Last week I picked up a 2014 Gibson SG Special on loan for a few days, and after playing with it for a little while it struck me: “Whoa, this SG has 24 frets.” I have some 24-fret fluorescent-colored shred axes for my more noodly moments, but when I started messing around with the higher notes of the Special I realized that I was approaching those extra frets in a different way on this guitar. Instead of just slamming on that high E at the end of a solo, I was finding myself integrating the full range of the guitar a lot more naturally. I put this partly down to the very organic, earthy tone of the SG Special, which seems to bestow the same amount of clarity and complexity to high notes as low ones. So for those who have never really explored 24-fret guitars before, I thought it’d be fun to look at a few ways to use those extra notes in interesting ways. First, here’s a video, and we’ll look at the various techniques employed afterwards:
VIDEO: 24 Frets of Fun
Here’s a riff which alternates between dark, almost grungy-sounding low notes and screechy highs. There’s something strangely energetic about this balance of low and extreme high notes. Note that when I’m playing the notes at the 24th and 22nd frets, I’m fretting them with my ring finger but using my middle and index fingers to mute the other strings. Note also that the extra space afforded by the SG’s cutaway makes it easier to execute vibrato on the 22nd fret. Cool.
Know When To Hold ‘Em
Just because you have 24 frets, it doesn’t mean you have to use them all the time. One of the most exciting moments of Pink Floyd’s “Money” for me is during the third guitar solo, when David Gilmour hits the 24th fret on a custom-built guitar (24-fretters were rare back then). So the second example in the video is some noodling in the B Blues Scale, punctuated by a bend from the high E at the 24th fret all the way up to F#. The majority of the playing happens lower on the neck but this one note just adds a little extra drama to things. That’s a pretty damn high note to play at folks, and it’s probably better that you don’t fill your solos with notes that make dogs bark. But once in a while they can work quite nicely.
Technically you don’t need a 24-fret guitar to play harp harmonics but the more frets you have, the easier it is to keep track of the technique. If you’ve never tried it before, this is a trick where you hold down a note or chord with your fretting hand, then place the index finger of your picking hand very lightly at the harmonic point exactly one octave higher, then pluck the string with your thumb. For me it sounds like there’s a real sweet spot between the 9th and 12th frets, which is perfect for a 24-fret guitar because the octaves in question are located between the 21st and 24th frets.
I included one small little C# Minor Pentatonic lick at the end of the video, using the exact same pattern but played in two different octaves. This shows you the difference in tonal texture between different areas of the neck, and if you watch and listen closely you’ll note that the dynamic range seems wider around those high frets. You can use this to your advantage by exaggerating dynamics: dig in a little harder to emphasize one note, lay back a bit to let another note hang back. It’s this sort of stuff that initially made me think of writing this article: I was having so much fun exploring the higher notes of this SG not simply because of their pitch but because of their texture.