A back-to-basics approach to crafting a 12-bar solo.
• Learn the basic elements of a 12-bar blues.
• Understand the essential techniques that go into a well-crafted solo.
• Develop a deeper appreciation for the playing of B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Michael Bloomfield.
Most musicians of our modern era have been influenced by the blues in some way. The blues is an important source of study that can add impact and depth to your music. Simply listening to players like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Michael Bloomfield, and others will not only give you a better understanding of the genre but it will help to shape your own style as well.
Playing blues guitar is largely based on feel, but what exactly is it? Words can't adequately describe the blues, since it's invisible until a player animates him or herself with it. Some people seem to have it in abundance. As an 18-year-old guitarist in the early '70s, I saw Muddy Waters at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, California. The band worked their way through many of Muddy's most well-known songs and I thought to myself, "I guess these are just popular songs?" I didn't get it.
Then the band went into a slow blues near the end of the set and Muddy finally broke out a solo. Oh man! His red Tele came to life through that Super Reverb, and he just lit the place up. I'd never heard anyone play remotely like that. Everyone went crazy—even the other musicians on stage. It was as if the sound came from out of the clouds. The way he connected with the audience was something special. It was that night that inspired me to learn as much as I can about blues guitar. In this lesson, I'm going to share some foundational techniques to get you on the right path.
By far the most common blues song form is the 12-bar blues. You can go anywhere in the world and call a "blues in G" and everyone will know exactly what's happening. In Ex. 1, I've written out a way to comp through a 12-bar blues with a mixture of simple and complex chord voicings.
Each of the following examples progresses through a slow 12-bar blues in the key of C. I would work on one riff or exercise until I had it down, sometimes for hours. A classical guitarist I know said he practices with the goal of playing it twice as good as needed in a performance. That way even if he's having a bad night it still sounds good.Ex. 2 is a must-know intro riff. Everything that goes into this is important to give it its distinction. Country sounds like country, jazz sounds like jazz, so blues has got to sound like blues. Practice and listen closely to as many players as you can. This riff will kick off a blues in C, but learn how to move it around so you aren't stuck in one key.
Bending in tune is an essential skill no matter what style you play, but it can make or break a lick like Ex. 3. When going from the 10th fret on the 4th string to the bend on the 10th fret on the 3rd string, use different fingers, like the second finger to the third finger. Then, put the first, second, and third fingers all on the 3rd string for the power bend.
This next riff (Ex. 4) needs great technique in order to use it. Notice the big wobble over the last sustaining bend. Good vibrato is a very hard thing to develop. Some people rely on the whammy bar for this, but we should use our left hand. It takes arm and finger strength. Grrr!
Extended blues riffs are mostly combinations of short riffs played in succession and connected to each other. Piano players can't bend notes, so they construct melodic ideas instead of relying on the kind of guitar tricks we use. There's a lot to be learned from that kind of thinking. Notice it's a simple eighth-note rhythm over the triplet hi-hat figure, which makes it tricky to get, so lay back and don't rush (Ex. 5).
Ex. 6 demonstrates how to play over changes. In other words, over the G9 chord I use a G minor pentatonic with a natural 3 (G–Bb–B–C–D–F) and instead of sticking with that over the F13, I move it down a whole step (F–Ab–A–Bb–C–Eb).
Turnarounds usually occur in the last two measures of a 12-bar blues. It's a theme that signals to everyone that we're on our way back to the top of the form. In Ex. 7 I've written out a riff that uses a series of sixths that descend chromatically.
These are some cool ideas to get you started in this rich tradition. Once you're comfortable with these licks, make sure to move them to other keys. Take your time and really focus on the feel. The blues is simple, but that doesn't mean it's easy!
This article was updated on September 10, 2021
- Grant Green's Bebop Blues - Premier Guitar ›
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Which one do you prefer?
Rhett and Zach unpack the big news for secondhand guitar sellers and buyers: Sweetwater has launched their new Gear Exchange. How does it compare to Reverb, Craigslist, and Marketplace? To find out, Zach takes the site for a spin and buys a pedal. He calls the process both “very easy” and “normal.” They discuss the pros and cons of the various used-gear outlets and share tips for not getting got when buying gear. Plus, Zach grew a mustache, Mythos Pedals is moving, and he talks about his forthcoming line of Strat pickups inspired by Hendrix’s reverse-stagger setup.
Sweetwater vs. Reverb
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Expanding on the innovations of Cort’s original 8-string multiscale, the KX508 Multi-Scale II features an updated okoume body and a specially designed Fishman Fluence Modern Humbucker.
The KX508 Multi-Scale II is the second iteration of the eight-string KX508, Cort’s first multi-scale 8-string guitar introduced in 2020. Like its predecessor, the KX508 Multi-Scale II has a visually stunning poplar burl top in a Mariana Blue Burst finish. Beyond its visual appeal, the poplar burl is an ideal tonal complement to Cort’s newly introduced okoume body. Okoume is known for its light weight and ability to improve tonal clarity. It has a tight low-end and highly articulate high-end, which matches the overall sonic characteristics of the KX508 Multi-Scale II. The multi-scale, measuring 26.5 to 28 inches, offers a punchy low end while maintaining a familiar feel and tension on the treble strings, which allows for speedy runs and string-bending. Players have unhindered access to the high frets thanks to the low-scooped heel.
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The Cort Sessions | KX508 Multi Scale II Electric Guitar
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MAP $1199.99 USD
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The Tour Collection is defined by a minimalistic, vintage-inspired aesthetic, top-of-the-line components, and a simplified electronics configuration featuring new, custom pickups by Supro.
Available in the collection is the 16-inch-wide double-cutaway DC, the 15-inch-wide single-cutaway SS, and a 14-inch-wide Mini DC. Each model comes in three finishes: Slate Blue, Solid Wine, and Solid Black.
Every detail of the Tour Collection was chosen to achieve retro minimalism. Small diamond fingerboard inlays match 1930s-style diamond f-holes, and an undersized Throwback Scroll-style headstock achieves excellent head-to-body balance. The collection also features satin nickel hardware and custom Vintage Deluxe Grover tuners with a 15:1 gear ratio. Each model also features a simplified two-knob electronics configuration with 50s-style wiring to retain top-end clarity upon rolling off the volume knob. The neck shape in the Tour Collection is similar to the slim C-shape found throughout the D’Angelico line, but with more thickness in the shoulder to allow for snug hand fit as well as extra sustain. Medium Jumbo fret wire and a 12-inch fingerboard radius allow for quick navigation of the fingerboard while also prioritizing comfort for both rhythm and lead playing.
In 2020, Supro and D’Angelico became part of the same family of brands under Bond Audio. At that time, EVP of Product Ryan Kershaw and CTO Dave Koltai began designing custom pickups under the Supro name for the Tour Collection project.
“Supro Bolt Bucker pickups were designed to offer the tone of the most sought-after vintage "PAF" pickups from the late 1950's. Scatter wound, just like the originals, Supro Bolt Buckers utilize 42-gauge enamel wire along with a mixture of Alnico II (neck) and Alnico V (bridge) magnets to provide the perfect balance of warmth and clarity with unrivaled articulation and note bloom.” - Dave Koltai, Chief Technology Officer at Bond Audio.
Introducing the Excel Series Tour Collection | D'Angelico Guitars
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The Cream Amp is a handmade low-gain overdrive pedal based on the Electra Distortion circuit.
The Cream Amp was designed to deliver full dynamics amp-like dirt to your clean and crunch amp or to another pedal in the chain without altering your tone too much. To add some grit at low volume or to make your amp sound more full, use the Drive control to set the gain and the Level control to match with your amp.
- Two knobs to control Volume and Drive
- Shielded inputs/outputs to avoid RF
- Filtered and protected 9VDC input
- Daisy-chain friendly
- Current draw: 7.5mA
The Cream Amp pedal is hand-made in Barcelona with carefully selected components and has a price of 100.00€. The pedals are available and can be purchased directly from the Ananasheadonline store.
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