With rock n roll being the child of the 12 bar blues most rock lead guitar also comes from the blues using the same pentatonic and blues scales. Players such as Chuck Berry in the 50s helped to create rock lead guitar. In this guitar lesson we will look at licks and phrases played by 10 of the most well known and influential guitarists who help create rock lead guitar.
Chuck Berry is most famous for his use of double stops where 2 string are played together. He would often embellish his double stops with slides or alternating them with bent notes. These lead guitar elements have been adopted by many others throughout the history of rock including Jimmy Page, Angus Young, Eddie Van Halen and Slash.
Eric Clapton’s playing in 60s power trio Cream was revolutionary blending the blues with a new form of improvisational rock music. He is a master of blending the major and minor pentatonic scales in his solos. Check out this example below from Crossroads where here moves from A major pentatonic to A minor pentatonic in the last bar.
Apart from being a master of single note blues styled playing Hendrix was also master of double stop hammer-ons creating chordal style riffs and licks used songs such as The Wind Cries Mary, Castles Made of Sand, Little Wing and others.
Like Chuck Berry much of Jimmy Page’s playing comes from the blues and uses the minor pentatonic scale. In Led Zeppelin Page used hammer-ons and pull-offs to play fast repetitive licks bring excitement to his solos.
In Black Sabbath Tony Iommi helped to create Heavy Metal with down tuned guitars and heavy riffs. He also had his own take on the minor pentatonic scale often inserting rapid hammer on pull off licks into his solos. For example e to G notes trilled in the 2nd solo in Snowblind.
In Deep Purple and Rainbow Richie Blackmore was an aggressive player with his style of playing driving these two classic hard rock bands. One technique he was known for was using the open strings as a pedal tone in between hammer-on / pull-off notes as he moved up and down the neck. Here’s an example of this from the song Burn.
Young’s lead playing in AC DC is very blues based like many of the other guitarists previously mentioned. He likes to play rapid 6 note phrases using the minor pentatonic scale. Check out the example below.
8.Eddie Van Halen
The first Van Halen Album released in 1978 featured a short guitar solo piece “Eruption” that featured two handed tapping. While probably not the first example of this technique on record it was one of the most well executed and prominently featured. Following this every serious rock lead player sought to learn this and the other flashy techniques that Eddie Van Halen played including the “horse whinny” sound made with his whammy bar.
In Guns n Roses Slash plays a range of styles of rock lead guitar from melodic to repetitive fast passages based on the minor pentatonic scale just like Jimmy Page. He also uses the major pentatonic scale to play country based licks that use double stops with a bend to create a major chord.
Slash also likes to create tension and excitement by filling in his minor pentatonic scale patterns with chromatic filler notes. He does this most notably in his solo inn the double time ending of Paradise City.
Metallica’s Kirk Hammet likes to use Arpeggios to create licks. This is an effective way to break out of standard minor pentatonic licks used by so many rock lead guitarists. Check out this lick from Enter Sandman.
So now that we’ve looked at some of the licks and phrases played by 10 of the most well known and influential guitarists in rock lead guitar do your own further study and see what other licks and phrases you can learn from the greats and incorporate into your own playing.