Learning to play smoking hot lead guitar solos is one of the coolest goals any newbie guitarist can set. Just imagine wailing away on your electric guitar, channeling blazing fast solos ala Eddie Van Halen, Slash, or Jimi Hendrix. It gives you chills just thinking about it!
The path to lead guitar mastery starts with nailing down some essential techniques and skills. With regular practice, you can go from fumbling through your first scales to improvising killer solos sooner than you think. This complete beginner’s guide will set you up for success.
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Gear Up with the Right Guitar for Learning Lead
Before diving into those finger-flying solos, you need a proper setup. While an acoustic guitar can work in a pinch, an electric guitar is ideal for lead playing. The thin strings and fast neck of an electric guitar allow for easier bending, vibrato, and quick fretting. As a beginner, a low to mid-priced model from trusted brands like Squier, Epiphone or Yamaha will do the trick. Check out our Top 5 Electric Guitars for Beginners article for our top picks.
I’ll never forget my first crappy electric guitar. It was a cheap Stratocaster knockoff that always went out of tune. I thought I was Yngwie Malmsteen shredding on that thing! But even with that janky guitar, I was able to start building my lead chops. So don’t worry if you don’t have a Gibson Les Paul yet. Focus on the learning. You can upgrade later as you progress.
When shopping for your first electric, look for a thin, fast neck profile for easy playability. Humbucker pickups in the bridge position will provide that searing lead tone. A fixed bridge or double-locking tremolo offers tuning stability for beginners.
Once you have a guitar in hand, let’s get to the good stuff!
Guitar Basics: Anatomy, Tuning, and Technique
To dive into lead guitar, you need a solid foundation. Let’s quickly cover some guitar essentials.
Parts of the Guitar
Familiarize yourself with the main parts of the electric guitar like the body, neck, frets, strings, bridge, nut, and knobs. Understanding the anatomy will help as you learn to navigate the instrument.
Standard tuning for lead guitar is EADGBE, starting with the lowest 6th string at E and moving up to the highest 1st string at E. Invest in a clip-on tuner, learn the sound of correctly tuned strings, and tune up every time you practice. Staying in tune is key.
Wrap your non-fretting hand thumb around the back of the neck, keep fingers curled, and use your fingertips to pluck the strings near the fretboard. Keep wrists straight and avoid tension.
Fretting Hand Position
Curve fingers so fingertips press down behind frets. Keep thumb centered on the back of the neck for support. Utilize all four fretting fingers. Minimal pressure is needed.
Picking vs. Plucking
Use a pick for the sharp, biting lead tones. Hold it between thumb and index, and keep a relaxed grip. Alternate picking downward and upward strokes.
Take it slow getting these basics locked in. It will pay off when you begin learning lead concepts and techniques.
Master Lead Guitar Scales and Techniques
Now for the fun stuff! Let’s get into key lead guitar skills every beginner should know:
The pentatonic scale is the quintessential lead guitar scale. The minor pentatonic especially has that rock/blues/metal solo vibe. Memorize the pattern across the neck and use it as the basis for licks and solos. Start slow, and be patient.
When I began learning scales, my teacher had me practice one tiny 3-5 fret pentatonic pattern over and over for weeks. It was dull at first but really cemented my muscle memory. Take your time and drill the basics. Speed comes later.
Bend and Shake
String bending is lead guitar 101. Start by slowly pushing a string up with your fretting finger and bending the pitch up to a target note, like a whole step or two steps up. Bending allows you to add expression and emulate vocals.
Add some vibrato after the bend to give it that crybaby shake. Work on controlling the speed and width of your vibrato. Subtle and tasteful vibrato is key for great blues and rock tones.
To play fast alternate picked licks, use precise up and down picking motions starting with a downstroke. Keep the movements tight from wrist and elbow, don’t tense up. Start with basic exercises and build up slowly with a metronome.
When I was stuck in a rut with my alternate picking speed, I finally caved and started using a metronome. It forced me to build accuracy and timing. Now I can rip through scales cleaner than ever before. Tick tock, it works!
Hammering and Pulling Off
These techniques allow you to sound notes without picking. Hammer-ons are played by fretting a note and quickly slamming another finger down to sound a higher pitch. Pull-offs pluck a note and then pull-off to a lower fret.
Incorporate these into licks to simulate fast legato phrasing. Combined with palm muting, you can achieve machine gun-like runs. Chugga chugga chow!
Get Those Fingers Moving
Your hands need to be in tip-top shape to master lead guitar. Try out chromatic finger exercises, spider crawls, string skipping drills. Work those fingers independently and build calluses gradually.
Utilize a speed trainer like a metronome or drum machine. Start painfully slow if needed and incrementally build up. Patience and consistency pays off. And take breaks to avoid injury!
Improvising Smoking Hot Solos
Once you have the core techniques down, it’s time to put them into action by improvising some face-melting solos!
Backing Tracks are Your Friend
Playing along with backing tracks is a great way to practice soloing in a real musical context. You can find free jam tracks on YouTube for just about any genre. Start slow and get your ear used to listening for chord changes.
I highly recommend investing in a looping pedal too. That way you can lay down your own chord progressions and solo over them. Being able to slow down and speed up your own loop is invaluable as a beginner.
Outline the Chord Progression
Focus on outlining the chord changes in your solo by targeting chord tones on strong beats. You can add passing notes in between, but always be conscious of the underlying harmony.
Do this by visualizing the chord shapes on the neck and playing notes from those chords. It will give your lines that melodic, composed quality.
Build Up the Drama
Vary your phrasing to build tension and drama in your solos. Leave space at times. Go for powerful long-bend notes. Sync rhythmic hits with accents in the backing track. Gradually build up to an epic climax!
Imagine your guitar is singing. Shape melodic phrases as a singer would. Tell a story with your solo. Use dynamics, emotion, and intensity. The best solos take listeners on a journey.
FAQ: Common Lead Guitar Beginner Questions
What guitar is best for beginners?
As a beginner, you’ll want a budget-friendly electric with a thin, fast neck that stays in tune. Look for single coil or humbucker pickups, fixed bridge, and 25.5″ scale length. Squier, Epiphone, and Yamaha all make great starter electrics.
How long does it take to learn lead guitar?
It depends on the hours you can commit to daily practice. You could have basic proficiency in 6 months. Expert-level lead skills will take at least 2-3 years of consistent, focused practice. Be patient and enjoy the incremental improvements.
What exercises improve lead technique fast?
Alternate picking speed drills with a metronome or drum machine are essential. String skipping exercises build fretting hand dexterity. Practice 3-note-per-string scales and arpeggios to improve position playing.
How do I learn scales across the guitar neck?
Start by thoroughly memorizing scale patterns in one position, like the minor pentatonic in 5th position. Then expand horizontally to adjacent frets. Linking together 3-note-per-string patterns vertically across the neck builds fretboard knowledge.
What skills should I learn first?
Start with alternate picking, bending, vibrato and fretting hand exercises. Learn moveable power chord shapes. Work on one scale pattern at a time in a single position. Chord tone soloing is also a great beginner skill.
You’re On Your Way!
Congratulations, you now have all the tools needed to start an exciting journey towards lead guitar mastery! Remember to:
- Practice essential techniques like bending and vibrato daily
- Work on scales/arpeggios with precision and gradually build up speed
- Play along with jam tracks and looping pedals
- Outline chord changes clearly when soloing
- Vary your phrasing and dynamics to build interest
With consistent, mindful practice you’ll be playing smoking hot licks and solos sooner than you think. Set small goals, celebrate progress, and above all have fun! Now get to it!