Johnny Marr And The Smiths

author: JacobTheMe date: 10/19/2009 category: guitar gurus
rating: 9.8 / votes: 15 
Introduction Hello. I've noticed that majority of guitarists look up to lead players and virtuosos such as Vai, Gilbert, and Van Halen. The rhythm guitarist is usually looked down on for not being in the spotlight. However, good rhythm is just as important if not more than a good solo. Johnny Marr was one of the most influential musicians in modern day music. He has been in such class bands as The Smiths, Modest Mouse, and The Cribs. He has been cited and revered by musicians such as John Frusciante, Radiohead, Ray Toro, Jeff Buckley, and Dave Keuning. In this lesson we will look at his work from The Smiths and try to see what made his playing simple, memorable, and inspirational. Equiptment Johnny has said many times that his all-time favorite guitar would be a 12-string Rickenbacker 330. While he has done most of his live work with a 330. He has used Fender Telecasters, Fender Jaguars, Fender Stratacasters, Gibson ES-335, and Martin acoustic guitars for much studio work. He has favored Vox-AC30's and Fender amps for most of his career. He has stated in a few interviews that he prefered combo amps as "100 watts are a tad overkill". He has been known for using many effects peddles and stomp boxes such as delays, vibratos, wahs, fuzz, chorus, and echoes. This link follows to a picture of his current day peddle board. Playing Now get into the thing you are reading this for, Johnny's playing style. Keep in mind however that Johnny almost always tunes his guitar up. Johnny was notorious for breaking strings live and in the studio. Meaning he used light gauge strings to avoid snapping whenever possible. I however recommend buying and using a capo. His most used tuning is a step-up. (Used in songs such as "How Soon Is Now", "Reel Around The Fountain", and "This Charming Man".) Open strings are Johnny's best friend. He used more open chords than their barre or full chord variations. The open strings added to his very jangly and positive tone. Here we look at my favorite Smith's riff as an example. The chorus to "How Soon Is Now". I would like to give credit and thanks to the unregistered user that submitted the tab of the song. Please keep in mind that the song is a full-step up and that the chords have been transcribed as such.
    Badd9        Dmaj7    A5            Emaj7     C#m7         Eadd9  F#
e|---------------------|--3---3--3-----2--2--|---0---0--0----0--0--|--0-|
B|--0---0--0-----0--0--|--3---3--3-----2--2--|---0---0--0----0--0--|--0-|
G|--4---4--4-----0--0--|--0---0--0-----2--2--|---4---4--4----7--7--|--1-|
D|--2---2--2-----2--2--|--0---0--0-----0--0--|---4---4--4----7--7--|--2-|
A|--0---0--0-----3--3--|--x---x--x-----------|---2---2--2----5--5--|--2-|
E|---------------------|--3---3--3-----------|---------------------|--0-|
Johnny has said that he "plays variations as he feels at the moment". Without the open strings that riff wouldn't have been as effective. Try playing the power chord part without them. It sounds weak. Johnny once described his tone as "trying to replicate a full album at once" and later admitted that he wanted a tone as dramatic as Morrissey. Next time you feel your riff is just a bit to heavy try adding the jangle of open strings for a fuller sound. It sounds good with octave power chords also. Another thing about Marr's playing is that he would drive the chord around the fret board such as in "Bigmouth Strikes Again". This song is two-steps up, so a capo on the fourth fret is string-saving. Thanks to Brutally_Insane for tabbing it.
e|--0------0------3------5------0------0------0------1------0------0----|
B|--1------1------1------3------3------1------1------1------1------3----|
G|--2------0------0------0------0------2------0------2------2------4----|
D|--2------2------2------4------4------2------2------3------3------5----|
A|--0------0------3------5------5------0------0------0------0------0----|
E|----------------------------------------------------------------------|
   C#m   C#m7   EaddB   F#add11       C#m    C#m7  A/C#  Amaj7/C#  B6/C#
Notice that Marr will drive a chord and keep it interesting by adding a small variation such as adding or removing a 7th. Pick your favorite chord and try to play around with it by dragging it around with slightly changing it up. Use a capo for some cool riffs. Let the imagination go wild. While Marr is remembered as caring more about the music than the spotlight and wanting his guitar to be in the background as much as the drums and bass. He did step into the spotlight every now and then. Such as the solo of "Paint A Vulgar Picture". Once again the song is a step-up. Credit for the tab goes to PBouyear.
e|-------------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|------7-8h7---------10/12-10-8p7--------------10-8-10-8-10-12-12-10-10---|
G|7-7-9-------7-7-9-9--------------7-7-9-9-9/11----------------------------|
D|-------------------------------------------------------------------------|
A|-------------------------------------------------------------------------|
E|-------------------------------------------------------------------------|
 
e|10-10--------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|------7-8p7-------------12-10----12-10-------------------------14-14p12--|
G|------------9-9----------------------------------------9/12--------------|
D|------------------------------12-------11h12-12--17/12------14-----------|
A|-------------------------------------------------------------------------|
E|-------------------------------------------------------------------------|
 
e|-------------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-------------------------------------------------------10h11---11h12-12--|
G|12p11----------------------14-12-14-12-14-16-16-14-14--------------------|
D|------12-12-14-14----14h16-----------------------------------------------|
A|-------------------------------------------------------------------------|
E|-------------------------------------------------------------------------|
His lead playing was much like Morrissey's singing. Croaning, soft, and flying. You could forget Marr was even playing a solo, because it fit the song so much. He plays the melody that Morrissey sings. Pretty simple and common in most popular music. Conclusion In conclusion I must say that the best way to get familiar with Marr's playing is to listen, learn, and practice. Experiment and be original. Try to incorporate, but don't copy. If you have any questions contact me here on UG or comment. Thank you and to quote The Smiths remember "These things take time."
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