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5 Rhythm Riffs from the Early Smashing Pumpkins Era

5 Rhythm Riffs from the Early Smashing Pumpkins Era

When you’re learning to play guitar you need to practice chords… Here are 5 guitar riffs and intros that will make you play early Smashing Pumpkins songs. Hope it will boost your confidence and inspire you to take on new guitar challenges.

Billy Corgan nearly shot the moon of the rock world back in the early 1990s.

His motivation to push himself and the Smashing Pumpkins band members to their limits, spending at times 16 hour days in the studio, was largely successful.

Between 1993 and 1996, the Smashing Pumpkins released some of the most loved and recognizable guitar riffs of the modern rock music era. Many of those riffs would go on to become common guitar tab fodder, often played, covered and even re-recorded by innumerable guitar players and bands.

Particularly in regards to rhythm, the early work of Corgan and fellow guitarist James Iha was incredibly aggressive, engaging and even melodic. Despite being heavily distorted, in many cases, their music didn’t rely on distortion or mere heaviness to generate appeal.

They were, in their own right, legitimately good riff writers.

The Smashing Pumpkins continued to release material, as recently as 2014 (at the time of writing this) though none of it has achieved the notoriety of their earlier work.

Here, we’ll look at a few of those earlier riffs that meet the following criteria:

  • Heavily-distorted
  • Distinctly rhythmic
  • Melodically flavored

Audio extract


We’ll use Guitar Pro 6 to build tab sheets for five riffs off the following records:

  • Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
  • Machina: The Machines of God
  • Siamese Dream

If you’re trying to match the distortion, I’d recommend using something like a heavily-saturated fuzz pedal or a metal distortion box like the Boss Power Stack. Anything in the light or classic rock style is going to be too thin.

For a couple other resources on tone, I’d recommend taking a look at Premier Guitar’s Rig Rundown of Billy Corgan’s touring gear. It’s recent (2012 I believe) but still informative.

Let’s get the riff section started with one of the band’s most recognizable tunes.

 

Riff #1: “Cherub Rock” Verse

“Cherub Rock.gpx”
(Click on the image to download the Guitar Pro tab)

 

This is the section we get from the lead-in to the vocal portion of the verse for “Cherub Rock” which was the first single off of Siamese Dream. The first two measures of this tab, are all 16th notes using the open E as a rhythm bass line layer, while the dyadic run from the ninth to the 12th fret highlights and emphasizes the melody line.

You’ll notice that the riff has an evident major key flavor to it, using an interval combination of the major second, third and perfect fourth.

The same can be said of the two chords at the end, as they’re both heavily-emphasizing the major third of the root.

Distortion is a must, but can be achieved with most high gain amps or pedal distortion sources.

 

Riff #2: “Heavy Metal Machine” Intro

“Heavy Metal Machine” Intro

“Heavy Metal Machine.gpx”
(Click on the image to download the Guitar Pro tab)

 

Though it wasn’t one of the Pumpkins’ most popular songs, “Heavy Metal Machine” might have been one of the heaviest and most rhythmically-intense pieces of music the band ever released.

The guitar Corgan uses on the recording is tuned down two whole steps, though the riff can be played in a standard tuning as well.

Like “Cherub Rock,” we have a combination of quarter and eighth notes where the open sixth string (tuned to C in this case) serves as our rhythmic time keeper.

Once again, melody is provided by a line of major-sounding intervals leading us between the fourth and seventh fret of the fifth and fourth strings.

 

Riff #3: “Today” Intro

“Today” Intro

“Today.gpx”
(Click on the image to download the Guitar Pro tab)

 

When Siamese Dream was released in 1993 (after having gone $250,00 over budget), Corgan’s label at the time (Virgin Records) wanted to release “Today” as the first single but eventually gave into Corgan’s insistence that “Cherub Rock” get the honors.

The single for “Today” was eventually released and, in a sort of poetic justice for Virgin execs, did much better than “Cherub Rock” ever did and was received with notably more significant enthusiasm.

That enthusiasm led to the opening riff of “Today” being one of the most iconic guitar tracks within the Smashing Pumpkins discography.

Of all the music they produced, it’s one of the easiest guitar songs to learn.

The intro is a short, melodic lead run of eighth notes that eventually fades into the background of heavy power chords. Alternate picking, a clean signal with a little bit of reverb and a quick pull-off (for the two 16th notes) will get the job done.

 

Riff #4: “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” Intro

“Bullet with Butterfly Wings” Intro

“Bullet with Butterfly Wings.gpx”
(Click on the image to download the Guitar Pro tab)

 

The world is a vampire, is it not?

In a song that arguably housed one of rock’s most popular chord progressions (and lyric lines), Corgan employs two measures of eighth note power chords that are played in a heavy downstroke pattern.

The entire “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” track is undergirded and strengthened by this intro riff, as the verses and chorus follow a similar pattern and progression. Guitars are layered and distortion is added at certain points, but the structure is consistent throughout the song.

To start, a clean electric guitar signal with generous low-end dialed into the EQ will do the job.

As a side note, if you want to play along with the track you’ll need to tune down one half step.

 

Riff #5: “Zero” Intro and Main Riff

“Zero” Intro and Main Riff

“Zero.gpx”
(Click on the image to download the Guitar Pro tab)

 

The only complexity you’ll have to deal with here is the harmonic at the 3.2 position of the fretboard. Most of the time, you’ll be able to find this by starting at the beginning of the third fret and trending your finger slightly upward.
Depending on your guitar, the harmonic should ring clearly near that spot.

Once again, Corgan is using two measures of eighth notes to create a fast-paced power riff. “Zero” was the fourth single off Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and one of the heavier songs the album had to offer.

Heavy distortion with plenty of gain will help the harmonics ring more clearly, and tuning down a half step will once again match the tuning on the record.

 

Other Resources

It’s a lot of eighth notes to keep track of, right?

If you want more Smashing Pumpkins music, the complete transcription (vocals, guitars, basses and drums) of the song “1979” is available on mySongBook for your Guitar Pro.

Otherwise, feel free to leave questions and comments below.

Bobby Kittleberger is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk, as well as a contributing editor to Guitar World. You can get in touch with him here or via Twitter.

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