How to play like 8 Telecaster-toting country guitar greats

Jason Isbell
(Image credit: Erika Goldring/Getty Images)

The long and varied history of country music makes it a goldmine for any guitarist looking to level-up their chops whilst discovering some new techniques and approaches. 

There is a long lineage to the genre from the traditional ‘twang’ of James Burton to the edgier 1970s riffing of Joe Walsh, all the way to today’s more commercial radio-friendly pop-oriented country of players like Keith Urban and Brad Paisley. 

Factor in virtuosos like studio ace Brent Mason and all-round Tele genius Danny Gatton and you’ll find a whole new stream of inspiration no matter what genre you already focus on. 

Country and bluegrass have even crossed over into modern metal thanks to players such as John 5. Let’s dive in and take a look at the signature styles of these country masters – and don’t worry if you haven’t got a Tele to hand. Any guitar will do while you learn some signature riffs and licks.

1. James Burton

(Image credit: Future)

Original Tele master James Burton is a renowned lead player, but you can learn loads from his rhythm playing, too. Check out this move from E to A – a common chord change, let’s face it! The hammer-on on the third string gives bags of character, and has been used on countless country hits.

2. Jason Isbell

(Image credit: Future)

There are many approaches to rhythm within country, and this Jason Isbell-style Americana example shows a classic way of moving from G to C. Check out the subtle country-style fill in bar 2 which adds a bit more interest to a straightforward open-chord approach.

3. Joe Walsh

(Image credit: Future)

Country-rock means big, overdriven riffs with simple lead phrases helping to connect it all up. This Joe Walsh pedal steel-inspired lick is all about controlling the string bends against fretted notes. Follow the fret-hand fingerings shown in the notation to keep the bends in place without the notes on the first and second strings moving.

4. Brent Mason

(Image credit: Future)

Doublestops aren’t just for solos – they’re a great rhythm device too and are often used by Nashville session legend Brent Mason. This lick is a classic example that would sit on top of a simple rhythm base track and falls somewhere in between lead lick and rhythm phrase.

5. Brad Paisley

(Image credit: Future)

Bends within doublestops are a mainstay of country, and Brad Paisley is a melodic master. These licks are fantastic for strengthening the fingers and bends in general, and immediately give you that ‘country’ sound by loosely emulating the pedal steel.

6. Keith Urban

(Image credit: Future)

Highly-melodic lead work is a mainstay of country, and you’ll often find the minor (and major) pentatonic scale at the heart of a solo. Listen to artists like Keith Urban to hear a more bluesy rock vibe within the genre, where the focus is not on shredding licks but tasteful, melodic parts.

7. John 5

(Image credit: Future)

Bluegrass is often at the heart of country, and this means banjo rolls! This is a technique where you pick three or four adjacent strings one after the other, usually at speed. Country-metal ace John 5 is a big fan. Use either fingerstyle or hybrid picking to get these rolling phrases down.

8. Danny Gatton

TGR343 Country Tele lesson

(Image credit: Future)

The late, great Danny Gatton was a bona fide Tele legend. This example shows how he brought blues influences into country. Doublestops are integral to both styles and though you can play our tab example with a pick, try using hybrid picking to bring contrast between the bass notes and two-note shapes.

Country modes: Three essential scales for authentic country guitar

This relative of the minor pentatonic is perfect for upbeat major-key songs. (Image credit: Future)

Similar to the major scale but with a b7. Try it with dominant 7th chords.  (Image credit: Future)

Dorian and Mixolydian are identical except for the 3rd interval. Try major and minor 3rds. (Image credit: Future)

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Total Guitar editors

Total Guitar is one of Europe's biggest guitar magazines. With lessons to suit players of all levels, TG's world-class tuition is friendly, accessible and jargon-free, whether you want to brush up on your technique or improve your music theory knowledge. We also talk to the biggest names in the world of guitar – from interviews with all-time greats like Brian May and Eddie Van Halen to our behind the scenes Rig Tour features, we get you up close with the guitarists that matter to you.