How to Be a Guitar God

Fancy yourself a fretboard wizard? To rise to the ranks of guitar master--that is, an exceptionally talented and charismatic guitarist, you must pay your dues. It isn't just about learning how to play guitar; it's about eating, breathing, and sleeping guitar. Read on to follow the lead of widely respected, guitar playing legends like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Yngwie Malmsteen, Eddie Van Halen, Angus Young and Randy Rhoads--maybe you've got it in you, maybe you don't, but there's only one way to find out.


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    Start playing now. The greatest of the great started becoming acquainted with their guitars as soon as they could get their hands on one, although there are many great guitarists who didn't even touch a guitar until their teens (Clapton and Lennon for example) or even older (Glenn Tipton, K.K. Downing, Tom Scholz) But even if you are a teen but have never held a guitar before, it's never too late to be a guitar god, so don't be discouraged. The point is to start playing as early as you can. Stop making excuses, stop saying you need the perfect guitar, stop waiting to be "inspired," and stop wasting another minute to learn how to develop your inner guitar god. There's no reason to wait.
    • There's a very good chance that you will not be good at first. Everyone has to start out being bad, so they can improve from there. Think of it this way - babies are terrible at walking, little children struggle with talking. But they keep doing it, without feeling bad about themselves. Eventually those babies grow up to kick you in the face and insult your mother.
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    • Can't afford a nice guitar? For now, buy an inexpensive guitar when you first start. You only need to get comfortable with the new movements with your fingers. It's only a temporary measure (see Warnings) but it's better than nothing!
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    Practice until your fingers bleed. -- Okay, maybe bleeding fingers aren't the smartest way to go (see Tips), but you get the idea. Eddie Van Halen used to walk around his house with the guitar strapped on and unplugged, practicing incessantly; he'd sit on his bed for hours on end with a guitar while other people went to parties. Are you ready and willing to do the same? Get your priorities straight and learn to multitask. It's all about dedication and discipline.
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    Surround yourself with talented musicians. Ever heard the sayings, "greatness breeds greatness" or "you are who you hang around"? Both statements are true. If you want to be a guitar god, you have to play with the best guitar players you can find. You will learn more in a month playing with an accomplished guitar player than you will in a year practicing by yourself. If you don't know any off hand, go meet some. Go to local shows and introduce yourself to the guitarists or connect with local musicians online.
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    Be precise. Just because you're starting doesn't give you an excuse to be sloppy. Like in Tai Chi, if you practice very slowly with 100 percent concentration, you'll become five times faster and better; so when you practice, do it slowly and concentrate. You'll be amazed at the results.
    • If you don't have an experienced instructor or high quality equipment, this may be difficult, but you have to be a stickler for technique. Do your homework and ask questions. Be persistent. If you know someone who's an excellent guitar player, don't be shy. Walk up to them with the guitar strapped on, politely request a moment of their time, and ask them if your finger placement for a particular chord or technique is correct. Most experts, when they see an error, are compelled to correct it out of their love of the art.
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    • Study your idols. Listen to other guitarists' riffs and solos and learn them.
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    • Some techniques that are worth learning:

      • Harmonics and pinch harmonics
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      • Palm muting
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      • Vibrato
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      • Hammer ons/pull offs.
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    • Scales you should be familiar with:

      • Major and minor
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      • Be able to play scales forwards as well as backwards, moving from scale to scale in a given key
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      • Pentatonic major and minor (in all the positions, so you can easily move in your solos)
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    Learn how to read guitar tab. Guitar tab is the guitarist's form of sheet music. Becoming a great guitar player means learning the ins and outs of some of music's best guitar ballads. You can search the web for tabs. If you want to be the best, you have to learn from the best. A few to begin with: Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Angus Young, Joe Perry, Keith Richards, Steve Vai, John Petrucci, Jonny Greenwood, Jimmy Page, and John Mayer. Learn a few of each of their greatest songs and don't forget to play them slowly until you get them down.
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    Study classical music. It may seem worlds apart from the music you envision yourself playing, but practically all of the guitar geniuses that you look up to have studied classical technique at one point or another. Malmsteen, for example, was heavily influenced by 19th century violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini. In the process of adapting Paganini concerto pieces on guitar, he fostered a prodigious technical fluency that would later make jaws drop. Additionally, Eddie Van Halen began his musical aspirations with classical piano before he discovered the freedom of guitar. Randy Rhoads was an avid player and listener of classical music.
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    Learn the ins and outs of reading music. Sure, Stevie Ray Vaughan was amazing and he didn't know how to read music, but if you just sit down and learn to read and transpose music, you will be much better off. Not only will you know what sounds good, you will know how to put it into writing and you will learn deeper elements of music. Music is not just the notes you are playing, but the pause between notes and the composition of good music.
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    Understand chord theory. Learn as many chords and inversions as you can. Become familiar with how they sound and why you use them. Even if you aren't playing jazz, (where you would typically hear many of these chords), knowing the notes and sounds of these chords can make your soloing more interesting. Some of the greatest rock guitar solos are actually very jazz-influenced.
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    Play with emotion. Once you've developed proficiency, you can use the guitar for freedom of expression. You can feel the music in your blood, and make other people feel it, too. Remember, the greatest musicians of all time, the ones who are most deeply respected, are the ones who could move others emotionally with their music. Music is a form of communication, if you have something to express, do your best to produce what you hear or feel. Believe you can become a breath-taking guitarist -- it makes such a difference if you know you will be brilliant.


  • You may or may not find it helpful to keep the fingernails on your dominant hand a little long, as they produce a different tone when fingerpicking.
  • Take care of your guitar. Check it regularly and clean it. Get any parts fixed if broken or not working properly.
  • Another good tip is to learn to follow the rhythm. Many people who are starting have problems with staying on time. You can learn to follow rhythms by just making noises with your hand, for example, by tapping a book.
  • Don't start with hard things. Start with easy tabs and chords. If you start with hard things, you are more likely to get frustrated and leave playing guitar soon after starting.
  • Take care of your hands. Before and after you play do warm-up and cool-down sessions with your fingers. Do regular hand exercises with both hands as this helps with all situations with the guitar. Keep your fingernails as short as possible as this helps grip the strings more easily.
  • Get a hold of a great teacher with a lot of experience and let them help you find the kind of music that you enjoy playing. A good teacher will keep you at a good pace in terms of difficulties of songs you will play. However do not limit yourself as to what you can play and listen to new music for inspiration.
  • A good idea is to get guitar lessons, if there are any available in your area. It is better to learn actual techniques from an actual teacher, rather then to fool around with the guitar or to learn online (the information may not always be 100% accurate)
  • Invest in a great tuner. It should only run you 20 bucks. And use it! Your ear will be learning even when you don't realize so stay in tune.
  • Obtain some inexpensive software (such as the Free Software program "Audacity") to slow down MP3 files without changing the pitch. You can then slow down songs (or portions of songs) on your computer as slow as you need to. This is critical in order to understand more complex ideas, and is great for ear training.
  • Another good idea is to practice 50-50 fingerstyle and pick playing because, as any experienced guitarist will tell you, everyone needs to find his own technique, so explore both styles of picking until you're either more comfortable with one or equally comfortable with both.
  • Learn how to change guitar strings. It can be a lot more efficient (and cheaper) if you change your own strings.
  • The software "GuitarPro" is very useful for mastering songs - provided the tabs you use are correct. The software can play any song at any speed, has a built-in metronome, allows you to mute specific instruments and even lets you edit the tab. If you do not want to purchase GuitarPro software, you can get the free/open-source program "TuxGuitar" instead, for Windows, Mac and Linux.
  • You must focus on timing and rhythm no matter what music you're playing.
  • Play with a metronome - it's much easier to play with other people if you are used to playing in time (on Windows, Media Player 10 can do this). Learn something at a slow tempo and then slowly increase the tempo setting.
  • It is helpful to start with thinner strings and a low action to get your fingers used to fingering when its easier, then when you get better you can change these aspects to create more resonance.


  • Also, low-quality guitars make lots of people quit because what they are playing sounds bad and they assume it's their fault when it isn't. A dead fret is a dead fret. You can put a vise on it and it won't matter. So consider these issues when you're thinking about how much money you should invest into a guitar. Remember, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page once said that a beginning guitarist should buy a nice guitar because better equipment fosters better technique. But only do this if you know you can stay committed to playing guitar.
  • If you have a demanding practice regimen and have a break, work yourself back into it gradually or you may injure yourself.
  • -pressing so hard you make all the notes sharp; avoiding the use of correct fingering (to favor "stronger" fingers)
  • One big problem with many cheap guitars is that the action, or how far the strings are from the fingerboard, is too high. This makes it tough to fret notes and you may end up pressing too hard. However, this problem is easy to solve. Just take your guitar to a guitar shop and they will lower the action, often for free. If they charge, ask whether they do the work in-house or send it out; in the latter case, find out who the real luthier is and establish a relationship with at least one expert guitar technician.
  • -avoiding some chords and notes because they sound bad on poorly dressed frets
  • -ruining your pitch perception with a poorly cut nut or warped neck that will never play in tune.
  • Playing on a cheap guitar has its own set of problems that you have to watch out for. A bad enough guitar can create bad habits, such as:

Things You'll Need

  • A guitar - Test out the guitars in the store to see which produces a sound you like. Not all guitars sound the same, and that doesn't mean that they are out of tune.(Remember all guitars are different.)
  • A tuner (get one with electric guitar inputs, so if you end up loving it you won't have to make another purchase)
  • A variety of picks
  • A Metronome
  • Guitar case (many guitars will come with one)
  • Strap (optional-it's easier to sit when you're beginning)
  • Stereo
  • CDs (or LPs) of your favourite bands and/or iPod or MP3 player containing as many songs by your favourite bands as you can get hold of
  • Capo(great for changing pitch)
  • When you purchase an electric guitar you'll need:
    • An amplifier
    • Instrument cable
  • Optional Items:
    • A multiple effects rack OR as many of the following as you wish to get...
    • Note on effects: They are there to add atmosphere and make your music sound a bit nicer or edgier, they do NOT MAKE the music. It's recommended that you don't experiment with these too much until you can make music and get good tone without them. For example, you shouldn't become reliant on using distortion, as it can be a cover for sloppy technique.
    • Wah pedal
    • Distortion pedal(depending on your style and your amp)
    • Chorus
    • Flanger
    • Digital Delay and/or Echo
    • Talkbox
    • A guitar stand or open area to display your guitar, you'll be much more motivated to play and practice if your guitar is available and visible.
  • A Tutorial CD (If you have one, and this will greatly improve on your guitar skills)

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