Learn to Play: Carlos Santana's Searing Woodstock-Era Leads

Carlos Santana (1969). Photo by: Tucker Ransom / Stringer. Getty Images.

Carlos Santana is a true guitar legend with an instantly recognizable style. A combination of tone, technique, and taste are the key ingredients to Santana's fluent and melodic approach. Carlos possesses a distinct voice derived from elements of blues, jazz, rock, and Latin music.

Carlos is most associated with Paul Reed Smith guitars and Mesa-Boogie amplifiers, but for this lesson I focused on the Woodstock era of Santana. Around the late 1960s into the early 1970s, Santana created his searing solos with a Gibson SG Special and, oddly enough, a solid-state Gallien-Krueger. Carlos also used Fender Twins around this time, before eventually switching to Mesa-Boogies later in his career.

Santana’s inspired Woodstock performance of the song "Soul Sacrifice" is my template for this lesson above. In this video, I wanted to show how Santana can take a few simple scales like minor pentatonic and the Dorian mode to create interesting melodies. Although I am demonstrating the piece almost note for note, I feel some of these ideas could be transferred into your own playing and used to spice up your own improvisation skills.

Pay special attention to the subtle vibrato and sharp attack of pull-offs that give these riffs a certain edge. Santana is a master of space between notes, creating a sonic tapestry of sound that elevates the song to new levels. You can hear his own personality and voice come through strong on "Soul Sacrifice." Even by just attempting this piece, your eyes will be open to new possibilities.

Plus, soloing over a Latin-style rock groove might force you to try some things you might not of thought of compared to a more typical rock beat. Have fun and remember the key is to take something from the lesson and incorporate it into your own playing.

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