How to play The Rolling Stones classic Gimme Shelter on guitar

Keith Richards
(Image credit: Bob King/Redferns)

Surely a contender for best intro ever? Here we're looking at Keith Richard's parts to Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones from the band's 1969 album Let It Bleed

Get the tone 

Keef used a Maton EG240 Supreme on the original studio version, but has used a Les Paul Junior for this one live. We think the best place to start is a P-90 or standard single coil bridge pickup with an amp tone that's 'not quite clean'.

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The Rolling Stones

(Image credit: The Rolling Stones )

The story behind The Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter


I'm using the Catalinbread SFT overdrive pedal (on the 'Stones' setting for obvious reasons), but with a very low gain setting. The real key to this song's tone is the subtle use of tremolo. I'm using the Universal Audio Astra Modulation Machine in the video, but I’d recommend you start with Depth and Speed both set to around 12 o'clock on your tremolo and tweak from there. 


1951 Fender Telecaster

(Image credit: YouTube / All Guitar Network)

The tuning is open E, which Keith uses on a few other tracks (You Can't Always Get What You Want and Prodigal Son) and requires three strings to be tuned up, so from low (6th String) to high (1st String) you have:

E stays the same

A up to B

D up to E

G up to G#

B stays the same

E stays the same

E / B / E/ G# / B / E 

Technique tips 

To get the right pick attack for the intro, you need to strum with your pick at the top end of the fretboard and also catch a bit of flesh from your thumb as well as the pick, almost like you're aiming to do an artificial harmonic. 

Whilst there is a bit of variation, it's still just three positions on frets 9 (C#), 7 (B) and 5 (A) that repeat around. These feature again again in the chorus but with fuller chords. For the verse you've got one of Keef’s signature approaches in this tuning, fretting a one fingered C#5 to an F#/C# (see Stone Gossard's parts in Pearl Jam's Leash for a similar approach in Open A tuning). Have fun! 

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Matt Webster

Matt spends his spare time teaching guitar lessons and creating gear demos on his YouTube channel Let's Play All, which covers all manner of styles, but he does have a special place in his heart for '90s grunge and alt rock.