Play Guitar Like ZZ Top (Billy Gibbons)

In this ZZ Top lesson, we are checking out three guitar licks in the style of the Texan blues-rock master, Billy Gibbons. For me, he is the ultimate blues-rock guitar hero. His combination of sultry blues licks with his raw touch and screaming pinched harmonics makes him so individual. In this lesson, we look at how to adapt a simple ‘A’ power chord, pinched harmonics and a blues-rock lick that will set your amp ablaze.

Billy Gibbons ZZ Top Guitar Example 1 – A Power Chords With Alterations

Very few things are as satisfying as plugging in your guitar, cranking up the distortion and hitting a power chord. That is until you add in some subtle additions. In this example, I wanted to show that having an off-beat rhythm, and some small bends can go a long way to making a one chord vamp stand out.

Billy Gibbons Guitar Example 2 – Pinched Harmonics

Unlike natural harmonics that occur “naturally,” pinched harmonics are created when your thumb touches the string at the same time the plectrum picks the string. Moving where you pick the note can create different pinched harmonics. If you are struggling to create a pinched harmonic, try using fresh strings and a high-gain setting on your amplifier.

Billy Gibbons Guitar Example 3 – Ultimate Blues/Rock Lick

A minor pentatonic to the rescue! This lick shows that you can take a classic scale and add a different twist. Billy Gibbons often repeats a lick to create motif’s in his ZZ Top solos. Be sure to watch out for the bends and slides and pay careful attention to the way this lick is phrased. As always make sure you move it into as many different keys as possible.

Recommended listening

For classic Billy Gibbons style guitar licks, I recommend buying the album “Rancho Texicano.” My favourite track on that album being “Just Got Paid.”

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Guitar Lesson Video Transcription

Hey YouTube, Simon here once again for the awesome Fundamental Changes. Today we’re checking out the big, hairy, bearded Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. I think you’re going to dig it. Let’s get to that, just after this.

[guitar playing]

There was Example 1. Today the chord we’re doing is an open A power chord. Now you’re probably looking at me and going “Simon you’ve lost it. Why are we doing the simplest of chords?” Well, today I wanted to show you that you can have a 1-chord vamp and make it really, really interesting. This is something that Billy Gibbons does well.

The technique that you want to add in when you’re playing this chord, is I’m playing strings 4 and 3 with my middle and my ring finger. This is called hybrid picking – when you use a plectrum and your fingers at the same time.

When you use your fingers, you get a much more raw, fleshy- type sound, picking that body of the A power chord there, the 2nd frets, almost like your A major with 1 finger, but the 2 notes in there. Then we’re getting little variations with the 5th frets, and then the 3rd fret, open 2 there as well. We’ve got these little additions to this open A.

Work it with hybrid picking. If you can’t manage that, just try it with a plectrum, or try it with all fingers. Lots of different options here, but it shows you how, just from 1 chord, you can build a solid little chord part.

[guitar playing]

Example 2 today introduces the technique. I couldn’t look at Billy Gibbons without showing you some serious pinched harmonics, or sometimes referred to as artificial harmonics.

Now, we realized that on the guitar, there are places where natural harmonics takes place around the 12th fret, 7th fret, 5th fret, or a few others as well, which is where you’re touching the edge of the upper edge of the frets and picking it, you get a ringing buzzing sound.

If you haven’t come across harmonics, there’s some fantastic lessons on Joseph’s websites on harmonics. Go and check them out. A pinched harmonic, however, is where your thumb digs into the string at the same time your plectrum is picking the string in different places, to create different types of harmonic sounds, or pinched harmonics.

It is not an easy thing for me to teach in 30 seconds here, but all I want you to work on is digging slightly under the string, and touching the fleshy part of your thumb on the string as you’re pushing it in there.

What this is,is a simple A minor blues lick, or A blues – actually maybe some more A minor pentatonic, and we’re basically pinching nearly every note. If you’re struggling to do that, just start off on the 3rd string. I’ve always found the G string a good place to teach people to do pinched harmonics.

Just get used to picking a note and moving around the guitar. You can move it here, and find the sweet spots. You’ll find certain spots that will hit better pinched harmonics.

Pinched harmonics is your technique of the day. Hope you enjoyed that. It’s going to take some practice, keep at it. It’s one that will really annoy the cat.

[guitar playing]

As we saw there, Example 3 is your lick in the style of Bill Gibbons. For me, Billy Gibbons is the ultimate blues rock guitarist, because he has these blues licks that he plays, but he has this raw, aggressive, punchy way that he goes about playing them.

I wouldn’t say that Billy Gibbons has a million licks that he plays, but he repeats little themes,he builds little motifs. This one, you’re rolling through your A minor stuff, and then you start off with this sliding onto the 9th fret of the 3rd with the 8th fret of the 2nd, almost making this double stop re picking, building on this little motif, and you can feel it’s all played quite aggressively.

If you’re a blues guy, or a rock guy, you want to introduce some things,try adding this more aggressive tone, getting some pinched harmonics into your blues licks, really getting the rough feel to it, as I think you’ll enjoy that.

I hope you’ve enjoyed that. As always, I’ll see you soon for more videos.

Everyone, thanks for watching these licks and tips in the style of Billy Gibbons. Hope you’ve got something from it. Please go and check out Joseph’s website Fundamental Changes, and all of his awesome books, and go and check out my YouTube channel, SDPguitar, where I bring you more free guitar videos, to revolutionize your playing.

Check it out. See you soon.