I get the question all the time “What can I do to become a better guitar player?” We all want to know the secret and find a quick a easy recipe but the truth is that there are no easy answers and there’s certainly no easy way to becoming a great guitarist. In this feature I’ll share 5 tips that has helped and inspired me throughout the years.
I started to play guitar when I was in my early teens. I borrowed an acoustic from a friend and learned Smoke on the Water and a couple of Bob Dylan songs. The standard story. A year or so later I got my first electric guitar and amp. I now had the tools to play Sabbath, Kiss, Purple, Zeppelin etc.
It sounded horrible and I often lost the inspiration but I kept on practicing because my friend that had lent me the guitar and my music teacher at school insisted that practice was the only way to get better. It took years before I got my first pedal and even longer to care about changing strings and getting decent cables etc. Not because I wanted to delay those things but no one told me there was pedals or the need to change strings every now and then.
A lot of people ask me for help on becoming a better guitarist. I know that frustration and hopelessness. I’ve been there and I sometimes still feel it. Every musician does, no matter on which level they are. Practice is the one thing we all have in common. Patience is something we all wish we had but sometimes it’s not that easy.
1. Playing guitar is about you
OK, it’s a cliché. It’s the fingers and not all the gear. We often say that when it comes to describing the genius of a guitar God but that saying also applies to you. No matter how much you think you suck.
Playing guitar and creating your tone or voice isn’t about the gear. It’s about what’s in your mind and how that translates through your fingers and onto a guitar. The guitar, pedals and amp are only the tools you need to express yourself and amplify the music you have inside your head. It may sound stupid or even too hard to comprehend but it’s really that simple. I can’t play like David Gilmour and he can’t play like me.
I would say that this is the most important thing to remember. Music and playing guitar is about you. What kind of guitarist do you want to be? How do you express your feelings and music through your guitar? It doesn’t matter how good you are. What it means is that you need to find your own “voice” and tone and get the confidence in what you are doing. Don’t try to be someone else but trust your own talent and then you’ll become unique.
2. Study other guitarists
It may sound like a contradiction to what I said above but no one becomes a great musician without studying or being influenced by others. If they claim they are, then they’re lying or neglecting an important part of who they are.
We are all inspired by something. I’m inspired by Pink Floyd, David Gilmour and about a thousand other bands and guitarists but I’m also inspired by other types of music, art, a walk in the park, a certain feeling or mood. Anything.
Now, we are perhaps a bit above average interested in David Gilmour’s tone and gear – to put it mildly – but I see that as both a hobby and an inspiration. I love tracking down information, studying images and trying pedals that he’s used but I’ve also learned a great deal about playing guitar by studying his playing in detail. He’s taught me licks, the blues, phrasing, bending, picking, how to use the volume control to create dynamics when I play.
The list is long but I can say the same about many of my other influences too. I’ve spent countless hours studying and practicing and learning from guitarists and musicians that I admire and that inspire me.
And so did they. David Gilmour learned from the old blues legends but also from many of his contemporaries. Hendrix, Van Halen, Page, Slash, Rhoads – they all learned from someone and they picked up the stuff they liked, made it their own and created something new and unique.
3. Develop your own taste
We live in the internet age and we can seek out information about everything we want. We also have a tendency to seek information that will confirm what we want to believe. If you want a pedal to sound good or if you desperately need to justify purchasing a new guitar, then someone out there have praised it for sure – or a famous guitarist has used it. But, is that the honest and unbiased information you really want?
Likewise, there are plenty of bullies and mr know-it-alls out there that will trash anything you thought you liked and claim that only they know the true path and answers. Nothing will kill your inspiration more than people who makes you feel like a stupid nuisance.
Use the information available. Seek out both good and bad reviews when you’re buying new gear and make up your own mind. Trust your instincts and buy if it sounds good or works for you.
Listen to the guitarists and bands that you like and be inspired by a variety of different styles and genres. Don’t let anyone tell what to listen to or which guitarist is good and who’s not. If you develop a taste for the combination of Nile Rodger’s funk, Albert Lee’s chicken picking and Toni Iommi’s doom then you’re certainly not stupid or boring. You’re unique.
4. Keep it simple
There’s really nothing wrong with huge pedalboards but does it make you a better guitar player or musician? Are you more capable of expressing yourself by having every single pedal you own in front of your feet? Well, in The Edge’s case that may be true but for most of us it’s a no.
As I said above I consider replicating David Gilmour’s, or any other guitarist’s tones to be part a hobby. In that sense, the more pedals and cool guitars the better. However, if you let that come in the way of finding your own tone, style and technique then I would say that you are limiting yourself rather than expanding your options. You don’t have to own every new pedal just because it’s available.
Guitarists in the 50s and 60s and even the early 70s, didn’t have all the stuff we are exposed to. They had to make the most of a guitar and an amp and that forced them to really explore the full potential of the gear and develop new playing techniques to get the tones they wanted and to be able to express the music they had in their minds.
Limits can often force you to be more creative, which again will keep you more focused. Use pedals and effects but don’t forget that they’re only tools. What matters is that you express your music and “voice” and not simply showcase the gear.
5. Stay humble and practice
This last one is perhaps equally important as the first one but it’s also a reminder. Stay humble and practice. Don’t ever think you got it. Don’t stop searching for new ways to express your music and playing. Don’t stop looking for new influences or stop letting yourself be influenced.
It doesn’t mean that you have to sit practicing six hours a day but have an open mind to new ways of doing things and stuff that you can learn and pick up from others. Of course you need to practice too. Playing an instrument well, or at least well enough to write music or being able to express some kind of emotions, require practice. Lots of practice. Getting to know your guitar, amp and pedals and how they can help you become a better musician also require practice but it should be fun and inspiring.
All this may seem too serious for many of you but no matter what level you are on you should take yourself seriously. Are you only a bedroom player? Fine. Do you occasionally jam with a couple of friends? Fine. Are you planning on making a record? Fine. It’s all fine but make it an important priority and one that you have thought through. Take your music seriously and be inspired.
Please feel free to use the comments field below and share your tips and experience!
40 thoughts on “How to become a better guitarist”
Thank you for all of this content and your videos over the past few years. I’ve been trying to keep up with your work and videos since about 2016/2017.
Could I ask for your assistance in making sense and understanding how the EQ settings (mainly volume and tone) between a.) the guitar, b.) EQ pedals (I use a Wampler Tumnus pedal), and the amp (I alternatively use a vintage re-issue Marshall 50w amp, and a GK bass amplifier).
Here are the pedals I have in my EQ chain. What do you advise per pedals settings?:
1.) Boss CP-1X compressor
2.) Wampler Tumnus Deluxe
3.) Ibanez Tube Screamer
4.) MRX Vibrato/Chorus pedal
5.) Wampler Ethereal pedal (delay & reverb)
I also have an MXR Phase 90 pedal and a Boss OS-2 overdrive/distortion pedal, but neither of these are in my effects chain at the moment.
The two guitars I mainly use are a Gibson SG classic/special with 2 single coil P90s, and a Gibson Les Paul classic with hum buckers w/ coil splitting.
The two guitar tones and sounds I like the most are Gilmour from 1969-72/73, and Pete Townshend’s ’69-’71 live tones with The Who.
Any guidance or suggestions on how to get some clear, glassy tones like David Gilmour are greatly appreciated.
Can you also help me with figuring out how to reduce amplifier feedback? I’m not quite sure how to lower it/make it go away.
Sorry for the barrage of questions, I’m still quite a newbie, even with guitar playing.
Hi Nima! I try to aviod suggesting settings because they depend on your amp settings, pickups, your playing style and taste. Settings that I use for my gear may not apply to your gear. What Marshall model do you have? Speakers? What’s your amp settings?
Bjorn you turned me onto Laney amps and now 3 of my 12 amps are Laneys the Cub 10, Cub 12R, and 50 watt Head with Laney 2×12″ cab. I use dual and tri amp rigs and lately I blend a 6v6, EL84 and a Hybrid in a wet/dry/wet setup. As far as hybrids I absolutely love my Vox VT40x 40w 1×10″ and Orange Micro Dark 20w 1×8″ halfstack. My other amps are my tube amps Laney, Fender, Crate, VHT, Jet City, Blackstar, Peavey and then 2 small combos ive highly modified Epiphone Valve Junior v3 5w 1×8″ and Bugera V5 Infinium 5e 1×8″. From 5w to my 50w. Oh and you turned me onto the Peavey Classic 30. One of my fav amps. Check out my solo music jtbomar.bandcamp.com and then on facebook -> J.T. Bomar Music.
If Jimi got a plank, put strings on it and played it, he would still sound like Jimi. Same for all of us. Thanks for your inspiration ðŸ˜ŽðŸŽ¸ðŸ
A couple from me .
Ignorance is not bliss.
It’s hard to imagine life before google, but almost 40 years ago I bought a new (Leo Fender) music man amp, i wrote to them (paper, stamp) asking for a manual. There were none. I have just found a site which has manuals, circuit schematics, GOOD TECH ADVICE. With this backup, and my soldering station, I’m planning to re-condition the amp. That would have been unthinkable before the internet. There is NO EXCUSE trusting just one person’s advice, not knowing Fender’s setup guidelines…
After my band broke up, I spent a long time practising the same licks and eventually dried up, stopped playing. Coming back years later I found it helped to ignore the stuff i knew, and force myself to work on new stuff. Also experimenting with different amps, settings, pedals. In short, if you enjoy it, whatever keeps a guitar in your hands, must be worth doing.
Cheers…great thoughts to be put into reality…to be inspired is so thriling…listening to the OLD BLUES LEGENDS…awesome…thanks for your inspiration…big hugs…
ðŸ˜ŠJOY IS A CHOICEðŸ˜Š
“…….one shot that’s his, authentic shot, and that shot is gonna choose him… There’s a perfect shot out there tryin’ to find each and every one of us… All we got to do is get ourselves out of its way, to let it choose us…
– Bagger Vance
I am reading this post again after some time. During and ohh man, am I nostalgic. To be Honest, Bjorn, this blog is always open in some tabs in my browser. I makes you feel connected somehow to your passion. I think you do a great job !
Thank you Dan!
Let’s remember, practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. If we practice sloppy, we will play sloppy. Thus all the advice about starting slowly.
Good job again Bjorn. As always.
Great article, thanks for the tips!
Hi Bjorn, I think your website is absolutely wonderful. I think your tips on how become a better guitar player are right on the money. If there’s one more point i’d like to add it would be this: 6. Put the guitar down. Don’t try and attain perfection too soon, experience other art forms and cultures, take up something else for a while, fall out with your friends, loose your job and spend a lot of time on your own. This will all feed into your playing and hopefully explode in a great musical orgasm! I think Mr Gilmour probably enjoyed not playing the guitar as much as he did playing it.
I’ve been agonising over the string action of my guitar and for many years, had it set rather high. I’m now better and have lowered it a bit. I was wondering if there was any information on your site as to what action David had set on his guitars. I guessing he had it a little higher than most to give the string space to breath. Would be very interesting to know. Thanks!
Hi Alex! I agree. Practice is important but you shouldn’t practice just to practice. There should be some inspiration there as well. Check out this feature for some tips on string action :)
Nice man, needed that. Right now I’m the Gilmour of noodling. Blow the average Joe’s mind, but I know I suck. Can make it through several whole tunes, finally started to learn some theory, but can’t seem to put the two together. But I guess if I look back a year, 2 years, 3 years, it’s not even comparable to where I am now. Must be makin progress.
By the way, what is your favorite DG pup? All around?
Pup as in pickup? I don’t know… depends on what tones I want. I could go for humbuckers if that’s required. Still, the SSL5 seems to be the most versatile.
rocurse68kett, we all appreciate your honesty about being able to blow the average Joe’s mind but knowing you suck. I wonder if we don’t all feel the same way though; does Gilmour watch Jeff Beck and go, “WTF?”
There is a real difficulty moving from noodling to applying some theory and I always feel that for every bit of theory that I try to take on board another bit falls off. Try not to cram too much theory in at any one time but learn a little bit and then noodle with that until it becomes second nature and not theory at all. Or join your noodles together with a theory and then noodle again with that theory.
I found some of the videos on the papastache channel on YouTube really accessible and useful…and he sounds pretty good too. I’m always going back to them. That’s about as much theory as I can take and it all seems to be in an area that I’m interested in since I’m no JazzFusion player.
Bjorn, I Love The new Site! Yes I have A Heavy Gilmour Influence And Schenker, Gary Moore, Cantrell, Gibbons, Leslie West, Kim Thayil, Iommi, Dean Deleo, Frusciante And Many Others But I Have Learned The most From Gilmour. Phrasing, Licks, Leads, Riffs, Tone(s) and Chords And Nuances Like pick Raking Into A Bend And Applying A Silky Smooth Vibrato At The Best Moments In A phrase. I got A Laney Cub 10 10w 1×10″ for My Studio And Absolutely Love It. I Have Seen You Mention You Have Been Influenced by One Of My Country’s Best Billy Gibbons And “I Need You Tonight” such Great Tone And Phrasing. All My infuences Are What Gave Me My own Unique Style. Nobody Touches Me Like Gilmour. The King of How To Build, Structure And Phrase A Solo. Great Songwriter Too!
Thanks for sharing, Justin! I need you tonight is a great song and I think it feature some of Billy’s finest work.
Absolutely it is my favorite song by them and yes it features some of Billy’s best work. Him and Dave and Leslie West are some of the best users of harmonics and vocal like phrasing. I gotta go listen to that song now. Have a great day Bjorn!
I have been playing most of my life and I’m 54 now. I don’t stink but I’m not Gilmour either by any means. David is a professional musician and I am an electronics tech so the way we both approach music is very different. For me the guitar is both a hobby and the way I express myself. My playing is about me and no one else. I don’t care what anybody thinks about my skill or style but of course it is nice to have people like what I’m doing. My daughter is a musician and like all of us is always afraid she’s not as good as someone else. You can’t let the opinions of others determine who you are. Be you. You are beautiful and so is your music. Thanks Bjorn.
Thanks Bjorn! As always your comments are spot on. Reading this really inspired me to refocus my energies and attention away from technique and towards becoming more expressive.
I would throw out a few more practical things (this is not in any way to discount the excellent advice you gave w/ your 5 examples).
With your right hand, you should practice thumb, forefinger, middle finger and ring finger playing their own string. Practice playing one of those strings louder than the other 3. Try to keep the volume/tone of all 4 strings consistent. Then switch the finger your emphasizing.
Try playing with just your thumb and forefinger. Try to get really fast. Play different combinations (e.g. 1 string on the same fret. Multiple strings same fret. Some combo of notes on different frets. etc)
For flat picking:
Try playing a single note as fast as you can. If you can get to quarter notes on a speed like 140-160 BPM (on a metronome) then you’re super fast. In order to attain such speed, you need excellent form. You can experiment w/ different approaches to increase your speed (part of the fun of practicing btw) to figure out what works for you. Another thing to practice would be alternate picking (up/down/up/down), all up picking, all down picking. Another thing to practice would be string skipping. Strive to be able to play all permutations perfectly. Another thing would be sweep picking (check YouTube for lessons).
For left hand:
Work on finger independence. Play stuff like (left hand only. Right hand never needs to touch the guitar):
6th string: frets 1,2,3,4 with pointer, middle, ring, pinky. Then move to the 5th string BUT make sure that when you move your pointer from string 6 to string 5 that you leave your other fingers on string 6, frets 2,3,4. Move from string 6 to 5 to 4 to 3 to 2 to 1 and then back. Also practice this with different picking styles (e.g. alternate picking, all up, all down). You’ll be surprised how the picking style you choose will have an effect on the way your left hand plays.
Hammer Ons and pull offs
(left hand only. Right hand never needs to touch the guitar)
Keep your pointer finger on a string (let’s say string 3, fret 5). Hammer on then pull off your middle finger on string 3 fret 6 then string 3 fret 7. Do the same (separate exercise) with your ring finger. That is, hammer on string 3 fret 7 and then fret 8. For pinky, fret 8 and 9.
Another good workout is to again keep your pointer finger on a string (let’s say string 3, fret 5). Exercise 1 would be to play string 3 fret 7 (pull off) with your ring finger. Then hammer on middle finger to string 3 fret 6 followed by ring finger string 3 fret 7. Then pull off your ring finger while simultaneously releasing your middle finger (a 2 fret pull-off). Exercise 2 would be to do the same thing with your pinky and ring fingers. Exercise 3 would be the same except with middle and pinky. These are real finger strengtheners. Strive to do them with your left hand relaxed. It seems impossible to relax but you’ll improve over time as your left hand gets stronger).
Practice when you’re not near a guitar (e.g. you’re waiting for the bus):
There are many free (as well as not-free but still cheap) ear training programs. You can practice on your device (smart phone, tablet, etc).
Once you develop your skills, try to hear random sounds in the real world and see if you can identify the note and/or interval (if there are 2 notes). It helps to have readily accessible device (smartphone in my case) that has a keyboard app installed on it. That helps you confirm if you were able to identify the note correctly (e.g. I hear an elevator make a noise when it arrives on my floor). I try to identify the note (e.g. “F#”). Then I take out my phone and play an F# on my keyboard app and see if it sounds like the elevator sound.
Try memorizing every single noted on the fretboard. Think about open string 6 then open string 5 then 4, 3,2,1. Then (mentally) move up to the 1st fret and think of each note from string 1 fret 1 following by string 2 fret 1 etc (through string 6 fret 1). Keep going up and down the fretboard thinking about what notes those are. You can also try a zig-zaging pattern: string 6 fret 1, string 5 fret 2, string 4, fret 1, string 3 fret 2, string 2 fret 1, string 1 fret 2. On the “way back”, do string 1 fret 1 followed by string 2 fret 2, string 3 fret 1, string 4 fret 2, string 5 fret 1, string 6 fret 2.
Think about “if I am fretting string X on fret Y and then I play string A on fret B (make sure you think withing a 5 fret radius), what would the interval that be? Make sure you practice “jumps down” (e.g. string 6 to string 5) and “jumps up” (e.g. string 5 to string 6). Make sure you include bigger jumps (e.g. string 6 to string 4 and vice-versa). For example, fret 5 string 6 to fret 5 string 5 is a “perfect 4th”. Vice versa is a “perfect 5th”. Your goal would be to think “that’s a perfect 5th”, “that’s a major 7th”, “that’s a tri-tone”, etc.
Try thinking about scales and how they look. E.g. pentatonic minor has 5 shapes. Try thinking about one of the 5 notes (root, minor 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, minor 7th) and where that is located in each of the 5 shapes. Try to also visualize that if you were playing “root and minor 3rd” where those would be in each box. Think about “harder” (less “close to each other) permutations as well.
Great tips! Thanks for sharing!
Good advice, thanks..
Once again, excellent advice BjÃ¸rn. You have helped me a lot and continue to do so. Thank you.
Expressing yourself, finding your own sound. Also very important : Practice, practice and practice again.
The most important thing that I have learned from you, Gilmour, B.B. King etc… Keep it simple and work hard.
Now when I do a solo, Gilmour or one of my own. I try to use 4 or 5 effects at most, my sound is a lot better.
Again thank you BjÃ¸rn and keep up the great work you do on Gilmourish.
Cheers from Canada :-)
Thanks Bjorn! It’s nice to know that you were once me :)
I couldn’t agree more!
Once, when i was in school i had a teacher who was a guitar player also, like we are, and told me that you can play it for 3 years and be a great guitar player and play it for 10 years and you still sound like shit!
I play guitar for about 20 years and i still didn’t get my own tone! But it doesn’t matter! You continue to play guitar and tha’s the most important thing, you still searching that tone, your tone.
I really like the “vibe” of the guilmourish site!
Thank’s Bjorn by beeing the mentor of that!
Well said and excellent advice. There are many golden nuggets in there, but I appreciate number 5 a lot. ;)
It is all about feel and grove. If you let others take that from you, you’ve lost your art.
I personally believe that there is no such thing as bad practice. It doesn’t matter if it sounds bad, it doesn’t matter if you are doing something wrong, and it doesn’t matter if other musicians think that you are doing it wrong. As long as your hands and fingers are touching the guitar and strings, you are building a “feel” for the instrument and getting more familiar with the way it sits against your body!
Well, I agree to a certain extent, mostly out of my laziness. This is certainly NOT the case in the classical study. There in fact is such a thing as bad practice in that area of study, and a bit in terms of guitar, I have a few chord shapes I have had to force out over the years because of their limitations, especially when certain jazz chords came into the picture. I’m all for having fun but I think it would do more good for people starting out to let them know this takes time, learning, and attention to detail. Too many people start out thinking it will just be a fun little thing to do and quit very quickly after realizing that’s not the case
Even if David Gilmour handed his guitar to an excellent player and connected it to his rig,that player would not sound like Gilmour because…he’s not Gilmour.The tone is in a player’s heart,mind and…fingers!!
Jimmy Page once said that every guitarist has his,(her),tone.
There’s a video on YouTube of Eric Clapton playing Comfortably Numb with Roger Waters ;he plays the solos perfectly,note for note however,he doesn’t sound like David Gilmour,he sounds like Eric Clapton.
Now,back to practice!
This is the video you are referring to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1_BhKdu31Y