Play blues like Larry Carlton

Venture into the smooth-sounding world of a guitarist with the best feel around

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Image 2 of 4 Tab Play blues like Larry Carlton
Lick 1: Larry is a huge BB King fan and this first lick is a big nod to BB. Note the large bend up to the b7 that starts the piece, as well as other sneaky little bends, along with the slightly staccato picking in places that adds so much to the dynamics. There's a lot of playing information in this one lick.
© Neville Marten
Image 3 of 4 Tab Play blues like Larry Carlton
Lick 2: We included this as a 'signature' lick, because Larry has no problem throwing in simple minor pentatonic lines for effect. The main reason for its inclusion, though, is the fast vibrato on the last note - this is very like his playing on Donald Fagen's album, The Nightfly.
© Neville Marten
Image 4 of 4 Tab Play blues like Larry Carlton
Lick 3: Again, here's that slightly frantic vibrato. Notice how some notes here are bent and others slide into place. Larry also likes to insinuate the b5 and the 6th notes - both also favourites of Robben Ford. With all these licks, be sure to make them generally lazy and mix almost ghosted notes with harder-picked ones.
© Neville Marten

Many players cite Larry Carlton as the perfect guitarist. He's one of those rare beasts that has the lot: fantastic touch, wonderful tone and enough technique and harmonic knowledge to sink a battleship.

Perhaps best known for his work with Steely Dan - he played the sensational solo on the band's Kid Charlemagne - and for his series of milestone solo albums from the 1970s and 1980s, like other varied players, such as Robben Ford, Larry is happy to play very simple licks in first-position minor pentatonic, or at the other end, to blast away with harmonically challenging runs at lightning speed.

This example is one of those cool-sounding pieces that suggests a relaxed sort of solo. In fact, you could say it ambles along somewhat, with no particular destination, and yet that's the beauty of a piece like this - it lets you set your own agenda. You can decide whether to rip in with all guns blazing, or play more simply and milk as much feel from the track as you can.

You'll find a mixture of scales and modes in here, from minor pentatonic, major pentatonic and blues scale, to dorian and mixolydian. We weren't thinking in terms of scales though, and we're pretty sure that, although he has the wherewithal to do so with clinical precision, Larry wouldn't either.

The gear

Larry Carlton is a user of that Holy Grail of amplification, the Dumble. Guitar-wise, Larry is synonymous with his late-1960s Gibson ES-335. Opt for a fat tone, blending enough gain to drive things with a good fundamental note. Also, use both pickups on a humbucking guitar, or the neck pickup if you're using a single-coil instrument.

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Audio - Full track

Audio - Just the licks

Audio - Playalong