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Classic Rock Gods

Licks in the style of the classics, from Randy Rhoads to Angus Young to Rick Derringer

Greetings Premier Guitar readers and welcome to Lethal Guitar. You may or may not know that I’ve been an instructor for the National Guitar Workshop for quite some time now. This year will be my 7th season with NGW and I’m very proud to be a part of the organization. This year I’ll be teaching a seminar entitled Classic Rock Gods and I’m very excited about it for a couple of reasons. First, because I absolutely love the classic rock guitarists and second, because hopefully not a lot of sweep picking will be going on! That being said, I’ve decided to dedicate this installment of Lethal Guitar to some of my favorite licks by some of my favorite classic rock guitarists.

Many of the ideas covered will be common to the guitar greats Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Eddie Van Halen to name a few. These guys, and many others in that genre, are masters of rock guitar, and their tone and playing had an incredible influence on me as a player. Their technical abilities, artistry, and musicality are very difficult to replicate, and at times to comprehend. Below I’ve illustrated five melodic ideas frequently used by the great pioneers.

Lick 1 - Download Audio Example
A five note sequence based on the pentatonic minor scale. This was used extensively by Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, and several other classic players. It can be quite difficult if every note is picked with strict alternation, as each pass will require the opposite picking direction from the last.

Lick 2 - Download Audio Example
Similar to lick one, but with a different picking challenge involving two triplets on the 1st and 2nd strings. The picking here also alternates with each pass. One pass will be down-up-down, and the next up-down-up. Crank up your metronome to see this example and address the assumption that the pentatonic scale is not technically challenging…au contraire!

Lick 3 - Download Audio Example
Expanding on the triplet concept in lick two, we add a third triplet with a twist for the fretting and picking hand. This difficult line is a trademark of Rick Derringer and Kansas guitarist Rich Williams. It requires a partial barre with finger one of the fretting hand on strings one and two.

Lick 4 - Download Audio Example
Position shifts between three different versions of the pentatonic in a minor. Notice the melodic symmetry in the shifts from one octave to the next. Many classic rockers, like Randy Rhoads and Angus Young, often implemented these types of symmetrical shifts to build tension and bring their solos to a climax.

Lick 5 - Download Audio Example
The classic lick used by Eric Clapton, Chuck Berry, and Keith Richards. It incorporates a Picardy Third (major 3rd in a minor scale) and spices the scale by the addition of the second degree B (1st string, 7th fret) into the minor pentatonic scale.

That does if for this lesson! If you're interested in attending my seminar “Classic Rock Gods” at National Guitar Workshop this summer log on to for more details and information on how to enroll. Thanks for logging on and tuning in and I’ll see you guys next month here in Lethal Guitar.