoy listening to Kirk Fletcher. Have a great week and if you’ve got any questions, just pop them in the comments section below or send me an email on [email protected]