Learn to Play: Riffs in the Key of Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones

Despite his undeniable technical ability, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones has never conformed to the mythologized spotlight-stealing, solo-ripping image of a lead guitarist. Instead, his playing gravitates more towards chordal progressions than flashy solos and forms the rhythmic backbone of many Rolling Stones' hits. In addition to his rythmic prowess, Richards is notable for his embrace of open and alternate tunings.

Keith's playing’ style is certainly one that any country or rock guitarist should be intimately familiar with. In this video lesson, Joe goes over three bread-and-butter chord-based Richards riffs in open G tuning, showing us how to play "Brown Sugar", "Honky Tonk Women", and "Can't You Hear Me Knocking".

Keith's Tone

Richards’ tone has remained surprisingly consistent over the span of his long career despite amassing a museum-worthy collection of guitars and amplifiers and an ever-evolving live setup. Jangly, edge-of-breakup tube overdrive characterizes his sound, which manages to maintain clarity through a heavily saturated mix both live and in the studio thanks in no small part to his masterfully articulate picking style.

Keith's Guitars

Though most strongly associated with the Fender Telecaster, Richards went through much of the ‘60s with a Gibson on his back. Quite notably, he was the first big-name British guitarist to play a Les Paul, toting a ‘59 Standard on tour a full year before the release of Eric Clapton’s monumental Blues Breakers collaboration and, along with Clapton, Jimmy Page, and a number of other late-'60s rockers, played a large part in bringing the Les Paul back from the dead. In addition to the Les Paul, Richards played various Gibson and Epiphone semi-hollows as well as Gibson Firebirds through the end of the decade.

In 1971, Richards acquired the now-legendary ‘53 Tele he named Micawber, and so began a long and lasting relationship between Richards and the Fender Telecaster that would continue through today. Micawber and many of Richards’ other guitars are far from collector-grade vintage gems, and have undergone various modifications to better suit his playing style. Micawber, for example, has a twangier Fender lap steel pickup in the bridge, an original Gibson PAF humbucker in the neck, and is set up for open G tuning with the low E string removed.

Keith's Amplifiers

Richards’ choice of amplifiers over the years have varied almost as much as his guitars, and he’s been documented playing a wide array of makes and models. His strongest connection is with larger Tweed and Blackface Fender combos, which he employed through the mid-to-late '60s and again starting in the mid '90s and continuing through the present, with his current setup consisting of a pair of stereo mic’d 1950s Fender Tweed Twins. From the late '70s to the early '90s, he relied primarily on a Mesa Boogie Mark I A804 100 watt 1x12 combo along with a slew of other Mesa combos.

Keith's Pedals

Keith remains a player of relatively few effects. With the exception of some occasional subtle delay and the use of a Tube Screamer for additional overdrive, his current setup is pedal-free, as it has been for most of his career. The most notable departure from this trend was his use of a Gibson Maestro FZ-1A Fuzz on "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction", which caused an explosion in the popularity of that particular effect.


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