I'd like to start my column of Guitar Secrets by sharing a couple of guitar signatures. A lot of people ask me how to play the "Reaper" Riff, so here it is.
The move is made up of four groups of four notes each, rooted in the A, G and F chords. It starts by using the lower three strings of a simple A chord with your middle finger on the 2nd fret D string and your ring finger on the 2nd fret G string. You don't use the B or the E string for this riff. Start with a downstroke on the open A string and continue with an upstroke on the D and a downstroke on the G string. The last note in this and every group is an upstroke on the open G string.
Even though it's a simple downward movement on the strings, be sure to use alternate picking. I found if you use all downstrokes and try to come up on the last note, it's easy to get mixed up and it doesn't sound as smooth. The open G string is the key to the whole riff. The second group of notes is off a folk G7 formation. Your ring finger is on the 3rd fret low E string and your middle finger is on the 2nd fret A string. The D and G strings are open, and you strum the E, A, D and G strings. The F section, which is next, is based on the E and A string positions of an F bar chord. Your first finger is on the 1st fret low E string and your ring finger is on the 3rd fret A string. The strum is exactly the same as the G portion of the riff, to which you then return after playing the F position. The whole riff goes A, G, F and G with the droning open G the only constant.
Another riff song that originally turned up on our first album and has since been re-recorded on our live album, "ETL," is "Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll." Our original drummer, Albert Bouchard, was inspired by Black Sabbath and wrote the first half of the riff. I helped complete the line, which goes like this: the first finger kicks it off on the 2nd fret low E string followed by the pinky on the 5th fret of the same string. The last note in this phrase is the same as the first. F#. Then it's C to C# on the 3rd and 4th frets of the A string, using your middle and ring fingers. Go down to the F# on the 4th fret D string (ring finger) and follow with the same C to C# combo ending on the 2nd fret D string, E note. Repeat those last three notes, C, C# and E and move up to the A string third fret (C) for a double pull-off which goes from C to B on the 2nd fret to an open A string. The last two notes are the F# on the 2nd fret of the low E and the open E string. Then start all over again.