5 mindblowing Guthrie Govan licks you need to learn

Guthrie Govan
(Image credit: Daniel Work)

Since being named Guitarist Of The Year by Guitarist magazine in 1993 and following a decade as a tutor for GT, Guthrie Govan’s reputation has grown to legendary status. In terms of technicality and sheer breadth of styles it’s easy to see why Guthrie commands so much respect.

Guthrie’s 2006 solo album Erotic Cakes is essential listening, with tracks like Waves, Fives and Wonderful Slippery Thing showing a fantastic balance of musicality, creativity and fretboard wizardry. 

More recently, Govan has teamed up with Marco Minnemann and Bryan Beller to form The Aristocrats; instrumental fusion and progressive rock at its best. Guthrie has recorded and performed with Steven Wilson, Dizzy Rascal, Asia, and Hans Zimmer, recently appearing on the Dune movie soundtrack.

This lesson begins with an intervallic melody that traverses the fretboard with slides and string skips. Although the notes are played at fairly moderate speed, the focus is on controlling open strings with muting. 

A distorted guitar sound is a beautiful thing, but becomes messy if those open strings are left to their own devices. With each fretted note, you should also use your remaining fingers and spare fretting hand flesh to lightly touch the other five strings, so preventing unwanted noise. We want only one note sounding at a time.

Example 2 is a multi-finger tapping pattern in 7/8 time. Guthrie often taps using second, third and fourth fingers of his picking hand to create melodic patterns not otherwise playable. Although the fourth finger is the weakest of the digits, with practice it will gain accuracy and become a useful ally. 

Once again, the enemy of clean articulation is the open string, so try doing as Guthrie does, and use your first finger as a mute, while focusing the fret work on your second, third and fourth fingers. 

Our third example is an Aristocratic type riff based around chromatics and rhythmic syncopation. The first part is played with palm-muted alternate picking in unison with the bass. Keep these notes even so you lock in with the band. The final bar uses country hybrid picking and hammer-ons but with palm-muting this should blend in seamlessly with the picked part of the riff.

Example 4 is a four-notes-per-string tapping lick based on an Fmaj7 arpeggio. The four notes of the arpeggio (E-F-A-C) are placed along each string from low to high. This shape can be moved to other strings and other octaves, much like a keyboardist can hop between octaves using the same fingering. The initial note of each string is performed as a hammer-on from nowhere.

Use your first finger to hammer on the desired note on the sixth string, then use the underside of this finger to lightly touch the other five strings so they remain silent. Once you can nail this initial note, the rest should follow; be sure to try this technique with other types of arpeggio too.

Good luck and, like Guthrie always does, have fun with the music!  

Our final example is a fast chromatic rock fusion style lick based around a G Dorian sound. The notes fly by quickly, so start slowly and get used to matching the pick strokes to the fingers and take note of things like string changes and how that relates to the picking direction. Once you have built up the speed, you can use this lick in other keys and as a starting point for your own ideas. 

Get the tone

Amp settings: Gain 7, Bass 6, Middle 7, Treble 7, Reverb 3

Guthrie began his career using Cornford guitar amps and these days he favours Victory (both brands having been designed by Martin Kidd). Since working with Hans Zimmer he also uses Fractal amp modelers

Go for a bridge humbucker tone, with plenty of gain but without losing the ‘core’ of the note – ideally find a nice balance of the two. Add some nice delay to round things off.

Example 1

Play this melodic arpeggio based lick as smoothly as possible while giving each note its full duration before moving on to the next. Use all four fingers to place the notes while only fretting one note at a time to avoid them ringing together, as well as muting the open strings throughout.

Example 2 

This lick moves between Gmaj7 and Gm7 arpeggios. Use your second, third and fourth picking-hand fingers to tap the notes, playing the tapped notes first. Notice that in bar 2, they all move down one fret for the Gm7. 

Finally add the fretting-hand notes with your second and fourth fingers while using the first finger as a string mute.

Example 3

Play this syncopated chromatic riff with alternate picking and keep your pick moving down and up consistently, even through the rests as this will maintain your timing and picking consistency. In bar 3, use hybrid picking, with a combination of legato on the sixth string and plucked double-stops on the middle two strings.

Example 4

This lick is based on a four-notes-per-string Fmaj7 arpeggio. Hammer on the E, F and A with your fretting-hand, then tap the C with the second finger of your picking hand. Maintain this fingering arrangement on the sixth, fourth and first strings as you jump between the three octaves.

Example 5

This lick is based in a G Dorian (1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7) but the framework of the scale is filled in with chromatic notes played in a 10- notes-per-beat phrasing with alternate picking. Notice that each downbeat begins with a down stroke which lands with the first finger. Use these notes to synchronise the hands when playing at high speed. 

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Charlie Griffiths plays guitar in acclaimed prog-metal outfit Haken, and has a wealth of experience handling corporate and session gigs for genres as diverse as rock, heavy metal and pop. He has been a regular contributor to Total Guitar, Guitar Techniques, and Guitar World for over a decade, and released his debut solo album Tiktaalika in 2022.