Soloing Strategies: The Most Electrifying Riffs of Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page

by Tom Kolb
Posted Feb 21, 2014 at 10:12am

Truly a guitar god, Jimmy Page is one of the most captivating soloists the rock world has ever known. Daring, spontaneous, melodic, bluesy, diverse, flashy, breathtaking and, yes, sloppy, all are adjectives befitting his singular style.

And while Page may occasionally crash and burn, the next moment he's sure to be soaring to unprecedented heights. Let's check out some of his most electrifying licks.

The Licks

Fig.1A contains the basic blues phrase that Page used to launch many a killer lick. You'd be hard-pressed to find an early Zeppelin rocker—“Good Times Bad Times,” “Communication Breakdown,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “The Lemon Song,” and “Moby Dick,” to name a handful—that doesn't feature this move in one permutation or another.

Practice the phrase with various picking strategies, including raking (all downstrokes), a down-down-up pattern, and hybrid picking (pick and fingers). Fig. 1B features a 16th-note variation on the same lick; note the rhythmic displacement here—the accents now fall on shifting parts of the measure, rather than always on the downbeat.

Page uses this approach in the opening measures of his solo on “Good Times Bad Times” (from Led Zeppelin). Fig.1C reverts to a triplet feel and adds 2nd-string pull-offs; this phrase recalls the one Page cycles in the double-time section of “Dazed and Confused” (Led Zeppelin).

soloingJP_1.jpg

Throughout Page's diverse solos, there is one common thread: thematic repetition. While some themes appear as extended melodic phrases (as in the opening bars of “Black Dog,” “Over the Hills and Far Away,” and “Achilles Last Stand”), many come in the form of cycled adjacent-string licks carved from major (1–2–3–5–6) and minor (1–f3–4– 5–f7) pentatonic scales.

Fig. 2A is an E minor pentatonic–based (E–G–A–B–D) sextuplet figure played on the top string pair. Perhaps the most famous example of this lick comes at the end of the “Stairway to Heaven” solo (Led Zeppelin IV, a.k.a. ZOSO).

Consistent picking direction is the key for getting this one up to speed (try up-down or down-down).

Fig. 2B mixes triplets with straight 16ths in a hammer-on/pull-off flurry of E minor pentatonic notes. Fig.2C mixes A major (A–B–C#–E–F#) and A minor (A–C–D–E–G) pentatonics in the same pattern Page uses to cap his solo on “Heartbreaker” (Led Zeppelin II). Fig. 2D is pure A minor pentatonic. Listen for this one in the stop-time section of “Rock and Roll” (Led Zeppelin IV). Picking down-down here should make for the best outcome.

soloingJP_2.jpg

Page's lines are also peppered with scale sequences. Fig. 3A is a pull-off-fueled, groups-of-three sequence that cascades down the E minor pentatonic scale in 12th position. Page fires off a similar line in the outro solo of “Good Times Bad Times” (Led Zeppelin). Fig. 3B is a six-note sequence that travels up the neck via the A minor pentatonic scale. This one's a bit trickier, as it employs hammer-ons, pulloffs, and slides. Work through both examples slowly, gradually increasing the tempo as you master the moves.

soloingJP_3.jpg

Page employs plenty of string bending in his solos. Fig. 4A demonstrates unison bends, as heard at the end of “Stairway to Heaven.” For the first two dyads, keep your 1st finger fixed on the 1st string; and, with your 4th finger, bend the 2nd string to match the pitch of the 1st string. Use your 3rd finger for the 3rd-string bends. Fig. 4B shows Page's superhuman over-bends (“The Lemon Song” and “Whole Lotta Love” [Led Zeppelin II]). Such bends take some muscle, so give the string a good yank-just don't hurt yourself.

Fig. 4C shows Page's pedal steel-influenced bends as heard in “Over the Hills and Far Away” (Houses of the Holy) and “All My Love” (In Through the Out Door).

Keep your 4th finger fixed on the 1st string while you bend the 2nd string with your 3rd finger. Fig. 4D is an example of Page's behind-the-nut bends in “Heartbreaker.” As you hammer on and pull off the notes with your fret hand, reach behind the nut and push down on the 3rd string with your pickhand fingers.

soloingJP_4.jpg

Page also shows a penchant for pulling off to open strings. Fig.5A features A minor pentatonic- derived pull-offs similar to the ones in “Heartbreaker.” Fig. 5B is a sequenced minor-pentatonic-pull-off-fest that he used in “Whole Lotta Love.”

soloingJP_5.jpg

Although he was a flashy soloist, Page could turn a slow-blues phrase like no other. Fig.6A is inspired by his opening lick in “Since I've Been Loving You” (Led Zeppelin III). Fig. 6B speeds things up a bit with an E blues scale (add major 7th) (E–G–A–Bb–B–D–D#) line like the one in “The Lemon Song.”

soloingJP_6.jpg

The Solo

The 20-bar, riff-driven solo [Fig.7] is based largely on an A5 chord. The only change occurs in measures 13-16, where C Lydian harmonies (Dadd4/C and C) modulate to E Mixolydian chords (D/E and E5). The feel is hard rock with a funk undercurrent.

soloingJP_7.jpg

The solo opens with the lead guitar mirroring the main riff-an open-position A5 chord vamp interspersed with G and C notes. This continues for several measures before segueing to an open string-fueled A Dorian (A–B–C–D–E–F#–G) lick inspired by the opening riff of “Over the Hills and Far Away.” At measure 5, the solo begins in earnest with a gradual 3rd-string bend that spans two and a half steps (five frets!). If your guitar is sporting heavy strings, you may want to opt for a whole-step bend, from B to C#.

Next comes a squirrelly A blues (A–C–D–Eb–E–G) lick that leans heavily on the f5th (Eb). This is followed by a pair of quirky oblique bends: the first is a half-step bend from F# to G, which results in a major 2nd (G–A) rub between the 2nd and 1st strings; the second is similar, but the rub is even closer this time, with the bend producing a minor 2nd (F#–G) between the top string pair. For both moves, make sure you let the two notes ring together through the release of each bend.

Measures 8–11 provide rhythmic and melodic space with a sequence of quarternote unison bends culled from the A minor pentatonic scale. The rapid-fire phrase in measure 12 is inspired by the opening licks from the “Whole Lotta Love” solo. Fueled by pull-offs and slides down the 3rd string, it begins with the A blues scale (pickup notes), segues to A Dorian, and culminates in A minor pentatonic notes. Put the phrase together bit by bit and you'll begin to understand the sequential patterns at work.

The Dadd4/C–C changes in measures 13–14 call to mind the unique harmonies of songs like “Dancing Days” and “The Ocean.” Here, the lead guitar plays a pair of melodic motifs drawn from the C Lydian mode (C–D–E–F#–G–A–B) and decorated with 3rdstring bends and slides.

Measure 15 brings D/E–E5 chord changes, and the melodic motif reaches its conclusion on the 4th string with a bend-and-release move (F#–G–F#) resolving to E. What follows is sort of a backwards version of the pull-off licks in “Whole Lotta Love.” View this as an open-position E blues-scale pattern that segues to a 3rdposition E minor pentatonic line, which in turn yields to A major pentatonic notes around 5th position.

Measure 17 marks the return of the main riff with a bluesy, stuttering series of prebent C notes in a triplet rhythm. Measure 18 contains a gradual whole-step bend from C to D, and the solo goes out with a couple of classic phrases lifted from “Communication Breakdown” and “Stairway to Heaven.”


Add a Comment
0 Comments

Similar Guitar News

Led Zeppelin Announce 'Led Zeppelin IV' and 'Houses of the Holy' Reissue Details (7/29/2014)
Led Zeppelin have announced deluxe reissues of 1971's Led Zeppelin IV and 1973's Houses of the Holy. The two reissues are due for an October 28 release, and, like the reissues of the band's first three LP's, each album will include a remastered...
Chris Slade on AC/DC, Tom Jones, Jimmy Page, Gary Numan, and more (7/22/2014)
Read more about Chris Slade on AC/DC, Tom Jones, Jimmy Page, Gary Numan, and more at MusicRadar.com While Chris Slade may be known predominantly for his five-year stint with AC/DC, that is just the tip of a monstrously huge iceberg.Since startin...
Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" Performed by Floppy and Hard Disc Drives — Video (7/10/2014)
Here's a new video for, well, probably someone out there. It's Led's Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" performed by floppy and hard disk drives. The video was uploaded July 6 by a YouTube user called Arganalth. In the past, Arganalth has covered ...
"Whole Lotta Love" on a Dulcimer: Check Out This Crazy Led Zeppelin Cover — Video (6/26/2014)
Whole Lotta Dulcimer! (Insert your own Led Zeppelin dulcimer puns here.) Below, check out a new video of Led Zeppelin's classic "Whole Lotta Love" performed on a three-string electric mountain dulcimer by Sam Edelston. Here's an edited version o...
Led Vault: Jimmy Page Talks First Three Led Zeppelin Albums, Gibson and Harmony Guitars and More (6/11/2014)
This is an excerpt from the July 2014 issue of Guitar World. For the rest of this story, plus features on Ace Frehley, Albert Lee, "The Album that Changed My Life," the history of Taylor Guitars, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, columns, tabs and reviews o...
Total Guitar 255 on sale now: Led Zeppelin & the riffs that changed rock 'n'roll! (6/9/2014)
Read more about Total Guitar 255 on sale now: Led Zeppelin & the riffs that changed rock 'n'roll! at MusicRadar.com
Jimmy Page to Publish Autobiography in October (6/3/2014)
Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page has revealed he'll release his official autobiography later this year. The book, Jimmy Page, will be released in October and will feature more than 600 photos from the musician's archive, as well as the story of...
Jimmy Page on Led Zeppelin Glastonbury Rumors: 'You Never Know What's Going to Happen' (6/2/2014)
Jimmy Page has spoken about the possibility of Led Zeppelin playing England's massive Glastonbury Festival in the future. Talking to Shaun Keaveny on BBC Radio 6 Music about comments made by Glastonbury Festival boss Michael Eavis (Eavis had sa...
Led Zeppelin Premiere Previously Unreleased Instrumental, "La La" — Listen (5/30/2014)
Jimmy Page & Co. — better known as Led Zeppelin — are streaming a previously unreleased instrumental track called "La La." The track will be included with the Led Zeppelin II remaster/reissue, which will be released Tuesday, June 3, along wi...
Dear Guitar Hero: Donovan Recalls Working with The Beatles, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page — and Welcoming Jimi Hendrix to England (5/21/2014)
He’s a famous Sixties folk-pop troubadour who worked with Jimmy Page and played with the Beatles. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is… What do you call your unique picking technique, and which artists inspired it? — Dingy Bell I...
Jimmy Page to Debut Bonus Material From First Three Led Zeppelin Albums — Listen (5/21/2014)
At 2:30 p.m. EST today, Jimmy Page will premiere several previously unreleased Led Zeppelin outtakes. The event, which will take place at the Olympia in Paris, can be streamed via the YouTube player below. The Olympia is the same venue where Led...
Led Zeppelin Getting Sued Over "Stairway to Heaven" (5/21/2014)
A lawyer representing Spirit guitarist Randy California claims Led Zeppelin stole the intro of 1971's "Stairway to Heaven" from Spirit's 1968 song "Taurus." Both songs can be heard below; check them out and let us know your opinion. Attorney Fr...
Led Zeppelin Release Trailer for 'Led Zeppelin III' Reissue — Video (5/19/2014)
As they've done with the upcoming reissues of their first two albums, Led Zeppelin have released a teaser video for ‘Led Zeppelin III.’ The one-minute video features the unreleased version of "The Immigrant Song" that's featured on the re-issue...
Jimmy Page Discusses “Evil Sounds” Heard on New Led Zeppelin Re-Issues (5/15/2014)
As my cab pulls up to Olympic Studios, located in the quiet West London suburb of Barnes, I’m a bit surprised and amused. With its red brick exterior and modest white archway entrance, the exterior looks more like a quaint American high school t...
Jimmy Page talks Led Zeppelin Deluxe Edition reissues (5/15/2014)
Read more about Jimmy Page talks Led Zeppelin Deluxe Edition reissues at MusicRadar.com
Jimmy Page Hints at New Material: "It's Time to Play Again" (5/12/2014)
As we reported Saturday, Jimmy Page was in Boston over the weekend to receive an honorary doctor of music degree — and to deliver the commencement address — at Berklee College of Music. While he was in town, he sat down with the