Learn Mastodon's killer riffing techniques

The thick, heavy Mastodon guitar sound comes from tuning all six strings down by a tone (two frets) to DGCFAD. For their other trademark tunings Bill and Brent tune the sixth string down a further tone to C (CGCFAD) or even all the way down to A (AGCFAD). 

It’s worth setting your guitar up with some heavy gauge strings if you play this kind of stuff all the time. Light gauge strings may be just too slack. To play like Bill and Brent you’ll need to appreciate their diverse influences, which range from heavy metal and stoner rock to prog, Southern rock and country. 

Like many progressive bands, they have unconventional techniques and songwriting tricks. Take a look at our tab examples where we explore some of these.

Southern mock

Inspired by tracks like Aqua Dementia and Divinations, this lick combines open strings and fretted notes with hammer-ons and pull-offs: typical Southern rock and bluegrass fare but with a dissonant mix of notes for a Mastodon vibe.

Mum does the ironing

12/8 time is very important to the Mastodon sound as you’ll hear in tracks such as Mother Puncher and Iron Tusk. Get used to the swinging groove by tapping your foot four times per bar and moving your hand in a triplet feel.

Six of the best

We’re switching to 6/8 time here in this riff inspired by Bill and Brent’s muted alternate picked lines in Oblivion and Ancient Kingdom. Rest the side of your picking hand lightly on the strings at the bridge and position your pick so that the tip is slightly angled (not flat) as it crosses the string.

Keep it in the phryg

Finally, we have a drop A tuned Curl Of The Burl-style riff using the super-low A note and notes from the dark and mysterious A Phrygian mode (A BbC D E F G). Use your first, second and fourth fingers at the 2nd, 3rd and 5th frets and use hammer-ons for a smooth tone.

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