5 soloing ideas you can learn from Richie Kotzen

Winery Dogs
Richie Kotzen and Winery Dogs partner, Billy Sheehan (Image credit: Lorne Thomson/Redferns)

As well as holding down a solo career, Richie has enjoyed stints with Mr Big and Poison, as well as critically acclaimed fusion collaborations with Greg Howe in the 90s; Tilt, released in 1995, is considered a hidden gem of instrumental guitar music. 

Richie clearly likes to keep busy as he is also a member of hard rock trio Winery Dogs with Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheehan. The Kotzen style stems from hard rock and blues attitude, fuelled by fast organic legato, and quick-fire pentatonics with fusion-esque intervallic choices which add a unique colour to the Kotzen canvas. 

In this lesson we will explore some of the elements for which Richie Kotzen is best known, starting with a three-notes-per-string pentatonic shape. Combining two neighbouring pentatonic positions into a larger three-notes-per-string shape is a great way to speed up your pentatonic playing and make it more legato friendly.

Example 2 focuses on two-notes-per-string picking for a big E minor pentatonic lick covering most of the fretboard. When using a pick, Richie tends to keep the tip of it slanted upwards, so instead of picking each string ‘down-up’, it is actually more an ‘in-out’ motion. 

The upward and outward motion frees the pick from the strings, making the next string transition and downstroke cleaner and more accurate. For Example 3, we delve in to Richie’s fusion side with a D Dorian lick played in a swung 16th-note feel. This means the second and fourth notes of each beat are twice the length as the first and second, creating a triplet feel. The notes themselves can be viewed as sets of two-string triad arpeggios, drawn from the wider scale shape.

Richie’s style features a lot of slinky slides, and Example 4 shows a cool method for sliding between scale fragments. In latter years Richie has opted to ditch the pick completely and plays everything fingerstyle. This would be a good lick to experiment with such an approach.

Our final example is a high-speed, high-energy blues-rock lick based in B blues scale. The lick begins with the three chromatic blues scale notes and incorporates some string skipping to other notes in the position. Next we use legato to stretch out to wider intervals on the treble strings, as well as mixing up note groupings for an organic approach to the phrasing.

Play each example slowly and accurately and focus on producing a strong, clear tone while keeping the unused strings muted. Once the lick sounds clean and tidy, then gradually speed up and play along with the backing tracks provided. 

Get the tone

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

Richie Kotzen is a Telecaster fan and has a Fender signature model. The Tele’s bridge pickup can be bright and cutting, but pile on the gain and it fattens up superbly. If you have a T-type guitar, great, but if not select your bridge pickup and crank the gain to about 7, add light delay or reverb, and get rocking. Add a low-level drive for even more fatness!

Example 1

Hammer-on the first three notes with first, second and third fingers, then roll your fourth finger onto the fifth string as you pick the note; repeat this fingering on the fifth and fourth strings. 

For the remaining strings use first, second and fourth fingers. Finish with a unison bend using first and third fingers.

Example 2

Use your fourth and first fingers on the first string, followed by third and first on the next two strings. Repeat this fingering with a sextuplet feel for the first three beats. 

Now walk down fourth and fifth strings with four-note phrasing before finishing with a six-note phrase. Use strict alternate picking throughout.

Example 3

For this D Dorian (1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7) based lick use your second finger to play the 10th frets on sixth, fourth and second strings, and use first and fourth fingers to hammer-on the two-note groups on the remaining strings. 

Use your pick to smoothly and lightly pick each string in a sweeping motion. Next slide up with your fourth finger and descend using the same fingering and pick each string with a soft upstroke.

Example 4

Hammer-on with first, second and fourth fingers, then roll your fourth finger onto the first string in order to mute the second string. Next roll back to the second string and pull-off back down to 5th fret. 

After completing that seven-note phrase, slide up one scale step and repeat the fingering in the new position. Repeat this method as you ascend one note at a time through the A Aeolian mode (1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7).

Example 5

On the fifth string, hammer-on and pull-off with your first, second and third fingers while using first and third digits to grab notes on the higher strings. In bar 2, string skip up to the third and first strings and stretch up to the 12th fret. 

The legato phrasing here is six notes, seven notes, then eight notes per beat. Improve general accuracy and timing here by targeting the notes on the downbeats, in order to stay with the pulse of the track.

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Charlie Griffiths

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.