10 Must Know Country Telecaster Licks

10 Must Know Country Telecaster Licks

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You know me from YouTube right? I’m a bluegrass guy. What am I doing writing about electric country licks? Well my bluegrass friends recently got together and decided to start a honky-tonk band. That meant I was going to be getting my tele out of the case and I needed to know some more country language. So I got online and I started poking around but like always, the good information I needed was behind a pay wall.

That meant I had to do what I do best, get creative with what I already know and transcribe/steal everything I could. My country foundation was based around sixth licks, check out my YouTube video on that for more info, and bending up to the third of the current chord. What I found was with a little hybrid picking you can do a lot with those two ideas. Don’t know about hybrid picking, sixths, or bending? Don’t worry you’ll learn about all of that below.

After I learned what I did, I posted a months worth of free country telecaster licks to the lick-a-day Instagram account, Jazz and Grass. Now from those licks, I’ve selected 10 that I think are the most interesting and will take your country guitar playing and my own country guitar playing to the next level.

10. Hybrid Picking

This one is going to be a hurdle for you if you’ve never hybrid picked before. But don’t worry once you get going you’ll be using it when you don’t even want to.

This rhythm backing idea comes from the Bakersfield sound. If you don’t know what that is, that’s okay! It just means I get to be the one to introduce you to Buck Owens and Don Rich and believe me you want to know them. This is a lick they use in countless songs, maybe most notably Love’s Gonna Live Here and Act Naturally. If you want to know more about them I highly recommend the podcast Cocaine and Rhinestones. But let’s get into the technique of hybrid picking.

Hybrid picking is simply defined as holding your pick between your thumb and index finger and using your middle and ring fingers to finger pick. You can get away with this lick with only using your middle finger though. For measures one and two, use your pick on the A and D strings and your middle finger on the G string. For measures three and four, use your pick on the D and G strings and your middle finger on the B string. I know it’s awkward but listen to how you can get the string under your middle finger to pop. That’s right, you’re chicken pickin’ already. The last thing you need to really sell the lick is a light palm mute on the root note of the chords as you start measures one and three.

9. Flatpicking Then Hybrid Picking

Now we need to combine what we already know about flatpicking or alternate picking with what we just learned about hybrid picking.

For the first two measures this lick is built from a normal G major scale. In fact, if you play some bluegrass this might look like some of the stuff Tony Rice does up the neck in that shape. But in measures three and four we would end up with some really awkward string crossing if we didn’t have our new friend hybrid picking. In the third and fourth measures use your middle finger to grab the B string and G string notes respectively. Once again, this will feel crazy awkward but when you get it up to speed you’ll feel like a super hero.

8. Bending To The Third

Finally, our first string bending lick. Like I mentioned in the start of this article, bending to the third of a chord is essential to the country sound. This lick is one of many that are standard to the genre and attempt to replicate the sound of a pedal steel. In this case, we’re playing over an E chord so we’re bending from the second (F#) to the third (G#). With the bent note held, we’re going to hybrid pick some extra notes, release the bend and descend the scale shape.

Now let’s get into the nitty gritty, when you bend a string it’s nice to have some supporting fingers helping you out. When I play this lick I’m in fifth position (index, middle and ring fingers on frets 5, 6 and 7), with my index finger on fifth fret of the high E string, preparing for the hybrid picking later and my middle finger supporting my ring finger on the B string frets 6 and 7. When I push up the B string my pinky falls into place on 7th fret of the high E string for my first hybrid picked note and is removed to reveal the prepared index finger below on the 5th fret. After that is a series of hammer-ons and pull-offs to get us down to the E root note on 7ths fret of the A string.

7. Pull Down Instead Of Push Up

This is something that can be very difficult at first if you’ve never bent a string down instead of up. You really have to let the weight of your hand and arm drag the note down because your forearm rotation is likely already maxed out. The trouble comes with keeping the previous notes in tune by not dragging them down too.

This lick starts with a pre-bend. So get your hand in position holding down strings A and D at the 12th fret with your G string pre-bent by your unassisted index finger. Pick the first two notes with a double down stroke followed by a hybrid pick on the pre-bent G string releasing the bend. Then pick a down stroke on 12th fret of your D string to complete the first phrase. The second half starts the same with a double down on 12th fret string A and D but ends with a hybrid picked bend up to the third of the D chord while keeping your friends on the 12th fret in place and in tune. Good luck, it only gets harder from here.

6. Country 6ths

This lick is a show stopper and a head turner rolled into one country face-melting stunner of a lick. The first two measures are inspired by a guitar player I found on YouTube but have not been able to find again. If you’ve seen this mystical instructional video please let me know so I can give credit where credit is due.

We start off by alternate picking a triplet pick-up on the G string, followed by a hybrid picked note on the high E string exactly a sixth away. We repeat this same phrase a whole step down and then again, this time a half step down. After that we ghost some dead notes on the G string while continuing to hybrid pick notes roughly a sixth down on the high E string. The next measure should seem very similar to lick number eight. Bend on the D string with your middle finger assisted by the index finger a fret below and hybrid pick the notes underneath. Release the bend and end with a variation of lick number seven being careful to keep all the fretted notes in tune as your G string rises to the third of the A chord.

5. Minor Pentatonic

That’s right you get to use all your favorite minor pentatonic stuff in country too. This lick should feel reminiscent of the Bakersfield rhythm in lick number ten.

The pick-up is alternate picked with a nice curl on the 5th fret of the E string to give a little whine before you reach the G note on third fret to start the first real measure. From here we’re doing lick number ten in the key of G. Hybrid pick the G string (and maybe D string) as your heart directs you for this measure and the next. From here we’re once again bending a note and picking strings underneath. Hybrid pick 6th fret on the B string and bend 5th fret of your G string up with a downward pick stroke. Instead of hybrid picking the rest of the notes under the bend, we’re going to alternate pick our way all the way to the end.

4. Double Stop Bends

I got this one from Johnny Hiland. It is not for the faint of heart.

All of the notes on the D string are played with the pick, they’re all palm muted to hell and should only make a thunk sound. That’s right, they’re just set design. All of the voiced notes are hybrid picked with my middle and ring fingers of my right hand. Each time I’m bending I’m taking the bent note up and back down. The first measure is fairly self explanatory. The craziness is at the end of the second measure with the double stop on the 7th fret, I’m barring that and, get ready for it, bending the G string while keeping the B string in tune. It is a downward bend and performed with a forearm rotation. Any attempt to use the weight of your arm/hand will take the B string out of tune with the G string. It is a delicate motion and will likely take some practice. The rest of the lick is a victory lap to celebrate not crashing and burning on the 7th fret.

3. The Hardest Bend To Tune

I got this from Jim Lill on YouTube, definitely check out his channel for more country content!

This lick is so deceptively simple. The entire beginning is just alternate picked fluff. As soon as you get to the hybrid picked double stop sixth, things get hard. I place my middle finger on the G string assisted by my index finger and bend up a whole step. With my unassisted ring finger I bend up a half step. This moves me from a D chord to a G chord and is an excellent tag but is incredibly hard to tune. The only thing I can say is practice. Just filming this lick for Jazz and Grass took more attempts than I’d like to publicly admit. To date, I think I’ve hit it to my satisfaction twice at a rehearsal.

2. Play The Hits

I know, I know, it’s kind of a lame way to come to the end but you have to know the tradition. The only way to really understand the genre isn’t by learning a bunch of licks from some guy online. It’s by learning the licks and songs the way the champions of the genre chose to play them. Consider this your starting point, Guitars and Cadillacs is country as hell but only takes alternate picking and some well placed bends. It’s not all flashy licks to get to the top…

1. Change The Hits

…that being said, you gotta have a little fun at the end of the day. Right?

At a rehearsal my band mates and I were arguing about how the beginning of Folsom Prison goes. I played something like this and I swore I was right. Guess what? I was wrong. Everyone else was playing something much simpler and it turns out, yeah, the beginning of Folsom Prison only has four notes in it. That doesn’t mean I don’t like my cool new lick and it doesn’t mean I won’t shoehorn it into a version of Folsom here and there. Like all genres country is meant to bend and grow so don’t be afraid to bring some of what you already know to the table. You might crash and burn and ruin a Johnny Cash classic but you also might create something new.

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