• Create blazing pentatonic licks
that shun the disco era.
• Learn how to add the 9th to a
• Outline the sound of a chord
without ever hitting the root.
It was 1979. I was 12 years old, and Van
Halen II was my favorite album. This
amazing record did not contain any disco
music, but the photos on the inner sleeve
still showed the influence of disco fashion.
Let’s just say that a stripy pair of bellbottoms
is still a pair of bell-bottoms.
Musically, this record—and it’s legendary
predecessor Van Halen I—set in
motion a trend of guitar playing that, even
several decades later, I am only just recovering
from. Eddie Van Halen’s playing,
tone, and attitude changed the standards
and expectations of what a rock guitarist
should be and should sound like. Almost
overnight, the classic guitar phrases of the
’60s and early ’70s were deemed unhip.
This revolution of guitar style engulfed me.
I developed a sharp intuition for which
guitar phrases and sounds were passé and
which were cool and cutting-edge.
Decades passed, and at some point it
occurred to me to revisit some of those
lost licks of the ’70s. It was very much like
looking at a pair of bell-bottom pants and
thinking, “You know, those are actually
I want to begin our trip back in time
and fashion with the chunky, picked,
pentatonic lick in Fig. 1. I’ve heard some
version of this phrase in songs by Molly
Hatchet, Kiss, Scorpions, and Triumph.
I feel that it’s really a lost gem. So by all
means, let’s un-lose it. Now, I want to
add some more color by including the
9th, as in Fig. 2. This makes the fingering
and picking a little trickier, but including
some hammer-ons and pull-offs helps me
My first job as a guitar teacher was in
1985, so a large percentage of my students
were into bands like Dokken, Ratt, Van
Halen, and Yngwie Malmsteen. The glorious
Jimmy Page-style pentatonic licks had
been pushed aside. These techniques were
sorely missing from the playing of the
average metal kid of the era. Please check
out the descending E minor-pentatonic
pattern in Fig. 3 to make sure you’ve got
it securely in your musical tool belt. It’s a
good one. Just like before, adding the 9th
in Fig. 4 gives more flavor to the sound.
Finally, in Fig. 5 we try this pattern with
our A13 sound.
For me, it feels very liberating to play
these licks that were once forbidden.
Every passing musical trend breaks some
rules and constructs some new ones. And
the more time that passes makes me realize
that I’d rather play my guitar without
worrying about style or coolness. I just
want to play.
So let’s keep playing.
I’ve saved the easiest for last. This
three-note phrase in Fig. 6 makes me
want to grow a bushy mustache, wear a
light-brown fringed leather jacket, lean my
head back, close my eyes—all while wearing
some serious pre-disco bell-bottoms.
This lick was awesome in the late ’60s,
forbidden in 1979, and now, you are
purposefully began playing guitar
at age 9, formed the guitar-driven bands Racer
X and Mr. Big, and then accidentally had a No.
1 hit with an acoustic song called “To Be with
You.” Paul began teaching at GIT at the age of
18, has released countless albums and guitar
instructional DVDs, and will be remembered as
“the guy who got the drill stuck in his hair.” For
more information, visit paulgilbert.com