How to play guitar like... Paul Gilbert

Nail the 'Big man's style

How to play guitar like Paul Gilbert
(Image: © Daniele Rotondo/Demotix/Corbis)

Paul Gilbert's incredible guitar technique has astounded us for years. Here, we break it down...

Having helped define what's possible on the electric guitar, it's clear that Paul Gilbert possesses that rare talent: oodles of scary technique and an innate ability to pen a great tune.

Schooled in the classical precision of Bach, but also classic rock artists such as Pat Travers, and even pop as a fan of both ABBA and the Spice Girls, Paul bridges different musical styles with ease.

His famously stretchy blues scale ideas can be heard in Colorado Bulldog; take your pick from Rusty Old Boat and Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy for pure widdle.

There's bucketloads of double picking in Racer X's Superheroes, and you can hear fast tapping in Mr Big's Addicted To That Rush.

Mr Big-style riff

This riff is based around the E Mixolydian scale (E F# G# A B C# D). The main features here are the slightly unconventional stretches and the characteristic upper two strings of E5 and D5/E that Paul loves to dig into with loads of vibrato. Use two fingers for these, keeping your hand square to the fretboard for the stretches.

Mr Big-style riff tab (right-click to download)
Mr Big-style riff audio (right-click to download)

Three-note-per-string blues lick

Paul likes to avoid standard blues and pentatonic shapes so he can sound a little different. This lick follows his favoured 'pick, pick, pull-off' phrasing idea.

Three-note-per-string blues lick tab (right-click to download)
Three-note-per-string blues lick audio (right-click to download)

Double picking legato lick

This unusual five-note grouping gives the lick an interesting rhythm, and can be repeated all over the fretboard in the other scale positions of E minor.

Double picking legato lick tab (right-click to download)
Double picking legato lick audio (right-click to download)

Sextuplet legato lick

This lick calls up one of Paul's great influences, Eddie Van Halen. Keep your fret hand in line with the neck and aim for a strong 'snap' on the pull-offs.

Sextuplet legato lick tab (right-click to download)
Sextuplet legato lick audio (right-click to download)

Stretchy string-skipped lick

Paul often breaks out of basic pentatonic 'box' shapes with a three-note-per-string approach. It takes a bit of a stretch, but it's a great way to sound different.

Stretchy string-skipped lick tab (right-click to download)
Stretchy string-skipped lick audio (right-click to download)

Trilled tapping lick

This super-fast lick requires precision and care because you have to tap close to notes you are fretting.

Try to visualise the E minor pentatonic scale along the length of the first string and, most importantly, make sure your legato finger moves out of the way to allow for the subsequent tap.

Trilled tapping lick tab (right-click to download)
Trilled tapping lick audio (right-click to download)

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