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: Holy hand-stretcher! This pseudo-pentatonic tap lick will push your fret hand to the limit. Check out the work of Dimebag Darrell, the Megadeth guys and Paul Masvidal, the technical guitar whiz from renowned death metal acts Death and Cynic, for examples of this wide-stretching technique.
Theory: Despite its level of facile difficulty, this lick is quite simple from a harmonic standpoint. Measure 1 is based solely on the E minor pentatonic scale, whereas the Bb in measure 2 hints at the E blues scale.
Playing Tip: I think you can guess what the challenge is here. When executing the lick, root your thumb behind the 15th fret; this will enable you to effectively reach back with your 1st finger for the notes at the 12th fret and reach forward with your 4th finger to play the notes at the 17th fret.
Check back tomorrow for Figure 36!