Hole Notes: Zakk Wylde's "Unplugged" Riffs and Hybrid-Picked, Acoustic Shred

by Dale Turner, Photo by Ari Michelson
Posted Jan 10, 2013 at 10:07am

As the Black Label Society’s leader (and Ozzy’s guitarist for more years than anyone else), Zakk Wylde has become infamous for his brew-tal riffage and lethal lead style. Remarkably, though, he also has a soul-stirring softer side. Numerous acoustic-heavy offerings populate his catalog, including BLS records like Hangover Music Vol. VI and solo albums like Book of Shadows. Many of them are highlighted by Wylde’s perhaps surprising vocal abilities, which include crooning not unlike Chris Cornell and the late Layne Staley (a strong contrast to his singing approach in BLS’ “bone-crushingly heavy” output).

What’s more, in almost Van Halen–like tradition (think “Spanish Fly” on Van Halen II), many BLS discs feature a fiercely shredded unaccompanied acoustic guitar solo. Add to this the fact that, just last year, BLS reworked an entire album (Order of the Black) into the all-acoustic The Song Remains Not the Same, and you may agree that it’s high time we honor the burly, bearded one’s fine acoustic guitar work.


“Darkest Days” is one of the standout tracks on The Song Remains Not the Same and features Wylde engaging in pick-style arpeggiation, not unlike FIGURE 1. Whereas some acoustic players might opt to go the fingerstyle route in such a setting, Wylde fills the soundscape quite nicely with picking—note the successive up/down strokes (a.k.a. economy picking) written above the TAB staff—and hammered-on chord ornaments. (He uses a similar approach in “Spoke in the Wheel,” on Sonic Brew.)


Of course, Wylde is a master at coaxing heavy riffs out of virtually any ax, and he doesn’t always keep it “pretty” when he’s digging into the strings of his Alvarez Yairi, Gibson Dove or Epiphone Masterbuilt acoustics. In “No Other” (Hangover Music Vol. VI), which informs FIGURE 2, heavy pick attacks, open-string drones and the frequent emphasis of the flatted fifth, or “Devil’s interval” (Bf in the key of E minor), combine to create a dark, moody vibe that’s more akin to Wylde’s trademark persona.


We’ll wrap up this lesson with a look at two of the unaccompanied acoustic guitar solo pieces in the Wylde discography. FIGURE 3, inspired by portions of “Takillya (Estyabon)” (Hangover Music Vol. VI), is a speedy finger-picked passage, featuring a descending line (sounded with the thumb, p) stated between plucks of higher open strings (using the index and middle fingers, i and m, respectively). Blistering guitar pieces such as this, as well as “Speedball” (1919 Eternal) and “T.A.Z.” (Sonic Brew), are a tip of the hat to Wylde’s influences, such as Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin and Carlos Montoya.


FIGURE 4 pays homage to “T.A.Z.,” copping some of the terrifying pick-and-fingers (or “hybrid picking”) techniques Wylde wields in the piece. Grip your pick between your thumb and index fingers (use downstrokes only), and pluck with your middle (m) finger. Focus on the first string pair used in the lick (beats one and two of bar 1) and perfect it. The remainder of this passage is actually the same pattern played on different strings and/or areas on the neck.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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