Hot Telecasterings
There is undeniably something special about a Telecaster. Just picking up a
Tele after a long day in the Strat-dominated guitar world refreshes the fin-
gertips. The Tele!s solidly fixed bridge allows you to dig into the strings and
yank out a heavy dose of “twang”, and the body weighs a bit more than a
Strat, but doesn!t have the tone-dulling bulk of a Les Paul. The neck pickup
can sound round and buttery smooth, but the bridge position delivers any-
thing from spanking clean chicken pickin! to thundering power chords (Alt
Rock heavies Soundgarden notoriously tracked their grungiest guitar lines
with Fender Teles).
The Tele has dug it!s trenches in the rock world, but even die hard rockers
find themselves tapping their toes to the echoey strains of Telecaster rock-
abilly riffs, and ask, “How can I get that sound!?”
Not a problem - It!s all in the fingers. Sure, it!s a bonus if you have a Tele;
after all, they inspired these sounds. But don!t despair if your only axe is a
Strat, Les Paul style, or even an acoustic. All of these licks can be played
on any guitar, and you may just stumble across a cool new vibe along the
way. A matter of fact is, they!ll sound great on acoustic guitar if you really
dig into those strings, Brian Setzer whips out these kind of licks on his
Gretsch hollow-body guitars all the time, and heavy metal shred-head Zakk
Wylde has snuck these ideas into Ozzy Osbourne!s songs (and uses simi-
lar ideas all the time in “The Black Label Society”).
The point is, every guitarist should give these licks a shot; they can only
expand your musical palette - you!ve got nothing to lose. Besides, you!ll be
able to start plucking a sound track if you happen to see your neighbor
chasin! after livestock...
Behind the stage curtains
The good news is: Everything which you have learned in the main text ap-
plies! All these ideas are going to be based on chord shapes you know,
which means that (as long as you worked through the main text) you!ll be
applying them as soon as you can pull them off.
The tricky part is: Great country licks require a lot of conviction to sound
strong, since there are some notes - especially strange open string notes -
which don!t always fit neatly into the theory cabinet.
Before we get to the main course, let!s look at a few of the Tele lick-building
rules. This way, you can learn how to create your own variations or brand
new ideas based on these licks. Then you can go out and record some
crackin! good rockabilly music for us to crank up before we hit the town.
Let!s look at a few chord shapes and the extra notes surrounding the chord
tones that we!ll be using. "R! is the root, "2! the second, and so on. I!ve
noted the b7 to save a little space, and because this note is used quite of-
E shape A shape G shape C (D) shape

For those of you who understand theory (or for those want to know more
about it) most of the coming licks are neither strictly major or minor. As with
many blues licks, both the major and minor third are used extensively in
country licks.
Additionally, the major second and major sixth add a jazzy flavor, and both
the major and minor seventh notes are often included in the same phrase.
You may also see connections made in half steps (chromatic) from the mi-
nor third all the way to the perfect fifth, and from the root down to the major
sixth. These kinds of stepwise motions in fast melodic lines have their roots
in swing jazz.
By understanding the relationship of the chord shapes to the range of notes
available, you can add to or subtract from the coming licks to customize
them and make them fit in where you need them.
The last thing that needs to be mentioned before you dig in is the rhythmic
aspect of these lines. They all “swing” a little. What that means is that there
are stronger accents alternating with weaker ones, and the strongly ac-
cented notes are a little longer than the weaker ones (ONE and TWO
and THREE and FOUR and). Swing is a hard concept to define, some say
it!s like a triplet with the middle note removed, but less extremely spaced.
It!s hard to nail down.
What!s important is that swing makes intuitive sense - You!ll notice how
chord tones tend to be placed where the strong accents fall. This is key to
creating strong lines. You can start building a lick by placing a simple ar-
peggio on the main beats (or on each eighth note). Then fill in the spaces
with the in-between notes as shown in the diagrams above. We!ll look more
closely at how some of the licks are built to give you an idea of how you
can start making your own.
It!s in the right hand
One of the most important techniques in getting the licks to sound right is
what some players call the “claw-hammer method”, “hybrid picking” or just
“pick and fingers”. No matter what you call it, what it comes down to is split-
ting right hand picking duty between the pick (held fast between thumb and
index finger) and the middle and ring fingers.
Often, double stops - that is, two notes played on adjacent strings - are of-
ten plucked with the middle and ring fingers of the right hand. Faster single
note runs and chord strums and string rakes are played with the pick.
The effect of playing doublestops with the middle/ring finger pair is twofold:
1) The notes sound simultaneously, giving the notes a piano-like clarity; the
attack happens at the same time for both notes.
2) We can really add twang to those notes we pluck with our fingers, even
going as far as to yank them back so they slap off the fingerboard, similar
to the way bass players pop the strings. Twangier you don!t get.
Here!s a rhythm where this technique works to great effect:
A little slap echo and compression make for a good clean country tone. I
set the compressor to about 5:1 and lowered the threshold pretty far, then
dialed in about 200 ms. delay. There!s also a little plate reverb mixed in for
some sense of space.
When you can play the above lick with your middle and ring fingers, give
your pick something to do! Add in some eighth notes on the low string to
accompany yourself:
Here!s a classic (one of THE classic licks) from Jerry Reed. It is based on
an A chord - Notice that the first half of the lick is based on the “E barre
shape” at the 5
fret, and the second half is the “A shape” in the open posi-
(LISTEN) (slow)
One of my personal favorite riffs, and a die-hard Rockabilly standard, is this
one: (LISTEN)
The difficult thing about this riff are the syncopated melody notes. What
makes this idea interesting is the way the bass notes march along un-
daunted as the top notes throw in their off-beat stabs. Let!s break this one
down into parts you can practice.
First, play the bass notes firmly with the pick while palm muting. Notice that
the low strings are muted, but the top three strings ring clear. Work on your
hand positioning until you get that down:
Now, start working in the melody notes. Practice each segment until you
can do it without interrupting the bass note flow! This is key to good self-
accompanied playing. Take it piece by piece:
(LISTEN) (LISTEN) (crossing the bar line)
By now you!re probably itchin! for some fast lead licks, but here!s one more
rhythm idea. Believe me; this will take some practice. The way the accents
cycle through the note pattern makes this figure very interesting. Notice the
G chord shape in bar 1:
(LISTEN) (slow)
The second bar could function as a G7, because of the "F! note, or an F
chord, because of the C note. These kind of ambiguities come into play
when using open strings. Again, confidence is key. If you use the second
bar when the rest of the band is playing G7, it will sound that way, and
same with using it as an F major. Try to come up with ideas of your own by
using chord shapes and open strings. E minor, A, C, G and D chords
should work well, because the open string notes will fit well with the chords.
And now it!s in the left hand
Get your fretting hand ready, and keep those chord shapes in mind. We!ll
start with some licks in G which mix the minor pentatonic (with b5 note) and
the G major scale. These are great anywhere, and if you kick in the over-
drive, they!re rock licks as well. Watch out for the bending in this one; those
country bends are fast and precise: (LISTEN) (slow)
In this lick you should notice that the accented notes in bar 1 are B, A, then
G. Just descending to the root of the chord. The upbeat eighth notes sketch
around that and create some interest. If you were to make those upbeat
notes more "outside! note choices, you!d have a jazz line: (LISTEN) (slow)
Let!s look at a couple simple ideas based on the C shape (This shape has
the typical "D! grip on the top three strings if you prefer to orient yourself
that way). In this case it!s up at the 10th fret - a G chord. The first idea
starts on the "four! beat of the bar, and the triplet takes up all of beat four:
(LISTEN) (slow) (LISTEN) (slow)
The second example starts on the "and! after three, and the triplet falls in
the same place. You can add even more notes before the triplet and start
stretching out the lick. It!s great to practice how to rhythmically place these
additional notes - it will help you become a flexible player.
Here is a great one in the style of Albert Lee. It contains symmetrical finger-
ing shapes, so it is easy to remember and get up to speed. The tricky part
is the pre-bending; be sure to start really slow and make sure your intona-
tion is good on the bent note.
This one sounds a bit like Brent Mason, and uses the open B-string amidst
fretted notes. Working an open string into an otherwise fretted lick is an odd
feeling at first; you want to fret somewhere, but have to let go. Again, work
it up to speed slowly so you don!t hiccup on the open string note!
The first bar starts just above the G barre (E shape) at the third fret, then
descends into the G shape in the open position: (BRIDGE) (NECK) (slow)
Here!s another hot one, this time in D. The low F# (third of D major) gives it
a unique sound: (LISTEN) (slow)
Our final lick is based around an A chord in the open position. The pull-offs
and open strings give it a rolling quality, and it would be a great way to end
a song - one last ripping lick to put an exclamation point at the end of the
(LISTEN) (slow)
So, keep your eyes on those chord shapes, learn to paint around chord
tones, and you!ll be creating your own licks in no time. If you have any
more questions, just drop me an email and I!ll get back to you as soon as I
All material copyright 2006 joe dochtermann. All rights reserved, may not be reproduced or redistributed in
part or in whole without express written permission of the author. Violators will be prosecuted.