Learn to Play: Billy Gibbons Pick Harmonics and Lead Licks Lesson with Jeff Massey

Billy Gibbons is obviously a legendary name in the world of blues and rock 'n' roll guitar. With the power house trio of ZZ Top, Gibbons displays a smooth flawless lead guitar style ranging from sweet and subtle to fuzzed out and aggressive. Gibbons' personality and individualism shines with each note.

Billy has used a variety of guitars, amps, and pedals over the years, and in a live setting is more known to use guitars with humbuckers. I’ve decided to present this lesson with a Gibson Les Paul, which is identifiable with Gibbons sound. Gibbons' main Les Paul is a '59 nicknamed "Pearly Gates," and currently Billy primarily uses Magnatone amplifiers.

It's also common knowledge among many Gibbons enthusiasts that Billy uses a set of 7-gauge guitar strings and plays with a very light touch. This light string idea came from a suggestion from B.B. King to Gibbons to "not work so hard" and play a lighter string. Gibbons took King's suggestion to heart and went one gauge lower than King's 8-gauge setup.

With this lesson I wanted to emphasize Gibbons' smooth approach and show how he weaves effortlessly in and out of blues and pentatonic scales, creating memorable lead lines that always serve the song. Simplicity can be deceiving. Billy makes it look easy to minimize notes and concentrate on melody and feel, but it's more difficult than it may appear.

With a combination of tone, feel, technique, and a vast catalog of great songs to work with, Gibbons has it all. I hope incorporating some of Gibbons' ideas to your own playing will add some extra flare and send your playing down some new paths of exploration.

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