An Introduction to Pat Metheny

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Pat Metheny 101

pat metheny
Mick Hutson | Getty Images

He is a musician who steadfastly refuses to let himself be classified. Guitarist Pat Metheny has made significant contributions to so many styles of music, it would be a great injustice to label him a "jazz guitarist".

For although Pat Metheny has recorded several albums which critics often laud as some of the best jazz/jazz-fusion music ever created, the guitarist constantly pushes his music into other stylistic areas. Pat Metheny has appeared as a sideman on recordings by Joni Mitchell and Bruce Hornsby, collaborated with David Bowie on the hit single "This is not America", and written/recorded numerous soundtracks for movies like "The Falcon and the Snowman". Many of the guitarist's own recordings prove to be just as radically different; his aggressive 1994 solo guitar release Zero Tolerance for Silence was called "the most radical recording of this decade... a new milestone in electric guitar" by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore.

And the critics have been listening. Pat Metheny has been nominated for a total of 21 Grammy Awards, of which the guitarist has won 11. He is also a regular winner of Downbeat, Jazztimes, Jazziz, and Guitar Player critics polls. Still Life (Talking) was even named one of the top 100 pop albums of all-time by Rolling Stone magazine. Still, although this has made Metheny an extremely popular musician in the jazz world, many rock and pop music fans know little, if anything, about the guitarist.

 

The Pat Metheny Sound

Once you hear Pat Metheny play, you'll be able to recognize him, no matter what style of music the guitarist is playing. His somewhat unusual technique allows Metheny to achieve a very fluid, smooth sound. To get a better idea of what Pat Metheny's technique looks like, you'll want to watch this great clip on YouTube. Of course, Metheny's distinct sound can also be partially attributed to his guitar, amp, and effects.

Pat Metheny is often directly credited with changing the direction of jazz, via incorporating elements of pop music into his recordings. While there were certainly guitarists before Metheny who did this (John McLaughlin, Sonny Greenwich, and others), Pat tended to play in a more accessable style, and therefore received a lot of public and critical attention. An entire generation of post-Metheny jazz guitarists began adopting Metheny's signature sound, and often some of his favorite guitar licks.

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Pat Metheny's Early Years

pat metheny
Sherry Rayn Barnett | Getty Images

Patrick Bruce Metheny was born on Aug.12th ,1954,in Lee's Summit, Missouri. This small town, which contained only 3500 citizens, was founded in part by Moses Metheny (Pat's great-grandfather) in 1865.

Growing up in such a rural area had a profound effect on Metheny. There was no television in his house for a long period of time, and the slow pace of life neccessitated that Pat find ways to amuse himself. One of Metheny's first outlets was through the trumpet, an instrument played by his older brother Mike. Starting at the age of eight, Pat listened to, and played a lot of trumpet music, learning to read and write music while doing so.

 Even at this young age, Pat Metheny showed an interest in jazz music, listening to musicians like John Coltrane, as well as the pop music of the time: The Beach Boys, Dave Clark Five, , and others. It was this that inspired him to buy his first guitar: a small acoustic made by "Trivia".

Pat took to the instrument immediately, teaching himself to play the theme from "Peter Gunn" and "The Girl from Ipanema". Metheny never really developed an interest in playing the pop music of the period on the guitar, because it was at this time his brother brought home the Miles Davis album Four and More. Says Metheny "People sometimes say that it takes a long time to become a jazz fan, but for me, it took about five seconds... I remember running home from school every day just to put that record on, sit between the speakers, and hear that sound."

It was this point in his life that Pat Metheny immersed himself in jazz, to the point where school and social activities became unimportant. Without the aid of a private teacher, Pat progressed to a point where he got work playing with jazz musicians working around Kansas City (he was playing a Gibson ES-140T by this point). His reputation grew, and by the time he was 16, Metheny was attracting considerable local attention. So much so, that when Herbie Hancock was playing in town, he made a point of finding Metheny playing at a local jam session, and playing a tune with the young guitarist.

In May 1972, Pat Metheny graduated at Kansas City High School (which Pat calls a "mercy graduation"), and briefly attended the University of Miami. At the end of January 1973, Pat discontinued his studies at the University of Miami, in order to accept a teaching position in the school's electric guitar program (at only 18 years of age).

In January 1974, Pat started teaching at the esteemed Berklee College in Boston, and soon thereafter joined vibraphonist Gary Burton's band. Metheny recorded his first album, Ring  under Burton's leadership.

In December 1975, Pat Metheny recorded the first album under his own name, entitled Bright Size Life, for ECM records. The album differed from traditional jazz recordings, in that it contained overdubs, and alternately tuned guitars. Bright Size Life has since become essential listening not only for fans of modern jazz guitar, but also for those interested in tracking the evolution of jazz.

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Pat Metheny's Guitars, Amps, and Effects

Gibson ES 175 Electric (1958)
This is the guitar Pat Metheny used almost exclusively for years, but it has gotten too rickety to travel with. Metheny uses "Pat Metheny Deadwound" D'Addario Strings (0.11 light gauge flatwound)
Says Pat Metheny: "To get my sound on the 175 I use flatwound strings and the tone control turned almost completely off."

Ibanez PM100 (Pat Metheny Model)
Metheny started playing the Ibanez PM model electric because the Gibson ES-175 was becoming too rickety to travel with. Pat has since begun using the Ibanez on recordings, and bringing it on tour with him. The guitar has a single pickup and a slightly shorter body in comparison to the ES-175.
Says Pat Metheny: "One thing I really like about the Ibanez guitars is that I don't have to turn the tone control down too much to get a darker sound - those pickups are louder and much fatter sounding than the old gibson ones - although the vintage guitar purist types will no doubt continue to harp on me about how the 175 sounds "so much better" than the Ibanez; which honestly is just pure hogwash - and that is coming from the person who loves that 175 more than anyone on earth."

Roland GR-300 Guitar Synth
This is one of the older guitar synthesizers (circa 1979) which Metheny debuted on his 1982 release OffRamp. The guitarist has used the GR-300 extensively ever since then. Roland has unfortunately long discontinued production of the model.
Says Pat Metheny: "...the GR-300 was the first and, for a long time, only guitar synth that had a musical quality to it. Every little nuance and detail of what you did came out through the instrument, in terms of touch, attack, dynamics, etc. And this was because it had nothing to do with MIDI."

Linda Manzer Guitars
Pat Metheny is reputed for not only playing traditional guitars, but many unusual instruments like a sitar guitar, and a Pikasso (which has three necks - one a six string, the other two being 12-string unfretted necks for open string use). Most of these instruments have been built by Canadian-based luthier Linda Manzer. The guitar maker has also designed several more traditional acoustic instruments (one being Metheny's "Linda Six") for the guitarist.
Says Pat Metheny: "With Linda's guitars, something happened that made me hear things differently. They really fit with my conception of sound, and I can't begin to explain why. The necks were easily playable for me."

Amplifiers

"Acoustic 134" model
Pat used this transistor amp for 20 years from 1974 to 1994. Although it had the sound he was looking for, it was noisy, and tended to break a lot.
Says Pat Metheny: "That amp had the sound for me. flat, kind of midrangy-bright but mellow and LOUD without any distortion. a hard combination of things to find in one place."

Digitech 2101 DSP guitar preamp
Metheny switched to this pre-amp system when he could no longer deal with the unreliability of the Acoustic 134. The Digitech 2101 is apparently a product that the company has discontinued.
Says Pat Metheny: "With [the Digitech 2101], I could get the sound and some cool bells and whistles too, mainly pre-programmability... no more moving the barely-hangin-on-the-134-front-panel treble control exactly 2.3 centimeters to get the sitar on "last train home" to sound right and then in the 1.7 seconds before the next tune starts trying to get exactly back to where it was."

Effects

According to Pat Metheny, the output of the Digitech 2101 is run into two Lexicon Prime-Time digital delay lines. The unit on the left is set to 14 ms delay, and the one on the right at 26 ms delay. Both units are set to sweeping with a sine wave at a low depth and rate. Each delay has a very slight "pitch bend" controlled by the VCO (sine wave) inside the prime-time. This is what gives Metheny his patented "chorused" sound. Each of these signals is then sent into a Yamaha amp and power amp coming out of two speakers on the stage.

Boss has suggested how to create a Metheny-esque like that used on "Heartland" from American Garage: "When creating the Pat Metheny sound, be sure to pay close attention to the different control settings on the 2 delay effect pedals. In addition, take advantage of the amp's slight reverb effect and use a soft picking technique. Pulling-off and hammering-on techniques also be used often. Finally, use a full-acoustic type guitar with a front pick-up."

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Learn More About Metheny

Transcriptions

Pat Metheny Chord Transcriptions
Lots and lots of chord changes to Pat Metheny tunes here, organized by album. From my experience, these changes tend to be less than perfect, but they can still be very helpful in figuring out the tunes on your own.

Pat Metheny Transcriptions
This is a very slow-loading page, but it's worth the wait. Many Pat Metheny transcriptions (both solos and tunes) here, organized alphabetically. Files are presented in a variety of formats (.gif, ascii, etc.)

Pat Metheny "Slip-Slide" Technique
This YouTube video lesson illustrates one of Metheny's signature guitar techniques