5) Bouzouki Tuning
Just as George Harrison and Keith Richards became fans of the Indian music and borrowed sitar ideas for their guitar playing, Phil has used Greek Bouzouki-inspired licks on many guitar tracks.
The Bouzouki is a Greek instrument that is similar to the mandolin in that it has 8 strings arranged in 4 pairs similar to a 12 string guitar. Check out the guitar intro to the song “Seat of my Pants” from Phil’s old band, Powder, if you want to hear this effect.
To achieve this distorted bouzouki-esque sound, detuning your high E string to a B and then lift this new, second B string out of its nut slot into the nut slot along with your regular B string nut slot. Tune it again so that they are the same pitch, and your guitar should be tuned from bottom to top, E A D G B B
From here, you can play a melody on both B strings and bend both so that one goes out of tune at a different rate than the other, giving you a sort of built-in chorus effect.
This trick is a lot of fun, and stands among many instances of great guitarists“borrowing” licks and idiosyncrasies of other instruments and applying them to the guitar. Much like Jimmy Page played the guitar with a violin bow, Dave Grohl hits the guitar and arranges his parts from the perspective of a drummer, and Albert Lee and Chet Atkins adapted banjo rolls to the six string, Bouzouki techniques are fair game and still ripe for exploration.
To see this technique in action, try this video and skip to the 6 minute mark:
There are so many factors that play a part in your guitar tone, and it’s the small details that you give attention to that will culminate in the unique character of your own sound.
To this end, Phil X is constantly practicing and experimenting with new recording techniques and ideas on how to make a guitar sound crazier and more interesting—but he is also able to do so in a way that is tasteful and appropriate for the sake of the record. Any guitarist or recordist can learn from that.
If you want to learn more about Phil X and what the life of a pro session musician is like, check out the documentary, HIRED GUN, which features Phil, Rudy Sarzo, Nita Strauss, Kenny Aronoff, and Alice Cooper, among others.
For some amp simulator settings for emulating Phil X’s tones, click here. And if you think there are any other Phil X tricks and tips we missed, tell us about them in the comments below!
Matthew Wang is a guitarist, songwriter, and jingle-writer from New York City. He is actively gigging, recording, posting guitar-related videos on his YouTube Channel, and studying music production at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU.