Matthias Jabs


Groupology

  • Lady
  • The Scorpions

Jurassic

Watch Matthias Jabs in Action at the bottom of this page!

Famous / Infamous for

Famous for: Beating out 170 other guys for the lead guitar slot in the Scorpions after the departure of Uli Roth back in 1979; and thus ushering in the band's classic lineup. Jabs is arguably responsible for the Scorpions commercial breakthrough, and subsequent rise to global arena-rock dominance in the 80s.

Infamous for: Losing his hair faster than Van Halen ditched Gary Cherone, and then almost constantly wearing a backwards-facing ball cap in a vain attempt to hide the fact. - Stripes! Stripes on his guitars, and even more stripes on his spandex pants (see above). Jabs wore more black and yellow stripes than a nest of bees! In doing so, he became the unwitting fashion messiah for a bunch of Christian metalheads who embraced the Jabs look with a fanatically religious zeal, and (predictably) called themselves "Stryper."

Influences

Obvious: Jabs is alumni of the "German Metal School" and his style definitely has that associated strong melodic component. But while Matthias cites Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton as his main influences, his style certainly embraced the tastier bits of 80s "flash metal" as well. For example, Jabs also admires Eddie Van Halen's guitar work, and you'll hear that 80s stylistic influence more in Jabs than you will in fellow countrymen Uli Roth, Rudi and Michael Schenker, and Wolf Hoffmann — all players whose styles seem more rooted in the 70s.

Not-so-obvious: Allan Holdsworth's name crops up from time to time as someone who Jabs really liked when he was younger, but you don't really hear it in Jabs' style.

Strengths

Creativity. Matthias can come up with cool fills and a great leads over the most basic of chord progressions. And his role in the Scorpions is to do just that! The way Rudi Schenker and Matthias compose and play together is unique and very different from the way most two-guitar tandems work — at least in heavy metal. Rudi's parts are like the foundations of the building: typically a rock-solid chord progression. Matthias' parts are the dramatic and flashy structures that live on top of the foundation. Because Rudi's holding down the foundation, Jabs is essentially free to unleash his creativity and play his ass off! And he does so with great flair and attitude. It's Jabs' playing that grabs your attention and draws you into the Scorpions music. His parts take the form of flashy introductions, melodies, dramatic opening solos that make you sit up and take notice (Make It Real, Rock You Like A Hurricane, No One Like You). He creates exciting and tasty complementary guitar parts and most of the guitar solos.

Guitar fills. Matthias is the king of the heavy metal guitar fill. It is a very characteristic Jabs/Scorpions trademark. This too, undoubtedly sprang from the unique way Jabs and Schenker compose and arrange songs. If you listen to the Scorpions, you'll hear hot guitar fills everywhere — probably more so than in any other band. They are so predominant, inventive and ear-catching, that they become important hooks in the song. You'd miss them if they weren't there. You wanna learn how to do guitar fills? Listen to Matthias Jabs. Start with Bad Boys Running Wild. This song is a Jabs-trademark tour-de-force and the metal guitar fill "bible."

Versatility. Searing leads, chunky rhythm work, aggressive fills, and intimate acoustic textures Jabs does it all.

Attitude. Matthias definitely falls into the high-energy category of lead players. Frantic and ballsy. Whether he's ripping out a killer lead in the studio or running around like a maniac on stage, he is totally dedicated to putting as much energy as possible into the Scorpions music.

Confidence. Matthias personifies confidence and determination. When he first joined the Scorps, Jabs had to measure up to direct comparisons with two of metals most legendary players: Uli Roth and Michael Schenker. Uli had left behind a strong following of fans while Michael had just put together an amazing string of classic albums with UFO. Despite the huge shoes he had to fill, Matthias was able to develop his own unique style and approach within the framework of the band. Perhaps more importantly, Jabs was able to propel the Scorpions to much higher levels of success than Schenker or Roth ever did with the Scorpions — or as solo artists. Jabs should have confidence. He got it right!

Weaknesses

Not really a weakness, but Jabs never gets to play lead in the context of slower songs and power ballads. It's a time-honored Scorpions tradition to let Rudi take the solo spotlight at those times. It would be interesting to hear what Matthias would play over progressions like Jeff Beck's Cause We've Ended As Lovers or Thin Lizzy's Still In Love With You. After logging over twenty years in the Scorpions, I'd say a solo album from Matthias is in order.

And because Jabs is usually playing lead within the context of uptempo metal songs, he has occasionally been accused of being an unemotional player. In fact, this perception led to his being temporarily replaced by Michael Schenker during the Lovedrive sessions as the other members felt he was playing lead breaks that were a bit too technical and without feeling. The reality is that that assessment falls somewhere between unfair and untrue. Unfair because A) if your using Michael Schenker as your benchmark for emotional leads (as the Scorps were), 99.9% of players will pale by comparison. And B) Jabs' role in the Scorpions is to provide the flashier solos in the uptempo songs. When it's time for a real emotional solo, Rudi takes it. To suggest that Jabs doesn't play with fire or emotion is just untrue. He actually does well with that, given the framework he must work within. Listen to the solos in No One Like You, Rock You Like A Hurricane. They've got everything: attitude, emotion, melody and flash. What else do you want?

Tone

The classic German Metal combination of Marshall tube amplifiers with humbucking pickups has let Matthias create some of the most classic heavy rock/metal tones on record. Matthias has played two main instruments for the bulk of his career with the Scorpions: a 1979 Gibson Explorer and a 1963 Fender Stratocaster routed out for one humbucker and a Floyd Rose locking tremolo system. Primarily a Gibson Firebird player when he first joined the Scorps, he quickly switched to Explorers as he found them less fragile. Vintage Gibson Les Pauls ('58 and '60) were also often used in the studio, most notably on the No One Like You solo. Later in his career, on a quest to find a sleeker, more maneuverable stage guitar, he teamed up with the Gibson Custom Shop to co-design the Explorer 90, a modified Explorer with a 10% smaller body shape. This model was also equipped with a Floyd Rose and later became a Gibson short run production model. In the late 90s, Fender Japan briefly issued a Limited Edition Matthias Jabs model Strat — also with a 10% smaller body. The guitar bares little resemblance to Jabs' old Strat, but was rather built for Jabs to meet his requirements. These guitars are very hard to find.

Jabs has used both 100-watt and 50-watt Marshall Super Lead heads but likes the 50s better as he found their tone to be easier to control. His effects generally consist of a Crybaby or Vox wah, an Echoplex, and a talk box — used (with wah) to great effect on The Zoo. More recently, he switched to Engls and then later Soldano heads. He has also used Kittyhawk pre-amps for a time.

Jabs doesn't preamp his signal with distortion or overdrive boxes. His sound relies on the natural power tube distortion of his amplifiers. The result is very natural and ear pleasing, yet heavy and aggressive chord sound. His rhythm tone has plenty of bark and fullness but there is also a smoothness to it that many players lack. He also doesn't emphasize one tonal characteristic over another in terms of his EQ settings — i.e. no scooped mids. This gives Jabs a nice beefy, clean, clear, even characteristic to his sound without leaving it harsh, brittle or hollow sounding. Jabs can easily adjust the amount of distortion in his sound simply by adjusting his guitars volume control. Turned down low, he's got a nice clean tone, full up and you get that great classic ballsy Marshall tone by the truckload.

On his first few albums, Matthias often augmented his lead tone by running through a Crybaby or Vox wah set to the sweet spot; an approach popularized by Michael Schenker. Later, he moved away from using a wah on every lead but still maintained a great high-energy lead sound.

Guitar Style

Since Matthias is responsible for many of the Scorpions arrangements, he usually creates his parts so that they dynamically complement Rudi's rhythm progressions on a harmonic level. Whether its pumping out eighth note lines in Loving You Sunday Morning, blasting the power chords Rock You Like a Hurricane, or doing call and response chord interactions as on Arizona, Jabs keeps the Scorpions music bristling with cool riffs that always bring a smile to any die-hard metal fan. For his rhythm work, Matthias typically uses standard root-based power chords on his electric and the usual basic chord voicings when playing an acoustic.

Jabs' lead style is a very satisfying blend of the German Metal school of playing — heavy yet melodic, mixed with a dash of that 80s "flash metal" craziness. Most of what Jabs took from the 80s style was its high-energy. Matthias excels at injecting high-energy into the Scorpions music. He embellishes Rudi Schenker's evocative chord progressions with every type of fill and lead break imaginable. Heck, half the fun of buying a new Scorpions record was checking out what cool stuff Matthias was able to pull out of the hat in terms of wild and crazy phrasing and note selection!

But unlike many 80s metal guitarists, you don't get much tapping or whammy abuse. He occasionally taps out single notes or false harmonics on the fretboard with his right hand, uses the pick slide to great effect and throws in a screaming tremolo dive bomb here and there. Similarly, Matthias never really busts outs long torrents of notes, or massively long shredder type extended runs. Instead, he effectively links a series of shorter phrases together, and emphasizes speed variations in his phrasing to create melodic lead breaks.

Matthias Jabs' solos definitely sound composed and he stays loyal to them in the live setting. His approach has always been to play for the song. He gets in, plays what's right, and gets out. No gratuitous, meaningless flurries of notes, no "look at me, see how fast I can play this scale" type of stuff, just fine examples of how to get the job done. Jabs has excellent chops, but he doesn't bash you over the head with it. Sure he's fast and flashy, but there's always a solid sense of purpose and melody behind what he plays. Consequently, technique freaks can appreciate Jabs because there's enough there to be impressive, and non-musicians dig it because he uses catchy melodies that stick in your head.

In an interview with Guitar Player magazine back in May 83, Matthias explained: "I try to play for the whole sound. I try to play what fits best for a song rather than just do some crazy, fancy lead stuff. That's what a lot of people are doing today just fooling around. I try to play what the song needs. That's the most important thing for me."

As far a theory goes, being a blues based player, Jabs primarily uses supercharged minor Pentatonic, natural minor (Aeolian) and blues scale rock licks. A particular Matthias Jabs trademark is his marvelous and very distinctive elasticity. Listen for it when he's playing stock Pentatonic licks ala Jimmy Page and Thin Lizzy. They're the same old licks, but for example, where Scott Gorham plays them with a very even fluidity, Jabs brings a rubber band-like snap to them that makes them his own. And like Schenker and Hoffmann, he filters these familiar Pentatonic licks through that German Metal sensibility that makes them sounds more ballsy than bluesy. Not surprisingly, you get legato on the blues rock licks and alternate picking on the speed runs.

Also characteristic: Matthias uses light gauge Dunlop picks and often warps the pick using finger pressure. This warping technique along with his picking style lends an almost animalistic crying quality to his fluid, soaring lead sound. Matthias has also developed a technique whereby he can sound multiple notes at the same time by changing the position and angle of his pick. Jabs forte is his great European metal vibe, which is achieved by using a lot of bent and pre-bent notes to add a nice searing feel to his phrases. Like Michael Schenker and Wolf Hoffmann, Jabs uses lots of aggressive double-stops to add extra beef and intensity to his melodies.

Vibrato

Usually medium width and speed. Matthias can milk a note as good as anybody when he wants to. He likes to sting it in there on things like the intro leads on Rock You Like a Hurricane and No One like You. It's a controlled vibrato, but often sounds a little ragged as he's coming out of it. Matthias once stated that he was going to try and break some new ground in terms of his tremolo bar phrasing but nothing much ever seem to come of that. Probably a wise choice in retrospect. You'll get a few dives and dips from Jabs, but he spends more time on the Explorer and the bar is just not a big part of his style.

Matthias Jabs in Action

Recommended Listening

Scorpions

Profile By Shawn Hoagland Copyright ©2002 All rights reserved.

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