What’s the secret to sounding unmistakably like a classic rock guitar player? The truth is, your attitude has a lot to do with it. Some of the greatest classic rock legends like Angus Young, Jimmy Page and Slash often played with utter disregard of the instrument they wielded, creating a distinctive sound we all know and love.
That attitude is something that might be more difficult to provide a step-by-step guide to achieving, but there are other elements of classic rock that will help you imbue your sound with the timeless guitar-centric genre.
Step one is finding the correct tone. The three guitar icons mentioned above were all Gibson players going into some kind of a Marshall stack (Page was known to use a variety of amps in the studio, but Marshalls were his mainstay during live performances). Assuming you might not have access to that exact setup, a simple amp modeler (opens in new tab) from BIAS FX or analog stomp box (opens in new tab) like a TS808 will get you 90 percent of the way there.
Now that we have a nice classic rock tone, a traditional rhythmic riff is in order. Classic rock is easily identified by its strong backbeat, with the band working together to create a wall of sound. Bands like AC/DC, Boston and Guns N’ Roses were masters of this concept. Here's an example of a classic-rock infused riff for you to check out:
For the icing on top, we’ll need a staple lead lick to tie this lesson together—and what better way to do that than with a double-stop ridden pentatonic rip? This is definitely one of the most “classic” classic rock moves, used by everyone from Eric Clapton to Brian May. It’s probably nothing new to you if you’ve been playing guitar for very long, but again, what makes this lick so special is the attitude you play it with.
These three ingredients make up a foundation of classic rock guitar playing, and while there are countless more nuances that define the genre, these are a few of what I consider to be the most standout elements.
Tyler Larson is the founder of the guitar-centric brand Music is Win (opens in new tab). His insightful, uncomplicated guitar lessons and gear demonstrations along with entertaining, satirical content about life as a musician receive tens of millions of video views per month across social media. Tyler is also the creator of the extremely popular online guitar learning platform, Guitar Super System. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, Tyler has been teaching guitar for over a decade and operates a production studio in Nashville, TN.