Learn to Play: Terry Kath-Style Improvised Solos with Jeff Massey

Terry Kath (1970). Photo by: David Redfern, Redferns. Getty Images.

Terry Kath is, of course, the co-founding member of the legendary group Chicago (and a native son of the city). While they’re probably the most famous horn-based band in the history of rock music, Chicago may have never achieved the fame it did without Kath’s insanely precise, ferociously quick guitar style.

Unfortunately, a tragic accident took Terry Kath from this world at the young age of 31. It’s hard to imagine how much further he could have pushed the limits of electric guitar, but the work he did leave behind shines just as bright today.

Terry played a variety of guitars including Strats, Teles, and a Gibson Les Paul Professional. While the Professional was a less popular model for Gibson at the time, it was nevertheless used by Les Paul himself and thought to be his favorite guitar.

Terry also used a variety of amps. Most notable is the Fender Dual Showman and later a PA head that was not really considered a guitar amp at all, plugged into some homemade speaker cabs. Kath was an innovator who also experimented with effects like the Fuzz Face and Italian-made Binson Echorec, to name a few.

For this lesson, I chose to focus on Terry’s incredible speed and execution of melody with an improvised solo. Terry would have a general framework in place, but was constantly changing and pushing boundaries with each performance.

Notice the use of not only blues scales, but major scales and modal-type runs that really drive the guitar into new territory. His playing is timeless: No wonder Jimi Hendrix considered Terry one of the best.

I would recommend trying these concepts at a slow pace at first and to really pay attention to the feel and attack of each note. Playing as fast as Kath requires patience and diligent practice. I believe this lesson can really open your mind to some great ideas.

To me, Terry Kath’s playing serves as an inspiration for any player looking to stretch the limits of the electric guitar. I hope it serves you well.

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