“Learning licks is useful, but if you rely only on licks you will lose the connection between your mind and the instrument”: Matteo Mancuso's soloing skills are something else – these are his top tips for playing better lead lines

Matteo Mancuso
(Image credit: Future)

Few emerging guitar players have impacted the music world quite like Matteo Mancuso – the young Italian virtuoso who has been tipped for greatness by the likes of Steve Vai, Joe Bonamassa, Al Di Meola and Tosin Abasi.

Through a unique fingerstyle approach to playing and jaw-dropping soloing skills, Mancuso and his trusty Yamaha Revstar have taken the electric guitar world by storm, dropping a debut album, The Journey, that put his elite phrasing powers in front of a global audience.

Not long ago, the up-and-coming guitar star sat down with Guitarist to discuss the ins-and-outs of his breathtaking style – and now he’s returned for a soloing masterclass to talk through his top tips for becoming a better lead player.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a player who has gained a reputation for combining elite technicality with irresistible phrases, Mancuso’s own personal approach is less concerned with flashy licks, and more about translating what he hears in his head to the fretboard.

To that end, one of Mancuso’s main bits of advice is all about instrumental connection: let your inner musicality dictate what you play on the guitar, rather than allowing yourself to be dictated by the guitar.

In practice, that means moving away from prioritizing licks and focusing more on developing the tools to help you externalize the solos in your head.

“The first [piece of advice] that came to my mind would be of course having a clear idea of what you want to play,” Mancuso offered. “Sometimes when we are improvising, we let the guitar dictate what we are playing. 

“You need to be able to have a clear idea in mind of what you want to play,” he added. “Maybe sing it. Because the thing we want to play, what we have in our head, [we have to] translate to the guitar, not the other way around.”

To summarize his point, Mancuso concluded, “Learning licks is useful, but if you rely only on licks you will lose a bit of connection between your mind and the instrument.”

If you’re not 100 percent sure of what you will play, just don't play

As for how players can get better at doing this, the Revstar loyalist advocated for a 'quality over quantity' methodology, encouraging players to learn one phrase in all positions across the fretboard for greater connectivity.

“Good advice would be to play the same line in different positions, so you can have more freedom through the fretboard,” he said. “Every time, the shape gets different and you learn more. You have more melodic freedom.”

Naturally, knowing what to play goes hand-in-hand with knowing when to play. Fortunately, Mancuso has an easy fix for the issue of overplaying.

“When I don't have any ideas, I just don't play,” he admitted. “That’s good. A lot of players forget, and you feel the need to fill up space. If you have a clear idea of how to play, you will not overplay.

“If your idea is not so clear, you will overplay, because you are searching. If you’re not 100% sure of what you will play, just don't play.”

That Mancuso has already become one of today's standout soloists is quite the achievement, given the player himself didn't even what to be a lead guitarist when he first started out.

“I didn’t like most of the classical repertoire, and always playing solo guitar was boring to me,” he recently admitted to Guitar World. “I wanted to play with a rhythm section.”

You can watch the full solo masterclass in the video above.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.