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Learn Orianthi's classic rock rhythm and lead styles

Orianthi
(Image credit: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

Born in Australia to Greek parents, Orianthi Panagaris has played for rock and pop legends such as Alice Cooper, for whom she toured as part of the band, and Michael Jackson. 

Orianthi was was rehearsing for Jackson’s This Is It shows when the singer died in 2009. She has also recorded with Steve Vai, Dave Stewart and Michael Bolton, as well as recording an album with ex-Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora.

Her first gig was with Steve Vai when she was just 15, and when she played with Carlos Santana in Adelaide it brought her to the attention of Paul Reed Smith, which led to her playing PRS guitars, which she has done ever since. 

If we add TV commercials and performing at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads festival to her CV, plus various other tours and shows, we’ll find that she has already had an incredibly full career, even though still only in her mid-30s.

Orianthi’s playing style is pure classic rock. She began playing piano at just three, before starting on guitar at only six years of age. She first came to public attention in 2009, playing guitar for Carrie Underwood at the Grammy awards, and has been on an upward trajectory ever since. 

She released her most recent album, O, on the Fronters label, which was produced by the legendary Marti Frederiksen.

Our track in this lesson is also pure classic rock. We’re in E minor (E-F#-G-A-B-C-D), and the rhythm part doesn’t stray from this key, even though the B5 powerchord hints at B Major (B-D#-F#), the fifth chord built from E Harmonic Minor  (E-F#-G-A-B-C-D#). There’s also a C# in the solo which pushes it into E Dorian (E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D), with a nod towards E Minor Blues (E-G-A-Bb-B-D) due to the inclusion of a Bb note. 

The rest of the solo is E Minor Pentatonic (E-G-A-B-D) fare, and although the above info is good to know it’s unlikely Orianthi would think of it this way.

Get the tone

Amp settings: Gain 8, Bass 6, Middle 6, Treble 7, Reverb 4

Orianthi plays PRS guitars, so aim for a humbucking pickup sound if possible. If using single coils, it may be good to roll some treble off and increase preamp gain on the amp or drive pedal. Orianthi tends to favour high-gain guitar amplifiers such as EVH and Mesa/Boogie, so again aim for a good amount of preamp distortion, plus ambient reverb or delay.

Example 1. Orianthi rhythm

Make sure you retain the space that’s built into the track; although there are single-note phrases and powerchords taking up a lot of the air, there are also plenty of rests to allow the drums to be given prominence and to help the track breathe.

Example 2. Orianthi solo

The solo has some speedy 16th-note triplet phrases featuring legato – hammer-ons and pull-offs – plus alternate picking and quite a few bends. Make sure the transition from picked to legato notes sounds seamless, and that the bends are in tune and in time.

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