by The Pretenders
I’ve always loved the playing of James Honeyman-Scott, the guitarist in the first incarnation of the Pretenders. One important lesson I took from him was how it was possible to combine the attitude and values of punk with some really skilled and beautiful playing. Brass in Pocket was The Pretenders first big hit, reaching number 1 in January 1980, and it’s as good a place as any to start if you want to get into JH-S’s style. Unless you’re a complete beginner, there’s nothing here that’s too tricky to play. It’s just a brilliantly constructed and executed pop guitar part, which perfectly supports and adds to the song.
Below is my transcription of the tune; I’ve tried to be as faithful to the original recording as possible, though there are definitely a few places where it’s quite hard to hear exactly what’s going on. Occasionally you can hear one or two extra notes creeping into the main riff, which are shown in brackets. The chorus is a kind of composite of the two guitars you hear on the recording, but you have the option of sticking to either one of the main parts if you want to, as I explain in the video. I’ve also included the funky single-note line (this kind of thing is sometimes referred to as a bubble lick) and the overdriven overdub which you can hear most prominently during the second half of the 2nd pre-chorus. The picking indications show you the way I would probably approach playing this, but feel free go with whatever works best for you. You can download a PDF of the music here, if you like.
I wouldn’t usually go to the trouble of recording a backing track to play along to but in the case of this song I felt I needed to as the guitar doesn’t make much sense without the bass notes. Here’s what I put together: it’s fairly basic sequenced drums and a bass guitar but it should be enough to give the guitar part some kind of context and to allow you to work on your feel and timing. You should be able to piece all the bits of the song together yourself – the structure is straightforward: verse, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, chorus, main riff to end.
Getting the Sound
There seems to be little definite info about exactly what gear was used to record this track. According to interviews, a lot of the first album was done with a Gibson Les Paul or 335, but JH-S also seems to have occasionally used a Tele in the studio. As far as amps go, he favoured Marshall amps when playing live, but whether this is what he used in the studio is anybody’s guess. The chorus effect seems to have come from an original Electro Harmonix The Clone Theory pedal. Here’s some more detailed gear info I’ve just copied and pasted from The Gear Page:
“Honeyman-Scott used a number of guitars during his professional career, including the following:
Gibson ES-335 used for Pretenders debut and songs on the Robert John Godfrey album
Gibson Les Paul Jr. (1957 – borrowed from Mick Ralphs of Mott the Hoople)
Gibson Les Paul (used to record the debut album)
Gibson Firebird (1963)
Gibson Firebird (Pink)
Hamer Custom-built guitars(3, one red known as “Red One”, one white with Honeyman in mother of pearl up the neck known as “Honeyman”, and one Explorer prototype [currently known as the Hamer Standard])
Rickenbacker 360/12 used during Extended Play / Pretenders II sessions
Zemaitis (1980) Metal Front Guitar (2)
Zemaitis (1980) Pearl Front Guitar
Zemaitis (1981) Dragon (Wedding Axe)
Zemaitis (1981) Scorpion Disc Front Guitar
Just before joining the Pretenders, Honeyman-Scott used an Ibanez Gibson-Explorer style with a Electro-Harmonix Clone Theory pedal and Marshall amplifier in an attempt to emulate the Rickenbacker 12-string sound on songs by Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe (Guitar Player, 1981). Honeyman-Scott recorded most of his guitar parts for the Pretenders debut album using a Gibson ES-335 or Gibson Les Paul.
Honeyman-Scott owned several acoustic guitars including a Gibson Dove, Martin D-28, and a Guild 12-string. Jimmy used Marshall 100-watt amplifiers and BOSS chorus, overdrive, and compressor effects pedals.”
I’ve also seen pictures of him with Strats, Teles and his original Ibanez Explorer copy.
To get close to the Brass in Pocket sound you’ll want a bright, clean amp sound and some kind of chorus effect. For this video I used my ’52 reissue Tele into my 80s Fender Super Champ. The chorus effect is from an Electro Harmonix Small Clone.
For more detailed JH-S info check out this brilliant interview by Jas Obrecht taken, I think, from an 1981 edition of Guitar Player Magazine.