Four chords from classic Tom Petty songs to go into the Great Wide Open with – including a capo trick to sound like a 12-string guitar

American Rock and Pop musician Tom Petty (1950 - 2017) plays guitar as he perfroms, with his band the Heartbreakers, during the 'Damn the Torpedoes' tour at the Capitol Theatre, Passaic, New Jersey, June 27, 1980
(Image credit: Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)

The late Tom Petty is an iconic artist known for his anthemic songwriting and simplistic, less-is-more approach. What you won’t find inside of a Tom Petty song is crazy time signatures, over-complicated riffs and jazzy chord extensions.

Petty and the Heartbreakers – that also featured fellow guitarist Mike Campbell –  preferred to keep things a little simpler and let the song do the talking, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t cool chord tricks in his catalogue.

In this lesson we’re going to check out four chords from his classic songs that you can use to get some Tom Petty vibes into your playing.

E and D – using a capo for a 12-string vibe

Tom Petty chords

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This first trick is something you hear in the Full Moon Fever hit Free Fallin’, the chords themselves are actually simple chords, but when played in two different capo positions at the same time, create a 12-string-esque sound.

The E Major chord is played with a capo on the first fret, making it an F Major. The D Major is played with a capo on the 3rd fret, also making it an F Major.

Combining these two voicings of the same chord give it a rich, 12-string sound. Worth considering when you're playing with a second guitarist.


Tom Petty chord

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In the track Here Comes My Girl from 1979 you hear this chord, which is in essence just a B7 chord, but with the notes stacked in a different order creating the inversion B7/A. The A note is the b7 interval that makes this a dominant 7 chord, but in this instance it is placed in the bass of the chord.

In the song it shifts between A and this B7/A chord but the open A string creates a drone between the two chords. Even though the chord changes, the A note ties the two together.


Tom Petty chord

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Tom Petty often doesn’t gravitate towards too many unusual chords, but in the track Into The Great Wide Open you hear the EmMaj7 chord. This is an E Minor chord with a maj7 interval added. 

This is an unusual sounding chord when played in isolation, but in the track it’s used between other E minor variations to create a sense of movement in the progression.


Tom Petty chord

(Image credit: Future)

In the sublime title track from 1994 solo album Wildflowers, the first chord you hear is this Fadd9. This is an F Major triad with a G note on the top, which is the add9 note.

The add9 chord adds a slight tension to a progression. The 9 interval that gets added is the same as the 2 interval (in this case a G) but played an octave higher. This creates a sus2 tension feel but with the resolve of a major chord as well. It’s a great chord to switch out for a regular major chord if you want a little added tension.

Leigh Fuge

Leigh Fuge is a guitar player and content creator with a love for all things '80s. When he’s not creating gear demos for his Youtube channel he’s teaching students via his online guitar course Right Notes Music Tuition. Off camera he spends most of his time travelling around the UK performing at functions and corporate events.