50 Rock Licks
Guitar Techniques|December 2020
Jon Bishop has 50 scorching licks in five rock flavours: blues-rock, classic rock, southern rock, commercial rock, and hard rock. The top players in each genre are covered, so grab that guitar and wail!
Jon Bishop

Welcome to this unabashed celebration of rock guitar. The aim of the lesson is to provide you with some core concepts and techniques which will help you build a really good vocabulary in a whole range of rock guitar styles.

The guitar is one of the key instruments in the rock ensemble; it provides much of the harmonic backing and of course is also used to play riffs, fills and solos. Some rock bands are three-piece outfits where the guitar provides the majority of the melodic and harmonic content. Other line-ups include guitar and keyboards working in tandem. Then there are twin-guitar assaults, either with or without keys. All these band types require subtly diffferent ways of interacting with the other musicians, and we will see many of these approaches in the following 50 licks.

Many of the greatest rock songs are written in guitar-friendly keys like G, A, E and D and this allows the guitarist to utilise various open strings and resonant, first-position chords. When creating riffs, lead lines and guitar solos the Major and Minor Pentatonic scales are a popular starting point, and many of our examples use these as their basis. Both of scales are constructed from five notes, with the intervals as follows:

MANY OF THE GREATEST ROCK SONGS ARE WRITTEN IN GUITAR-FRIENDLY KEYS THAT ALLOW THE GUITARIST TO UTILISE VARIOUS OPEN STRINGS

Major Pentatonic: R-2-3-5-6.

Minor Pentatonic: R-b3-4-5-b7.

The Major and Minor triad arpeggios are also commonly employed. Their intervals are: Major triad arpeggio: R-3-5. Minor triad arpeggio: R-b3-5.

We can also use the full, seven-note Major and Minor scales and their associated modes, and of course the Major and Minor Blues scales (Minor Blues adds the b5 to the Minor Pentatonic, while Major Blues adds the b3 to the Major Pentatonic|).

The 50 licks format provides an excellent vehicle for us to look at a range of techniques such as alternate picking, two-handed tapping, pull-offs, hammer-ons, slides, string bending, whammy bar work, harmonics and many others available to the rock guitarist.

As well as the tabbed-out examples in the magazine you’ll also find an audio demonstration of our 50, four-bar licks, in the style of some of the biggest names from our chosen rock sub-genres. There’s a two-bar break between the licks so you have time to prepare, and the backing tracks with the lead guitar performance muted, are provided for you to practise along with.

See if you come up with licks of your own using some of these ideas as a starting point. Changing a note here or there, altering the rhythm, using picking instead of legato, or bends rather than straight notes, can colour them in a completely different manner.

TECHNIQUE FOCUS

Double-stops

The term ‘double stop’ simply means two notes played at the same time. If you take the Minor Pentatonic scale you will find that most of the notes sound good when played together. It is an obvious choice to combine notes on adjacent strings as these are easy to finger, but you can combine any two notes to create a double-stop and there are several different ways you can articulate these on the guitar in several rock styles. The first and most simple way is to barre two notes on adjacent strings with one finger and play them with a down pick. Try playing the notes E and A together (5th fret, second and first strings); you can play this double-stop with the first finger and embellish it by sliding into it from below. Also, try bending the third-string up one tone at the 7th fret and then playing the same E-A double-stop on the top two strings. There is a whole host of rock licks waiting to be discovered with ideas like this. Double-stops are also effective when played on string pairs that skip a string. Bypassing over a string it is possible to play wider, ear-catching intervals such as Major and Minor 6ths, or 10ths (an octave plus a 3rd). The Major and Minor 3rd are popular intervals for double -stops in blues, classic rock and rock and roll styles.

LICK 1 JIMI HENDRIX Our opening example is in the style of rock guitar innovator Jimi Hendrix. The fast E Minor Pentatonic run is well worth taking slowly at first. The repeating E Minor triad arpeggio in bars 4 and 5 are a classic Hendrix trick.

LICK 2 ERIC CLAPTON Eric Clapton has used a variety of vintage and custom shop Strats since the early 70s and augments the tone with a mid-boost circuit. This example is pure ‘slow hand’ combining string bending and finger vibrato in the higher fretting positions.

LICK 3 STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN Stevie Ray Vaughan’s fiery blend of Albert King style phrasing and a supercharged Hendrix tone inspired an army of imitators. For this lick select the neck pickup and dig in hard with the pick.

LICK 4 PETER GREEN This lick is in the style of British blues master Peter Green and combines BB King style phrases with a biting attack and soulful vibrato. The out-of-phase pickup tone provides a unique nasal quality, but Greeny often used bridge or neck pickup too..

LICK 5 DAVID GILMOUR The neck pickup selection sounds great for blues orientated lead work, especially when a compressor is added. Big string bends are also a key component of the Gilmour style and your goal is to get the bends sounding musical and in tune.

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