This guest post on classic rock and blues guitar licks is written by Leigh Fuge, a guitar teacher and professional musician from the UK. He has taught hundreds of students via the MGR Music platform to find their own voice with their classic rock and blues guitar playing. When he is not helping students find their way to the stage, Leigh is on stage performing with various bands. Cover photo by MusicOomph.com (Gavin Whitner).
Chances are, if you’ve been playing guitar for a while now and you’re spending your days raising your fist to the Gods of rock, you’re starting to plan your own rise to stardom. But how do you get to the podium of legends? How do you rub shoulders with Slash and Angus and shake hands with Page and Hendrix?
Here are 10 awesome blues and classic rock style guitar licks you can use in your playing today and help you start rolling on the path to your first stadium show!
Guitar Lick Example #1:
This Angus Young-inspired lick using the A Minor Pentatonic scale will get you moving along that Highway to… Hell. It is made up of a short repeated phrase consisting of the 7th fret of the G string bent a full tone followed by two consecutive double stop hits on the 5th fret of the B and E strings. This phrase is repeated five times before hitting the full tone bend on the 7th fret of the G once more and sustaining this for a full bar.
You should be able to keep your hand in one position for this whole lick. Use your first finger to hold the double stop across the 5th fret and bend the other note with your third finger, using your second finger to support the bend.
Guitar Lick Example #2:
This lick echoes all the vibes of a Cream-era Eric Clapton. He is known for his fast, repeating licks. This A Minor Pentatonic lick is a slurry of hammer-ons from the 8th to the 10th fret on the B and E strings, played as 16th notes. The slurry of hammer-ons lasts for three beats and you’ll be hitting four notes per beat (1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a) before ending on a full step bend that lasts a quarter note.
The second bar is a note on the 8th fret of the E string (For a duration of one 8th note) followed by the 10th fret on the B as a double dotted half note (This will last the remaining three and a half beats of the bar). Add lots of screaming vibrato to the last note to make it sing.
Guitar Link Example #3:
If you ask most guitar players who is the master of classic rock guitar, you hear them say the name Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin from time to time. This lick, using the A Minor Pentatonic scale, is a classic early 70’s Page style run similar to the lick you might hear in the song Heartbreaker. This lick is fast, so brace yourself and get your metronomes ready. We’re doing 16th notes all the way through here. Each beat will have four notes to it.
The lick is made up of two fast pull-offs from the 8th fret to 5th fret and 7th fret to 5th fret on the E string and a jump up from the 5th fret of the B to the 5th fret of the E. This six-note pattern is repeated four times so the note that lands on the beat is different for the first three beats, by the 4th beat you’re back to the first 8th fret note hitting on the beat, then it keeps on moving. Take your time with this, slowly work on the pattern to lock it into the groove and get the notes clean.
Guitar Lick Example #4:
This lick is another Jimmy Page inspired lick, somewhat reminiscent of the minor pentatonic runs he plays in “Stairway to Heaven.” It starts with a descending run through the scale from the 5th fret of the E down to the 7th fret of the D before ascending starting with a bend at the 7th fret of the G and up via the 5th fret of the B and E strings. The ending is a series of full tone bends at the 8th fret of the B string, broken up by a short pull off before ending on a longer bend.
Guitar Lick Example #5:
This lick moves into the key of E Minor using the pentatonic scale at the 12th fret, it also ventures briefly into the higher end of the second shape of this scale. The lick starts with four unison bends played as 8th notes (two per beat). Watch your pitching on these bends, you have to bend the 15th fret of the B up a full tone to the same pitch as the 12th fret of the E. The final two bends on the 17th fret of the E are the upper end of the second shape, the first bend is an 8th note in length and the second bend is the same length but sustained for a full four beats after playing.
Guitar Lick Example #6:
This E Minor pentatonic lick is a great lick to push the tempo on. This has a Jimmy Page meets Kiss’ Ace Frehley vibe, the faster you go the harder it rocks. This is a great crossover lick when you start playing towards the heavier end of the classic rock spectrum. All the notes are 8th notes so you’ll be hitting two notes per beat across this whole lick. Aim to keep the note lengths consistent throughout to maintain the flow.
Guitar Lick Example #7:
This lick is in the style of Thin Lizzy. It starts in the E Minor Pentatonic scale with some descending 16th notes before ending on a double unison bend. Notice the lengths of both bends are different. The first bend will be an 8th note (Half a beat) followed by the second, slower bend as a dotted half note (three beats long).
Like the previous lick, this works great at a moderate tempo and even better when you start to bump that tempo up and really get those fingers flying.
Guitar Lick Example #8:
Another lick that lends itself very well to pushing the tempo is this Jimmy Page style lick, which uses the E Minor Pentatonic scale. This is similar to those great Page flurries you hear in solos like “Communication Breakdown” or “Stairway to Heaven.” For this lick, you can keep your first finger placed across the 12th fret of the E and B strings, while using another finger to pull off the 15th fret. You’re doing triplets here so you’ll be hitting three notes per beat.
A lick this like can be repeated for as long as you need it to be, the example has six repeats of the triplet followed by a two-beat bend.
Guitar Lick Example #9:
This E Minor Pentatonic lick is a great way to end a lead run and it has some triplet pull-offs and slides. The lick starts with two quarter note bends followed by two sets of descending triplets on the third and fourth beats. The last triplet group in the first bar is played with a single pick stroke, you pull off the 15 to the 14 and off to the 12 all with one stroke. The second bar starts with two more triplet groups, the first being a pull off from 14 to 12 on the D string, then hitting the 14 on the A. The second triplet group won’t be picked as the 14th fret note from the previous triplet is the note that gets picked. From that 14 that was picked in the previous triplet, you’ll be pulling off to the 13 and the 12 before sliding down to the 10. The lick ends with a slide up to the 14th fret on the D string.
Guitar Lick Example #10:
Now let’s get those fingers flying, this Joe Bonamassa style lick is all descending 16th notes paired up in groups of four. This runs through the first and second shapes of the A Minor Pentatonic scale. There are some tricky position shifts in this run, especially when you get into bar 2, notice the jump from the 5th fret back up to the 10th. Take your time with this lick, alternate pick and make sure that every group of four notes lasts for one beat of music. Each time you go down four notes, you’ll be going back up the scale one note for the next phrase.
Want even more guitar lessons to help you in your musical journey? Check out How to Play Guitar Solos – 7 Techniques to Solo Success, written by guest author David Osborne.