We all know a great lick when we hear one—Jimmy Page’s solo breaks in “Whole Lotta Love” and Mark Knopfler’s blistering triads in “Sultans of Swing,” for example. Moments like these grab your attention and aurally brand your ears forever. Or, sometimes it acts more subliminally: You suddenly find yourself playing a certain lick over and over again, wondering, Where have I heard this before?
Through the years, these licks have evolved into a vocabulary for the guitar. And like great writers who are always able to find the right word to make a point, great guitarists always have that essential lick at their disposal to express, in the moment, what they’re feeling. And whereas the best writers are able to string those words together to form remarkable prose, the best guitarists link their licks to form living, breathing, musical statements.
We called upon our mighty stable of instructional writers to assemble these 101 Amazing Guitar Licks, spanning over eight decades and ranging from rock, metal, and blues to jazz, country and bluegrass. Regardless of what style music you play, it will do your ears and your chops good to go through each of these licks. Learn them, master them, and keep them on file for the next time you’re looking for just the right way to say what’s in your soul.
Origin: The guitarists of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, early Def Leppard) were weaned on Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, who in turn were bastard children of the blues. Thus, much of their vocabulary was based on blues licks—only through a wall of Marshalls. This Judas Priest–inspired lick is a classic example.
Theory: This is a no-frills F# minor pentatonic (F#–A–B–C#–E) line over an F#m chord—it doesn’t get any easier.
Playing Tip: The first two beats are eighth-note triplets, and the final two are 16th notes. This is a tricky transition in any setting. Practice nailing this rhythm with a metronome. Start slow and get it right before speeding up.
Check back tomorrow for Figure 28!