50 Tips FOR... Elec­tric mas­tery

Jon Bishop wants to help you be­come a bet­ter elec­tric gui­tarist! Cov­er­ing all as­pects of lead and rhythm play­ing the broad range of tech­niques cov­ered means there’s some­thing in here for ev­ery­one.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

We can all do with kick­ing our play­ing up a notch, and this su­per ar­ti­cle from top tu­tor and work­ing pro mu­si­cian Jon Bishop is de­signed to fine-tune ev­ery aspect of your elec­tric play­ing.

ABIL­ITY RAT­ING Info Key Var­i­ous Tempo Var­i­ous CD TRACKS 4-9 Will im­prove your… Use of var­i­ous har­monic tech­niques. Use of sweep pick­ing and tap­ping. Use of hy­brid pick­ing.

Two is­sues ago we ran a ‘50 pro tips for acous­tic mas­tery’ fea­ture that has proved very pop­u­lar with many of you. Fol­low­ing on there­fore is its sis­ter les­son, this time fo­cus­ing on your elec­tric gui­tar skills.

The early pi­o­neers of solo gui­tar play­ing ex­per­i­mented with am­pli­fi­ca­tion dur­ing the 1940s. Big band gui­tarist Char­lie Chris­tian at­tached a sim­ple pickup to his Gib­son arch­top, which al­lowed him to play sin­glenote so­los and be heard over the vol­ume of the orches­tra he per­formed with - none less than that of the great clar­inetist Benny Good­man. Feed­back from the res­o­nant acous­tic body led to Les Paul, Paul Bigsby and Leo Fender ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with solid­body de­signs, and so the mod­ern elec­tric gui­tar was born.

As a GT reader you are clearly in­ter­ested in im­prov­ing many ar­eas of your play­ing. So our aim with this fea­ture is to il­lus­trate some new ideas and fresh ap­proaches, specif­i­cally for elec­tric gui­tarists of all styles and abil­i­ties. Be it in­cor­po­rat­ing ad­vanced har­monic tech­niques like Eric John­son or Chet Atkins, or try­ing the show-stop­ping YouTube friendly spectacle of adding in slap bass style el­e­ments a la Guthrie Go­van, there is hope­fully some­thing here for ev­ery­one.

Open-string mut­ing on elec­tric gui­tar is an es­sen­tial, yet of­ten over­looked part of sound pro­duc­tion. Any strings that aren’t damped by ei­ther the fret­ting or pick­ing hand can ring out in sym­pa­thy, es­pe­cially when play­ing at vol­ume or with higher gain set­tings. We rec­om­mend you al­ways try to prac­tise plugged in, even if it’s via head­phones, so you can a gain a true rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the tone and qual­ity of the notes you are ar­tic­u­lat­ing.

We have writ­ten out 50 pro tips de­signed to take your elec­tric gui­tar play­ing to an­other level. The first 20 are con­cep­tual in na­ture, but are no less im­por­tant for that since they con­cen­trate on vi­tal ar­eas of ap­proach and gen­eral good prac­tice.

The fol­low­ing 30 come with au­dio ex­am­ples that you can learn and these are, as ever, fully tabbed. In many cases we have used fa­mous gui­tarists for in­spi­ra­tion and draw heav­ily from the coun­try, jazz and rock gen­res. So if you like the technique or ef­fect in a par­tic­u­lar ex­am­ple you can dip into the artist’s back cat­a­logue for ex­tra re­search.

Over­all you may find that im­ple­ment­ing and prac­tis­ing some of the less ob­vi­ously ex­cit­ing, core con­cepts cov­ered here will pro­vide the big­gest gains in the long run. How­ever, play­ing slap bass style, harp har­mon­ics or walk­ing bass is fun and will raise the eye­brow of the even most sea­soned gui­tar shop as­sis­tant! As ever have fun and I’ll see you next time.


01 There are many kinds of elec­tric gui­tar so it is worth un­der­stand­ing the ba­sic op­tions. The two most com­mon types are bolt-on neck with sin­gle-coil pick­ups (Tele­caster, Stra­to­caster etc) and the set-neck ma­hogany body with twin hum­bucker de­sign (Les Paul, SG, PRS etc). Mod­ern gui­tars are of­ten a hy­brid of the two and a‘su­per-strat’ (bolt on neck with mod­ern tremolo and a hum­bucker) of­fer much ver­sa­til­ity in terms of tone and func­tion­al­ity. Dig­i­tal gui­tars like the Line 6 Variax have re­ally come of age of­fer­ing great tonal flex­i­bil­ity and the con­ve­nience of be­ing able to switch be­tween tun­ings at the touch of a but­ton. Play the var­i­ous de­signs to find one where the neck feels com­fort­able, and the sounds and func­tion­al­ity fit your style. But don’t be afraid to go off piste and try the ‘wrong’gui­tar - like a Tele for rock or jazz, an ES-175 for blues or a PRS for coun­try.

Get a good set-up

02 The set-up of your gui­tar can make a big dif­fer­ence to both tone and playa­bil­ity. Light gauge strings and a low ac­tion is great for fast legato, while heav­ier strings and a higher ac­tion is bet­ter for pick­ing re­sis­tance and bend­ing clear­ance. Many fac­tors con­trib­ute to the set-up of your in­stru­ment so us­ing a pro­fes­sional tech­ni­cian is well worth the money. A good tech will ad­just the truss rod, nut, pickup height, neck tilt, fret work, bridge sad­dles for height and in­to­na­tion and the vi­brato arm ac­tion if your gui­tar has one. Re­mem­ber if you fancy ex­per­i­ment­ing with string gauges your gui­tar may need to be ad­justed to ac­com­mo­date this. The in­to­na­tion on an elec­tric gui­tar is vi­tal to have right and is achieved by mov­ing the bridge sad­dles closer (sharp) or fur­ther (flat) from the nut. This ad­just­ment changes the re­la­tion­ship of the strings’length to the frets, mak­ing chords and scales sound more in tune.

Han d Main­te­nance

03 Pre­par­ing and main­tain­ing your hands and nails is an ob­vi­ous, but reg­u­larly over­looked aspect of prepa­ra­tion. Aim to keep the fin­ger­nails of the fret­ting hand short to help with easy fret­work. You may find longer nails on the pick­ing hand can be help­ful for cer­tain styles but rough edges can lead to ragged tone and fluffed notes. Aim for a nice rounded shape on the pick­ing hand nails so they can be used for fin­ger style and hy­brid pick­ing. Nail clip­pers are prefer­able to scis­sors, as scis­sors tend to rip the nail leav­ing an un­even edge. Al­ways keep some clip­pers and a nail file in your gig bag and wash your hands prior to play­ing. Clean hands run more smoothly over the neck, but also lead to longer string life and bet­ter tone in the long run.


04 Warm­ing up prior to play­ing is an es­sen­tial yet of­ten over­looked aspect. Warm­ing up will help to boost per­for­mance and re­duce the risk of in­jury. Start with some light stretch­ing of the up­per body, fore­arms and shoul­ders. Get ev­ery­thing nice and loose and ready to play. One fin­ger per fret style ex­er­cises can act as great warm-ups and work on both the al­ter­nate pick­ing and one fin­ger per fret tech­niques. For a bril­liant warm-up fea­ture with ex­er­cises at ev­ery fret in var­i­ous styles, see last month’s is­sue.


It is im­por­tant for all mu­si­cians to avoid in­jury. Con­sider these key points be­fore be­gin­ning a ses­sion of play­ing:

• Don’t let your­self get away with bad pos­ture. Stand or sit with a straight back, don’t hunch, and use a strap with a sen­si­ble ad­just­ment.

• A high strap will make fin­ger­ing eas­ier, but the pick­ing arm will be bent into an awk­ward shape. A low strap may look cool, but will ham­per easy fret­ting and put stress on the fret­ting-hand wrist.

• An­gle the neck of the gui­tar up to help with stretches and fin­ger­ing.

• Place your mu­sic on a mu­sic stand and ad­just the height to eye level. • Stretch all the mus­cles of the up­per body, arms and neck prior to play­ing.


06 Tone is the by-prod­uct of many fac­tors: the pick you use, the an­gle of at­tack, fret­ting-hand touch and the lo­ca­tion you pick the string. Ex­per­i­ment with where and how you pick the string. Angling the pick will pro­duce more at­tack while hit­ting the string flat on will pro­vide a fat­ter tone. A heav­ier pick trans­mits more en­ergy to the string. A pick with a sharp tip can make speedy runs eas­ier to ar­tic­u­late. Try var­i­ous dif­fer­ent plec­trums made from var­i­ous dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als un­til you find some that fit your over­all style. Some play­ers use a big, light pick to strum acous­tic and a smaller, thicker one for pick­ing elec­tric; oth­ers hap­pily com­pro­mise with one all-rounder.


07 The fin­ger­style technique pro­vides great fa­cil­ity and tone. Adding a thumb pick pro­vides a more de­fined at­tack to bass notes, but still main­tains the fa­cil­ity avail­able with the fin­ger­style technique. The more pro­nounced at­tack works well with a coun­try or rock­a­billy style slap­back de­lay set­ting es­pe­cially if com­bined with a palm mute. The thumb pick al­lows a lot of free­dom and also fa­cil­i­tates reg­u­lar pick­ing when re­quired.


08 Fin­ger­style and hy­brid pick­ing are a great way to in­crease tone and dex­ter­ity. Many play­ers such as Mark Knopfler, Jeff Beck and Richie Kotzen have adopted a fin­gers-only ap­proach with jaw-drop­ping re­sults. For hy­brid pick­ing only the thumb and first fin­ger are re­quired to hold the pick, so the sec­ond and third fin­gers are free to be used to pluck var­i­ous other notes and strings. The sound of flesh and nail on the string pro­vides plenty of tone and is use­ful for both lead and rhythm gui­tar. Coun­try pick­ers like Brent Ma­son (a thumb pick user) are par­tic­u­larly fond of hy­brid pick­ing.

Which Pic kups?

09 There are four main types of elec­tric gui­tar pick­ups to chose from and each one has its strengths and weak­nesses. Pick­ups have be­come very much a holly grail item and many cus­tom, af­ter­mar­ket pickup man­u­fac­tur­ers are meet­ing the de­mand with a plethora of lovely de­signs.

Sin­gle-coil pickup The nar­row sin­gle-coil style was orig­i­nally found on Fender gui­tars and pro­vides an open sound that works great with clean tones. It does suf­fer from hum and back­ground noise in cer­tain en­vi­ron­ments.

Hum­buck­ing pickup The hum­bucker was orig­i­nal found on Gib­son gui­tars from 1957 on and fea­tures two coils wired to­gether which helps to‘buck the hum’! This type of pickup has a pro­nounced mid­dle and works well with nat­u­ral amp over­drive and pro­vides punchy lead tones.

P90 pickup The P90 is an­other Gib­son de­sign and has never been out of pro­duc­tion since 1946. It’s a large sin­gle-coil and has a much warmer, rounder and much more pow­er­ful tone than Fender-style sin­gle coils. Slide play­ers are es­pe­cially fond of the P90 as its huge tone works very well with the slide.

Ac­tive pickup The ac­tive pickup uses a dif­fer­ent de­sign to that of mag­netic pick­ups. There­fore it has cer­tain ad­van­tages such as noise­less op­er­a­tion and no mag­netic pull on the strings. Fa­mous brands like EMG re­quire a bat­tery to op­er­ate. Some play­ers find the tone is too clin­i­cal and pre­cise for their taste but oth­ers, like Steve Lukather, re­joice in it.

Open -positi on ma jor chords

10 Learn­ing these five open chord shapes will also help you to nav­i­gate the whole fret­board with the CAGED sys­tem. It is pos­si­ble with just this hand­ful of chords to write great songs and ac­com­pany your­self and oth­ers. You will no­tice in our di­a­gram that there are five pos­si­ble ma­jor triad chords fin­ger­ings (C, A, G, E and D). We have taken out the 3rd (B) from the G chord, as the G5 fin­ger­ing is more com­mon and sounds much stronger, es­pe­cially with an over­driven tone. The beauty of the open chord sys­tem is that the fin­ger­ings sound good and are easy to play. Once you have per­fected these in the open po­si­tion try play­ing them as barre chords. Some shapes will be eas­ier to fin­ger than oth­ers, but play­ing the shapes all over the neck will al­low you to ac­cess all keys. You can also ac­cess other keys with rel­a­tive ease by us­ing a capo, which is a de­vice that clips around the neck and holds down the strings across any fret to pro­vide a new‘zero’fret.

Open Positi on min or Chords

11 Just as with the five ma­jor chords there are also five pos­si­ble mi­nor fin­ger­ings. How­ever the ones for C and G are tricky to play and of­ten don’t sound that good - es­pe­cially for strum­ming as cer­tain strings need to be omit­ted - so most gui­tarists avoid them. The most pop­u­lar three open fin­ger­ings are the D mi­nor, E mi­nor and A mi­nor shapes so make these a pri­or­ity in your prac­tice (but don’t ig­nore the trick­ier Gm and Cm shapes).


12 Many elec­tric gui­tarists have the gui­tar’s tone and vol­ume knobs full up and this is where they stay. If this sounds like you try ex­per­i­ment­ing with your vol­ume and tone. The vol­ume knob can be used to tem­per the sat­u­ra­tion of an over­driven amp. Re­duc­ing the gui­tar’s vol­ume knob with an over­driven sound also pro­vides a very dif­fer­ent sound­ing clean tone. Gui­tarists like Brian May and Ed­die Van Halen achieved a fan­tas­tic ar­ray of iconic tones with just a tube amp and the gui­tar’s vol­ume con­trol. A Strat with a tone con­trol on the bridge pickup (such as on many newer mod­els) pro­vides a won­drous sound as it tames that spiky top end; hum­buck­ing gui­tars can sound bril­liant with the tone down too - think of Clap­ton’s ‘woman tone’.


13 The drop D tun­ing has be­come a clas­sic trick over the years due to the op­por­tu­ni­ties it presents to the gui­tarist. The de­tuned sixth string has a deeper and darker sound. This is due in no small part to the re­duced ten­sion of the string. The drop D tun­ing cre­ates a pow­er­chord on the low­est three strings; it’s easy to play, as only one fin­ger is re­quired. The only real down side to drop D tun­ing is the re­duced ten­sion on the sixth string which can pro­vide in­to­na­tion is­sues. You may also find you need to be care­ful with fret­ting pres­sure and pick­ing at­tack, as it is easy to knock the low string out of tune. One way to over­come this is­sue is to fit a heav­ier gauge sixth string if you plan to play in drop D tun­ing a lot. This is a good strat­egy and many string man­u­fac­tur­ers now make string sets specif­i­cally for this pur­pose.


14 Slide gui­tar has a cou­ple of sig­nif­i­cant bar­ri­ers to en­try. The first is es­tab­lish­ing a good con­sis­tent con­tact be­tween the slide and the string. You may find heav­ier strings and a higher ac­tion can help here. The sec­ond is to be able to mute un­wanted strings from ring­ing both be­hind and in front of the slide. Once you have mas­tered these two you can then work on the in­to­na­tion of the slide po­si­tion­ing. Slides are made from dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als and come in many dif­fer­ent shapes and sizes. The ma­te­rial and size of the slide will af­fect its tone and feel. You can also ex­per­i­ment with the fin­ger on which you wear the slide. Aussie slide vir­tu­oso and friend of GT, Brett Garsed favours the sec­ond fin­ger so he can an­gle the slide and in­cor­po­rate fret­ting-hand fin­gers be­hind and in front of the slide. Derek Trucks favours the third fin­ger, which pro­vides good con­trol and a free vi­brato style.


15 The string bend­ing technique is widely used in many gen­res, but was orig­i­nally de­vel­oped in jazz, coun­try and blues and was quickly adopted by rock gui­tarists. To­day string bend­ing is used in pretty much ev­ery style of elec­tric gui­tar play­ing in one way or an­other, from faux pedal steel ef­fects (check out Brett this month!) to bend­ing be­hind the nut.The key thing to prac­tise is in­to­na­tion (tun­ing). Us­ing a fret­ted tar­get tone can be a good way to prac­tise string bends and make sure they are in tune. A pop­u­lar is­sue is bend­ing the note sharp (over bend­ing) and this is par­tic­u­larly easy to do on the third string due to its lower ten­sion.


16 One of the bar­ri­ers to prac­tice can be lo­cat­ing the rel­e­vant ma­te­ri­als and set­ting up. A ded­i­cated prac­tice space that re­mains set up is a great way to make the most of your time when you feel the urge to go to work. The key with pro­duc­tive prac­tice is to fo­cus on a per­ceived weak­ness. Try prac­tis­ing in short ses­sions of 20mins, with a break. Prac­tis­ing slowly is great for de­vel­op­ing con­sis­tent, ac­cu­rate re­sults. Prac­tis­ing a lick or riff slowly of­ten gets ig­nored as it’s not the most ex­it­ing way to spend time on the in­stru­ment and re­quires fo­cus and pa­tience. But by prac­tis­ing slowly you are pro­gram­ming your brain with the cor­rect in­for­ma­tion and from this po­si­tion it’s much eas­ier to up the tempo. By prac­tis­ing too fast in the early stages there is more chance that mis­takes will be made and learnt. A good way to set a slow enough tempo is to take a tempo that seems slow and then halve it. Slow prac­tice also helps with that com­mon fault - run­ning ahead of the beat.


17 Chang­ing the tun­ing of the elec­tric gui­tar opens up a world of sonic pos­si­bil­i­ties. Re­tun­ing the strings makes ideas that would be very hard to play in stan­dard tun­ing rel­a­tively easy. Open tun­ings are also handy when us­ing a slide as no tricky angling is re­quired to play full sound­ing chords. Two of the most pop­u­lar elec­tric gui­tar open tun­ings you may wish to try are: Open E (E-B-E-G#-B-E), as used by Derek Trucks for soul­ful slide work; and open G (D-G-D-G-B-D) em­ployed by Keith Richard ever since he used it for writ­ing Jumpin’ Jack Flash in 1968.


18 Plac­ing a con­sis­tent three notes on each string helps when ap­ply­ing var­i­ous pat­terns to a scale dur­ing so­los and im­pro­vi­sa­tion. Rock gui­tarists like Steve Vai and Joe Sa­tri­ani are par­tic­u­larly fond of three-notes-per-string es­pe­cially if used for seven-note scales or in a modal set­ting (Do­rian, Ly­dian and Mixoly­dian, etc). We have writ­ten out a nice easy fin­ger­ing for C ma­jor us­ing the three-notes-per-string fin­ger­ing. Here the same fin­ger­ing is re­peated twice on ad­ja­cent strings as you as­cend so it’s nice and easy to re­mem­ber. Try play­ing a sim­ple pat­tern on one strings and then play it on each string as you as­cend or de­scend.


19 The Mi­nor Pen­ta­tonic is a gui­tarist favourite due to its easy fret­ting pat­tern and the fact that all the notes sound good to­gether. Gui­tarists of­ten stick to the E string rooted ‘shape one’ as a home base. But learn­ing all five po­si­tions will pro­vide more flu­ency and will help you to find the sweet spot in a va­ri­ety of keys. We have writ­ten these shapes out as fret­board di­a­grams. These fin­ger­ings are move­able so once you have learned them all in the gui­tar-friendly key of A, feel free to shift them around the neck to the key of your choice. Luck­ily these ‘shapes’ also work for the Ma­jor Pen­ta­tonic. It’s just the lo­ca­tion of the root note within the shape that changes.


20 The Ma­jor Pen­ta­tonic scale is of­ten over­looked in favour of the Mi­nor Pen­ta­tonic but it’s re­ally worth learn­ing to use the two to­gether, as blues play­ers like BB

King and Eric Clap­ton do so well. By do­ing this your blues will sound more in­formed, and you will be able ac­cess

Ma­jor Pen­ta­tonic-heavy styles like coun­try and rock­a­billy more eas­ily. As men­tioned the Ma­jor and Mi­nor Pen­ta­tonic scale share the same fin­ger­ing shapes; it’s just the lo­ca­tion of the root notes that changes - Ma­jor is three frets down.

Any elec­tric gui­tar will work well as it’s all about ap­ply­ing the tech­niques cov­ered here to your own per­sonal play­ing sit­u­a­tion. For the record­ing I used my James Tyler Variax gui­tar. This was plugged into and recorded via the Line 6 Helix pedal board. We have listed the pickup se­lec­tions and ped­als used at the start of each tabbed ex­am­ple for ref­er­ence.

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