It’s hard to fathom, but Randy Rhoads built his entire legacy on, essentially, two studio albums with Ozzy Osbourne. Sure, there were the Quiet Riot albums released in Japan before Randy hooked up with Ozzy, and there was the posthumous live album Tribute, but by the time he recorded Blizzard of Ozz, Randy had already created and defined an entire style. Sadly Randy was taken from us far too young, and we’ll never know where his style would have evolved to had he lived. Randy had a deep love of classical guitar and it’s clear that he would have moved further and further into that world, but he had such a strong rock/metal voice too, equal parts Eddie Van Halen and Mick Ronson in inspiration but 100% himself in execution. Let’s look at a few aspects of Randy’s sound, and ways that you can incorporate them into your own music.
Perhaps the most recognizable, stand-out aspect of Randy’s style is his use of triple-tracking in the studio: one take of the solo panned in the middle and then additional takes panned left and right. This is a great way to thicken up your solo tone and to create a sort of ‘hyperactive chorus pedal’ effect. If you’re recording a composed solo for one of your own tracks, give it a try. But a word of advice: Randy didn’t have the luxury of comparing waveforms on a computer monitor to make sure his various takes lined up with each other, and that’s actually part of the charm. Although Randy was a master at nailing three killer takes of each solo, there are still slight, barely perceptible differences in each take - a very slightly differently-timed slide here, a harder pick attack on that note there. If Randy were able to edit out these differences in the way that we can now, his triple-tracked solos wouldn’t have had quite the dimension and depth that they do. So if you’re triple tracking at home or in the studio, allow yourself the luxury of ignoring the computer screen completely and using your ears instead.
Your Tone Is What You Hear When You’re Playing
Now, this one could be a bit contentious: Randy’s guitar sound was notoriously noisy when he wasn’t playing, but his tone was incredible. In fact, his guitar rig was so noisy that his pedalboard was nicknamed ‘the Chip Pan’ by Ozzy because it made a noise that sounded like chips (french fries) sizzling in a pan. As producer/engineer Max Norman told Guitar World, “Well, we tried to gate it. You had to gate it to stay sane. Mostly we gated it on the return end of the signal chain, so it wouldn’t chop the sound up. Gating is a pretty messy business. In the end, I basically had to ride the signal in and out manually using faders on the mixing console.” Of course, noise gate technology has come a long way in the last 30-plus years, so it’s a lot easier to keep a guitar rig like that under control these days. So don’t be afraid to dial in a sound that has a little bit of extra filth and fizz when you’re not playing, as long as you have an effective way to control it.
By the way, the Chip Pan featured a Dunlop Cry Baby Wah, an MXR Flanger, Ten Band Equalizer Stereo Chorus and Distortion+, a Roland FV-2 Volume Pedal, and one of two tape delays (a Roland RE-201 Space Echo or a KORG SE-500 Stage Echo) and one of two analog delays (MXR Analog Delay or Yamaha E-Series).
The Pickup Toggle Kill-Switch Trick
Randy was a fan of a trick that was particularly popular among guitarists of his era: turning the neck pickup volume control down on his Les Paul, and using the toggle switch to flip between the wide-open bridge pickup and silence (well, as silent as the Chip Pan would allow). You can of course perform this trick with any guitar that has separate volume controls for each pickup, including the Gibson Custom Randy Rhoads Les Paul Custom .
Rock Those Double-Stops
Randy was fond of using double-stops (basically two-note chords created by playing two notes at the same frets of adjacent strings), and you can hear him using this technique as far back as his Quiet Riot days. But for really prime examples, check out the riffs to “Suicide Solution” and “I Don’t Know.” Here’s a little riff in the style of Randy. It’s almost like a mix of some of the ideas from “Suicide Solution” mixed with a bit of the rhythm from “Believer.” It’ll have you sliding double-stops around the neck while also bouncing off of an open A string to give the riff a bit of harmonic context.
Play around with your own double-stop riffs and see where you can take it. And don’t feel that you have to only use open strings for pedal tones. You can conjure up all sorts of interesting harmonic frameworks by choosing different bass notes underneath an unchanging double-stop riff.