Samba Pa Ti – Full Version

As promised, my attempt to play Carlos Santana’s ‘Samba Pa Ti’……

What started out as something simple ( I wanted to show off my new guitar) turned into a three and a half month study. You see, I found a transcription of Samba Pa Ti in an old guitar mag. Perfect for my new guitar I thought, but when I tried the first few bars it didn’t seem quite right, and that’s where it all started. That’s where the journey to this youtube video began.

I searched youtube trying to find videos of Carlos Santana playing. However, when he plays live he varies his performance, and never plays it the same twice. There’s loads of cover versions, some are very good too, but then again, they’re all different. I wanted to stay close to the recorded version on the Abraxus album, use that as my benchmark. I listened to it morning noon and night. I began working my way through it phrase by phrase.

While I was doing this I carried on making regular searches on youtube for more versions. I’d also check every couple of days for newer versions. I found some really great ones. My favourites include the version by Al Mora, the accoustic version played by Mark Galloway, Mark Thompson’s version, and the inspirational version by Grandma Mary.

I had a bit of a breakthrough when I found a video of the man himself talking about Samba Pa Ti, how it came about, how to play it, including some excellent tips on how to get a suitable tone.

Samba Pa Ti started out as a poem…
“Through every step of life you find freedom from within”… Carlos Santana.

Samba Pa Ti appeared on Santana’s second album Abraxus, which is still regarded by many as his finest work. As a study piece it is one of the most rewarding I have ever tried. Not only is it a great study in guitar playing, but also a great study into the unique and totally fabulous playing of Carlos Santana.

Carlos style relies on a mystical feeling ‘Duende‘ found in flamenco music, a sensation described as ‘musical shockwaves in the soul’. He has a very fluid sense of timing, and will often play repeated musical phrases with sublty different phrasing. He rarely uses vibrato at the top of bends. Unison bends are another characteristic.

Like I said at the top, three and a half months. That’s three and a half months and still learning, because each time I hear the original I’ll hear some little thing that I’ve missed, some little inflection that I hadn’t noticed before. Sometimes I think I’m close, then other times I think I’m miles off. I asked one of my favourite players how long it had taken him to get his version as good as it was. He told me 38 years and still trying!!! So I’ve got a long way to go. However, I hope my version does the song justice. Yeah, I know it’s just a bloke playing to a backing track. I’d love to play this with a live band.

Many many thanks to all who gave me encouragement with this, especially Mrs Stratobiker who can now spot a fake Santana from the first phrase!!!!


Technical Shiz – I used my Gibson Explorer, through a Digitech RP6 for the overdrive, into an old Roland 1680 hard disk recorder. I got the backing track from the internet.

My camera can only cope with 2:40 mins recording, so I had to use two takes and stitch them together. I set the camera running, then set the recorder running. I used Windows Movie Maker to do the stitching and tidying. Once I had the video sorted I imported the sound track from the Roland, and ditched the sound from the camera. I took the liberty of overdubbing a second guitar for the unison bends at 1:42 as per the original, and also adding extra reverb for the lick at 1:09, again, like the original.

Update 18th Feb 2010 – I got such great compliments for my tone I thought I’d post some wise words on tone from the great man himself…..

“Just about any guitar will give you that tone as long as you’re not playing it really load………as long as you play it somewhere in the middle…..some guitars if you play them at very very low volume they get very thin, it’s like a baloon that is not inflated…..and if you play it too loud it sounds like you’re talking with you mouth full of food…..somewhere in the middle is where you get that pretty pristine tone.” …… Carlos Santana

I found these words on the video here

Then, a couple of days ago I got a message from my VanderBilly friend Wolf. He’d found a really interesting article on the Gibson website titled, “How Carlos Santana Refined and Defined his Sound with Abraxas”. It’s a great read, and it goes into some detail about the equipment that Carlos used, and the way in which he used it. Specifically talking about Samba Pa Ti it says….

“Although the cornerstones of Santana’s sound on Abraxas are his Gibson SGs, volume and the pureness and control of his touch, there are spots where he audibly used a wah-wah pedal to attenuate his tone. On “Samba Pa Ti” he left the pedal cocked to an open position throughout the song, achieving a sweet, warm distortion that produced the album’s most subtle guitar tone.”

You’ll find the full article here.

Thanks Wolf, a great find, and a damn good read.