Old Grey Guitarist: meet the school guitar teacher who has over a million followers on TikTok with his solo covers

John Wines
(Image credit: John Wines / YouTube)

John Wines is our kind of guitar hero; the UK guitar teacher has spent years passing on his love for the instrument to others. He played in bands for years and makes a living teaching guitar in three different schools in Dorset where he's based, as well as working as a guitar tutor privately. And that was his life, until recently when he woke up and found he was going viral on TikTok and Instagram.

"It was crazy because I'd been [posting videos] for 10 months and I had about 1,200 followers," John tells us. "So I put a video of All Right Now on, and over a couple of days that did three times more than anything else had done. I thought, oh people want to hear that kind of thing."

What John didn't know at the time was just how many people wanted to hear his takes on classic rock solos.  


This solo, in the past, has been voted the greatest ever, brian mays bersion obviously, not mine!😂😂

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"Then I did the two Hotel California solos, recorded them and I was just having my tea when I thought, Bohemian Rhapsody would be a good one too," he continues. "I learnt it, recorded it and put it out. In two hours it had done 224 views. By the time I went to bed I think it was 1,500, then I woke up in the morning and life was different."

By lunchtime the next day John's Bohemian Rhapsody solo video has been viewed over a million times. By the end of the day it had hit 3.4 million. His Hotel California videos then went viral too. 

I didn't even really know what viral was

John currently has 17.3 million likes and 1.2 million followers on TikTok. Not bad for a player who only joined social media to pick up a few new student for private lessons. 

"I didn't even really know what viral was," he laughs. "It's like I say to all the kids, I don't want the fame. I really don't. If we can help people then that's great. I did it to help people and just get the odd student or two."

John is passionate about the guitar's power to help young people. He's seen the effect learning to play an instrument can have on special needs children. And he's got a gift; he's not only a fantastic player, but the kind of teacher a lot of us will wish we'd had growing up. His rise also undermines the assumption that TikTok is a place where younger people find shallow success; John's content has connected with people. 

I used the name Old Grey Guitarist for one reason only; I didn't want the kids at school to find me. Because I thought they'd just rinse me and totally take the mickey

What came first for you - Instagram or TikTok?

John: "There was this initial thing when I did Crazy Train on Instagram. And that did literally go crazy. I don't know if it's about two or two and a half million views or something now [it's 3.5 million]. That did better on Instagram than it did on TikTok. That's what really projected me out there. 

"Also, and I still get shivers when I think about it, a message was left for me by Randy Rhoads's sister. She said, 'Oh Randy would have loved it. And then I'm like, 'Oh my god, what is going on here?' That didn't harm it anyway. I don't know if she shared it or whatever. I don't know how these things work. 

"Also, Ivan Moody from Five Finger Death Punch – he did something as well. And he left another comment on a video I did last night. It's all a little bit surreal if I'm honest."

So there was no real agenda when you first started posting playing videos? 

"As far as I remember I set it up over a year ago. And really, it was only because I was already posting videos, mainly improvisations, to Facebook pages like Stratocaster groups and Telecaster groups – that sort of thing. It was just in the hope of getting one or two extra students. I'm busy but we're all having to take more work on because of the cost of living crisis.

"So I thought, well it's no harm to do TikTok videos, but I used the name Old Grey Guitarist for one reason only; I didn't want the kids at school to find me. Because I thought they'd just rinse me and totally take the mickey. 

"But as as soon as it hit, they all knew. And that was it then, but luckily they've been great. I've had no negative comments whatsoever, you know, not even any mickey taking which I'm not used to. They all love it."

And you teach guitar in a few schools to children?

"I work at three different schools – I'm out five days a week and I do private stuff. Now obviously, this has become like another job really. I'm working now with D'addario, and Blackstar. And I was talking to the guy from D'addario and he said, 'I've never seen anyone's page run as fast as yours'. I've got no idea – I thought this was normal. So I try and interact with people and and answer their questions – get back to people in the comments. So maybe that's why it's done well, I don't know, but it does take a lot of time."


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Vibrato is the DNA of all players

You're also doing videos focussed on beginner player lessons.

"To be honest with you, that was one of the things that I first started uploading if you go back to a lot of the early TikTok videos, a lot of them were lessons on. So that was another thing  to try and get people involved. 

"There's tonnes of teachers out there on YouTube and whatever and I'm sure there is on TikTok as well. But I just sort of put it out there as well to just to try and encourage people to play. And I must do some more. 

"It's a balancing act sometime – what to do next. Because you get requests; 'Do Cliffs of Dover?' I wish I could play that! That's well beyond my capabilities. Maybe 30 years ago I might have sat down and spent three weeks on that. I'm getting older now so things are slowing down!"

So are the solos you cover things you already know, or do you have to learn that many from scratch? 

"I've got to learn a lot of them now. Some of them I knew through teaching them to students – like Nirvana and the Hotel California ones. Bohemian Rhapsody I didn't know, strangely enough. No one has ever asked for it.  So some I know, yes, and some no."

Have you got any tips for learning iconic guitar solos?

"Use your ear. Look, tab is great. Tab does get a little bit of a rough deal at times but the one thing that newer players don't tend to realise is that it isn't telling you how long to stay on those notes, although I do teach rhythmic values in my lessons, but it doesn't make you use your ear.

"There's the notes, but use your ear and you can see then how it goes. I think that the perceived thing now, even with people like Justin Sandercoe saying the same thing; unless you want to be a session player you don't really need to know notation. Learn to play. And I do agree with that. You know there's gonna be people that don't and if you can read music I'm not saying it's a bad thing. 

"Your ear is your best friend. All the notation will not teach you that, because some of these people that transcribe this stuff sometimes get it wildly wrong as well – I've seen some stuff and you think, really?! There's no way they played that there. Tab doesn't teach you the nuances – it doesn't teach you the vibrato.

"One note of BB King; you know it's BB King. Same for Santana. It's vibrato, because vibrato is the DNA of all players."


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Would you advise players to learn solos in sections – keep going over the part, then expand from there? 

"Yes, start at the beginning and do it for the first couple of bars. Get that right before you go any further, then learn the next couple of bars, then put the four bars together.

But if you only just want to pick out a little lick that you like, so that you can put that in your own arsenal, then that's great too. But if you're learning a whole solo you need to start slow from the beginning.

"Listen to the recording – people like Gary Moore, Slash or Gilmour, they are very feel-based players. To get those little nuances you need to listen. You'll get note-perfect renditions sometimes but it'll have no soul because what seems like small details are the parts you need to work on. Even if you leave some notes out, it doesn't matter because it's about getting the feel of how they play really."


♬ original sound - Old grey guitarist

What particular artists seem to do well when you cover them on TikTok? Queen seems to be one.

"Brian May, yes. He's very different player. He's one of those guys where you really have to listen to what he's doing. Live, I don't think he improvises too much. I never saw Queen live but he's great. So Queen does very well but you never know what's gonna do well sometimes. 

"Sometimes it's really weird. I'll put stuff out and think it will do really well and it'll do rubbish, and then put some out as a filler that will do well. 

"Certain things you can predict more. The Arctic Monkeys are very, very popular. The Queen one, Bo Rap, andnd then obviously Hotel California. Iconic songs, they do really well, but other stuff, you really are in the lap of the gods. Are they going to promote it? It's down to the algorithms on on TikTok or Instagram. Did I use the right hashtag? I don't know. Do hashtags do any good? I don't know."


♬ original sound - Old grey guitarist

But it tends to be performances of famous guitar solos that will get the views – there's a demand for that? 

"Absolutely. I mean the Nirvana one, Smells Like Teen Spirit, that did nine and a half million [views] or whatever. That's always forever climbing [it's now 12.5 million]. Every week it still does in another 100,000 views or whatever. It is an iconic solo, but it's not hard."

That's a great first solo for people to learn.

"It is and that's why I did a lesson on it, and I try to do that if there's enough if they've done really well. I think actually all the ones that that went viral I've done lessons for. You're only going to hit one or two per cent of those people, who are actually playing but at least they've got something to go off of then. Which is good. But you're right, the Nirvana one is a very good first solo to learn."


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You're obviously getting a lot of views, and a lot of comment interaction on TikTok and Instagram, so can something like this become a revenue stream? 

"Good question, at the moment it's costing me a fortune!"

The time that you're spending on it?

"TikTok pay you but it's pennies – a good day might be £5 or £6, literally. It might have had a million views that day for that. I'm not sure how the heck I'm doing on Instagram, because it says I'm on eligible for monetisation but it doesn't tell me how. I'm trying to find out.

D'Addario and Blackstar with supporting you with gear now. You have some of Blackstar's Dept 10 preamp pedals in your rig that you use for videos and it was interesting watching your rig tour video and the way you use some of your overdrives, but don't stack gain, into a clean Fender amp.

"I've got a Supersonic 22, which are bought in a lockdown because one came up locally, secondhand. I've got a big Boogie but it's just too bulky to take out so I wanted something smaller but valve. I used to have a Line 6 Flextone which the students use now. So I prefer valves. I don't think you can beat them, I really don't. I'm interested in maybe dipping my toe into the Quad Cortex though. 

"On the Blackstar Department 10 Boost, as well as the Blues Driver I take the gain right off and then whack up the level. It's what Stevie Ray used to do with TS-808 and he'd use of them in line. It just pushes the valve amp a little bit harder so it's kind of like another gain stage but without the gain. So it's not so noisey either."

How do you use your ThorpyFX Fat General compressor – always on?

"I never touch it. Most of it is on about 12 o'clock and I never turn it off. It gives me that bite and extra sustain. It's noiseless and I never turn it off. The only time I turn it off is to show people how good it is! that is almost giving you that extra push, rather than gain."


♬ original sound - Old grey guitarist

With classic rock there's this tendency to pile on the gain when you're starting out as a guitarist. Do you have any tips for good foundations for tone when covering songs from that world?

"You're right about the gain, and some of the guys did use a lot – Gary Moore used a lot of gain like the Soldano [SLO] stuff, but he knew how to tame it. And you've got to tame it – that's the problem. People always think distortion can hide problems, and sometimes it can but it can cause more problems. You have to tame it. 

"So start lower when it comes to gain. Use something like a Tube Screamer, a Blues Driver or the Dept 10 Boost. Get a good compressor pedal. That will give you a much nicer and a much fuller sound. Especially in the midrange, because it's the midrange that's going to cut through. 

"Try to get the sustain from you as well, and your vibrato – the way you use vibrato is important. I badger people, especially about the way they bend. Bring the thumb up over the top and get those three fingers so you're not pushing with the fingers as much as locking it in with the wrist."

You've got wide range of guitars too. Is there anything you gravitate to when you're learning solos ahead of filming?

"It depends on what people use. If it's something by Gilmour I've got my Strat Plus, which is in desperate need of a refret and I must get that done. So I use that anything that's Les Paul or Queen – because that's more or les Paul-type sound sound that [Brian May] gets, I use the PRS. For the whammy bar stuff it's either the [Ibanez] Jem which I love, although my Charvel is pretty good now I've got it set up."


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I genuinely love what I do

What are your aims now with your channels and work in 2023?

"Hopefully I'll still be at it! I used to post every day on TikTik but as soon as I got to a million [followers] I just needed to step back, and I post four days a week now. It lightens the load because I've got so many people who want lessons and I need to earn some money. It makes you laugh because people say, 'Oh my mate does this on TikTok and he's only got 250,000 followers and he's earning £1,500 a month.' Really? How? You never get an answer. 

"People think you're earning millions but it nowhere near covers the hours you put in. One 30 second TikTok video, if I've got to learn that solo and really do it justice it could be hours and 27 takes getting it right! But I love playing and teaching, I love teaching in the schools – especially one school in particular which is the Bourne Academy. The school there massively subsidises the music lessons but there are some other schools that actually try to make money out of it. I'm not happy with that. 

"The Welsh government have just come out in the last few months and said every kid is entitled to one free music lesson a week. I wish we could do that here [in England] and I think everyone should be entitled to that. I know we're in a cost of living crisis but it would be interesting to see what the figures are like in Wales in a few years' time and seeing how much that has helped the other stats. Because for some kids it's the only reason they go in the school; it's for music. And I've got students like that.

"I have said to D'Addario, they run a foundation in America where they help in deprived areas, I said put me down for it, you've got my time and as much as I can give. I don't want anything for it. I just want to promote it. It would be a dream to try and get something going in this country where every kid could have [music lessons], even if it's just once a fortnight. If the British government could do what the Welsh government are it would make my life, it genuinely would. Because I didn't start playing guitar until I was 19. It would be great if something could happen for all schools. I think if it pays off down the line, you've got to invest because music ability is in most kids. 

"I genuinely love what I do. I feel very blessed to be able to do what I do. But I also work for some great schools who have some great music teachers and they inspire me. When you've got a department where everyone inspires everyone else then lots of things get done." 

Visit John's Old Grey Guitarist channels at TikTok, Instagram and YouTube

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.