The Best Of Blues Edition #2: Strings, Signs & South African Blues
The blues is alive and well. Every week there are new blues bands and albums coming out, as well as new gear that will help us all in our quest for beautiful blues tones.
With so much going on in the world of blues, I’ve started to put together a fortnightly collection of the best of the modern blues scene. From blues guitarists; to new albums and gear, here is what has been on my radar over the past couple of weeks:
South Africa isn’t a country best known for the blues, but Dan Patlansky is working hard to change that perception. I first discovered Patlansky at the beginning of the year, when I stumbled across a Masterclass video he did for Guitarist magazine.
I was struck by the quality of Patlansky’s playing, as well as his tone and technique. Not only that, but he seems like a super nice and humble guy, which I think is a key part of being a bluesman. Clearly inspired by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Patlansky has taken a vintage blues style and tone, and fused it with a more modern and ‘poppy’ sound. In his own words:
I’ve always relied on bringing different elements of songwriting, drawing from different genres that I’m influenced by and trying to blend them into what I do, the blues-rock thing. That, for me, is the most exciting thing…you get this slightly more unique song that’s not the tried-and-tested blues-rock thing
Not only will Dan Patlansky make a brilliant addition to your blues playlist, but there is a lot you can take from his playing. Definitely check out his Masterclass video, as well as this video on tone and how to get the best out of a Fender Strat. Here are some of the key tips I’ve taken from Patlansky that I’ve started to implement in my own playing:
- Hybrid picking. If you watch any of the speedy licks that Dan Patlansky plays in the videos, you’ll see that he uses hybrid picking. This gives his playing a more percussive sound and allows him to implement an unusual and very effective slap guitar technique. Whilst my hybrid picking is nowhere near as advanced, I’ve found it useful to add colour to my lead playing. Personally I use it to play notes on different strings simultaneously. This adds a richness and helps to build either a strong sense of harmony or tension, depending on which notes you choose.
- Tone Controls. Dan Patlansky has an amazing vintage Strat tone. And a huge part of that comes from how he uses his tone and volume controls. I think a lot of guitarists neglect their tone and volume controls. But as Patlansky illustrates from around 9 minutes in here – you can get a huge variety of tones just from your guitar.
- Hendrix style chords. Jimi Hendrix really changed the way guitarists approach rhythm playing. He showed that you can add colour to a rhythm part by playing notes and licks based around the chord. Patlansky has taken inspiration from this idea. And from around 11.50 here, he illustrates how easily you can incorporate this into your playing. He shows how you can pick out pentatonic shapes within the chord you’re playing to ‘play off the chord’. As he shows, this can totally transform even the most mundane of chord progressions.
If you haven’t yet heard Dan Patlansky, start with his new album Perfection Kills. All of the tracks are excellent, but some of my favourites are ‘Never Long Enough’, ‘Mayday’ and ‘Judge A Man’. I would also strongly recommend you listen to the song ‘Backbite’ from his album Dear Silence Thieves. It has a killer riff as well as a wah-wah drenched guitar solo.
For further listening and for information on Patlansky’s upcoming gigs, check out any of these links here:
Derek Trucks is one of my all time favourite guitarists. I am continually in awe of his totally mastery of the instrument. To my mind he is the ultimate blues guitarist. His playing has amazing feel and he always maintains total control. Perhaps more than anything – his playing is never gratuitous and it always serves the song.
Perhaps best of all, it feels like Trucks is only getting better with time. His lead work on Signs – the most recent album by The Tedeschi Trucks Band – is exceptional. He consistently illustrates the importance of phrasing and how to pace your lead playing. His solos draw you in slowly and gather huge amounts of pace, often to a frenetic conclusion. Rarely can you guess how they are going to develop or how he will finish them.
This killer guitar playing is combined with the beautiful vocals of Susan Tedeschi and the amazing musicianship of the band. All of these elements come together to make one of the best modern blues albums I have heard in a long time.
If you are yet to hear Signs, then get listening! I think all of the songs on the album are beautiful, but my favourites are ‘I’m Gonna Be There’, ‘When Will I Begin’ and ‘Shame’. The guitar solos in the first of these are amongst my favourite that Trucks has ever written.
Curt Mangan Guitar Strings
Over the past year, I have paid a lot of attention to my guitar strings. I have come to realise that the guitar strings you choose have a massive impact on your tone, as well as the playability of your guitar. Pick the right set of strings and you will instantly notice a difference. Pick the wrong set, and you risk jeopardising your tone and playing potential.
If you still haven’t quite found the strings you’ve been looking for, then check out Curt Mangan guitar strings. These are designed with vintage tones in mind. So it is perhaps little surprise that they’re favoured by players like Matt Schofield and Dan and Mick from That Pedal Show, who said of the strings:
We first played Curt Mangan strings late in 2018. Our friend Matt Schofield had been telling us forever how much we’d like them and we just thought, ‘Ah, strings are strings are strings…’ And then we tried some. The decision was instant – a combination of a lovely smooth feel, intuitive bendability and above all, great tone.
You can actually buy a custom set from the That Pedal Show store. These come in the custom gauges that Dan and Mick favour. Alternatively, Curt Mangan have a whole range of different gauge strings made from different materials. If you don’t quite know where to start, then I’d recommend reading my ultimate guide to blues guitar strings. This will give you a good idea of the type of strings that will work for you. Either that, or you can reach out directly to the experts at Curt Mangan, who will be happy to help.
Give them a go and let me know how you get on!
Well that’s it for this edition. I hope you’ve found it useful and you enjoy listening to Dan Patlansky. 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]