Almost all of us aspire to be the lead guitarist in the band. It comes with opportunity for soaring solos, stepping up to stand out, and designing sounds that slices through the mix like a light sabre searing through butter. The reality is, however, those moments are somewhere between fantasy and a statistically low portion of the gig. More often than not, you’re on rhythm duty.
Rhythm guitar, however, doesn’t have to feel like detention—those bars you dreadfully count until the next riff of solo. Effective rhythm playing is inspiring and innovative when it comes to deploying gear to create your custom tone.
So how can you get excited about this sonic foundation? Enter Dan & Mick…
If you’ve struggled to find creative or impacting rhythm tones, Dan & Mick offered the following ways to change it up, mix it up, shake it up, and ultimately make you excited about the 95% of the gig when you’re laying down the foundations of the set.
1. Be Part of the Rhythm Section
The bassist in the band gets it, but, for some reason, we guitarists often don’t. Play along with the rhythm section not against it. As Dan noted, this is mostly a conceptual commitment. “We often think of the rhythm section as bass and drums but the guitar should absolutely be part of that.” If you’re having trouble assessing how you’re doing with this live, record yourself and listen to the bootleg after the gig to see if you part of the team or still running solo.
2. Play Something Different
This tip is highly applicable to bands that feature tandem guitarists. As Mick noted, in such situations, there’s a temptation to fall into copying each other. Want to get out of this rut and improve your musical ability? Dan prescribed that “knowing voicings and variations of chords is a great place to start. Using a capo and finding other positions is also a great option.” If that’s not doing it for you, try alternating your timing or accent with arpeggios to expand the profile of the doubled-up guitars.
3. Use EQ to Complement the Sound of the Band
This is where your sharp tonal ear comes into play. Here you’re trying less to “stand out” by finding your own EQ space than you are strategically adding to the EQ space of a key member of the band. For example, as Dan demoed, after singing a few lines and playing a few licks, it’s possible to subtly correct unpleasant frequency ranges of a voice by offsetting it with a guitar tone. If you’ve got a nasal voice when singing, use an EQ pedal to cut the corresponding high-end frequency of your rhythm guitar. He continued, “suddenly you’re not fighting each other and the guitar just sits so well in the mix.
4. Carve Out Low End Frequencies
Not sure how low it too low? These are the EQ frequences that sound great when played at home, yet when brought into a full band context disappear. So much for all that time you spent dialing in your tone. There is, however, a simple and quick solution—EQ pedal to the rescue. By carving out some of those lower frequencies, or using an overdrive pedal that has some onboard EQ capabilities, you can drop the lower-end sounds and get back to where you want to be.
4. Use Your Boost Pedal as an “Underdrive”
This might sound counterintuitive but it’s a way of scaling your custom sound back slightly so it functions expertly in rhythm settings. As Dan suggested, this hack works best using a boost pedal with EQ control. This allows you to dial in your thick sound and then step on the boost to bring this down a few notches when the vocals come in. Think of this as harnessing your sound in those parts of the song when it’s someone else’s time to shine.
5. Use a Heavy Overdrive as a Pad
If the last one frightened you, listen up! This simple hack means you don’t have to give up on your complex overdrive. It’s just a reminder to turn it down a bit in key parts of the track so you aren’t competing with the vocalist. As Mick noted, “this one is so blissfully simple but it’s all about thinking, if someone were to mix this as a record what would they do to make this giant guitar sound sit behind the vocals?”
6. Use Tremolo for Rhythm and Texture
This works especially well with a tap-tempo enabled pedal, such as the Walrus Monument. Set with a hard-edged pulse, simply tap the tempo to a complementary timing to the track and strum out large open chords. The pedal does the rest! As Dan reminded, “a lot of people get hung up on trying to get the tap tempo just bang on but just find a cool sound and it just works!”
7. Use Modulation to Make it Move
Similar to the previous, this tip deploys other types of modulation (phase, flange, rotary, chorus etc.) to add some organic movement to the underlying rhythm tones. This not only allows you to play differently it means you can still be the effect architect you know you are. As Dan summed up, “for getting textures and things to sit underneath melodies, it’s all modulation man!”
8. Use Delay Rhythmically or for Texture
Your default thought might be to use tap-tempo to clock perfectly with the song. However, using your delay time and subdivisions differently is an ideal way to expand the horizons of your rhythm playing. For example, by experimenting with your syncopated echoes and playing less you “almost double up on the sound of your rhythm playing,” commented Dan. Another hack, Dan recommended, is to set your feedback on the delay on the verge of oscillation and turn your rhythm strums into swells. This creates pads and washes that embody the space in a brilliant way, again, by playing less.
Dan & Mick’s tips were equally practical and philosophical. Sometimes it’s about playing different and thinking differently. As Mick concluded, “maybe there is no such thing as rhythm or lead parts. Maybe that’s the key to just playing texturally and sonically interesting rhythm guitar—just think of it as music.”