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Learn the blues-rock, acoustic fingerstyle and slide guitar approaches of the legendary Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher
(Image credit: Erica Echenberg / Getty)

This month we are taking a look at the various styles of Irish guitar legend Rory Gallagher. 

Rory successfully fused together blues and rock guitar vocabulary with home-grown folk and Celtic influences, and his albums have sold over 30 million copies worldwide. The various key ingredients of Rory’s influences can be clearly heard, but they are beautifully blended together with his own nuances.

We have written five fresh tracks for you to learn. Each of these is in the style of a landmark Rory recording, and each highlights a different signature approach. One of the key ingredients of Rory’s style is to keep the delivery organic with the emphasis on feel and delivery, as opposed to clinical accuracy. 

Our first track is a slow blues inspired by tracks like I Fall Apart. We have included a chorus of rhythm work to learn and this acts as a springboard into the solo. The A Minor Pentatonic scale (A-C-D-E-G) provides the main road map for the lead lines here. However Rory was a master of incorporating Minor scale notes into this basic framework and this added to his signature sound.

Our second track is an up-tempo rock number inspired by songs like Shadow Play. Again, to kick things off there’s a bit of powerchord riffling to learn. Rory wasn’t afraid to turn it up and add a slice of rock to his blues. 

This time the solo uses D Minor Pentatonic (D-F-G-A-C). Again, two extra notes can be added to D Minor Pentatonic (E and Bb) to create D Natural Minor scale. This sound takes us further into the world of rock (think Gary Moore) and facilitates a more emotional delivery.

Our next track unleashes the bottleneck. Rory was a master of slide guitar and his style was aggressive and powerful. Our track uses open G tuning (D-A-D-G-B-D) which facilitates some of that classic electric blues slide guitar phrasing.

For the final two tracks we dust off the acoustic. Rory was not afraid to incorporate folk and Celtic influences into his style, and our fourth track is inspired by songs like Just the Smile

For this one we are using DADGAD tuning which provides a cool-sounding, ambiguous, modal tonality that is neither Major nor Minor. As standard chord and scale shapes won’t work with this tuning, the musical ear must take over. Using a different tuning can be a good way to break out of the same old patterns and boxes.

To finish up we have a simple yet effective bit of fingerstyle blues. Rory was a fearless fingerpicker and this track is inspired by songs like Wave Myself Goodbye, and features a repeated fingerstyle pattern. The continuous octave bass line provides this track’s driving feel.

One of the key ingredients of Rory’s style is to keep the delivery organic with the emphasis on feel and delivery, as opposed to clinical accuracy

You can use the three backing tracks to try out your own, Rory tinged solos using some of the ideas from our example pieces. But do resist the temptation to stay within a solely Pentatonic framework, but instead do as Rory did, bringing in chromatic tones to create Natural Minor, Dorian and Mixolydian sounds. It’s so much cooler. Explore, and have fun!

Get the tone

The Fender Custom Shop now makes replicas of Rory’s iconic 1961 Strat. He used a Vox AC30 with a treble booster pedal to coax it into singing sustain. 

To get the sound with your own set-up, select the bridge pickup (single-coil is most authentic, but a humbucker will work fine). Go for a light overdrive with plenty of sustain. Rory would run the guitar amp flat out, but if that’s impractical use a compressor or overdrive pedal to emulate a loud valve tone.

Technique focus: Finger vibrato and bending

Two techniques that are key to Rory’s lead guitar delivery are his finger vibrato and string bending. While his technique and approach is fairly blues orientated, it also works well when in rock mode.

The key to a good finger vibrato is the consistency of the width and rate. Rory used an aggressive touch that is most characteristically of a medium width and a fast rate. Rory adds this finger vibrato to normally fretted notes as well as bent ones. Rory’s string bending technique is appropriate to his blues and rock playing (when using the slide the rate and width of the vibrato is very wide and fast).

As with all string bending practice you should use a target tone to make sure you are bending perfectly to pitch. It will be easiest to work on the semitone (one- fret) bends first and then build up to a whole-tone (two-fret) bend. 

As with any electric blues, all the Minor 3rd intervals can be bent a quarter tone sharp. These quarter-tone bends help the notes to fit harmonically into the chords and this adds a nice sleazy sounding, bluesy flavour.

Track record

There are many Rory Gallagher recordings to choose from. These span from his early days with blues-rock trio Taste, through to his solo recording career and his prolific live output. 

His 1971 debut solo album, entitled simply Rory Gallagher, is a classic and is well worth a listen. But don’t miss Irish Tour 1974, often heralded as one of the best and most exciting blues-rock albums around.

Jam track 1: Slow blues in A minor

CHORUS 1: BARS 1-14

We have included a chorus of rhythm work to learn and this acts as a springboard into the solo. The bass notes of the Fadd9 and G chords are played with the thumb of the fretting hand, which curls over the top of the fretboard.

CHORUS 2 AND 3: BARS 15-END

The A Minor Pentatonic scale (A-C-D-E-G) provides the main road map for the lead lines here. Combining string bending and double-stops is a classic trick and we use this idea in bar 30. The open strings can be used as pedal tones and this really helps to fill out the sound.

Jam track 2: up-tempo rock in D minor

VERSE 1: To start off we have some strong powerchord riffing. Rory wasn’t afraid to turn it up to 11! Use palm muting to thicken the sound and add a percussive attack.

CHORUS: Rory often used motifs that can be repeated, providing something for the listener to latch onto. Our motif is simple to play and memorable.

Jam track 3: electric slide

Rory’s slide style was aggressive and powerful. Our track uses open G tuning (D-A-D-G-B-D) which facilitates the classic blues slide phrasing. Having a b3rd interval between first and second strings, a Major 3rd between second and third, and perfect 4th between third and fourth allows these intervals to be used freely.

Jam track 4: Celtic acoustic

Rory was fond of the acoustic guitar and incorporated folk and Celtic influences into his music. For this one we are using DADGAD tuning, so detune the sixth, and the second and first strings by a tone to create this modal tuning. We have notated the strumming pattern with its swung eighth-note rhythm.

To condense the chart we have used a fair few repeats and roadmap symbols. Hopefully after a listen through it should be fairly obvious where everything goes.

Jam track 5: Fingerstyle acoustic blues

To finish up we have a simple yet effective bit of fingerstyle blues. This track features a two-bar repeating fingerstyle pattern that we have notated. Starting slowly with this one is essential because, while the fingerstyle pattern is not overly difficult, you will need to get it nailed before bringing it up to tempo. 

The continuous bassline pattern (typical of Delta blues) provides the driving feel (think Big Bill Broonzy). We have overdubbed a lead acoustic part to provide some context and to finish off the track, but the main thing we are concerned with here is the fingerstyle acoustic backing, which is notated in full.

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