The Headmaster Ritual

The nuts and bolts of The Headmaster Ritual came together during the first album, and I just carried on playing around with it. It started off as a very sublime sort of Joni Mitchell-esque chord figure; I played it to Morrissey but we never took it further. Then, as my life got more and more intense, so did the song. The bridge and the chorus part were originally for another song, but I put them together with the first part. That was unusual for me; normally I just hammer away at an idea until I've got a song. It's in open D turning, with a capo at the second fret. Again, it was heavily overdubbed. It was a very exciting period for me - realising I could hijack 16 tracks all for myself.

I wrote 'The Headmaster Ritual' on acoustic. It's in an open-D tuning with a capo at the 2nd fret. I fancied the idea of a strange Joni Mitchell tuning, and the actual progression is like what she would have done had she been an MC5 fan or a punk rocker. I knew pretty much what every guitar track would be before we started. There are two tracks of Martin D-28, and the main riff is two tracks of Rickenbacker. I wasn't thinking specifically of the Beatles' 'Day Tripper' -- even though it sounds like it -- but I did think of it as a George Harrison part. The Rickenbacker belonged to Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music; I'm told that it was originally owned by Roger McGuinn. All the guitars are in open tuning, except for one of the chorus guitars, which is done on an Epiphone in Nashville tuning, capoed at the 2nd fret.

I've got an Epiphone Coronet with one pickup, and I string it with the high strings from a 12-string set. It's a really zingy, trebly guitar. I used that on a lot of things that people think are 12-string, like the end of 'The Headmaster Ritual'.

For my part, 'The Headmaster Ritual' came together over the longest period of time I've ever spent on a song. I first played the riff to Morrissey when we were working on the demos for our first album with Troy Tate. I nailed the rest of it when we moved to Earls Court.

'The Headmaster Ritual is one of my favorite guitar tracks.I wrote it over a period of two years, always looking for the next section I needed. I saw the Radiohead version, yeah. I showed Ed O'Brien the chords, but maybe he was looking out the window!

- Johnny Marr

First of all, here is a fairly recent video of Johnny playing the song on his old '85 Les Paul Standard:

I've located a Guitar Pro file for this that is pretty accurate, and I have uploaded it here.

Here are the scans from the Smiths Best Complete Score:

Here are the scans from the Complete Chord Dictionary:

Here are the scans from the Meat Is Murder piano songbook with guitar chords, for completists. Thanks to Ted Maul for these scans:

Daniel Earwicker's first take on the song:

And his second:

djs1986, on guitar and bass:

Here's Radioheads version:

Here's eluedy with his version, my favorite of these.

Here is chiasson65, with an amazing bass cover:

Here's WilliamFs11 on acoustic, in open E. Stunning.

Here's an awesome version by markpaterson on a Epiphone Elite Riviera through a JC-120:

Here's adameater doing the chorus part on acoustic:

Here's PinkMoonchild08 on a tele, appropriately phased-out:

Here's nicknoh69 on a goldtop les paul. He really nails it:

dhowellbassist does another great cover here:

abyface does a great full-length version:

Here's daveyc25 on a Ric 330:

Here's barjabulon with a close-up view:

Here's ecb97tp on acoustic:

Here's stereovaritone on a red hollowbody:

Here's Jonasmacca on a tele:


sean mcauliffe said...

This is a fantastic site. Thanks. What do I do with a .gp4 file?

Thom said...

gp4 is for the program GuitarPro. You can get a demo on their site, it's a great program.

Anonymous said...

If there is a Heaven, thats where youre going, brother, hahaha, we really appreciate your site!!!!


(from Monterrey, Mexico)

Thom said...

Thanks Leo!

ShaykhZubair said...

C'mon man! I appreciate the work that went into the site and all, but for this song you have these interviews where Marr keeps talking about the song being in an open tuning and then your tabs are for standard tuning? Where is the real deal?

Thom said...

ShaykhZubair, the GuitarPro file I linked to is in the correct open tuning. Also, there are countless videos showing how to play it in the right tuning, right here.

The other tabs are wrong, but I am aiming to have a complete archive of published Smiths music notation. Sorry for any confusion, I hope you enjoy the rest of the site.

michaelsprehe said...

Great site! Just found it today looking to hear the cover versions out there and find the most accurate tab. I enjoyed reading Marr's commentary about writing the song and was pleased to read it is one of his favorites....its been my favorite since the first time I heard it!

weblogik said...

This is a really really great site. Thank you all this work doesnt go unappreciated!!!

Anonymous said...

Great site! The internet at its best.

Just wondering if you had seen this youtube video of Johnny Marr playing it. Its part of his Fender interviews. There's about 45 seconds of him chatting and then it starts.

Thom said...

I had seen that one, I just haven't added it to the page yet. Thanks for the reminder!

Anonymous said...

Excelent site!!!

but, a little bit difficult to find if you don't bookmarked the page


Anonymous said...

another cover, featuring guitar and bass:

Anonymous said...

Awesome site. Great contribution to the interwebz!

Unknown said...

Bass plays in F#. I found this helpful.

p.s. thanks to site makers