5 guitar tricks you can learn from Gary Clark Jr

(Image credit: Jay West / Getty)

Born in 1984 in Austin, the musical heart of Texas, Gary Clark Jr plays a lot more than just pure blues.

Though he has appeared alongside legends like Eric Clapton and BB King, Gary also has interests in funk and soul, which informs both his playing and singing style. Tone-wise, he opts for a mix of Fender and Gibson guitars through Fender amps with a small selection of pedals.

In this lesson, we’ve gone more with the fat Gibson tones than the brighter Fender sound, though there’s no reason why the licks shouldn’t work with single-coil pickups too. As a general rule, you’ll need to dial in a slightly higher gain tone with more mids and bass to fatten up the tone if your guitar has single coils.

Volume also plays a part, adding touch sensitivity and sustain, while maintaining clarity and definition. Alternatively, try adding a compressor into your signal chain to liven up your tone without causing domestic disputes!

Basic pentatonic riffing

Using a bridge pickup with the guitar’s volume turned down just a little to clean up the sound, this example starts by doubling the bassline before taking off into more ‘lead’ guitar phrasing in bar 3. Grace notes, vibrato and those bluesy quarter-tone bends are the details to concentrate on here.

Pentatonic lead

Using a big chunk of the E minor pentatonic scale (E G A B D) to start, this example is slightly higher gain. Make this adjustment on the fly by bringing your guitar’s volume up to maximum. Bars 2 and 3 are based around a similar idea from the high register of that same scale, including open strings on the final run of bends for a distorted effect.

Raucous lead

Using a wah pedal with quite a fast rocking motion (Gary is fond of this effect), this example also shows how Gary uses vibrato and quarter-tone bends for a raucous Hendrix-like delivery. Take a firm grip and wobble your finger on the string on the vibrato notes (they’re the notes marked with a squiggly line!).

Funky rhythm

Changing key, tempo and style, this example showcases Gary’s funk-influenced rhythm playing. He will often use a Fender for this, but a bridge humbucker with less gain works too. The feel is more important than nailing every individual chord stroke here, so aim for a fluid ‘down-up’ style strumming pattern throughout.

Melodic lick

Using the neck pickup and turning the gain back up, this final example demonstrates Gary’s soaring, melodic side. Lots more quarter- and whole-tone bends with vibrato and repeated phrases are the order of the day. There is actually less gain here than you might expect, but experiment to see what gives you enough sustain on your own guitar.

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