Licks in the style of Lynyrd Skynyrd, .38 Special, James Gang and more.

Growing up in Alabama, I had a difficult time assimilating. I didn’t chew tobacco, hunt, drive a truck, or fish very much. I just wanted to play music. I learned a little AC/DC and Van Halen as a young man, but I also enjoyed being exposed to many southern rock guitarists in bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, ZZ Top, and the Allman Brothers. All of these great artists and many others influenced me as a guitarist and inspired me as a musician in so many different ways. I thought they had a different approach to soloing and songwriting compared to the other artists I'd listened to. This approach gave me the opportunity to broaden my horizons a bit and add more color to my own guitar playing. I soon learned the melodic ideas they were utilizing can also be quite the challenge--not just technically speaking, but aurally as well. My appreciation of the artistry, technicality, and musicianship in the southern rock genre grew immensely.

In this month’s Lethal Guitar, I’ve illustrated six melodic ideas used by some of the masters of southern rock guitar. You’ll notice an ample amount of string bending, hammers-ons and pull-offs, slides, and some picking challenges as well. A number of the licks are also used by modern rock guitarists in other genres. In fact, the southern rock “sound” has permeated its way into just about every area of rock guitar as we know it today.


Example 1: Reminiscent of Joe Walsh’s “Funk 49” intro lick, this example is a staple for any southern rock guitarist. It’s based on the pentatonic major scale with a twangy whole-step bend and release from the 2nd (A) up to the major 3rd (B) and back, on the second string. The bend creates that “southern” tension which is then released to the root (G). The pentatonic major tonality is colored in even more with the addition of the 6 (E). Download Audio Example...





Example 2: Here's another idea incorporating the whole-step bend, but this time including a unison pitch 3rd (B) on the first string and building chromatically. Ascend from the 3rd to the 4th, flat 5th, and the natural 5th before resolving to the root (G). Slash, Zakk Wylde, and Duane Allman have used this line in their solos to create the southern rock tonality. Download Audio Example...



Example 3: The first solo in “Sweet Home Alabama” uses a cool major pentatonic line like this one that includes a 4th (C) at the beginning and resolves very nicely to the root. Many instructors use Lynyrd Skynyrd solos to illustrate the effective use of the major pentatonic scale. Download Audio Example...



Example 4: I’ve heard someone shout “Freebird” at almost every gig I’ve ever played! This line is similar to the ending solo of the Skynyrd classic. It utilizes a number of pull-offs to create a ripping pentatonic minor line, sure to impress the most ardent of southern rock fans. Download Audio Example...



Example 5: Another classic Skynyrd line comes from the tune “I Know A Little.” Based on the major pentatonic and played at an extremely quick tempo, it launches into a barrage of major blues ideas that can challenge any southern rocker. Download Audio Example...



Example 6: “Rockin Into The Night” by .38 Special has a great southern rock solo and this line based on the famous tune begins with a minor pentatonic triplet sequence before progressing to the Picardy 3rd (B) and into a minor 6th interval, very common to southern blues. Download Audio Example...

There you have it guys and gals. I hope you enjoy this month's Lethal Guitar. Thank you for logging on and tuning it. See you next month and keep on rockin’!

Sam Fender shares a moment with his saxophonist and childhood friend, Johnny "Blue Hat" Davis, at London's O2 Brixton Academy in September 2021.

Photo by Linda Brindley

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