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."
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Earl Slick
"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."
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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."
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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."
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Alex Skolnick
"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."
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."
Video: Watch Robert Randolph Shred Through Pedals on His Pedal Steel Guitar
Sadie Dupuis
"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."
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Tim Stewart
"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
"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."
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Mark Holcomb
"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."
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Scott Sharrard
"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."
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Peter Frampton
What was your first riff? Let us know in the comments.
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