12 Pro Guitarists Talk About the First Riffs They Learned

Every guitarist starts somewhere. We all have that first riff we mastered and that first song that inspired us to play. We recently asked 12 of our favorite guitarists a simple question:

"What was the first riff you learned and what about it inspired you?"

Here's what they had to say.

Marty Stuart
"Luther Perkins' intro and solo to 'Folsom Prison Blues.' Everything about the song and that band seemed cool to me, and I wanted in on it."
MORE FROM MARTY
Video: Marty Stuart on Clarence White's Original StringBender Tele
Earl Slick
DAVID BOWIE
"The first riff I learned was the guitar at the beginning of The Twilight Zone. It took me a fucking month, as the show was aired only once a week. So I sat in front of the TV ready and waiting 10 minutes before air time so I wouldn't miss it. If I remember accurately, they played it again at the end. It inspired me, as I liked the weird sound of the guitar and the fact that it was so short and easy to remember."
MORE FROM EARL
Earl Slick on Being David Bowie's Sideman and His New Documentary
Samantha Fish
"I don't remember the first, but I remember laboring over 'Crazy Train.' I had the Ozzy Osbourne/Randy Rhoads live Tribute album. I jumped from strumming chords to that. Ambitious and unrealistic!
My dad and his brothers all listened to heavy metal and rock. I was raised on a lot of AC/DC, Slash, and Sabbath. Rock 'n' roll is badass, and it makes you feel like a badass to play it. As a 15-year-old kid, it made me feel like a rockstar to nail one of those licks."
MORE FROM SAMANTHA
Video: Samantha Fish on Her Blues Pedalboard

Samantha will be releasing “Belle of the West” produced by Luther Dickinson on 11/3. Her March 2017 release “Chills & Fever” is currently #7 on the Billboard Blues Charts.
Doyle Bramhall II
"Jimmy Reed’s 'Baby What You Want Me To Do.' I could play a Jimmy Reed shuffle from the first moment I picked up the guitar. It made me feel like I could play anything and gave me the inspiration to be a guitar player."
MORE FROM DOYLE
Video: Doyle Bramhall II on Building Blues Tones with Fuzz and Drive Pedals
Alex Skolnick
TESTAMENT
"The first riff I ever learned properly was 'Day Tripper' by The Beatles. 'Day Tripper' marked the first time I taught myself a riff that sounded like it should. It happened by accident. I was randomly picking notes on the open, low E-string while moving my right hand and noticing how the tone changed in each position. When I got close to the bridge, there was this 'twang' quality that immediately brought to mind the 'surf' guitar sound of the '60s (popularized by artists such as The Ventures but also found in tunes such as this and the James Bond Theme).
Hearing that twang was inspiring. It made me want to learn all the notes of the riff and play it in time. I learned it straight off the record. This was tough at first but helped by the fact that I was (and still am) a huge Beatles fanatic."
MORE FROM ALEX
Video: Alex Skolnick on Triads and Sweep Picking
Robert Randolph
"First guitar riff I learned was the riff from Al Green's 'Love and Happiness.' What inspired me to play was growing up in church and hearing guys play lapsteel and pedalsteel in my church. Had such a dynamic voicings. Sounds like human voice being sang through the guitar."
MORE FROM ROBERT
Video: Watch Robert Randolph Shred Through Pedals on His Pedal Steel Guitar
Sadie Dupuis
SPEEDY ORTIZ
"The first guitar part that was 'complicated' (at least to me at the time) that I wanted to learn was the intro to 'Just A Phase' by Incubus. I must've been 14 or 15. I wanted to learn it mostly because I had no idea how to count it. I clocked a lot of time on Incubus riffs in high school, and they come back to me pretty easily, so I'll still play them to soundcheck.
Incubus' guitars are mostly notorious because of Mike Einziger's gear, but all of those parts are really fun to play! Oh, I probably learned 'Beautiful Disaster' by 311 around that time, too."
MORE FROM SADIE
Interview: Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz on the Joys of DIY Recording
Tim Stewart
LADY GAGA
"The first riff I learned to play was 'Paranoid' by Black Sabbath. I don't think I played it very well at the time, but I still loved the way it sounded. It's such an awesome heavy riff. I remember playing it over and over...probably drove everyone around me crazy. It had everything I loved about guitar at the time. Still one of my favorites. I think that feeling of being able to play it really inspired me to learn more riffs and songs."
Richard Fortus
GUNS 'N' ROSES
"My first guitar riff was probably 'Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo' by Rick Derringer. I watched my friend play it, and he made it look so easy. Once I learned it, I realized that barre chords totally opened up the universe of rock 'n' roll guitar. That totally set me on the path. It was all downhill from there."
MORE FROM RICHARD
Video: Richard Fortus of Guns N' Roses Talks Supro and Guitar Style
Mark Holcomb
PERIPHERY
"It's been forever, but I think it was 'Come As You Are,' or something else by Nirvana. I feel like guitarists in my age group always start off with some popular Nirvana riff. Everyone knows it, and it's easy enough to chain together and play at parties or at school and impress people. I wasn't even that big of a Nirvana fan, I just loved playing so many of those riffs because it wasn't difficult, and the moment you could string a bunch of them together, you felt like a real musician."
MORE FROM MARK
Video: Mark Holcomb Talks About His PRS Signature Model and Alternate Tunings
Scott Sharrard
GREGG ALLMAN BAND
"Thanks to my Dad’s acoustic guitar playing and singing, the first riff I learned on the guitar was the famous Jimmy Reed shuffle pattern in the key of A (a 12-bar blues, of course). Still the best thing I’ve ever learned on the guitar!
The moment when I realized I could lock in with another musician, accompany them and create a song together, it's been all about the groove for me ever since. The guitar is a rhythm instrument, after all. I'll always be thankful for those early lessons and revelations. Having a good pocket makes everything, everyone, and every song better."
MORE FROM SCOTT
The Varitone Circuit Demystified: Scott Sharrard and the Gibson ES-345
Peter Frampton
What was your first riff? Let us know in the comments.

Every guitarist starts somewhere. We all have that first riff we mastered and that first song that inspired us to play. We recently asked 11 of our favorite guitarists a simple question:

"What was the first riff you learned and what about it inspired you?"

Here's what they had to say.


Marty Stuart

"Luther Perkins' intro and solo to Folsom Prison Blues. Everything about the song and that band seemed cool to me, and I wanted in on it."

MORE FROM MARTY
Video: Marty Stuart on Clarence White's Original StringBender Tele

Earl Slick
DAVID BOWIE

"The first riff I learned was the guitar at the beginning of the The Twilight Zone. It took me a fucking month, as the show was aired only once a week. So i sat in front of the TV ready and waiting 10 minutes before air time so I wouldn't miss it. If I remember accurately, they played it again at the end. It inspired me, as I liked the weird sound of the guitar and the fact that it was so short and easy to remember."

MORE FROM EARL
Earl Slick on Being David Bowie's Sideman and His New Documentary

Samantha Fish

"I don't remember the first, but I remember laboring over 'Crazy Train.' I had the Ozzy Osbourne/Randy Rhoads live Tribute album. I jumped from strumming chords to that. Ambitious and unrealistic!

My dad and his brothers all listened to heavy metal and rock. I was raised on a lot of AC/DC, Slash, and Sabbath. Rock 'n' roll is badass, and it makes you feel like a badass to play it. As a 15 year old kid, it made me feel like a rockstar to nail one of those licks."

MORE FROM SAMANTHA
Video: Samantha Fish on Her Blues Pedalboard
Samantha will be releasing “Belle of the West” produced by Luther Dickinson on 11/3. Her March 2017 release “Chills & Fever” is currently #7 on the Billboard Blues Charts.

Doyle Bramhall II

"Jimmy Reed’s 'Baby What You Want Me To Do.' I could play a Jimmy Reed shuffle from the first moment I picked up the guitar. It made me feel like I could play anything and gave me the inspiration to be a guitar player."

MORE FROM DOYLE
Video: Doyle Bramhall II on Building Blues Tones with Fuzz and Drive Pedals

Alex Skolnick
TESTAMENT

"The first riff I ever learned properly was 'Day Tripper' by The Beatles. 'Day Tripper' marked the first time I taught myself a riff that sounded like it should. It happened by accident. I was randomly picking notes on the open, low E-string while moving my right hand and noticing how the tone changed in each position. When I got close to the bridge, there was this 'twang' quality that immediately brought to mind the 'surf' guitar sound of the '60s (popularized by artists such as The Ventures but also found in tunes such as this and the James Bond Theme).

Hearing that twang was inspiring. It made me want to learn all the notes of the riff and play it in time. I learned it straight off the record. This was tough at first but helped by the fact that I was (and still am) a huge Beatles fanatic."

MORE FROM ALEX
Video: Alex Skolnick on Triads and Sweep Picking

Robert Randolph

"First guitar riff I learned was the riff from Al Green's 'Love and Happiness.' What inspired me to play was growing up in church and hearing guys play Lapsteel and Pedalsteel in my church. Had such a dynamic voicings. Sounds like human voice being sang through the guitar."

MORE FROM ROBERT
Video: Watch Robert Randolph Shred Through Pedals on His Pedal Steel Guitar

Sadie Dupuis
SPEEDY ORTIZ

"The first guitar part that was 'complicated' (at least to me at the time) that I wanted to learn was the intro to 'Just A Phase' by Incubus. I must've been 14 or 15. I wanted to learn it mostly because I had no idea how to count it. I clocked a lot of time on Incubus riffs in high school, and they come back to me pretty easily, so I'll still play them to soundcheck.

Incubus' guitars are mostly notorious because of Mike Einziger's gear, but all of those parts are really fun to play! Oh, I probably learned 'Beautiful Disaster' by 311 around that time, too."

MORE FROM SADIE
Interview: Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz on the Joys of DIY Recording

Tim Stewart
LADY GAGA

"The first riff I learned to play was 'Paranoid' by Black Sabbath. I don't think I played it very well at the time, but I still loved the way it sounded. It's such an awesome heavy riff. I remember playing it over and over...probably drove everyone around me crazy. It had everything I loved about guitar at the time. Still one of my favorites. I think that feeling of being able to play it really inspired me to learn more riffs and songs."


Richard Fortus
GUNS 'N' ROSES

"My first guitar riff was probably 'Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo' by Rick Derringer. I watched my friend play it and he made it look so easy. Once I learned it, I realized that barre chords totally opened up the universe of rock 'n' roll guitar. That totally set me on the path. It was all downhill from there."

MORE FROM RICHARD
Video: Richard Fortus of Guns N' Roses Talks Supro and Guitar Style

Mark Holcomb
PERIPHERY

"It's been forever, but I think it was 'Come As You Are,' or something else by Nirvana. I feel like guitarists in my age group always start off with some popular Nirvana riff. Everyone knows it, and it's easy enough to chain together and play at parties or at school and impress people. I wasn't even that big of a Nirvana fan, I just loved playing so many of those riffs because it wasn't difficult, and the moment you could string a bunch of them together, you felt like a real musician."

MORE FROM MARK
Video: Mark Holcomb Talks About His PRS Signature Model and Alternate Tunings

Scott Sharrard
GREGG ALLMAN BAND

"Thanks to my Dad’s acoustic guitar playing and singing, the first riff I learned on the guitar was the famous Jimmy Reed shuffle pattern in the key of A (a 12-bar blues, of course). Still the best thing I’ve ever learned on the guitar!

The moment when I realized I could lock in with another musician, accompany them and create a song together, it's been all about the groove for me every since. The guitar is a rhythm instrument after all. I'll always be thankful for those early lessons and revelations. Having a good pocket makes everything, everyone, and every song better."

MORE FROM SCOTT
The Varitone Circuit Demystified: Scott Sharrard and the Gibson ES-345

Peter Frampton
What was your first riff? Let us know in the comments.

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