Many years ago, Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins made an offhand joke in a guitar magazine that a particular chord that he was using heavily was called ‘The Pumpkin Chord.’ Of course, he was raked over the coals by an overly sensitive reader in a subsequent issue’s letter to the editors page for laying claim to a chord type that Jimi Hendrix had already used.
In a later interview (bear with me 'cause I’m a nerd for guitar mag trivia) Corgan mentioned the incident and how he was just kidding. I don’t think he was planning to trademark that particular set of notes and then issue infringement notices to anybody who plays Pumpkin chords without permission.
Anyway, the point is, this particular chord sounds really killer, it’s really simple to play, and sure, Hendrix did it too, but plenty of other people probably have as well. So it’s well worth exploring here, whether you’re a Pumpkins fan, a Jimi fan or whatever you’re into.
Here’s how to do it: Take your finger and place it at the 11th fret of the A string, sounding a G#. Now hit the open E and that G# at the same time. Bingo. Pumpkin chord. It has a definite psychedelic ring, since it’s an interval that you don’t often hear in a chord. And you can switch to the next string pair and play it there too: Open A string and 11th-fret C# on the D string. Or open D string and 11th-fret F# on the G string. (By the time you get to the G string, you have to switch to the 12th fret because of how the guitar is tuned if you want to achieve the same intervallic relationship, which is well worth messing about with, although it has a totally different vibe to the versions of the chord that use the lower strings - almost like a harpsichord or 12-string guitar). Check out Figure 1 for each of these chords.
The real fun comes in when you start to explore the notes around that 11th fret as well, creating shifting melodies. So for Figure 2 let’s use that 11th fret as a jumping-off point, but really break out of Pumpkin Chord territory and see where we can go.
Now, what kind of tone can you use with this sort of stuff? That’s almost a whole other column. If you run through the first two bars of Figure 1 and repeat them over and over with a clean tone there’s a definite ‘acoustic Pumpkins’ vibe, and it sounds great on a nylon-string guitar. Subtle ambient effects can set off some really nice harmonic events during the transitions between chords especially when you’re using a clean tone and playing notes that fit together as sweetly as these ones.
If you’re using a heavier tone, you can conjure up all sorts of sounds and textures depending on what type of gain you choose. You can go for a super-saturated, thick tone like our Pumpkins friend during the Siamese Dream era, and this tends to blur the distinction between the open note and the fretted one, creating a mammoth slab of power. You can use a vintage fuzz style effect to get something a lot more angular and King Crimsonesque to really play up the weirdness. Or you can go for a more conservative overdrive level to let each note speak a little more and to really play up the detail of any shifting melodies you throw in there.
Read our Gear Rundown featuring Billy Corgan here.