How to become a session guitarist

In last month’s Total Guitar (issue 214, with Zakk Wylde on the cover), I wrote a feature on how to become a session guitarist, called “Gun For Hire.”

I interviewed 5 guys: Luke Potashnick – an in-demand session guitarist, Mike Stevens – probably Britain’s top MD, Sue Carling – a top agent booking session musicians for TV, Cliff Jones – a producer for Polydor and other major labels, and Chris Difford, the legendary Squeeze frontman.

I asked all of them what they look for in a guitarist, and they all had different and insightful answers. Some great tips got left out of the article because of space, so I might try to find time to post them here. Two in particular spring to mind. Mike Stevens mentioned that the Bedford and the Cobden Club are two great places in London to meet touring musicians and MDs (and that you do really have to move to London if you’re serious about this). Cliff Jones suggested that studio producers are looking for guitarists who specialise in a given style, and you should have a dedicated myspace or website for promoting your session skills in that particular style.

Whenever I interview students applying to BIMM, they all say they want to become session musicians. Most people think of a session guitarist as a guy who gets up in the morning, drives to a studio, plays on a Madonna record before lunch, a Michael Jackson record after lunch, and goes home again. Sadly, the days of studio players like that are mostly over. The majority of modern professionals make their money from various income streams: functions gigs, live sessions, studio sessions, theatre shows, teaching, magazine writing, library music, product demonstrations, and whatever other work comes up. That’s why I teach my students (the ones who are aspiring session players, at least) a load of different skills.

Anyway, the article is now online at for you to check out. And visit for more info on my lessons.

Vibrato part 2

Most guitarists’ vibrato is too fast. Of course, some guys, like Angus Young and Paul Kossoff, sound cool with a fast vib, but most people sound like a sheep. The way to sort it out is to practise bending the string in time, and in different rhythms. As I demonstrate, in the following video of unparalleled class:

Check out Jonny Scaramanga Guitar Tuition at for more cool stuff. Actually, only a small amount of cool stuff right now, but it’s being revamped, so epic cool stuff coming soon.

How to do vibrato on guitar

In this week’s lesson, I want to look at vibrato. If you’ve got a great one, everything you do will sound professional. Without a good vibrato, you’re a rubbish lead guitarist. Fact.

I’ve never really seen vibrato taught well, so I’ve developed a system to help my students with it. Most of the time you’re just told “it’s a feel thing” and left to wobble the string in the hope it sounds good. That normally ends up with an uncontrolled, out of tune mess. It’s better to think of vibrato as a series of bends. If you can bend a string in tune, you can do a good vibrato. In this video (and part 2, coming next week), I’ll show you some of my system for building up your vibrato.

Don’t forget to visit my website at

Cheers dudes!

String bending on guitar

String bending is the most important lead technique for electric guitar. There are hardly any great rock, blues, or metal solos that don’t use this technique. Yet many guitarists do it wrong, not getting the bends in tune or having poor control. So I made a video to show you how it’s done, because I know everything.

I would love to take your money from you, and in return I would happily show you how to bend strings and do many other exciting things on guitar which will make you happier and more desirable to the opposite sex (and the same sex, for that matter). Check out, and be aware that I am currently offering a free introductory lesson for new students. That’s right, a free guitar lesson (in Bath).


Apologies for the lack of new lessons. I have at least three more lessons written and ready to go, but I haven’t had time to record the video, and now it’s too dark.

So while you’re waiting, I’ll weigh in with my thoughts on guitar tone, because most guitarists have a crap tone and that’s kind of the fault of guitar mags (and I speak as someone who writes reviews for a guitar mag).

The trouble is that when we review a multi-fx unit like the new [I was going to name a specific brand here, but I've chickened out because I want to keep my job] pedal, we have to consider in mind of a) what it’s designed to do, and b) the type of person that might buy it. And budget multi-fx pedals are meant to be a cheap way for new players to get a bunch of fun sounds, find out what the different effects do, and sound good playing on your own in your bedroom. And most budget multi-fx do that reasonably well, so they get positive reviews.

But that doesn’t change the fact that they actually sound horrendous, and will break almost immediately if you subject them to any kind of real gigging. And that swamping your sound in tons of gain and effects at once is great way to guarantee that the drummer will drown you out.

The reason that some guitarists have a rubbish tone is the same reason they sound crap improvising over a 12 bar blues: they’re not listening. They’re not listening to the chord changes when they land on an Eb just as the chord changes to D, and they’re not listening to the sound when they set up their amp. They’re just going, “Well, I like a lot of bass, so I’ll turn the bass control up high, and I don’t like too much mid, so I’ll turn that down.” I often see guitarists do that before they play a note through the amp. Which is crazy, because all amps sound different, and every time you move an amp, the acoustic space changes and it will sound different. I had a Laney AOR50 for a while, and the only place to set the treble control on that thing was zero. Whereas that setting on a MESA/Boogie would sound like it was under a duvet.

And another thing: Don’t set the gain based on how it feels. It’s easy to do that. A certain amount of gain makes the guitar feel different when you’re playing. But guess what? You’re audience can’t feel the guitar, and they don’t care. So go with how it sounds, which is almost always less gain, even for metal. If that makes your licks harder to play, learn to play them better.

And if you want to play better (hey hey, shameless plug time) get in touch with me by visiting Jonny Scaramanga Guitar Tuition or email me or call 07929 911092.


Blues turnarounds 3: Major pentatonic

Here’s another option for playing over a major 12 bar blues: the major pentatonic.

Trouble is, you can’t play A major pentatonic all the way through a 12 bar like you can A minor pentatonic. It sounds crap over the D7 chord and it doesn’t do a particularly great job over the E7 either. To get round this, we’re going to use a different major pentatonic for each chord. You’ll play A major pentatonic over A7, D major pentatonic over D7, and… yeah, you got it.

Again, I’ve tried to stick in one area of the neck. It’s difficult to make your licks flow if you’re having to jump five frets between chord changes. So I’ve used E major pentatonic shape 3 (that’s the C shape, CAGED system fans), D major pentatonic shape 4 (A shape in the CAGED system), and A major pentatonic shape 1 (E shape). All of these hover around the 5th fret position where you should feel at home.

If you’re not used to using these it can be difficult to improvise because you won’t have any lick vocabulary. For one thing, listen to guys like Freddie King or Robben Ford who do this well. For another, take the time to write some licks using these scales that work. Your musicality will improve loads as a result.

Don’t forget to download the free tab, and contact me with any questions.


Download free tab: Blues Turnarounds

Improvising with arpeggios part 2

Next to “How do I get out of the pentatonic?” the next most common improvising question must be “How do I get away from the 5th fret?”

Here’s another example of using dominant 7th arpeggios over a 12 bar turnaround, but this time I’ve moved up to the 10th fret to start exploring further up the neck. I’m using the top part of the A shape arpeggio for the E7 chord, and the G shape for D7. My A7 arpeggio extends through the E and D shapes. If you don’t know what the hell I mean by E and D shapes, I’m using the CAGED system.

Let me know how you get on.


Click here to download the tab: Blues Turnarounds.

How to get out of your pentatonic rut

One of the most common questions students ask me is, “how can I get out of playing the same old pentatonic licks?”

Since you ask, here’s the first part of a series on alternatives to the minor pentatonic when you’re soloing over a major 12 bar blues.

In this lesson, you’ll learn how to use dominant 7th arpeggios over the turnaround (that’s the last four bars) of a 12 bar. We’re in A major, so those chords are E7, D7, and A7.

Arpeggios are made up entirely of the notes in the chord, so they always fit perfectly over the changes. The only problem is that when most guitarists start trying to improvise with arpeggios, they stop playing licks and start wondering up and down the shapes. This sounds crap. Don’t do it. It’s important to phrase with arpeggios the same way you would with the pentatonic scale. Use bends, slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs, double stops, rhythmic variety, and dynamics to make it sound musical.

In the video, you’ll see me playing over a turnaround exclusively using arpeggios. It still sounds bluesy, and it gives you an alternative to the minor pentatonic. Rather than flying around all over the neck, I’ve used arpeggios that are all in the same area of the neck. If you know the CAGED system, I’ve used the C shape for the E7 arpeggio, the A shape for the D7 arpeggio, and the E shape for A7. All those arpeggios fit around the 5th fret area, making them easy to integrate with your regular A minor pentatonic stuff. By staying in one area of the neck, it’s also easier to make the licks flow into each other.

I’ve also included free tab (Blues Turnarounds) for this lick as well as the next few lessons for you to download.