Learn to Play: Stephen Stills' Subtly Edgy Lead Techniques

Stephen Stills is a legendary musician and a household name. Stills is of course a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, has released many great solo albums, and led the fantastic group Manassas in the early '70s.

Because of Stills' talent with singing, songwriting, piano, and acoustic guitar-playing, his amazing electric guitar work isn’t always recognized as much as some of his other musical attributes. Yet Stills is an amazing lead guitarist with an original style and fantastic tone.

Stephen used a variety of guitars over the years, and I’ve chosen a '65 Gibson Firebird for this lesson. Stills played a Firebird often in the 1970s, and this lesson is based on much of Stills' work from that era. As far as amplifiers, a variety of Fender and Marshall amps could be found on stage and in the studio, with Stills producing some of the finest guitar sounds in rock history.

Stephen has a tendency to play for the song, and he chooses phrasing and melody over speed. He often adds additional grooves within a guitar solo that complement the rhythm he is playing on top of. His touch has an edge to it at times, in the way he bends and attacks his notes. Subtlety is a key to Stills' original style. It seems as though he can take a pattern similar to what a lot of other players of this era might play and add just enough flare to make it something original and ear-catching for the listener.

I decided a wah pedal was in order for this lesson, since Stills was a master of manipulating this effect to his liking, creating a vast trick bag of interesting riffs and ideas. Notice Stephens' use of chromatic runs to spice up a pentatonic scale or add a touch of extra depth to a solo. A pure master of his craft.

I hope this lessons opens your mind to some concepts you can incorporate into your own playing.

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