Watch the Pitch Modulation online guitar lesson by Chris Buono from Funk Fission
There are few who walk the path of the whammy and fewer who do it well. My very short list of masters includes Jeff Beck (jaw dropping command of melodies derived whammy controlled natural harmonics), Eddie (I mean, c’mon!), Steve Vai (what EVH is to tapping, Vai is to the bar), Joe Satriani (where do you think Vai got his ideas), and a few others. When it comes to pitch modulating chords my ultimate influence was and still is forward-thinking guitar wizard and composer David “Fuze Fiuczynski. From first seeing him perform in New York in the mid-90’s with his band, the Screaming Headless Torsos, I’ve been vehemently on the trem crusade. At that time I was wrestling with the dichotomy of playing rock and jazz and not knowing there need not be a separation. When I saw the Torsos and Fuze, I was completely blown away with their amalgamation of complex harmonies, phat grooves, and insane improvisational skills. In the midst of all the genius being played, Fuze was dropping whammy move after whammy move on top of it all and it was, for lack of a better term, awesome! Also, much of the way I comp—the sort of controlled chaos in my strumming attack—is owed to Fuze as well.
Kicking things off is a four bar whammy assault on the group of F dominant chords I’ve been using throughout the course. As discussed in the previous segment, I’m pre-dipping the chord as I strike the chord so I rise into the intended pitch destination a half beat later. That said, in addition to the physical action going on here, you have to be aware of the rhythm too. Also, it’s vital to remember that while this is happening I have the whammy bar tucked away in my pick hand 4th finger. The next set of four bars finds the same approach applied to the 7th position F7, but this time the chord is displaced from the downbeat and played on the upbeat. Then, it’s followed by some back and forth pitch action on the bass note of the F7(13)/Eb before I play the actual chord. You can think of this as an example of call and response, but in a more abstract manner (another Fuze concept). The following set of four bars stretches single notes via the bar more in the vein of whammy ninja Steve Vai where I sometimes pull-off to a note only to immediately dip it back down again before releasing to pitch (check out bar 9 at beat 2 going into beat 3). It’s important to note in this group of four bars, and almost exclusively throughout this performance, all pitch modulation is performed with the bar—that includes the 1/4-step inflections on single notes. The final four bars returns to Fuze-type playing where the comping is more adventurous and the whammy chords are sometimes more tucked inside the overall idea.
Next to my hands, the whammy bar is the most expressive tool in my arsenal. When trying to incorporate the bar into your playing, be patient—it’s hard, but well worth it. Just as important to playing with the bar is listening to and playing along with the masters I mentioned above. Thanks to the tireless pursuit of perfection from transcribers like Andy Aledort, Jesse Gress, and Adam Perlmutter, there are tons of accurate transcriptions floating around allowing you to see how it’s really done.David "Fuze" Fiuczynski